Tuesday, 29 April 2008

No Boom Shoes Today...

...so we'll make do with the following array of quotes and links instead:
And here we arrive at the meat of it - Flex, for all of its nods to futurism and future science, is, in the end, only concerned with these things insofar as they gesture towards the road-map to Utopia. The Omniscopes and oscilloscopes are metaphors for the self cybernetically enhanced by dreams, just as the ‘gloomy canyons of Satellite City’ and the ‘far-away orphanages of Farville’ outline the topography of a remythologized Earth. Why would anyone settle for shoes when they can have boom-shoes, Grant asks? Why tolerate the flat surfaces of the everyday, when one can imbue even the most mundane things with meaning? And that’s the point of Flex - to re-energize our world. We can wank on and on about the processes that inform it and how they can be harnessed, but isn’t it important to marvel at them too? In the final analysis, Flex Mentallo is, like so much of Grant’s output, a romantic work and we can be cynical about that or we can embrace the insights it offers. It doesn’t mean we simultaneously have to deny Newtonian Physics.

Mindless Ones' Amy Poodle on Flex Mentallo, JLA, We3, Seven Soldiers, and the superhero story as instant myth. The whole post is a dizzying rush of Utopian fantasy, but be sure to take a look at the comments thread as well, cos there's an interesting conversation about the possible holes in Poodle's argument going on there.

Me, I loved this Candyfloss Horizon post even more than the first one, but an open and curious discussion is definitely worth having. Poodle articulates what I want from my superhero comics perfectly, but everyone knows that's not the only game in town, right?

The only thing I'd like to note here is that I currently rate the protean fantasies of writers like Grant Morrison and Jeff Noon way more highly than Alan Moore's more structured efforts, partly because the former group's emphasis on sheer thrillpower allows for a little more wiggle room. I mean, I think Moore's got more literary clout than Morrison and co, but his beardy/dogmatic side can be really irritating at times.

For me, the bizarrely malleable fantasies we're talking about here have most power when taken as jolts of sheer imagination, little hints of the ways our dreams and nightmares could unfold if we let them. These works are a paradox in motion: they make the world shine more clearly by distorting its edges, and I love them for it. And hey -- feel free to spend as much time as you want trying to build a house out of this radiant matter, just don't be surprised when you get some serious water penetration, you know?

On that note: Eric Berlatsky's critique of the polymorphous paradise which Moore's recent (erotic!) metafictions have been building toward is definitely worth a read.

Related (or rather, 'and now for something completely different'): For those of you who're more interested in getting drunk, making an arse of yourself and worrying about death than any of that superhero stuff, here's Craig Fischer on Eddie Campbells's Alec -- The King Canute Crowd.

Of course, both The King Canute Crowd and Flex Mentallo have everything to do with going out into the world, having a laugh, and finding the beauty in trying to be a part of it. They're both also pretty aware of the absurdity of such projects, but in a healthy, "you might as well try anyway" sort of way. So... yeah, your childhood fantasies and your drunken misadventures can both be sources of crude, funny poetry -- who knew?

On a totally different note: This just in -- Stray Bullets is a pretty brutal comic. And I love it for it!

And... that's me for now. My life's crazy-hectic at the moment -- I'm moving flat this week, so I think I'll be out of Internet contact for the next few days. With luck, I'll get myself settled and ready to write something slightly more coherent sometime before Monday.

In the meantime, hey-- it's Marnie Stern:


Saturday, 26 April 2008

Real Trash Pop Never Asks For Forgiveness

Wiley -- 'Wearing My Rolex'

In which our hero stops fighting and starts babbling on about how he's dead easy once he's drunk on the dancefloor. Sounds good to me -- shame about the naff video though!

Annie -- 'I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me'

In which our heroine keeps on doing it like she's been doing it. Those who didn't like it the first time round will chew it up and spit it out; those who liked it will do the same, but will take that bit longer to enjoy the taste.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Portishead -- ' Machine Gun'

I'm a little late to the party here, but oh my god -- this!

Who let Portishead hook up with an army of sinister, death-dealing robots? And can I get their phone number, cos I really need their help to set up my next major social function!

Lumpy Custard Blues

Ok, so yesterday I read the latest Grant Morrison Batman (issue #675) before watching the Battlestar Galactica episode 'A Day In The Life', and I can tell you -- the sense of "where the hell did the story go?!" was off the fricken chart.

And so it occurs to me that Battlestar Galactica is quite a lot like the New X-Men/Batman end of Morrison's recent output, with genuinely amazing stories butting up against budget-saving/schedule filling/fill in artist bullshit.

'E is for Extinction', 'Assault on Weapon Plus', 'Club of Heroes' = yes, yes, yes!

Those Igor Kordey drawn 'Imperial' issues or this most recent Ryan Benjamin drawn Batman = ugh, why bother?

Similarly, the Battlestar Galactica pilot/mini-series, or the first four episodes of Battlestar season 3? Some of the best TV I've ever seen. But 'A Day In The Life', with its "Adama mopes over his ex-wife" A-plot and even less interesting "Chief and Cally get stuck in a death-trap" B-story? Again, why bother?

