Thursday, 26 November 2009

They Ripped His Trousers. Now Denim is his Plaid.

Sean Collins on random music references in comic book criticism:

"Just a week or two before I wrote that piece [comparing The Dark Knight Strikes Again to glo-fi pop music], I was complaining to someone about the pieces you'll read here and there along the lines of "This issue of Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witch-Boy is exactly like my favorite Sleater-Kinney album!!!" Now, art is not made in a vacuum, and even when direct influences aren't in play, resonances can be--people can tap into similar ideas or make similar decisions. It's as valuable for critics to be aware of what's going on in multiple disciplines as it is for artists themselves, and I think making connections you can make between disciplines is a perfectly valid approach. That said, making connections between anything and everything is as useless, critically, as making no connections at all."

Hey, I resemble that statement! This is the second time I've read one of Sean's offhand disses and felt my eye twitching, but I'm not taking it personally since I'd have to be a paranoid bastard to assume it was all about me. Plus Sean was cool about me tweaking his nipples at the start of my Inglourious Basterds post, so there's no reason for me to be a dick here.

Sean makes the above comments to defend his DKSA piece against criticisms that the musical references he used were completely arbitrary, and he's quite right to do so. Still, I find myself wanting to argue with Sean here, so maybe I am feeling a little touchy on this one! So, for example: The Filth doesn't look like Beyonce, and Beyonce sure as shit doesn't sound like The Filth, but I do listen to Beyonce when I'm trying to get away from the feelings The Filth generates, and in writing about them both together I can get at why.

Sometimes this technique is a big load of juvenile nonsense, and sometimes it's a useful way to write something more interesting than "I liked it because it was good/it was good because I liked it." The same good to bad ratio exists for the sort of clear line criticism that Collins deals in -- writers like Sean and Douglas can make it work, but how many of the eight thousand comics reviews that hit the Internet every week are worth reading?

In other words, to echo a refrain Sean made good use of in that interview, it all depends on the piece!

[EDITED TO ADD: If I wasn't such a self-involved prick, I would have also taken issue with the part of the interview where Chris Allen asks Sean how he feels about snarky critics like Tucker Stone and Abhay Khosla.

Sean says that he feels "suspicious" of the validity of this kind of criticism because "the harshness quickly becomes an end in itself." In the abstract that might be a fair enough point, and Sean does qualify it by saying that "It depends on the piece," but when those two writers have been specifically mentioned? Well, then it's time to call bullshit. I mean sure, those guys take the piss A LOT, but in both cases you get the same sense that you get from TV critic Charlie Brooker, i.e. that the hatred comes from an awareness of how good this shit can be.

Also, the snark is only one part of Abhay's writing -- no one else has written anything that gets at the heart of Scott Pilgrim like this piece does, for example. And Tucker? Well, he's no one trick pony either, and it's not like he's shy about praising comics when he likes them. Only last week he gave the latest volume of Naoki Urasawa's Pluto a full on crotch rub while giving Flash: Rebirth a quick kick to the dick, and if that's not the key to cosmic balance then I'll eat my own power ring.

Still, Tucker and Abhay are big boys, and neither of them needs to hide behind my peely-wally Scottish arse. In fact, I've just got to the end of this edit, and I see that Tucker has (deliberately or otherwise) defended his style way better than I ever could. Just check out this priceless bit from the end of his latest Blackest Night review:
It's about exactly what it says it's about, which is that a whole bunch of various colored and various emotion themed magic ring wielding teams are going to team up and combine the colors of their various wishing rings to construct another, more powerful and more pure color so that they can stop the physical embodiment of death, which is a bipedal humanoid character who speaks English that used to fight Captain Atom. The best part of the entire thing so far was in an issue of Green Lantern Corps, when a big black thing tried to steal Queen Coleman from the Smurf planet, but then he was stopped by a Mexican suicide bomber.

And honestly? You can pretty much add exclamation points to those last two sentences right there, and you can add the word "Awesome!", and you'll have produced a rough approximation of every positive review that this piece of shit is ever going to get. That's how easy it is to write about a positive comic book review. Make a fucking note.

Yeah, that sums it up just nicely, I think. Saying the word "AWESOME!" 'til your mouth bleeds is easy. Making genuine entertainment out of a week's worth of shitty comics? That's pretty close to modern day alchemy.]

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Time For Some Real Filth -- Johnny Ryan Gets FUCKED!


WARNING: I'm going to pull the pants right off of this book and show you the gristly phallus that lies beneath, so this post is definitely NOT SAFE FOR WORK, okay?

Okay.

I was rereading this filthy, horribly addictive comic the other day when the truth fired itself out of the page and splattered me right in the eye: Prison Pit is Birdland for kids!

The Mindless Ones have already discussed the idea that this would make a great comic for children, and while some folk might blanch at the idea of comic this full of scatological violence being FOR KIDS, I still remember what being a wee guy was like and let me tell you: I would have loved this!

Like the commenter known as It Burns said:

It is playful. I mean, yeah there’s lots, LOTS of weird gore, but it reads like a WWE-wrestling-fan getting in a knife/chair/cannibalistic fight over whether the shit’s real or not. . . I couldn’t help but giggle.

There's definitely a heavy WWE component here, but there's also a strain of weird, abitrary cruelty running through the comic that's somehow too stupid to be truly upsetting. In the world of Prison Pit you can rip a guy's guts out only to have those same guts used as a smothering tentacle weapon against you; in the world of Prison Pit, burst zits are deadly weapons and you can make a battlesuit out of your own semen.


