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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (1/23/13 – Paradigm Squared)

Anybody who follows movies on the internet knows there's absolutely no point to watching the damn things other than lording one's moral, aesthetic, and political superiority over people who have watched different movies, or perhaps have watched the same movies in a different way. All is grist for the mill of argument, and heavy is the head that wears the crown of connoisseurship. Always, always you must seek the new thing, so that you are not caught flat-footed praising the Oscar-stained compromises of, say, Benh Zeitlin. Please! I'd tell you Miguel Gomes is the new shit of the moment, but if I've heard of this stuff, I wouldn't trust me to dictate terms, you know?

So it goes, even for 'trash.' Pity poor Django Unchained; every mainstream trumpet that laments its violence sparks a new resentment in those who grind their teeth at the geekiness of Tarantino's references, the broadness of his comedy, and yes - the stagecraft artifice of his squibs. It's soft serve, kids, and so the dedicated shitbug digs deeper into the landfill in search of hard, rich disrepute. William Friedkin's Killer Joe is the movie of the hour in this regard, "[t]he best Russ Meyer film of the year," per John Waters, always an authority. No dorky crap there, I'm assured - just lean, nasty exploitation, from a longstanding workman recently ascended to something of a living saint's status, a patron of mean, gritty mayhem.

I'm not sure you could quite say the same about Howard Chaykin - when I look back to American Flagg!, I always get a sense of buoyancy, of booming satire and dashing cynicism. Its visual style may have been dense and jagged from purposeful noise, but it kept a skip to its step, a joy of execution that later filled the whole of Time2, which remains the artist's best work and his most loosely-plotted, affording the reader instead a tour of its world, which is anyway like a codex to the interests of Howard Chaykin.

Fast-forward to 2012, and Black Kiss 2, the prequel/sequel to Chaykin's 1988-89 LA adult noir, and the bleakest comic he has ever made. This whole post is inspired by Tom Spurgeon, who, after expressing disturbance at the lack of online conversation about the series, declared it "almost ruthlessly unpleasant" and, ultimately, "the anti-life" - he's not wrong, this is a sordid comic almost beyond compare, but what fascinates me is Chaykin's misanthropy not so much directed at his fellow human beings, but against art. Specifically, the cinema.

If the original Black Kiss was, in the words of critic Matt Fraction, "a portrait of the artist as an Angry Young Man with an airtight Hollywood escape plan," Black Kiss 2 sees a Much Older Man, burnt on the fickle favors of screenwriting, surveying the history of cinematographic art and declaring it Dirty. Do you hear me? Dirty. There is absolutely no purpose to the cinema's existence in the world Chaykin creates, other than to rouse sexual desire, and to accumulate the tools that will best facilitate the satisfaction of sexual desire.

This incontrovertible truth is given a mystic imprint at the very top of the work, as a shape-shifting demon explodes into reality during a mass orgy hallucination at an NYC theater in 1906 -- incarnated, one might presume, by the lusts of the crowd -- and thereafter driven to adopt the form of the quintessential (now rather Lynchian) Blonde Starlet, and pass on its loathsome seed to a human woman desirous of perfect looks, perfect youth, of an immortality dictated by poise of movie stars.

What ensues is a grievous whirl of sex and violence, approximately 11,000,000% more explicit than that of the original Black Kiss, which seemed reluctant to depict so much as an exposed penis. Call it a transition from the human point of view of the original to the demonic story of its follow-up, which demands XXX-rated fluid-spewing all-naked action in each and every one of its twelve mini-chapters, matching the setup of the original (albeit with two now included per issue). There is bestiality, dismemberment via fellatio, and a lot of rape, male and female. It's like the series' sense of excess has substituted itself for the clean sort of clutter Chaykin used to build his pages around; stripped of their latter-day garish colors, the artist's digitally augmented pages occasionally strain for clarity, his teeming crowds a motley grouping of smooth and doodled faces, pasted down, at times, in seemingly varied resolutions, with clashy background textures threatening to devour barely-distinctive women, although that last bit is intentional, given the story.

Eunice/Ilona/Blanche/Beverly/Kitty -- the immortal woman -- you see, is both the human host for the cinema demon, and desirous for an ultimate narcissistic lover that can satisfy her every need. Biologically limited by sex, she seeks a partner who will look exactly like her, but with a penis. This launches the most curious thematic concern of Black Kiss 2: all of the most dreadful violence is visited upon transsexuals, yet they also occupy an idealized place, where not a single man who encounters a person in the form of the Blonde Starlet Ideal but With a Penis can resist the experience of knowing a cock's attentions, as if the grace of pop iconography has excused their transgression against the norm. The notion of the transsexual here is intertwined here with that of acting, of fantasy, and finally that of disposability, all of them hapless dirty angels that the Immortal Starlet, the Ideal, somehow gets killed, and eventually comes to try and kill.