Which is weird, cos I like the cast of Battlestar, especially old craggy-faced Adama. Shouldn't I be more invested in these background-filling, detail-focussed episodes?

With Batman #675, I think a lot of my extremely negative reaction can be put down to the butt-ugly art and awkward staging, which robs what the story of all interest and grace. Imagine if Frank Quitely had drawn the same story -- it'd still be pretty slight, but I'm sure there'd be a hundred bloggers willing to talk up the subtle nuances of the interactions between Bruce Wayne and Jezebel Jet, all of which would be conveyed in their body language.

I think my reaction to the Battlestar episode is more revealing of something beyond a distaste for crappy art. Essentially, my beef with episodes like 'A Day in the Life' (and there are a few in the later stages of season 3) is that all sense of narrative economy is tossed away, and I don't feel like we gain anything for it. Now, sure, in theory this segment of season 3 represents a period of relative rest for the characters, which gives a chance for all their damage to catch up with them. But beyond recognising this on a functional level, do I feel like there's anything in 'A Day in the Life' that couldn't be relegated to one or two scenes in the background of another episode? No. You may feel differently, but hey.

Batman #675, same nonsense, same baffling lack of conciseness -- Morrison wrote All-Star Superman #10, which could easily fit this whole comic into maybe three panels scattered across 20-odd pages. Again, I get it, it's a slow build to an event that'll initiate the whole 'Batman R.I.P.' story. But beyond this brute functionality, does it actually do anything for me? Nope, not a damned thing.

And that's a shame, cos the last couple of issues of Batman had got me excited again, with their stream-of-hallucinatory consciousness shtick and general pulp poetry.

Ah well -- let's hope that 'Batman R.I.P.' is better. And if it's not, then hey -- Final Crisis! Seaguy! All Star Superman! War Cop?! Atomika Bomb?!

As for Battlestar Galactica, well, I just watched 'Dirty Hands', which was more engaging, and oddly topical given Britain's current strike-powered fuel panic and the fact that my flatmate is deep into The Wire season 2 right now (note, these two things are not of equal importance, I know). Plus my friends assure me that Battlestar season 3 closes well, which is exactly what makes Battlestar/Morrison's Batman so frustrating. I never quite want to give up in case something brilliant is just about to happen.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Way Beyond The Science of Sleep

I can’t help but believe Milligan was directly riffing off the insanity implicit in Ditko’s, Kirby’s and Steranko’s creations. That the inspiration was found in his first early poreings over those cosmic-coloured pages and the freakish, haunting, irreducible impressions they left in his young (or not so young) mind. On a personal note, this is why Morrison’s Fantastic Four: 1234 worked so well for me. My first contact with these characters wasn’t with the wacky Hollywood funsters they’ve turned out to be, but, rather, with the demented sixties shit that, even then, in the early eighties/late seventies they were chanelling. The Mole Man wasn’t a figure of fun. He was the little man at the edge of my bed. Milligan’s coming from the same place. It’s all about dreams, not rocket science.

From Candyfloss Horizons, a wonderful post about psychedelic sci-fi in the comics over on Mindless Ones. Go check it out.

And if that post doesn't entirely fulfill your appetite for the bizarre and the transformative try looking at this Brandan McCarthy image...

(Stolen from this site, natch)

...while listening to Aphex Twin's 'Girl/Boy Song':

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Sleater-Kinney -- 'Entertain'

It's weird, isn't it, the way that music can fold you right back in on yourself, bringing you into contact with older versions of yourself.

Even though the lyrics to this song are kind of teenage and bratty and potentially annoying, the music just sells me on the message every time I hear it. I love the way that Sleater-Kinney make the clash between the riffs and the vocals tell the story, so that when Carrie Brownstein's calling the whole world out during the breakdown, her guitar line has a ragged, defiantly detuned quality that builds up into a Godzilla monster stomp. When you factor in Janet Weiss' militaristic back-beat and Corin Tucker's first-pleading-then-declarative backup vocals... well, what can I say? I'm just right there with them, ready to charge out of the trenches and into some sort of ultra-indie battle against mediocrity.

It's just like high school all over again, but this time with better music and more less more air guitar.

Secret Invasion!!! - The Dial and Other Stories, by Chris Reynolds

They're already here. In fact, they've been here since you were a child. What, you don't remember? Go have a look at your old photograph album -- see those unfamiliar figures in the background? Have they always been there, teaching you, getting you ready for a new world, a world with a different religion?

I know what you're thinking, but wait -- something even stranger is going on here. This isn't some grand sci-fi conspiracy. Or if it is, it doesn't feel that way. It feels more like a weird dream, with little bits of understanding peaking in through the slim cracks in the darkness. Everything always looks static, undisturbed, but somethings broken, somethings wrong at home, something's wrong with her. Time keeps on slipping, and similar looking scenes can hold terrible differences if you catch them in the right light.

When are you going to come home?

When are you really going to come home?

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Random Pop Culture Images 16/4/08

A few images that are making me happy right now:

(The elegantly garish cover for Hercules and Love Affair's 'Blind' single, which I wrote about here.)

