Monday, 23 June 2008

So Much For The Ten Year Plan

A little follow-up to my previous post on the joys of Joe Casey's weirder comics (riddled with errors and typos as the initial post was, I'm determined to add to it!):

Having just stated that I think Casey is at his best when he allows his characters to lead the story rather than imposing a strict plot on them, I find myself thinking about the importance of purpose in Casey's work.

This came up in that Comics Journal interview Casey did with Tom Spurgeon, and it seems like a thought that has some flexibility to it. Many of Casey's characters are heroes in search of a vocation: the casts of Automatic Kafka and Wildcats have outlasted their original reasons for existing, the teenagers of The Intimates are still trying to work out who they're going to be, and Godland is all about following your own buzz vs finding your place in the scale of things.

So how does this fit with the idea that Casey's best work is free, loose and animistic? Shouldn't that very freeness mean that Casey's characters are constantly on the run from thematic purpose? Well, no. See, whether they're chasing down the ultimate high (like Basil Cronus), trying to find a new way to save the world (Wildcats 3.0 come on down) or struggling with their role as forerunner to evolution (Adam Archer, Godland's comin' soon!) Casey's best characters are all trying to do what they think they have to. They might be wrong -- many of them seem plain deluded! -- but overall I get the sense that Casey appreciates the fact having the space to do what you want is a good place to start working out what you should do.

Maybe this is the kind of lesson you learn when you're not given complete control. Like, if you start off writing corporate superhero characters, balancing your own impulses with the desires of the company. Then, eventually, you get to do your own thing for a while, but your impressionistic superhero satire series gets canceled early -- what do you do? And then what if it happens again, with your formally ambitious teen superhero story?

In both cases, Casey's response was to explain what was going on within the text, informing both the characters and the audience what he'd been trying to do, and then to wipe the slate as clean as he could. There's a bitterness to Casey's tone when this happens the second time round, but what does this gesture actually say? That if you can't do it as you'd planned, it's best to just make your intentions clear, explain the mitigating factors, and walk away. Is that it? Maybe. And is that a stroppy response or a mature one? I'm not sure.

Here's something Casey said during another interview with Tom Spurgeon (who is totally the glue holding this series of half-formed thoughts together, in case you hadn't noticed):
I think it's a very mature decision to not hold onto things too tightly... to know when to let go. To have that wider perspective and understand how an action -- even if it doesn't benefit you personally -- can affect a greater good. I don't think that's too heavy-handed a sentiment to place on superhero characters, do you?
Casey's obviously addressing issues "within" his stories here, but I guess I'm curious about the ways that this theme resonates outside of his comics as well. It points to a series of questions that might be equally important to an office worker, a comic book writer, a journalist, a bummed out girlfriend, a super-genius crime fighter, or just about any other damned fool out there. It's power/responsibility and all that old noise, sure, but Casey engages with this concept in a way that seems refreshingly thoughtful and unforced. Better yet, he does so while still honoring the gloriously silly and sleazy side of the comic book galaxy (see all the crazy crap I was enthusing about in my previous post for proof).

Like his characters, I'm not sure that Casey always knows what the right action always is when it comes to balancing his wishes with the will of the world. What he does seem to be sure of is that if he keeps letting his characters try to work these questions out for themselves then he might eventually hit on something. Plus, it makes for entertaining stories, even (perversely!) when that freedom is curtailed (those last few issues of The Intimates are fucked up and fascinating in equal measure).

So let's hear it for Casey and his collaborators.

Godland might be on a collision course with its ending now, but at least everyone involved seems prepared this time, so let's hope that this crash is a good one. And if not, well, at least Casey's got enough personal freedom that he can still mix bill paying numbers with flights of lunatic fancy. Now can someone help me rob a bank or two to get Godland artist Tom Scioli enough money to keep him happily unemployed for the rest of his days? The fact that he draws his books on his lunch breaks and while chilling with his family is both a demonstration of personal purpose and a dick-kicking reminder that even guys who create awesome, fairly successful comics have to pay the bills through other means.

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