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Dapper Dan’s SuperMovies Column

First of all, I didn’t invite Tim. Apparently I promised I would, but then got it in my head that he didn’t want to go, and so I went to the press screening of Thor by myself. I wore 3-D glasses. I chewed gum. The popcorn line was too long, so there was no popcorn.

Thor! It was supposed to be good. It’s not. It’s not unwatchable like those two Fantastic Four movies, but it’s pretty lame. Here’s the deal (oh, right, SPOILER ALERT!): Thor is arrogant and is banished from Asgard to New Mexico, where he is rescued by Jane Foster and co. Natalie Portman plays Jane like a ditzy schoolgirl, but she doesn’t have much to work with, so it’s not her fault. She was good in Black Swan, though! Anyhow, Loki conspires to take over Asgard, blah blah blah, The Destroyer is sent to Earth to kill Thor, who recovers his hammer just in time to beat him, and then return to Asgard to beat Loki. S.H.I.E.L.D. is in the film, as is one Avenger, and there are allusions to Bruce Banner, and of course, Samuel L. Jackson makes an appearance. Oh, and there is tons of father/son/brother stuff that seems like an attempt at seriousness but rings hollow because we have nothing invested in the relationships. (Note to screenwriters: You have to set up the relationship with some backstory before ending it. Otherwise it’s just a plot mechanism. Which is the point. Sorry I brought it up.) The end.

Phew. Now look, I have no attachment to these characters, though I certainly like Jack Kirby’s Thor, and also Walt Simonson’s, and the recent Matt Fraction issues were a hoot. It’s not like I was looking for some perfect version of Thor and co., but an entertaining movie would be nice. It seems to me the best thing you can do with this stuff is make it grand and colorful and cosmic. Also, as a friend pointed out, Thor is kinda girly with his blond do and floppy garb. I mean, he’s a hippy dude with a hammer. But here he’s a muscle dude with no discernible charisma and not an ounce of femininity. One of the running jokes in the film (because, post-Iron Man, there have to be running jokes—which becomes a problem when no one in the movie has any comedic timing) is that Thor is soooooo hot.

So anyway, the biggest problem (aside from the above, which are big problems, but ones that can be solved with a toke or two if you were so inclined) is that the whole thing looks blah, and this cannot be solved with a toke. Or even a bong hit. Needless to say, no one took our Comics Comics Contest seriously. The colors are all dull bronzes, concrete grays, and muddy greens. The rainbow bridge has no rainbow, but rather seems more like a flickering data-stream from the Matrix. The Asgardian architecture, so nuttily psychedelic in the old comics, is here more like Frank Gehry on steroids. And the costumes are, as per usual with these things, trying to be “realistic.” They’re indistinguishable from Game of Thrones, which is indistinguishable from Lord of the Rings, etc. All this “realism” has worn thin. What happened to color? Also, dudes, the 3-D makes the movie look worse. Was it added later? Must’ve been. Because of all the dimensional layers the fight scenes are very difficult to understand, all the stuff on earth is hard to “read,” and the tones are all darkened. Bad idea. Cameron had it right with the only-slightly-better-because-it-knew-it-was-silly Avatar: Bright fucking colors and wide shots! The only good thing to look at in Thor was Destroyer, and that’s probably because it’s pretty much exactly Jack Kirby’s design, he’s supposed to be metallic (so the gray is OK), and the scale (Destroyer = Biiiig) works.

And so, with nothing much to look at… well… there’s not much left. Our protagonists are dull; our plot is rote. The only bright spot in the movie is Stellan Skarsgard as a scientist and mentor to Portman. My favorite movie with Skarsgard remains The Glass House, in which he plays an evil guy in an awesome glass house who adopts and then tries to kill Leelee Sobieski for her money. Skarsgard always looks like he’s slightly drunk and about to hit on you, your girlfriend, and your cousin. And that totally works. It’s entertaining. He’s the same here: A scientist of no particular purpose, he just kinda looks on and smirks, dispenses advice, and seem immune to Thor’s hotness. He’s more focused on the waitress at the diner. Or he is in my mind.