(Two promo-images from Frank Miller's very Sin City-looking movie version of Will Eisner's The Spirit. I'm sure I'll dig the style of the film, but the actual content? Who knows! From ign.com.)

(Paul Pope does Kirby Part #1! From his Pulp Hope blog.)

(Paul Pope does Kirby part #2, again from Pulp Hope.)

(When Kirby-tech goes nasty, from this characteristically enthusiastic Grant Morrison interview about Final Crisis.)

(Another Final Crisis cover, from this week's Lying in the Gutters.)

(A creepy kid from The Orphanage, which is pretty decent by the way. Its setting might make you think of the work of executive producer Guillermo del Torro, but it's maybe closer to something like The Ring or The Sixth Sense. Atmospheric horror with a little bit of melodrama and a whole lot of parental worry. Seeing it with Karen, my easily freaked-out girlfriend, definitely helped, but I'm still not sure that the ending works.)

How Late Can Late Reviews Get? Ganges #2, Kamandi and, uh, New Tales of Old Palomar #1

I didn't pick up any new comics last week so I decided to write about some slightly older comics instead. One of them is only a couple of weeks old, another was reprinted recently but dates back to the 70s, but... that's enough preemptive chat.


(Or should that be "backwards"?)

New Tales of Old Palomar #1, by Gilbert Hernandez

Released back in 2006, this beautifully over-sized comic saw Gilbert Hernandez return to the past, telling untold stories about his most famous characters and setting. This might seem weirdly crass and safe and "comic-booky", especially since Hernandez is normally such a brutal and forward-looking artist, but the comic itself is so much fun that it's hard to care.

Of course, cumulative impact has always been a part of what makes Love & Rockets great. As Alan David Doane recently stated while reviewing Jaime Hernandez' latest book, "Love and Rockets stories are always better with repeated exposure -- like spending time with loved ones you cherish and adore." But what strikes me about this particular comic is how damned immediate it is. There are frantic races, weird-looking characters, and huge slabs of bizarre architecture aplenty. Hell, the issue even ends with a huge, life-threatening explosion! It might not quite be a Jack Kirby comic, but Hernandez' cast of characters have the same lust for life that Kirby's best creations do, and as such it's always a pleasure to read about them.

I'm not sure that New Tales of Old Palomar #1 is a particularly important Love & Rockets story, but it's still a great read, full of familiar characters and bizarre events. And you know what? Sometimes that's exactly what I want from a comic book.

DC Countdown Special -- Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, written and penciled by Jack Kirby, inked and lettered by Mike Royer, coloured by Little Baby Jesus

Hey, did someone mention Jack Kirby?

Forget the giant Countdown logo on the front of this comic, cos the contents of this book are pure 70s Kirby, untainted by any continuity-heavy, modern crossover bullshit. I'd never read any Kamandi before, but I was pretty hyped up for it because the two splash pages that Charles W. Hatfield here are such perfect distillations of everything I love about Kirby's work.

As such, the first issue kinda threw me by being such a straight riff on Planet of the Apes (in terms of setting if not in plot). I mean, don't get me wrong, it looks fantastic -- who better to draw a book about the struggle for survival in a strange, bestial world than Jack Kirby? Kirby's characters are all boxy faces and dynamic angles -- they always look like they're battling for survival in his improbable landscapes, so yeah, the execution fits the premise. Still, I couldn't help wondering -- where was the idiosyncratic madness? Issue #2 sorted me out on that front, with its monster-germs, fetal mutant misfits and metamorphic fission suits. By the time I got to the wonky battle for Superman's legacy that takes place in issue #3, I was officially loving it.

Like New Tales for Old Palomar, this doesn't feel like a hugely important work, but who cares? From issue #2 onwards it's very, very Kirby, which means that it's more fun than pretty much any other comic you'll read this year.

Ganges #2, by Kevin Huizenga

Love & Rockets contains several masterpieces, and for all I know Kamandi might have developed into one as it went on, but Ganges #2 is genuinely amazing in its own right. It looks like a short story about a dot com business set at the end of the nineties, but it's really a thoughtful examination of the way men bond through stupid computer games. This might sound like a subject for a wonky blog post rather than a comic, but Huizenga's control of the comic book page is so complete that becomes impossible not to be impressed by the way he handles the topic.

The book opens with eleven pages of abstract, strangely peaceful combat between two constantly morphing opponents -- it's beautiful, but hard to find a connection to at first. Eventually however, Huizenga shows us that it's a computer game that's keeping Glen Ganges from his bed, and it becomes instantly more engaging as such. From this point on we're presented with an odd mix of gentle reality and computerised violence, except... that's not quite right. One of the great things about this issue is how pleasant and dreamlike Huizenga makes 'Pullverize", the Quake-style game that Ganges and his colleagues bond over after work. In the context of this world of twisting corridors, jutting bell towers and picturesque valleys, the kill-or-be killed violence takes on a compelling weightlessness. Conversely, the low-key events that take place in the story's real world have a quietly crushing gravity to them, whether it's in the strain that Glen's gaming habit puts on his marriage or the worry that bears down on his workplace as the redundancies kick in.

