What a week it's been! The best ongoing comic series released a new issue, Dan Nadel was finally able to get people to read the Comics Journal, a bunch of people finally figured out why Chick-Fil-A restaurants are always closed on Sunday, I finally stopped reading Gantz...there's no getting around it, things are starting to happen in comics. There's no time for jokes about jet packs. Nathan Bulmer is setting the tone: this is a week for somber education.
First, let's see what ABHAY KHOSLA has to say.
One of my favorite things is whiskers on kittens. Another of my favorite things is the post-"controversy" interview with comic creators because the same thing happens every time, and it's something I always enjoy.
A controversy has arisen. The interview has to reference the controversy. The comic creator being interviewed is in a tough place. They can’t just say, “I don’t respect anything because I’m busy getting mine.” But at the same, they totally 100% don’t respect anything because they’re busy getting theirs. It’s a true Gordian Knot. So, pop quiz, hotshot from the SPEED franchise: what do they do? What they do, Speed 2: Cruise Control's Officer Alex Shaw?
BZZZZZZT! The correct answer is they don’t have to do anything because the interviewer is always going to jump on the grenade, distort the controversy, and try to convey to the comic creator that they’re not some icky, gross, disgusting comic fan—YUCK! The interviewer is above the fray, floating in the clouds, breathing in the same rarefied air as the creator, looking down on those horrible ant-fans in their stupid ant-farms.
Then, all the comic creator has to do is agree they’re not a tremendous piece of shit, like those comic fans. Flawless victory!
And so, for example, a year ago, there was the most heavily promoted issue of CATWOMAN possibly ever, which comic creators decided should feature a really poorly executed scene of Batman using his dick to have sex with Catwoman -- bad art, bad writing, bad color, bad lettering. Here's the question that gets asked: "But surely you’re aware of the negative feedback the first issue got from some bloggers, because it was so sexy?"
Oh, right, bloggers (ugh!) hate things when they're too sexy, everybody. If Tumblr has taught the world anything, it's that the internet HATES sexy images. It's a good thing comic creators didn't have to talk to any of those sexiness-hating bloggers-- they got to talk to Newsarama, instead, which is a rama of News, a Rendevouz with Rama of news, sexy news for freaky people who like the nasty which is what they call sex because they're dirty in their nether regions, and not because they don't wash down there appropriately, like you might be thinking-- Newsarama is dirty in their nether regions for sex reasons. Newsarama loves things when they're randy and sexy, up and down, feeling so good, up and down, like a pony would, like a pony would.
Of course, this year's big controversy has been Before Watchmen. Here’s the first question Brian Azzarello was asked in one interview: "Brian, I know this is a little weird. But I'm going to do a Before Watchmen interview without talking about the so-called ‘controversy,’ because I think we've covered that pretty well, don't you? Obviously, the project's moving forward no matter where the discussion goes. So let's talk about the project instead."
Those fans and their "so-called" controversy. Why would anyone bother to care about anything when a corporation has already decided that a project should go forward?
It's comics and the only thing anyone in comics cares about is self-promotion. "If the reason you're not buying my shitty comics is you're pretending you care about something, prove it and give me money by buying my shitty comics." How can someone simultaneously care about Before Watchmen and not want to immediately rush out to buy more comics by the wretched people making it, if the Vertigo comic (an imprint that owes no debt to Alan Moore whatsoever) has a "Creator-owned" label slapped inside of it somewhere? Does. not. compute.
Meanwhile, the AV Club asks Darwyn Cooke, "How did you brace yourself for the controversy that would come with the Before Watchmen announcement?" (Cooke answers by pointing out that the Before Watchmen controversy doesn't rise to the level of "whether we should be blocking the sun, so that Muslims don’t get any sun" because that's apparently something him and the other B-Minus Bruce Timm's argue about in his world.) Apparently the AV Club thought the pertinent question in that whole mess was how he emotionally "braced himself" to deal with fans because we all know fans are all cray cray bad guys from Assault on Precinct 13. Comic fans are like the Titanic capsizing, and all comic creators can do is hang onto the railing just like Kate and Leo.
Which brings us to this week, and a CBR interview with Grant Morrison. In his previous CBR interview, Grant Morrison blamed the mistreatment of Siegel and Shuster on THEM for signing a bad contract, suggesting that they were just overly eager scamps-- which apparently justifies everything else, somehow. (This is sort of like looking at a mass grave of Native Americans who died of small pox and blaming them for wanting blankets.) So, a little tiny controversy ensued. Here's how Morrison got asked about his previous answers: "Last time you and I talked, we briefly spoke about those ideas as they relate to Superman and the history of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. I think a lot of people then were discouraged that you didn't take as strong a stand on the debate there as they thought you might had. I was wondering whether the discussion around this issue and your previous discussion of it has had an impact on the creation of this story."
