Today on the site, Frank Santoro is writing about the latest book by Lala Albert:
If Lala Albert’s previous book, Janus, was about drawing people and interiors of the real world, and the “interiors of the self,” then this book is about not drawing people or interiors. It is not about artificial interiors or artificial people. It is a book of exteriors, of the natural world of trees, and birds, and life free of artifice. It is a book of “nature” drawings and one which uses an avatar of a tiny elf-like humanoid to guide the reader through this wordless graphic novel.
I must admit, I am not usually a fan of stories or comic books which feature supernatural elves or faeries. While Wet Earth is more like a television nature show which just happens to have elves in it, I had to suspend my disbelief by imagining that this was the next chapter of Janus. At the end of Janus, the protagonist looks at a seashell and speaks to it. I imagined the protagonist fell asleep and dreamed Wet Earth, and by doing that I could get over the elves frolicking around with the animals and birds and insects in the beautifully rendered Wet Earth.
And then Tegan O’Neil is here to talk about “the Latest Hit Comic from Image,” Shirtless Bear-Fighter!, which I am happy to say I haven’t read.
Shirtless Bear Fighter bored me. It bored me because not only have I seen the movies and TV shows that gave rise to the action movie formula that the book exploits, but I’ve seen the parodies of same, and the parodies of the parodies, and the neo-classical reclamation projects that recycle the hoariest old clichés as sincere homage. Shirtless Bear Fighter embraces the formula with a cheek that borders on arrogance. They’re not really doing anything with these old forms, they’re not making any kind of clever point. They’re literally just giving us the same old story with winking ciphers, and expect the audience’s respect for the trappings of parody to cover up the fact that it really is just a bog-standard revenge story told with hipster memes.
I don’t understand, really. I’ve tried throughout this piece to avoid being mean-spirited. Shirtless Bear Fighter was co-created by writers Jody Leheup and Sebastian Girner and the artist Nil Vendrell. It’s a very competently produced comic and that very competence works against it. Vendrell’s art takes the material more or less at face value. It reads like any mainstream comic produced in the last ten years, with thoroughly competent and agreeable art that fails to make any impact. The book just doesn’t seem to have much of a personality, which seems problematic. A book about a guy who punches bears should have some kind of personality, right?
—Reviews & Commentary. Two excerpts from Hillary Chute’s new Why Comics? have been published. At LitHub, you can read from her chapter on Gary Panter, Matt Groening, and punk comics.
Panter, whose own self-published comics Groening had read and admired, wrote him a fan letter in 1978. (Leonard Koren, who published an avant-garde lifestyle magazine called Wet, first showed Panter Life in Hell.) Groening describes being actually “frightened” by Panter’s handwriting—today still known, which is to say admired, for its scratchiness and intensity—but he wrote back. The two met and became fast friends, plotting how to make art people would pay attention to. Groening recalls how they would “scrape coins out of the carpet of our crummy little apartments and split burgers and then scheme about how to invade pop culture.”
The Paris Review has a section from her book on the “rise of queer comics.”
The history of gay comics, however, doesn’t start with Bechdel. It has roots that go back at least to the underground comix movement of the 1960s and ’70s—and even earlier, too, if one considers classic comic-strip characters like George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, one of the most celebrated characters in the history of comics. Krazy Kat (1913–1944) which debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, featured a famous love triangle: The mouse, Ignatz, hates the cat, Krazy. Krazy, however, passionately loves Ignatz; even though the mouse throws bricks at Krazy’s head, they are received affectionately. Offissa Pupp, a dog, adores Krazy and hates Ignatz as a result. Krazy is androgynous, a “kat” with a fluid gender that seems to shift and is never actually meant to be conclusively verified (sometimes the narration refers to Krazy as a “he”; largely, however, Krazy has been interpreted as female, including by superfan E. E. cummings). In an exchange from a 1915 Krazy Kat daily strip, Krazy complains, “I don’t know if I should take a husband or a wife,” to which the indifferent Ignatz responds, “Take care,” and hurls a brick. That a syndicated strip published in a mainstream Hearst paper—Hearst adored the strip’s artistic merit and gave Herriman a lifetime contract—had such a conspicuously “genderqueer” star at its center indicates that queer comics, even if not hailed as such, have been lurking in plain sight for over a hundred years, at least. We might even consider queerness part of the DNA of comics.