Ganges #2 is a smart book, a playful and analytical look at the geekier side of male interaction. That's all very worthwhile and commendable, but what makes it truly brilliant is the fact that it goes out of its way to convey the goofy joy its characters experience while playing 'Pullverize'. It's this sense of joy that links Ganges #2 with Kamandi and New Tales of Old Palomar. It might seem surprising, that something so formally impressive can also be so genuinely entertaining, but it shouldn't. Cos hey, who said art shouldn't be fun?

Monday, 14 April 2008

"He'll Be Trying To Shake Its Hand While It Gnaws Out His Intestines"

Written by Grant Morrison
Art and covers by J.G. Jones
Batman missing in action! Superman immobilized! Green Lantern on trial for his life!
A shadow is falling across Earth’s super heroes — and now it’s Wonder Woman’s turn to face the Evil Gods!
What bizarre warning from beyond awaits Frankenstein, The Question and the agents of S.H.A.D.E. in the shadows of the Dark Side Club? What grim fate lies in store for The Human Flame? What happens when the Anti-Life Equation hits the internet? Can the Fastest Men Alive outrun The Black Racer — Death himself? And who are the Justifiers?
The answers are all here as the unstoppable rise of evil continues in FINAL CRISIS #3 by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones.
(From the DC's July Solicitations, courtesy of the Newsarama hype machine)

You know, I'm a fairly realistic guy, so I know that there's every chance that Final Crisis could suck, badly. I'm as bored by the constant epic crossover cycle as everyone else, but hey -- I like Grant Morrison, I like J.G. Jones, I like the Kirby Fourth World stuff and I have no problem seeing how all of these elements could come together, so maybe it'll be good.

The constant "the day evil wins"/"now this is darkcore" hype... well, I get how that could be tiring, but in the end it just really just makes me hope that Final Crisis hits like a more coherent version of Morrison's 'World War III' story from JLA. With better art, thank god, with better art.

Because 'World War III'? Shit, it's all over the place in terms of basic storytelling, but I'm not ashamed to say that it kills me every time. Just the ridiculous scope of the piece, with all those preternaturally well-intentioned characters getting ground into the dirt by this huge cosmic menace, only to be saved by the kind of preposterous mass uprising that only comics can provide? That story gets at all these really basic emotions in a way that's fun and unusual, and that's what I'm all about. Well, that and good art, so yeah... here's hoping that Final Crisis doesn't suck.

Uhm... I've got a couple of reviews in the works... one for Ganges #2, one for The Dial and Other Stories by Chris Reynolds, plus a few more that are coming together kinda slowly, so if you're looking for some slightly more analytical writing here, check back during the course of the week.

And now, rock music:

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Tomorrow Hit Today

Burial -- 'Archangel'

The voices are stuck in a moment, a chorus of fragments building towards euphoria -- 'holding you'/'loving you'/'kissing you'/'tell me I'm alone'. The music is haunted, lost in the past; the voices are those of ghosts. Maybe they're intimations of a recent past -- the sonic equivalent of a post-club wander through the empty streets, your heart still in the club, your head not entirely clear. Or maybe not. Maybe it's something more distant, a yearning for days since passed, or days you never even actually experienced.

Whatever the truth, those voices keep on going, shifting pitch, straining to find the right intensity for the moment, to bring those old feeling back in full force. The future doesn't matter when you feel like this. Well, it never has before anyway...

All you know is how it felt then and how you want it to feel now.

Hercules and Love Affair -- 'Blind'

It's the present that's difficult here. Apparently the past and the future are 'painfully clear' -- are they one and the same maybe? Or did we only have a sense of the future in the past? Yeah, maybe that's it. Or shit, what if the future's no future at all unless we can get some sort of perspective on the now?

Antony's stretches his voice out, trying to find the right tone to engage with his history, to bring its knowledge to bear on the present -- 'As a child I knew that the stars/ Could only get brighter/ That we could get closer/ Leaving this darkness behind.'

Of course, right here, on this very day, at this precise fucking moment, it's hard to hold onto these thoughts. Maybe that's why the music reaches back, trying to find a pattern suitable for such sentiments. A classic disco beat, trumpets circling whenever that voice quietens down for a moment -- are these sounds triumphant or do they signal a resignation of sorts? Either way, the bass line keeps on moving, pushing higher only to fall back down almost instantly.

Eventually Antony opens up, his voice almost too fragile for such an unstoppable groove -- 'To hear you now, to see you now/ I can't look outside myself/ I must examine myself my breath and/ Look inside/ Because I feel blind/ Because I feel blind'.

And that's when it hits you -- this is myth in action, this is living history, this is an attempt to find meaning, to connect, to find something in a song, a story, a memory, or maybe even another person that shows you more than you can currently see. Maybe it won't happen -- it doesn't seem to happen in the song -- but it's worth trying for, even when it hurts. Just don't think you can escape the present, 'cos as much as you might want to think about where you've been and where you're going, right now is all you're ever going to have.

Broken Social Scene -- 'Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl'

Park that car,
Drop that phone,
Sleep on the floor,
Dream about me...