Oh, Stan Lee makes an appearance, too. Jack Kirby, who co-created the comic book with Lee but really built the “property” and invented the look and mythology of the thing (that’s pretty well established now) gets a “special thanks” at the very end of the credits (and I mean the very end), along with Simonson, and a few others. [UPDATE: Heidi points out the Lee, Kirby and Lieber get co-creator creds at the beginning of the credit roll — I must’ve blinked] Nice! I wouldn’t expect much more from Marvel, and won’t sour this edition of the DDSMC by dwelling, but I will gently guide you again to this article by Michael Dean on Marvel’s treatment of Kirby and this interview (parts 1 and 2) by Mark Hebert from 1969. Hey guys! Remember Jack Kirby! No use shouting. No one is listening.

Anyhow, assuming this edition of DDSMC won’t get me banned from press screenings, I’ll be with you all summer long from one Super Movie to the next. Maybe I’ll invite Tim next time. Maybe.

 

The Visual-Verbal Blend

This morning at the Journal, Rob Clough reveals his top twenty-five minicomics of 2010 (and throws in a few broadsheets for good measure).

Hayley Campbell files a personal report from the international comics festival of Barcelona, featuring appearances from her father (Eddie Campbell) and Kurt Busiek. Apparently zombies are kind of big in Spain.

Tom De Haven reviews Joe Ollmann’s Mid-Life (“attention ought now to be paid”).

Lots of Chester Brown coverage out there (the Journal‘s will begin next week).

Brad Mackay wrote a thoughtful review of Paying For It at the Globe and Mail. (Don’t miss the panel-by-panel visual examination of Brown’s style.) Mackay adds a little more background here.

Our own Sean Rogers reviews the book over at The Walrus. Sometimes I think the best writers about comics are all Canadian.

It is interesting to me that Mackay (like many of the reviewers so far) draws a clear separation between the comics section of Brown’s book and the commentary that follows it. (“I expect most people will judge this book on the comics, not the commentary, and these are some of the best comics of Brown’s career.”) In my reading of the book, I wasn’t able to separate the two so cleanly. I am not talking about the obvious political dimensions of the book (which advocates for decriminalizing prostitution, if you just logged on to the comics internet for the first time)—most adult readers are able to appreciate material morally alien to them to one degree or another. I just mean that the notes so inform the rest of the book (and the character of “Chester Brown,” among others) that it seems to me a distortion of the book to divide the parts too cleanly.

Somewhat related: Ed Park contributes an excellent essay touching on Brown’s frequent use of notes throughout his career, and particularly in Paying For It, for a new website called the Toronto Standard. If you are the type of reader who doesn’t like to know how a book ends beforehand, you might want to bookmark it for now. But don’t forget to come back later. This is one of the best things about the book I’ve seen so far.

Nick Gazin’s latest comic-book review column for Vice is up, and includes short interviews with Gilbert Hernandez, Johhny Ryan, Michael DeForge, and Benjamin Marra. (The Gilbert H. interview is the longest and best.)

 

Easy Week

I’m gearing up for TCAF this weekend and have been tricked into moderating a panel Friday night with Chester Brown, Seth, Adrian Tomine and Chris Ware. All men who are smarter, more successful and more liked than I am. I’m sure they’ll go easy on me, right guys? Uh, guys? I’m working through my fear. How? By working on TCJ, of course.

So! I should note that you have days, or perhaps only hours until the vaunted TCJ archive goes behind ye ol’ pay wall. Right now we’re up to issue 68. Might I suggest having a peek at issue 66? Some fine Scholz and Groth material in there.

On to some links:

Over at The Panelists there’s a bit about young Hugh Hefner’s early life as a wannabe cartoonist.

Here’s a short but tantalizing article about the comics publisher Lev Gleason (Crime Does Not Pay, among others), written by his grandnephew, who is also working on a full length biography. (via PF) This connects back to earlier posts by Kent Worcester, and including some of this material, over here.

Harry Mendryk looks at Jack Kirby’s comics about the mob. I love that Kirby’s career is so vast that you can look at not only how he treats a given subject over a thirty-year span, but also track the changes in the medium itself as he does so. Fun.

I can’t believe I missed this exhibition of Charles Schulz love letters. No excuse. Jeez.

Here’s an interview with cartoonist and historian Brian Walker, someone you don’t see interviewed that much, but has certainly lived the history.

 

The Third Month

Welcome back to the working week. Lots of new stuff for you this week and month. Thanks for reading us so far, and bearing with the occasional bump in the road. (Like the continuing comments wrinkles — it will get fixed soon, we swear.) May should be the best month yet.

New on the site:

Sean Rogers writes about the great Kim Deitch, via the portfolio published by La Mano.