Fans were "discouraged" that Morrison didn't take a stronger stand while he was attacking Siegel & Shuster...? I guess fans were hoping Morrison would also create a magical sigil which they could masturbate to that would cause Siegel & Shuster's family and well-wishers to vomit shit from their mouths. How discouraging that there was no fecal-upchuck sigil!
The persistent message is always that only comic creators are the true grown-ups. And sure, that's why they always get the Kid Glove treatment in interviews. After all, people only treat you with Kid Gloves when they respect that you as someone capable of being treated like an adult. "Kid Gloves are for adults"-- that's a saying, right? Are the interviewers asking these questions because they're bad people or is the more likely explanation that they know if they ever ask a comic creator a real question that's not on bended knee, the retaliation will be swift, certain and without remorse?
The persistent message is always that comic fans are defective. Comic fans are always wrong. Comic fans have controversies about silly old comics, which only creators are savvy enough to realize don't actually matter because comics will never block Muslims from sunlight. Comic fans wear weird costumes to comic conventions. Comic fans live forever alone in basements, unemployable. Comic fans smell up comic shops, with their human stinkiness. Comic fans are always the very, very worst thing to be.
Hopefully, comics can get rid of all of those awful fans as quickly as possible-- better, shinier, sexiness-loving fans are just around the corner, moist and covered in money, in bookstores or over the internet or ... maybe with... holograms. My modest proposal is that they raise prices to $10 for a 20 page comic, ship every comic five times a month, feature each of the characters that people like in at least 30 books a month, be late, ugly and stupid as often as possible, and only feature ideas stolen from other creators by people openly unappreciative of those creators.
Oh, there may be a "so-called controversy" about it all but I'm sure comic creators will bravely brace themselves for it. Like a pony would.
YES. That was just what the doctor ordered. NOW. REVIEWS PLEASE.
By David Aja, Matt Fraction
Published by Marvel
This is the latest installment in a not-half-bad piece of super-hero entertainment soon to be crippled by the overpraise of the Internet. It focuses on the Hawkeye character, a character who wore maybe one of the dumbest super-hero costumes there was up until they decided to put him in the Marvel movie franchise, which is the point where somebody pointed out that there were probably some limitations on how far the American movie-going public was willing to go with this whole super-hero thing. There wasn’t much they could do about the fact that the character primarily uses a bow and arrow, though. Actually, he only uses the bow for a brief scene in the beginning of this comic (which is also the same time when he makes fun of himself for using a bow and arrow in a fashion that, if he weren’t a fictional character, would probably get a bunch of people so angry they wouldn't be able to do much more than sputter out a red-faced "snark! snark!"), relying the rest of the time on the same tricks that Bullseye used in Frank Miller’s Daredevil comics, repurposed here as a vague sort of sleight of hand, possibly as a meta-nod from writer Matt Fraction to the idea of a “trick” arrow. (Maybe?) The Miller references don’t stop at playing cards in throats, either--David Aja lifts the entire look of David Mazzuchelli’s Batman Year One and Daredevil Born Again, working flat rectangles of traffic against busted up headshots, resulting in a comic that, at its best, works as homage. (At its worst, it’s a bunch of disjointed swiping, albeit one that feels well intentioned.) Fraction’s right there with him, too--if you remember Year One at all, it's weirdly remarkable to witness how deftly Fraction replicates Batman’s internal monologue from that series, how the cadence of lines like “What kind man throws a dog into traffic--seriously I ask you--” mirrors so well the immortal “you’re the one who shot the cat”. But weird is the operative, and best, word: not “bad”, but not quite “good” either. Just strange, to see two men, neither of whom could be accused of lacking their own creative spark, working quite so diligently to recreate something that hasn’t even gone away. More, one hopes, is to come.
By Debbie Drechsler
Published by Drawn & Quarterly, 1997
It’s difficult not to wax nostalgic for the 90’s when you’re looking at something like this. Drechsler’s work had its raw, pseudo confessional resonance in 1997, her work was a qualitative stand out--these accidental coquettes certainly pained every heart that dwelt amongst them--and the actual comic was one among many, another book from another art-first publisher swimming against the tide. Hell, you fill in the blank: when's the last time you picked up a comic and there was an argument over the merits of its coloring, and the guy holding it down on the "it's awesome" front was Gary Panter?