Monday, 7 April 2008

Pieces of the People We Love

Hmmm... it's always good to start a post with a random Eddie Campbell image, isn't it? This one depicts "Wee Eddie Campbell growing up on Straight Street, hoping one day to make his way in the world as an artist", which more or less sums up how I still feel today. Oh, yeah, and I nabbed it from this post on Campbell's blog, if anyone was wondering.

While we're talking about Eddie Campbell, here's a fairly bloggy ramble about The Fate of the Artist that I originally posted on this I Love Comics thread back in 2006:

"For me, the joy of reading Eddie Campbell’s autobiographical work has always come in appreciating the way that he little lyrical threads and weaves them together around a central theme. Since both of these qualities are easy to overlook when you're reading something for the first time, I do normally find that my enjoyment of his works grows with every reading.

The Fate Of The Artist is interesting in this regard, because it pushes both of the aforementioned strengths to new limits, leaving out any sort of immediately flowing continuity in the process. I mean, both the Alec books and After the Snooter have this very personal “having a story told to you by an entertaining mate” quality that is all but absent from his latest work, and that’s important here… Campbell’s both developing his existing storytelling techniques and also trying out a few new things (more on this later).

The individual components of The Fate Of The Artist are so disparate that it does feel quite slight and tongue in cheek at first. But then you realise that all of the clashes and connections between the various forms and levels of reality convey this very strong sense of disassociation and worthlessness. That’s what constitutes the Eddie Campbell shaped hole at the heart of the book. Taken in this light, I think the form of the comic is actually quite brilliant: it perfectly depicts this mindset while also playfully mocking it, making the work richer and more nuanced in the process. Or at least, that’s how it feels to me.

A few more thoughts:

--The Fate Of The Artist is almost a negative image of the Pottersville section in It’s A Wonderful Life. In Capra’s movie, we see the world without George, and it’s hellish (okay—the “She’s a librarian? NOOO!” stuff comes off a bit silly, but whatever). Campbell, on the other hand, writes himself out of the picture, and everyone’s taking the piss out of him and commenting on how much of an arse he was. Like I said before, I think this is a tonal device intended to make sure that the whininess of Campbell’s mental state doesn’t annoy us too much, but it probably makes the book even bleaker in the end.

--That Capra comparison doesn’t match up 100% because Campbell doesn’t imagine what it would’ve been like if his life never was, but I think that’s an key part of what’s going on here. In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey sees life without him in it and thus realises his importance to the fictional world he inhabits. This is every bit as egomaniacal as the picture we get in The Fate Of The Artist, where the denizens of Campbell’s fictional universe (as well as the comic strips that exist in it) directly or indirectly, mock, undercut and complain about him in his absence. His worthlessness is proportional to George Bailey’s worth in their respective stories.

--When I talked about how Campbell was playing with storytelling tricks old and new, I was thinking about the influence of Ice Haven, In The Shadow Of No Towers and various bits and bobs by Chris Ware on The Fate Of The Artist. These comics all use old-fashioned comics strips and other visual distinctions for different purposes, but they do very much “use” them, if you know what I mean. In the hands of Clowes, Ware and Speigleman, different styles are adopted and combined to create very distinct emotional and artistic effects; something that Campbell is definitely trying to do in his new book, with its cheeky detective story, typographical intrusions, artistic histories, comic strip depictions of marital dysfunction, etc.

--At the same time, you can trace a lot of the different elements at work in The Fate Of The Artist to Campbell’s previous work. The smoother toning of the artwork relates to both his aborted History of Humour and to the collaborations with Alan Moore collected in A Disease Of Language; the use of “actors” in some of the comic strips can be seen as an extension of the Alec pseudonym/persona; the artistic histories that pepper The Fate Of The Artist are prefigured in the subject matter of both the History of Humour and How To Be An Artist; the use of disparate visual elements to convey something about a theme/life can be traced back once more to his comic strips derived from Alan Moore’s spoken word performances, and so on.

--It’s also worth noting that Campbell still works the interplay between words and pictures like no one else. There are lots of very visual moments in The Fate Of the Artist (see the bit where the artist gets washed up on shore—wowza!), but when Campbell wants to he can make the prose narrative drive a page, with the visuals bouncing off of it, commenting on it and illuminating it as it goes on. He’s almost the anti Harvey Pekar in this regard: lots of American Splendor stories seem really static to me, with huge screeds of Pekar’s text covering up some very uninvolved visuals. Partly because Pekar’s a writer rather than a cartoonist, and partly because Campbell’s just a really fucking good cartoonist, the difference in the way these two autobiographical authors integrate text into their stories seems really, really huge!

--The key scene in After The Snooter, for me, was the one with the young Eddie Campbell piecing together the adventures of various Marvel characters in a disordered, issue-by-by issue fashion. That whole book felt like the older Eddie Campbell’s attempt to do so with his whole life. He was arranging the various episodes, dropping the Alec persona, wrestling with mid life problems, etc, and it made for good, full-bodied reading. The Fate Of The Artist stands as a fine contrast top this—Campbell disembodies himself in it, and it’s both way sillier and quite a bit darker for it.

