Countless comic-book fans, critics, and historians tell the same story about the moment when “everything changed” for the superhero:
Comics finally grew up in the mid-1980s with groundbreaking grim and gritty works like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen, two comics that, for the first time, portrayed complex and realistic superheroes.
I’m not convinced, though, that the emergence of psychotic superheroes ushered in an age of psychological realism. While these graphic novels and their offspring deliver a darker vision of heroism and “the hero’s motivation,” they frequently rely on familiar moral dilemmas, stale genre conventions, and worn-out tropes of “superhero grandiosity”: Our metropolis is overrun by villains! The end of the multiverse is near! What great man will rise to save us? While the world of superhero fantasy may be grimmer and grittier than it was in the early ’80s, in many ways it hasn’t changed at all.
A recent Daniel Clowes faux-Batman cover offers a genuinely new version of an old superhero that I find more disturbing and enlightening than the genre’s revisionary classics. Clowes created the drawing for genius designer and mega-Batman fan Chip Kidd, who asked artists to draw the Dark Knight on a page with the Batman: Black ’n White logo.
Good morning, friends. Today we present the final installment of Jeremy Sorese’s five-day tenure at the helm of our Cartoonist’s Diary feature. This one takes place at a relative’s 95th birthday party. Thanks, Jeremy!
We also have two review for you. First, Greg Hunter is back to wrestle with the first issue of Citizen Jack, Image’s new “political satire” from Sam Humphries and Tommy Patterson:
…By the time Jack announces his nominal campaign, the comic has not shared any real indication of his politics. The closest it gets is Jack’s charge that, “Political elites are killing this country,” one of the few things members of both party bases might agree on. Armando Iannucci (Veep, The Thick of It) has included similar ambiguities in his work, and like the comic’s resemblances to some much-loved earlier antihero stories, this would put Humphries and Patterson in good company. Even so, throughout Citizen Jack, the choice plays not like a bucking of politics-as-usual but like an unwillingness to alienate any reader too soon.
Later, via a bland burlesque of cable news, the first issue introduces Jack’s competition, the presumptive nominees of … the Patriot Party and the Freedom Party. Humphries may well have an extensive rationale for this choice, but it reads like still more fence straddling—another feature of a story that services the impulse to say, “Boo! Politics” while seeking to challenge no one.
We also have another debut reviewer (the third this week!), Monica Johnson, who is here to tell us about Maggie Thrash’s Honor Girl, a YA lesbian summer-camp story.
Thrash, a staff writer for Rookie Magazine, is clearly no SVA graduate. But that’s not a dig on her drawing skills. It is just to say that whether she lacks or doesn’t give a crap about slick art-school-style drafting techniques, she’s really a storyteller, and a strong one. Thrash certainly has drawing skills, but they’re her own, and they’re specifically savvy for the story she is telling. Her bare-bones line drawings colored with watercolor pencils seem to be channeled directly from her 15-year-old self. The drawings have the rawness and bright-eyed directness of the teenager depicted in them, who can’t hide behind a catalog of romantic experience and mastery. This is part of the brilliance of the comic medium itself—the way images work in concert with the literal to tell a deeper, much richer story—and Thrash really hits the mark with it. The drawings are so believably vulnerable, which is maybe why her story feels so devastating.
Also, I hope you noticed that Joe McCulloch sneakily returned to his Tuesday Week in Comics! post to add a significant piece on a comic he picked up at CAB, Lilin, an underground Mexican “internet sex” comic from an artist named Mou.
Lilin, notably, is a sex comic in which nobody is ever seen engaging in sex acts with another person; it is very contemporary, then, in its explicit depictions of male and female masturbation, and Lilin, the demon — because who really believed talk of the Grail would be the only pertinent bit of religious lore? — is equally modern in spreading sexually-transmitted diseases over the internet. Her squirt videos somersault into ejaculations of living tar, while the boys develop similar fat pustules on their fapping hands. Everybody is giving birth, and it is these transformations that Mou indulges with his most texture-heavy drawing, dominated by shiny contrasts of solid black against blank white. Eventually, these values come to dominate his pages as Lilin zips up a vinyl bondage uniform and takes to the night to summon her legion, her transcended rank, her animal slaves, unleashed for the symbolic destruction of a convenience store and the murder of everybody present.
CAB is such a whirlwind of a show. Maybe it’s the New York City atmosphere. It all just goes by so fast. I barely get to see anyone or really visit with them for long. It was busy. Sales were solid. Same as usual even if it seemed like there were less people there than in previous years. I think there are so many comics festivals these days (curated and non-curated) that maybe the bloom is off the rose. Fine by me, as I dunno if I can add anymore shows to my already busy circuit season. CAB also represents the end of the season in many ways. SPX is the first big show of the season, the starting line in many ways and CAB is the finish line so to speak.