Frank Santoro turns in his latest Layout Workbook, this time focusing on the format of the late & lamented MOME.

And Kristian Williams returns to the site with a review of Mike Howlett’s Weird World of Eerie Publications.

Elsewhere:

Drew Friedman talks about the book covers of his father—the brilliantly funny Bruce Jay Friedman. If you haven’t read him before, you really need to.

Speaking of books, The Strand in New York City has invited various people to “curate” collections of recommended titles, including John Waters, Maira Kalman, and Art Spiegelman.

The infamous-in-some-quarters critic and former TCJ message board habitué Domingos Isabelhino compares Peanuts to Percy Crosby’s Skippy.

Chris Mautner attempts to sum up Joe Sacco.

Only very tangentially comics: A typically oddball interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Sorry for the bare-bones nature of today’s blog post. A certain little girl would not stop crying if she wasn’t being held, and this particular entry had to be written with one hand.

 

Strong Finish

Welcome to the weekend.

On the site today:

The first installment of Bart Beaty’s monthly column, The Dr. Is In. Bart will be writing about academic publishing around comics — he kicks it off with Hillary Chute’s recent book.

And Sean Rogers weighs in with a review of Dan Clowes’ Mr. Wonderful.

Your daily links…

This went around the Twitter-sphere yesterday afternoon — it’s pretty great. Cartoonists talking about the tools of their craft in a promotional video for TCAF.

I’ve never been to the FLUKE comics fest, but it sounds like it was fun, and I like spending time in the South, so…

John Adcock takes a look at Bill Blackbeard’s non-fiction and pulp writing.

Michael Barrier has been posting some great old interviews on his site. Here’s one with animator and funny animal cartoonist Lynn Karp.

J. Caleb Mozzocco looks at Matt Howarth’s new book, The Downsized. Howarth is one of those cartoonists who remains pretty much unexamined, and he sure was prolific throughout the 1980s and early ’90s.

I enjoy looking at the sporadically updated Frank Bellamy Checklist blog. Bellamy is a standard bearer for ye’ ol’ stiff upper lip British realist comic, which I have some weird weakness for looking at. Anyhow, this latest installment has some images that would not seem out of place on a 1970s Brian Eno record cover.

And finally, the old pro Murphy Anderson — the cleanest surface around. Here’s an oldie.

 

Dummy Text

Two new features for you this morning.

First, we have Matt Seneca’s entertaining and searching interview with Shaky Kane and David Hine, regarding the collection of The Bulletproof Coffin that came out this week.

Second, we introduce an audio component to our multimedia empire: TCJ Talkies, a new biweekly podcast series hosted by Mike Dawson. (Dan came up with the name, I hasten to add.) The first episode‘s guest is world-class ranter Evan Dorkin.

And if you haven’t checked in to our post gathering tributes to Bill Blackbeard in a while, it is probably worth looking at again. We have been adding new material all week, including writing from Gary Groth, Michael Tisserand, Peter Maresca, Trina Robbins, and updated thoughts from Jeet Heer.

Your Daily Links:

Kim Thompson has been working on a big upcoming collection of Joost Swarte material for Fantagraphics, and has two great posts on the translation issues involved.

Robot 6 found a striking early Charles Schulz strip going up for bid at Heritage Auctions, which features characters eerily similar to Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Peanuts before Peanuts.

There’s a good short interview with Shaun Tan at literary website The Millions.

I can’t remember why I saved this link to Tucker Stone’s most recent roundup of superhero comics “reviews.” Maybe just because we haven’t linked to his blog before? Anyway, for those still caught up in the weekly capes grind (or who enjoy following it from a discreet distance), Tucker’s stuff is a constant sharp reminder that doing so isn’t much more worthwhile than just burning your money.

Bob Temuka compares the 3-D movie fad to the original graphic novel boom, and doesn’t have very kind words about either.

Charles Kochman at Abrams (the Smithsonian collection’s publisher) offers his own praise for Bill Blackbeard. (via)

Finally, I leave you with an old quote from Philip Roth making the internet rounds. I don’t want to put my finger on exactly why, but it somehow seems appropriate:

“Had I been away twenty years on a desert island, perhaps the change in intelligent society that would have most astonished me upon my return is the animated talk about second-rate movies by first-rate people which has almost displaced discussion of any such length or intensity about a book, second-rate, first-rate or tenth-rate. Talking about movies in the relaxed, impressionistic way that movies invite being talked about is not only the unliterate man’s literary life, it’s become the literary life of the literate as well.”