--And yeah, Campbell’s funny, in an very wry and silly way. The yuks in his books are surprisingly old-fashioned, and its true that his comics make you chuckle inwardly more than laugh out loud, but I love ‘em all the same!

Yeesh, somebody shut me up already! Take the microphone away before I return to ramble again!"

There's lots of good back and forth on that thread, most of it less overbearing than the chunk of my own writing I've just quoted, so go check it out if you're interested.

But hey -- obvious influence alert! The screed about It's A Wonderful Life just screams of David Fiore. Indeed, I think I'd just finished reading his first novel Darkling I Listen shortly before reading The Fate of the Artist, which... has anyone out there read Darkling? Cos I'm totally stealing from it above!

Also: The Eddie Campbell conversation kicked off in this Thought Balloonists post continues at blog.kobek.com, with an excellent piece about the visual style Campbell adopted for From Hell.

Hulk Splat!

Since I mentioned it yesterday, a brief snippet of the glory that is James Kochalka's Hulk vs. The Rain:

Erm... should I have made another *SPOILERS!* joke here or would two in two days be a tad excessive?

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Some Kind of Comic Review -- American Splendor Season Two #1

American Splendor Season Two #1

Written by Harvey Pekar; Drawn by David Lapham, Chris Weston, Dean Haspiel, Mike Hawthorn, Hilary Barta, John Lucas, Zachary Baldus and Ed Piskor; Cover by Philip Bond

During the thirty-odd years that he’s been working on his autobiographical American Splendor comics, Harvey Pekar has found a voice so distinctive that even stories and art choices that wouldn’t necessarily seem notable on their own gain a certain discordant power when placed in the context of this comic.

This can true of both Pekar’s subject matter and the contributions of the various artists involved. Taken as an isolated short story the first piece in this issue, ‘I’m No Help’, would seem solidly unremarkable. It’s one of those stories where motivation sits just under the surface of a fairly minor encounter (in this instance between Pekar and a young man who seeks him out after seeing the movie version of American Splendor), and as such it’s a good example of the form. However, the desperation that the kid shows—for some sort of escape, and more specifically for the means to engender this escape, a “high definition camera”—plays off of several key Pekar concerns in an interesting way. One of the central themes of the post-movie American Splendor strips has been Pekar’s constant, overriding worry that the money the film has generated won’t keep coming, and that he and his family will be reduced to poverty since he no longer works as a file clerk. The fact that the kid (Byron) seems to hope that Pekar’s film connections will be able to furnish him with a way out of his life in Cleveland has a grim irony in this context, an incongruity that is only heightened by the fact that Pekar’s still there, living not forty-five minutes away from the kid. And what about the ragged pride Pekar has depicted himself taking over the plaudits the movie has brought him? How does all of this play into Pekar’s “open door policy” with regards to seeing fans, especially given that he initially seems to find Byron pretty annoying?

Beyond this story, you’ve got your standard mix of random anecdotes, scrappy jokes and wandering reminiscences, plus an entertainingly insistent lecture on how comics can be used for any purpose (even to give a lecture!). Like I said above, however, sometimes even minor cosmetic touches can be interesting in Pekar’s stubbornly naturalistic landscape. As with the previous Vertigo-published volume of American Splendor comics, a lot of the fun here comes from seeing Pekar’s work interpreted by artists outside of his normally circle of collaborators. That’s not to say that everything here works, of course. John Lucas, for example, illustrates ‘Grunting’ in a hammy, scratchy style that makes Pekar look like a tuckered out Wolverine. This could be amusing, given that the story concerns Pekar wrestling with the pad from a futon while his wife Joyce watches and comments, but it isn’t quite awkward enough to be successful*.

There are also stories in this issue where the writing is less engaging than the art, such as the Mike Hawthorn drawn ‘Restraint’. The anecdote itself is borderline-unpleasant (Pekar has trouble getting his prescription early from a strict German pharmacist; he doesn’t call her a nazi; he gets his prescription**), but it’s framed by odd fantasy images that add a crudely symbolic level to Pekar’s usual straight-to-camera rants. It could be argued that part of the charm of American Splendor has always lain in its persistent lack of such visual trickery***, but it’s also a series about finding new ways to depict the same old thing. As such, I can’t help but find a little humour and variety in the image of Pekar sitting on a giant inhaler in the middle of shark-infested waters.

My two favourite pieces of incongruous stylisation in this issue are both connected. The first is that Philip Bond cover image I’ve posted above, which has the bold, silly, pop-comic energy that characterises all of Bond’s work. The saucy nurse (who never makes an appearance during the comic itself, naturally) gives the hospital waiting room scene a sort of ‘Carry On Harvey’ silliness that clashes with Pekar’s grounded in a fairly obvious way.

But why do I find this compelling when I found John Lucas’ artwork forced and unconvincing? Two reasons: (1) Bond draws an awesome, bushy-browed Pekar, and (2) his cover illustration plays with the conflicted irony of the book’s title. The cumulative effect of these two points is charming: it’s almost like the cover asks the question, “What is this grumpy old guy doing in an exciting comic book adventure?”, to which the content of the comic itself answers, “Oh, you know, the usual.”