Love and Rockets New Stories #5
By The Hernandez Brothers
Published by Fantagraphics
There’s a lot to grapple with in the new Love and Rockets during the summer that the series is seen hitting the big 3-0, but it’s not that difficult to imagine Jaime himself having to grapple with it a lot more. Following the one-two punch of the 3rd and 4th issues, which provided the sort of conclusion that serial narratives never have--a great one--Hernandez opts to take a step back from the heavy drums of emotional extremes, focusing on some lesser used characters as they wander through some summer business. Gilbert takes a more direct approach to the spectacle, pouring a heavy mix of the snarling violence that’s laced so much of his recent work all over the streets of Palomar, the fictional village that so many of his critics clamor for him to return to. It’s a meaty read, and his statements on lives well lived (and possibly what he thinks of his critics) makes more than one repeat appearance, following last years delightful description of pop criticism as “low crawling self-important nerd’s purgings”. There will be more detailed discussion on this volume, and let a guess be wagered that there’s going to be comments on Jaime’s decision to give Maggie and Ray such a backseat after their spotlight performance of the last few years, but for now, the tang of newness is being savored. It’s the new Love and Rockets. What the fuck else did you have planned?
Cowboy Henk: King of Dental Floss
By Kamagurka & Herr Seele
Published by Scissors Books, 1994
To make things easy on internet reviewers, this collection of Cowboy Henk includes a dedication to Ernie Bushmiller, Bill Griffith and Basil Wolverton, so no time that could be spent marveling will be wasted checking off references, which is good for everybody, because this book has a lot to marvel at. It’s a zero-fat collection of comics that are pretty much as close to perfect as this art form is going to allow, a highlight reel of wiseass absurdism that makes the case--again--that long form narrative is just about the worst thing comics can do with themselves.
By Harlan Ellison, Arthur Byron Cover, David Mazzucchelli, Danny Bulanadi, Christie Scheele
Published by Marvel Comics, 1984
You have to tread really carefully around comics featuring this particular writer when you’re writing for the Comics Journal, so we’ll just be direct and say that we thought that Harlan Ellison wrote a pretty generic story for this comic. It was drawn by David Mazzuchelli, and while he did a good job, this comic’s primary visual appeal is in the “look at what he used to do” camp--there’s just not that much to remark upon here. At least when you look at that old Mazzuchelli Star Wars comic, you can get off on how he makes Chewbacca look like an angry houseplant.
Batman Gotham Adventures #33
By Ed Brubaker, Brad Rader, John Lowe, Lee Loughridge
Published by DC Comics, 2001
In this Batman comic, we see Bruce take the Phantom Stranger up on his offer to go all Wonderful Life on a no-Batman existence. As you can most certainly imagine, life for everyone besides Bruce pretty much tanks right into a pier, with Dick Grayson smoking (!) and Tim Grayson being ordered by the Joker (his surrogate father) to throw bombs made up to look like babies, one of which ends up annihilating Commissioner Gordon’s sweet, precious flesh and the whole thing concludes with Bruce staring out and saying “Someone should do something about it”. It’s a curiosity, but after it’s been satisfied, there’s not much else to say about it.
Hmm. This seems like a good time to turn things over to TIM O'NEIL and his update on DOONESBURY.
So the big story in comics this week was the shocking upset in this year's Sight & Sound movie poll wherein Hitchcock's Vertigo unseated Welles' Citizen Kane as the number one movie of all time. Inasmuch as these lists have any significance at all, the fact that this one has been going since 1952 gives it slightly more credibility than, say, this Newsarama list that says that Christopher Reeve as Superman gave a worse performance than January Jones as Emma Frost. But still, it must be said: Vertigo may or may not be the best Hitchcock, depending on what day of the week it is, but it's hardly the best movie ever made, and certainly no better than Superman III with the aforementioned Christopher Reeve and a young Richard Pryor at the height of his comedic powers.
But wait, you say, that has nothing to do with comics? Oh dear. The biggest news in comics this week was probably Garry Trudeau's decision to officially transfer "controlling authority" of Doonesbury from that strip's ostensible title character, Mike, to his daughter, Alex. The announcement sent a ripple of shock throughout the comics world, not so much at the announcement itself but at the fact that apparently they still make Doonesbury. I know that's an old joke, but give me a break, it's been in my family for a long time. Anyway: for those of you who were born after the Nixon administration, Doonesbury is this strip that used to be important because it was like The Big Chill in your newspaper, only with more talking inanimate objects. Really, unless you're old enough to remember who Joanie Caucus is, chances are good that your memories of Doonesbury consist of three (3) things: 1) Zonker Harris, 2) Uncle Duke, and 3) whatever "funny" visual pun Trudeau decides to use as a metaphor for any given prominent politician.