 

Working it Out

Hello again. Here’s the run down:

* Tom Spurgeon has a great round-up of thirteen tributes to Bill Blackbeard. I second his recommendation to race over to read Dylan Williams’ fantastic post, which contains the longest interview with Blackbeard ever published.

* So Gary Panter (with Chris Byrne) has curated an exhibition on Zap opening on May 12 in NYC. I’ve seen the original pages selected: it’s a killer show. Great generational combo.

* Kim Thompson takes us inside an adventure in translating. Also: Joost Swarte book back on schedule.

* Here’s an incredibly enjoyable con report over at The Mindless Ones. Frank and Jog: Meet your British counterparts.

* Via Top Shelf, the much-talked-about French graphic novel by Ludovic Debeurme, Lucille, has a preview up at Pen American Center.

* At HiLobrow: A selected series of posts by Adam McGovern on various aspects of pop culture, including some comics of interest.

* A random note: I know this is conflict of interest and blah blah, but damn the new Hate Annual 9 is good. Bagge knows his characters so well, and he never goes for the easy gag. Just great suburban American comedy. Also, if I had some dough, I’d race over to Scott Eder’s site and buy some originals by Bagge. There are some killer pages on there.

On the site today:

The second installment of Richard Gehr’s Know Your New Yorker Cartoonists, featuring Gahan Wilson! Ol’ man Gehr is on a roll with these, having just completed a great interview with Roz Chast. Stay tuned for his monthly dispatches.

And coming up tomorrow: Matt Seneca contributes a great interview with Shaky Kane and David Hine on the occasion of their newly released book, Bulletproof Coffin. It’s fantastic to see Kane, in particular, getting some attention from the general comics universe. Just five years ago Frank Santoro was a lone voice in the wilderness talking about his work, and it was some effort to track him down for a Comics Comics cover feature. Always a deeply idiosyncratic artist, Kane seemed, well, maybe lost to history or something — his work residing primarily in back issues of Deadline and a handful of small press British comics. Anyhow, sounds like we’re going to get to see some more, so that’s a good thing.

 

Taking Things for Granted

Okay, first, if you haven’t yet made time to read the obituaries and tributes for Bill Blackbeard we published yesterday, written by R.C. Harvey, Jeet Heer, and others, you really should do so at your earliest convenience. It would be difficult to overstate how great a debt anyone interested enough in comics to be reading this site owes to Blackbeard. It is easy to take for granted the state of things as they are, and think that it’s entirely natural for bookstore and library shelves to be groaning with beautiful archival reprints of classic comic strips, but if not for Blackbeard, it is very unlikely we would be living in such a world. It is both frightening and motivating to think about how much can come down to one dedicated person. (Two off-site tributes worth reading come from Dylan Williams and Tom Spurgeon.)

New to the Journal today are Dan’s interview with Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell, regarding their upcoming Alex Toth book, Rob Clough’s review of Noah Van Sciver’s Blammo, and the latest column from Joe McCulloch, with the highlights of the week for newly published comics—and another in-depth look at late Steve Ditko.

Elsewhere, lots of links this morning:

Timothy Callahan has been reading old issues of the Journal and getting inspired. You can too.

Adrian Tomine is selling art to raise funds for Japanese disaster relief.

For those buried under a rock, new art from Bill Watterson has surfaced.

Ben Katchor brings us drawing-as-writing from both Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky! (In appreciation for these great finds, I ought to link to Katchor’s recent interview with the A.V. Club.)

The film writer Richard Harland Smith interviews one of the great comics talkers, Drew Friedman.

James Romberger just posted an interview with Gene Colan. As you may know, Colan’s health situation isn’t very good right now. You can learn one way to help here.

The Point has published a nice, thoughtful review-essay based on Chris Ware’s latest volume of Acme Novelty Library.

The popular literary weblog HTMLGIANT does the same for CF’s City-Hunter.

Robert Boyd organized a show in Houston featuring the work of Jim Woodring and Marc Bell. He revisits it in words and video. Both artists (and JW’s famous giant pen) make appearances.

I imagine this must be a very common experience, but having a kid recently, and being “forced” (she isn’t that strong) to read the same books over and over again nightly, has given me immense new respect for the artistry of figures like Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak. Sendak was feeling ill when he granted a Philadelphia reporter a brief, bracing set of quotes.