This is not an orderly series. Issues #1-4 are the prequel, a series of vignettes, almost like an old-school adventure comic turned entirely towards fucking and murders, its 'heroine' navigating history while her thralls die horribly - beheaded in a guillotine while being sodomized by burly SS thugs, say. Real men's novel stuff. Issues #5-6 comprise the sequel, reuniting us with ruined jazz man Cass Pollack, aging practitioner of a dying art form, his skills appealing only to an aging set of fans, and an also-aging group of ironists who bask in the *naughtiness* of liking him. The kids couldn't possibly give less of a shit. It is very, very difficult to resist an autobiographical reading of this material, particularly given that Pollack is drawn as the typical 'idealized Chaykin' man-of-action, and then made to age, on-page, with his artist.

It is here that Black Kiss 2 reveals itself. Eunice/Ilona/Blanche/Beverly/Kitty is all-consuming, but she's also literally the only character in the story not entirely consumed by racism, misogyny, homophobia, or some other prejudice. She only wants to eat, and Pollack/Chaykin finally comes to embrace his role as her slave, deriving no particular joy or purpose from his muse's direction, but occasionally enduring flights of ecstasy indistinguishable from mortal terror. Entertainment is a low, rotten, destructive force, but at least its illusions are reliable, and preferable to the never-ending atrocity that is the human condition. Hail, farewell, and fuck you indeed.

Perhaps it is prophetic too, in its diminution of Cass Pollack jazz/Howard Chaykin comics. Black Kiss 2 is not available through Diamond in the UK, owing to fears of customs trouble, but even this controversy has prompted little discussion of the series' content. Yet I still think the story's despair is misplaced, or maybe a little canny in restricting itself to American concerns. Chaykin no longer reminds me of an American comics author so much as a seinen mangaka, with recent works like Dominic Fortune, Avengers 1959 and Marked Man adopting a lurid-yet-easygoing tone, liberally dropping historical or educational or satiric material in the name of straightforward escapist adventure. They feel like older comics, for older readers, unconcerned with much in the way of cosmetic flash. They all come from an imaginary North American Big Comic, which makes this new project Chaykin's inevitable foray into Manga Erotics F, the place where artists go to make weird, hugely explicit personal experiments, where they can do anything, so long as there's sex.

In shifting the paradigm, Howard Chaykin continues to belong. And we can imagine this black and dirty theme, this acrid melancholy, as likewise belonging to a very specific place, and not, in the alternate, standing unopposed as a statement of being for all the present.


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday, or, in the event of a holiday or occurrence necessitating the close of UPS in a manner that would impact deliveries, Thursday, identified in the column title above. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.



MAD Artist's Edition: Aah, I do believe this is the first multi-penciller installment for IDW's line of print-the-b&w-original-art-in-color deluxe showcases, as well as the first release organized around a specific anthology comic, rather than a specific artist's output. You'll hardly find a better choice for that than vintage MAD, and this 192-page, 15" x 22" hardcover promises work from Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Basil Wolverton and others, totaling 20 stories and 15 covers. I'm not going to do a (cheap!) joke, because let's face it, it's not; $150.00.

Horror Comics in Black and White: A History and Catalog, 1964-2004: No, it's not often we see a book-on-comics up here in the spotlight, but I have a special motive today. Years ago, when I was just preparing to educate myself on the forgotten history of the b&w horror magazines -- a counter-mainstream of comics in the '60s, '70s, and early '80s, one that both lost the battle for continued prominence and lacked any critical support necessary to maintain a retrospective conversation -- I came across the online postings of one Richard J. Arndt, an old-school dedicated fan-addict who'd maintained a master list of every issue, story, and writer or artist to ever see action in most of the main forums on the scene, and not a few minor ones too. These resources were invaluable to me in navigating the putrid, cavernous corpus of Creepy and Eerie and the Skywald horror-mood and fucking Gasm and all the rest, and now they're available in lovely book form from McFarland, 300 pages of HARD DATA, hopefully retaining some of Arndt's editorial comments on the listed funnies. Never visit a hotel con without it! Foreword by Stephen R. Bissette. Contents; $55.00.



Calling Dr. Laura: A Graphic Memoir: Damn, nothing quite stokes the embers of '00s nostalgia like seeing "A Graphic Memoir" under the big-ass book publisher listings. I don't know anything about artist Nicole Georges, save that she's an illustrator and minicomic/zine creator of some experience, but I'd totally flip through this 288-page Mariner Books account of family secrets and radio call-in wisdom; $16.95.