It's this constant biological fuckery that makes me think of Birdland, but where the characters in that jizz-drenched comic were trying to bang their way into a post-human pornotopia, the characters in Prison Pit live by a different maxim: Fuck or be Fucked.

And so while Birdland artist Gilbert Hernandez overloads his pages with Kirby-esque money shots, Ryan sticks his crew of grotesque miscreants in a tight space and lets them take each other to pieces. Weirdly enough, the scratchy backdrops that Ryan conjures up here remind me of another Gilbert Hernandez comic, 2007's trauma-addled Chance in Hell:


Prison Pit is every bit as raw and hopeless as Chance in Hell, but I'll maintain that it's got more in common with Birdland. Why? Well, for one thing, it opens with a shot of a whole planet being fucked:


That chapter title there? That's some subtle shit. Again, it's a childish gesture, and it fits with Ryan's aesthetic. Birdland is the perverted fantasy of a freshly minted adult who's just trying to get used to the ins and outs of love; Prison Pit is the perverted fantasy of an angry kid to whom sex is just another gross joke. The prison planet that Bloodhead/Fuckface is spurted into at the start of the story is like a grotesque parody of an ovum -- it's obviously been bombarded with spermy little gametes, but there's no reproduction going on here, only brute division.

So: is it all just a load of ick and goo signifying nothing? Well maybe, but honestly, there are very few artists who can make ick and goo seem so thoroughly alien and unclean as they do here!

Which raises the question: is Prison Pit actually Birdland as re-imagined by kids? Whatever the case, it's too idiosyncratic to be tarnished banal crudeness of some of its supporters, as I'll now try to explain by way of this Angela Carter quote:
Pornography involves an abstraction of human intercourse in which the self is reduced to its formal elements. In its most basic form, these elements are represented by the probe and the fringed hole, the twin signs of male and female in graffiti, the biological symbols scrawled on the subway poster and the urinal wall, the simplest expression of stark and ineradicable sexual differentation, a universal pictoral language of lust -- or rather, a language we accept as universal because, since it has always been so, we conclude that it must always remain so.

(Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History)
Prison Pit is definitely of a piece with toilet graffiti, but it's also the WORLD'S BEST TOILET GRAFFITI because (1) It's a fucking excellent fight comic! If the crude doodles that adorn your average public toilet were this well choreographed, I doubt I'd ever leave! And (2) Veiny cocks aren't enough for Johnny Ryan, so Bloodhead's cock is covered with massive barbs too:


This pulsing chunk of meat is Prison Pit in miniature: it's immature and it's not really acceptable in polite society, but it also provides a jolt of WHAT THE FUCK! that's distinctly lacking from your average comic. Or from your average bit of hyped up and cum-sodden pornography, as Angela Carter would probably have noted.

And while there might not be any reproduction going on in Prison Pit, the story ends with the creation of strange new hybrid made possible by the sheer violence of the book. Of course this turns out to be a distinctly onanistic bit of symbiosis, but that's exactly the right note for Prison Pit to end on. The imagery in this comic has its roots in the most basic of bathroom wall scribbles, but it's far from universal, and thank fuck for that!

Fallout #1

Being a new semi-regular feature in which I empty my head of thoughts, quotes and stray images that have been sparked off by other items on this blog.

The following quotes have been rattling around my head ever since we talked about Inglourious Basterds. I was going to write a whole post around them, but I didn't have too much to add so I've decided to post them raw:
Fine art, that exists for itself alone, is art in a final state of impotence. If nobody, including the artist, acknowledges art as a means of knowing the world, then art is relegated to a kind of rumpus room of the mind and the irresponsibility of the artist and the irrelevance of art to actual living becomes part and parcel of the practice of art.

(Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History)

***


(Mike Barthel on art as criticism and criticism as art)

***
In 1939, when it was certain that war was imminent, the Trustees of the National Gallery, headed by Kenneth Clark, decided that the whole collection was to be sent to Canada. On Churchill's intervention the plan was modified and the pictures were moved to slate mines in Wales. Civilian populations could not, of course, be provided with comparable protection and were killed in large numbers.

(John Carey, What Good Are the Arts?)

***

Worship of art made human beings expendable. Hitler welcomed the allied bombing raids on German cities because they cleared the way for his designs. After the massive raid on Cologne in August 1942, Goebbels found him studying a map of the city, and he confided that the demolished streets would have had to be razed anyway. In 1943, following the heavy raids on the Ruhr which severely damaged Dusseldorf, Dortmund and Wuppertal, and virtually destroyed the town of Barmen, he remarked that these conurbations were 'not attractive aesthetically' and had needed reconstruction. Beauty mattered more than people. In November 1943 he altered the German strategic plan, giving orders that Florence should not be defended. 'Florence is too beautiful a city to destroy,' he insisted. By contrast 'I do not feel a thing about levelling Kiev, Moscow and Petersburg to the ground... In comparison with Russia even Poland is a cultured country.' The same aesthetic standards governed his estimate of individuals. Art, and those who produced it, were the supreme consideration. 'Really outstanding geniuses,' he explained, 'permit themselves no concern for normal human beings.' Their higher mission justified any cruelty. Compared to them, ordinary people were mere 'planetary bacilli'.

(John Carey, What Good Are the Arts?)

***

Pornographers are the enemies of women only because our contemporary ideology of pornography does not encompass the possibility of change, as if we were the slaves of history and not its makers. Pornography is a satire on human pretensions.

(Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History)
***

(Click on the above image to experience The New Adventures of Hitler! Or at least, you know, a tiny little sputtery bit of it...)

Coming soon: Darkseid Week! Just remember, it's all Plok's fault!