Michael Cavna writes about Veteran’s Day comics, including Warren Bernard’s excellent collection, Cartoons for Victory, which Warren will present at Desert Island on Nov. 19th.
Today is the third day of Jeremy Sorese’s week creating our Cartoonist’s Diary. This time, he goes to Lincoln Center and remembers Moonstruck.
I am excited to mention that we also have the TCJ debut of Sarah Horrocks, who has mixed feelings about Benjamin Marra’s Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T.. (Personally, I found Terror Assaulter to be a real return to form from Marra, and maybe his strangest and most effective comic since his first, Night Business. But despite most media outlets’ obsession with scores, thumbs, and stars, opinions are possibly the least important part of reviews.) Horrocks is worth reading:
Terror Assaulter is weird, and at times uncomfortable (particularly in terms of its extreme self-centeredness)–but in all of its discords the book creates an energy that infuses its anthemic punchlines with real force.
While it’s uncertain how a book that had merely depicted this weird world without commenting upon it would have been received within the current cultural climate, which is predisposed to decontextualize imagery to its most problematic aspects, the decision to filter these moments through a host of self-reflexive hipsterish jokes works against any effectiveness Terror Assaulter may have. If the strength of the book is how far into outrageous absurdity this white-male-supremacist vision can go, stopping repeatedly to inform the reader that “hey it’s just jokes” drains away a lot of that power.
All biographies face the dilemma of having to balance between the way celebrities and talents of the past are remembered as outstanding geniuses and the monotony of the everyday and hard work they spent their lives in. Typex chose to overcome this problem by saying goodbye to chronology and focusing each chapter on a supporting character of Rembrandt’s life. In this way, and true to a man who painted more self-portraits of himself than anyone before (or since), we see the painter in the mirror of his wife and lovers, son and daughter. What we see is not necessary a nice picture. Stories of betrayal, debt, the plague, and greed, with some occasional lovemaking to cheer us up. Was Rembrandt really that impossible to live with? Yet the way in which this portrait of the artist is shown is truly unique: the visual style of the book is a true match and homage to the atmosphere and style of Rembrandt’s paintings. Some etchings and oil paintings are directly redrawn and contextualized by Typex, offering an interesting game for the reader and her best friend, the search engine, to look for, find, and identify these references. One of my favorites is the scene when the painter is sketching his wife in an idyllic forest setting (on page 81). Having escaped from their own wedding, the pair chooses the company of vine over boring relatives and without us noticing, the famous portraits of Saskia with crazy headwear are born. And in case you really haven’t noticed, go back to page 71 to check.
—Interviews & Profiles. If you were annoyed or offended by the recent New York Observer interview with Robert Crumb, you weren’t the only one: so was Crumb. He claims to have been misquoted repeatedly, and asked a friend to post an explanation of what happened.
It’s hard to say how much the distortions and words put in my mouth by [interviewer Jacques] Hyzagi were deliberate. He taped the interview but as English is not his first language it’s possible that he simply misunderstood some things and put his own interpretation on them. That’s possible. He sent me a first draft which was so bad that I rewrote some of it but was reluctant to mess with it too much for fear of offending him. He was “pissed off” anyway, accused me of being “manipulative” and trying to “control my image.” He did leave in most of my rewrites but he also put some things back in that I had taken out and even added things and did not send me a final draft before going to press. I didn’t even know the article was out until a friend told me he read it on the Internet. I regret now that I didn’t just rewrite the whole thing. It was badly written. It’s still not very good.
When I suggested comics were shifting from navel-gazing and self-loathing to absurdist plot victories to my 27 year old business partner Graham Kolbeins (i.e. young), he countered with examples of the depressed characters in Simon Hanselman’s “Meg Mog and Owl” and mentioned the importance of critical reader feedback, including Hanselman’s criticism of Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit. I asked him if perhaps the Internet engendered flame wars at the expense of a real dialogue. He says, “I think we’re going through a normal negotiation of terminology but exacerbated by the Internet and the rapidity of change that technology brings. Sexual identity in particular had gotten so much more specific and profligate in its categories, and that’s exciting on the one hand for youth who are struggling to define themselves, but sometimes eye roll-worthy for older people still getting used to the LGBTQ standards.”
Such a dilemma raised by the young typically raises the ire of the older. There is no better case in point than magazine editorial obsession with an ironic person’s greatest bugaboo: political correctness.
This weekend if Comic Arts Br0oklyn, filled with dandy new things like the new Clowes, Puke Force, Crickets #5, Frank’s new book, a new Comics Workbook, and so much more. Our own Naomi Fry is interviewing Dan Clowes on Sunday at noon.