The Flowers of Evil Vol. 4: AS SEEN IN THIS COLUMN, your manga pick of the week is definitely the latest, 192-page, Vertical-published installment of Shuzo Oshimi's shonen saga of pretentious youths opposing the romantic and sexual norms of society, motherfuckers. The artist appears to be organizing this series into three-volume arcs, so -- while I'd recommend starting at volume 1 -- this should be an easier jumping-on point than vols. 2 or 3; $10.95.

Deva Zan: Meanwhile, your not-really-manga pick of the week could only be the Dark Horse-published English translation of a 300-page prose novel by Yoshitaka Amano, one of the most popular Japanese illustrators in North America, as in even if you don't recognize the name you'll know his style immediately. Of course, 200 painted illustrations will be included to augment Amano's "personal expression of the legends of Asia for his Western readership," which involves a time-traveling samurai and his interdimensional companions. In hardcover, at 9" x 12"; $49.99.

Young Avengers #1: Back in the day, when the Earth was young -- April, 2005 -- being a writer on The O.C. and other popular programs was more than enough for you to write your own big-time superhero ticket, and so Mr. Allan Heinberg launched Young Avengers at Marvel, and it became a pretty big success. Enough of a success, in fact, that the brand has popped up in some other places, and is now enjoying a full-scale Marvel NOW relaunch fronted by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie, creators of the well-regarded Image series Phonogram. Pretty colors; big letters - superhero pick of the week, True Believer. Preview; $2.99.

Prophet #33: A continuing comic book series I'm buying! This issue sees Brandon Graham return to scripting, with what appears to be Giannis Milonogiannis as artist, despite the solicitation copy naming Simon Roy. Preview; $3.99.

Garth Ennis' Battlefields: The Green Fields Beyond #3 (of 3): And another! Somebody at Dynamite seems to have gotten the idea to just throw up their hands and pitch this in the manner of Battle Picture Weekly ("THE BIG WAR PAPER" "THE TANKIES GO OUT FIGHTING IN...") - hopefully a variant edition will arrive printed on authentic bog roll. Anyway, this is the end of a long-running recurring storyline by Ennis and authentic '70s combat comix veteran Carlos Ezquerra. Preview; $3.99.

Eerie Archives Vol. 12: Relive the excitement of reading that Richard Arndt book I spotlit above by diving into this latest 272-page Dark Horse hardcover stuffed with Warren stuff. Issues #56-60 are included, featuring Wally Wood, Richard Corben, Paul Neary (albeit in content already compiled in the Eerie Presents: Hunter book from last year), Bernie Wrightson, Tom Sutton, Esteban Maroto, José Ortiz (drawing part one of Bruce Bezaire's siege horror opus Night of the Jackass, which Arndt insists is the all-time best Warren serial), and more. At this point (1974) Eerie had become almost a proto-2000 AD type of violent sci-fi/fantasy magazine, with lots of continuing features and serials, making it a good period to revisit; $49.99.

The Golden Age of DC Comics, 1935-1956: And finally, the art book experts at Taschen bring 400 pages of history by DC's own former president, Paul Levitz, with an original interview with the late Joe Kubert promised. I think there's gonna be five of these, tracking the development of the publisher across the ages; $59.95.


15 Responses to THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (1/23/13 – Paradigm Squared)

  1. DerikB says:

    Maybe it’s only to normal bookstores, but Lynda Barry’s The Freddie Stories (D&Q) seems to be out this week. At least, I got an email that it should be showing up at my door today. Not sure if that’s the next part of the “complete” series D&Q was doing or if they changed their plans about that.

  2. Joe McCulloch says:

    Yeah, I know that one’s imminent, but I didn’t see it for this week… as always, individual shops may vary.

  3. Man, I really wish Ennis and Ezquerra’s collaborations were printed in black and white. Cheap digital coloring totally washes out the appeal of Carlos’ drawing style. It’s a real shame, too: from those preview pages it looks like he’s doing good work.

  4. Joe McCulloch says:

    At this point I’m so used to the super-shiny digital color Ezquerra uses in 2000 AD, I find ‘normal’ coloring sort of ill-fitting… I still kind of prefer the super-rich (painted?) color he was using up through the early ’90s, if I had to pick.

    I wonder if IDW is still planning to colorize some older Ezquerra stuff, like they’d indicated a while back…

  5. Jeppe says:

    “Chaykin no longer reminds me of an American comics author so much as a seinen mangaka, with recent works like Dominic Fortune, Avengers 1959 and Marked Man adopting a lurid-yet-easygoing tone, liberally dropping historical or educational or satiric material in the name of straightforward escapist adventure. They feel like older comics, for older readers, unconcerned with much in the way of cosmetic flash. They all come from an imaginary North American Big Comic, which makes this new project Chaykin’s inevitable foray into Manga Erotics F, the place where artists go to make weird, hugely explicit personal experiments, where they can do anything, so long as there’s sex.”