In the first case, Zonker is one of those strange secondary characters whose popularity and recognition so far outstrip that of the ostensible "main" characters (see also, Snoopy, Wolverine), to the point that a generation of casual readers might not even realize that Zonker isn't supposed to be the main character. I clearly remember not actually learning who Mike Doonesbury was until I was old enough to vote, but I could identify Zonker as soon as I could read the funnies. In the second case, Uncle Duke is an remnant of another strange time, back before Hunter S. Thompson and Rolling Stone magazine were self-parodies, and the idea of "gonzo" journalism made just slightly more sense than gonzo pornography (in case you were wondering, those rules have changed). High school kids of a certain age and a certain mindset will always gravitate towards Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but the fact that there is now a decent film adaptation of the book should make this inevitable phase as painless a rite as possible for future generations. In the third case, this was the fatal symptom of the disease that killed Trudeau as a cartoonist: so very much terrible, terrible political cartooning. Depicting then-President Bill Clinton as a waffle - oh my goodness! It's a veritable tsunami of pith! How many sequences of word balloons floating above static depictions of the White House? That is some high-wire cartooning there, I think there's a new star in the Fort Thunder firmament tonight!
The best that can be said about Trudeau is that for a brief period of time he was an important cartoonist, and the worst that can be said is that he contributed materially to the development of his generation's completely unironic self-fixation. Alex Doonesbury alludes to this fact in the 07/30 strip when she refers to the "aging hippie vibe" that permeates the proceedings. It should go without saying that the hippies are no longer "aging," the hippies are officially "aged," and the very idea that they get to officially "pass the torch" to succeeding generations is laughable. I would say that Doonesbury exists to cater to the self-regard of its audience, but I don't really feel comfortable making any kind of pronouncements about the kind of people who follow the strip, if such people actually exist. The only people who pay attention to Doonesbury with any consistency are the newspaper editors who have to read it in order to make sure that this week's sequence doesn't offend the 70-year old Tea Partiers who comprise the main audience for all printed media these days.
I don't need Doonesbury to tell me that my demographic is important now. All I really care about is that Garfield never changes. It is comforting to me that Garfield remains substantively the same now as he was back in 1978, in much the same way as a Big Mac purchased in Jakarta will taste the same as a Big Mac purchased down the road from my apartment building. I still care more about Garfield - big, fat Garfield with his pathological love of lasagna and equally pathological hatred of Mondays - than I ever have cared about Doonesbury, for the simple reason that if Garfield is stupid then at least Jim Davis has never thrown out his shoulder from patting himself on the back so hard.
At this point you're probably thinking one of two things: either that Doonesbury is such an easy target at this point that criticizing Trudeau for being a complacent self-important boomer is about as shocking as the assertion that Orson Welles put on a little bit of weight towards the end of his life; or, that I'm a callow stripling whose disdain for Doonesbury is a direct function of a deep and abiding moral bankruptcy. To these hypothetical criticisms I will say that there is probably a grain of truth in both of these statements. On the one hand, I do not believe it is at all controversial to assert that it has been a long, long time since anyone in the world of cartooning actually cared about Doonesbury as an actual cartooning artifact. By far the most interesting thing about the strip is how generations of successive ghost artists have interpreted Trudeau's, shall we say, strange anatomical proclivities. Seeing any of his characters' noses drawn in 3D is about as terrifying a spectacle as the modern comic strip has to offer:
But on the other hand, it should also be said that Doonesbury has been around and been so consistently terrible for so long that it's probably impossible for anyone who came of age after the strip's heyday to really understand why the strip was so important in the first place. Doonesbury is 42 years old this October. It's rare for any strip to last five decades with its original creator[s], let alone to remain interesting - in fact, there's only one that ever did, and it rhymes with Peanuts. I know comparing anyone to Schulz is pretty much the definition of an unfair contest, but still: it wasn't hard for any kid coming up in the 90s - or even the supposedly sub-par 80s - to be able to read any stretch of daily Peanuts and see why this Schulz guy was a talent for the ages, even if they were never exposed to the supposed peak-era 60s material. Now any kid who encounters Doonesbury in the paper - and let's just pretend for a minute that there are still people of child-bearing age who buy physical newspapers - will probably ignore Doonesbury entirely because it fails on the most basic level at which any comic strip can possibly fail: it's not funny. You don't have to be Richard Pryor ca. 1983 to know that "What Up, Alex?" is perhaps the worst punchline ever in the history of mankind, second only to "because I like to douse myself in high-proof rum and freebase cocaine at the same time, and that's not really a safe mixture."