Which brings us on to my other favourite part of this issue, the Chris Weston drawn ‘Fall’. In this strip Pekar walks out onto his porch, trips up over a bit of wood, falls down the stairs and (*SPOILERS!!!*) hurts his arm.

Pekar then sits on the ground nursing/worrying about his arm for a couple of panels before the strip ends abruptly. This injury, of course, would then lead to the Pekar going to hospital, and thus traipsing off into Philip Bond country. Back in Weston-world, however, it’s oddly fascinating to see such a minor incident dramatised in what could be called the language of superhero realism. Again, the key to this strip’s success is that Weston does a great version of Pekar – as he tips over at a dramatic angle, the inky details of the background racing up towards him, Pekar looks oddly like Gregory Feely, the hopelessly crushed protagonist from Weston’s (excellent) collaboration with Grant Morrison, The Filth. If this connection temporarily makes the reader feel like a pink World War Two bomber with luminous yellow breasts is about to shriek in and bomb the whole scene then all the better; it’s just another play on the traditional excitement of the comic book form, another attempt to suggest the glory of the mundane, just like all the best American Splendor stories.

“Comics are words and pictures, you can do anything with words and pictures” – American Splendor #1 takes the liberty of (literally) reminding us of this fact all over again, and I love it for it. It’s good to see that Pekar just keeps on going on and doing it like he always has; after all, who else can generate combinations of words and pictures with the craggy, proud heritage that these strips have?


*I’m currently imagining 'Grunting' as an actual Wolverine story. In that context, it would probably be the Wolverine equivalent of James Kochalka’s Hulk Vs The Rain comic. “He’s the best he is at what he does, and today, what he does is shift furniture...”

**Truthfully, there’s probably more to be said about this strip and its place in a long history of similar curmudgeonly complaints (see also ‘Standing Behind old Jewish Ladies In Supermarket Lines’), but I don’t think that 'Restraint' is one of the more inquisitive or entertaining examples of the form.

***And hey, many of my favourite American Splendor strips feature Harvey standing against an indistinct background rambling directly at you, the reader. Robert Crumb is particularly good at drawing these, since his version of Pekar has a real pent-up energy that seems to be etched deep into the page.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

The Mountain Goats -- The Best Death Metal Band In Denton

Three things:

(1) "Hail Satan!"

(2) "When you punish a person for dreaming his dream, don’t expect him to thank or forgive you/ The best ever death metal band out of Denton will in time both outpace and outlive you"

(3) "This may be a song about Columbine, or a joke about singing about death metal (music that is very loud and thick) on an acoustic guitar (which is neither loud nor thick). Either way, Cyrus and Jeff are familiar Mountain Goats characters, long on bad luck and short on problem-solving skills, and Darnielle, through his poetry, grants them the dignity that eludes them in their lives." (Thanks SFJ!)

Frank Herbert on Writing -- Commonplacebook

A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating. You're there now doing the thing on paper. You're not killing the goose, you're just producing an egg. So I don't worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It's a matter of just sitting down and working. I have never had the problem of a writing block. I've heard about it. I've felt reluctant to write on some days, for whole weeks, or sometimes even longer. I'd much rather go fishing, for example, or go sharpen pencils, or go swimming, or what not. But, later, coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, "Well, now it's writing time and now I'll write." There's no difference on paper between the two.

— Frank Herbert

(Via Scott McAllister while he was off on a crazy Dune research kick)

Friday, 4 April 2008

Dogs Of War

Today (or maybe yesterday)'s required reading: Sean Witzke on Gerard Way & Gabriel Ba's Umbrella Academy.

Who knew that the singer from My Chemical Romance could write? Someone at Dark Horse, I guess, or maybe they were just betting on crossover appeal. Either way, Umbrella Academy is definitely one of the best comics I've read in the last year or so. Sure, its influences are as obvious as Way's melodies, but they're fun influences, and what's more they resolve themselves into a personal patchwork mythology. This is what links Umbrella Academy my two other favourite pop comics of the moment, All Star Superman and Casanova -- all three books take bits of beloved pop culture detritus and chop them up so that the big emotional beats, jokes and moments of genuine madness hit hard all over again. Oh, yeah, plus you know how Gabriel Ba totally tore it up on the first Casanova arc? Well he does it all over again here, and... yeah, go read Sean's piece, cos it's way more articulate than this little ramble is shaping up to be.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

How To Embrace A Swamp Creature

I was going to finish off my previous post with a hearty fuck you to the ignorant, DC-supporting, Sigel-bashing fucks on this Newsarama comments thread, but I wanted that post to have generally sweet tone so I've smuggled my rage into this post instead.

But like Plok said, the opinion of those hateful message board goons counts for absolutely nothing in the scale of things, and sometimes it's good to step back and appreciate the humbling power of distance and perspective. Wait, are we talking about All Star Superman #10 again? I think I'm getting mixed up.

Anyway, today I am under attack from the very same chesty/sinusy gunk that seems to take me down every year, though normally it hits me more in December or January. Of course, I had to go and chatter excitedly about how I'd avoided the bug so far this year, didn't I?