    Wow. I didn’t think anyone could make me revisit Chaykin. I guess I was wrong!

  6. Andy Stout says:

    I asked, and along with a little snark, I received the reply that this is *not* part of the complete Lynda Barry series and that thankfully, they have *not* changed their plans about that. Can’t wait for volume 2!

  7. DerikB says:

    That’s disappointing as I expect it means we’ll have to wait longer to get to the good stuff. (I did not like v.1). Comics obsession with completion strikes again!

  8. Andy Stout says:

    I’m pretty sure “the good stuff” starts with the very next volume (I didn’t like volume 1 either despite being a big fan of Lynda, and wrote to ask about the status of the series because I was worried that a lackluster reception to the rough early work of the first volume had killed the series altogether).

  9. Kim Thompson says:

    That is one of the drawbacks of chronological collections. In the first volume of IDW’s TERRY AND THE PIRATES, intro writer Howard Chaykin basically says, “this stuff is kinda weak, you’d be better off picking up any of the other volumes,” which I’m sure thrilled the publishers. (You’ll recall this dilemma also reared its head during the great FantaCerebus tussle of 2011.) Fortunately (for us as publishers) the collector-number-one mentality takes over and, and the strange, off-model first volume of PEANUTS and the ugly-Popeye first POPEYE were by far our best sellers in those series; I’m guessing IDW, Chaykin notwithstanding, would probably report the same for TERRY.

  10. In reply to Kim:

    The #1 volumes are always the high seller, despite ‘weaker’ material. OK, sure. But maybe if the publisher started off with stronger material, the second volume would sell even better. I would love to buy a great jesse Marsh hardcover of the best stuff (like, a gigantic ‘Gilbert Hernandez’ favorite jesse Marsh Stories’ or whatever) instead of one being able t afford one isolated volume in the complete reprint series.

  11. Andy Stout says:

    Why is it fortunate that those volume 1’s are the best-sellers, though? Doesn’t that imply that some people bought the first volume, were disappointed, and didn’t continue the series? Maybe there would have been more consistently high sales if readers had started with volume 2? I know not every series can do the same thing, but I think what you’re doing with the Barks series is a great idea: eventually chronological and complete, but starting with “the good stuff” and then jumping around.

    I don’t think Chaykin recommended starting with any TERRY volume other than vol. 1 at all; you’ve kind of got to start with the first volume in a continuity series like that, get to know the characters and all. He merely reassured anyone disappointed by the first 100 pages or so that they should stick with it.

    With Lynda Barry, it’s not just about the quality; that first book has a very different tone and content from what will be the next several books. As different as Charlie Brown or Popeye looked initially, tonally the first volume is similar to the rest.

    Digressing a bit, but still related to comic collectors’ OCD about completism: I’d easily buy a one-or-two volume best of EC sci-fi and/or best of EC horror and jettison my old EC reprints, something I’m not doing with the current reprint series, interesting as the single-artist perspective is. Complete EC, in any of the many formats, is just too much… The Craig Crime book is already going to basically be a “best of EC crime”; if only it were in color I’d insta-buy!

  12. Jeet Heer says:

    Absolutely agree with Austin English on this. Publishers can help break the “starting with issue #1” fetish in a number of ways: doing best of books, not giving numbers but names (as I noticed Fanta is doing with Mickey Mouse).

  13. Kim Thompson says:

    Actually, we did that with PEANUTS and KRAZY AND IGNATZ and it didn’t matter. The first volumes far outperformed the others. One of the reasons #1s sell better is simply that when they come out they have the whole field to themselves: In the first six months or year it’s the only option for customers who want to buy a book. By the time you get to Volume 7 there’s six other books, and sales taper off all around.

  14. patrick ford says:

    The solution here is pretty obvious. You just call every volume “Volume #1.” And cover variants on the Peanuts books by Seth, Chris Ware, and Brian Bolland inked by Joe Sinnott. Oh and on the cover say somebody dies. Put “THE DEATH OF THE LITTLE RED-HAIRED GIRL on the cover really large. And Kim and Gary have to pose for pictures where they are smiling and acting all happy-man, but relaxed.

  15. Kim Thompson says:

    You’re probably right in terms of the nuance of Chaykin’s dismissal of the early TERRY.

    There is an irreconcilable difference between completists who want every single story or strip and non-completists who’d just like best-ofs. I think maybe complete collections are a step we need to go through first before we can think in terms of best-ofs.

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