Ach, but that's enough about me and my gunk. Let's make with the linky:

  • Ever wanted to see Dune Lego? When I was twelve, I would've loved to have an actual Dune Lego set. That book was so huge for me in my early teens -- it was just so much hornier than Lord of the Rings, which seemed important then and just seems a little silly now. Wonder how the novel would hold up if I re-read it today? (Link via Scott McAllister)
  • Matthew Perpetua on Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks -- always a good combination. Plus you get extra added Janet Weiss (aka the drummer from fucking Sleater-Kinney!) if you listen to the track in question, which is surely always a good thing. I'm digging the new Malkmus album, by the way -- it's very noodley in the same way that Pig Lib was, but I think that direction continues to work for the man.
  • Clap Clap's Mike B on The Cult of the Serious, specifically with regards to modern TV. I'm as big a fan of The Wire fan as anyone (please keep your season 5 spoilers to yourselves, cos I'm only halfway through season 4 right now!), but the man's got a point, and what's more he's got the Space Ghost clip to back it up. Always a bonus, that.
And I'm done, for now at least. I'll be posting various quotes, images, research-snippets, videos and bits of pop culture chatter as I go on, and I'm gonna try and write a couple of half-decent reviews some time in the next week or so.

In the meantime, here's some Cadence Weapon:


Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Without Warning!

Ok so today is pretty much my damned day, so instead of putting up a joke post, how about I actually write something here? Sound okay? Cool.

If you'll remember, I got pretty excited when I saw the cover for All Star Superman #10 way back when. And man did the issue in question ever exceed my expectations! I'm still looking for a little more Lois Lane, but as Jog has ably pointed out, ASS #10 represents the point where Morrison's favourite themes really start to announce themselves amidst all the sci-fi whimsy. It's kinda like one of those moments on an early Public Enemy album where they throw a sample of one of their own songs into the mix, creating layers of rhetoric within the noise in a way that reinforces the furious self belief behind their worldview.

While we're on the topic of layering, how beautifully messed up is the idea that our universe is an imperfect experiment, a sort of damaged sub-reality striving towards the cooperative fantasy playfulness of the All Star Superman universe? That's yer typical Morrison-ian Gnostic rhetoric right there in miniature that is!

But remember: "The Gnostic error is to hate the material world... the material world is the part of heaven we can touch."

(Sorry, I'm re-reading The Invisibles right now, and surprise -- it's still alive, still arguing with me, still open to reinterpretation and suggestion. Plus I'm like ridiculously sure Superman would agree with the sentiment of the above quote, y'know?)

Ah, but as always, I'm focusing too much on Mr Morrison here. The beauty of this comic is so tied in with Frank Quitely's astonishing ability to suggest both body language and physical space (colourist Jamie Grant, whose perfect lighting is essential to both qualities, is well overdue a big shout out here). Quitely's figure work, with its tiny scratchy lines, can endow even the goofiest of characters with a sort of melancholy pride. And hey -- there's plenty of humour in those scratches too, which is important when you're working with material this indebted to the excesses of 60s superhero comics.

Once again, Quitely has proved himself to be adept at visually expressing Morrison's key themes in a clear and dynamic way. One of the best chapters of Douglas Wolk's Reading Comics focussed on the frantic shifts in perspective that are key to Morrison's pop-philosophy (this chapter is available to read online -- here are parts 1, 2 and 3). What amuses me is that Morrison and Quitely's We3 conveys many of these themes within the context of a simple, if somewhat bizarre, adventure story. Indeed, freed from the byzantine plot threads, time-shifts and contrasting art styles of works such as Seven Soldiers and The Invisibles, these themes are nevertheless given jarring force in We3 by virtue of Quitely daring choices of framing, angle and design.

All Star Superman #10 manages the same trick, albeit in a much softer way (there are no exploding bunny rabbits or bloody bullet showers here). This issue is full of tiny worlds and even smaller miracles, every one of which is given a distinct sense of importance and scale, so the comic never loses the mix of thoughtful precision and silly joy that has been key to this series' appeal so far.

Given that this issue follows Superman as he rushes around trying to prepare for his death, it's also full of intimations of mortality, but even they have a sort of benign stoicism to them, as this image (a perfect "small" moment in every respect) shows clearly:

"No more brooding on the terraces" -- I like it. Here's hoping that the last two issues contain many more historic moments, though I doubt the ending of this wonderful comic will have anywhere near the same literal/symbolic importance of this legal decision re: the copyright of Action Comics #1. And if the information at that link ain't enough for ya, go have a look at Monday's Journalista.

Giant Robots and Monsters: Can Dance/Are Generally Awesome

Helmet -- 'Gigantor Theme'

(Via Sean Witzke, Supervillain)

The Fauves -- 'Tortured Soul' (vs an amazing old Fleischer Superman cartoon)

(Featuring the musical talents of some baldy Glaswegian guy called Grant Morrison. As originally linked to in this Barbelith post)

Los Campesinos -- 'You! Me! Dancing!'

(Link via the extremely wordy old school indie fungasm that is Los Campesinos! Go buy the album already)