THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/27/13 – European Comics Crisis)

Above we see a characteristic image from the 1985 motion picture L'amour braque, directed and co-written by Andrzej Żuławski, a Polish expat to France best known for surreal and allegorical horror movies like The Devil (1972), Possession (1981) and Szamanka (1996). Officially translated to Limpet Love (but perhaps better known as "Mad Love"), the picture is a classic example of what I like to call a 'trap film' - i.e. a discomfiting and seemingly off-center movie from a filmmaker the casual viewer thinks they've got pegged, which nonetheless fits in well with a more expansive idea of what the director is all about. Imagine going from Tarkovsky's Solaris or Stalker to The Mirror, or from The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover to Prospero's Books or The Falls.

I was in the mood for Żuławski for two reasons. Last week I'd been a guest on a movie podcast, at which time I discussed Possession with the host, Sean Witzke, who told me that Enki Bilal had mentioned Żuławski in his '89 Journal interview, specifically to the extent that sequences from the filmmaker's semi-abandoned 1977 SF opus/political hot potato On the Silver Globe resembled passages from Bilal's own work. However, despite the ensuing friendship between the two men -- Żuławski would later write an introduction to a Bilal portfolio of Berlin Wall-themed illustrations -- the filmmaker would never actually work in BD, despite the historical participation of cinema names as diverse as Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jean Rollin and Virginie Despentes.

Secondly, and relatedly, the North American publisher of L'amour braque, Mondo Vision, had declared on its back cover copy that Żuławski's visual approach to the film was "suggestive of the hyper-realistic and chaotic world of Bande-Dessinée." This too proved to be something of a trap, as I've yet to encounter any statement from the director as to a comics influence on the film, although I've yet to listen to the audio commentary, so maybe it's tucked away in there.

L'amour braque is indeed suggestive to me of Franco-Belgian comics, however, specifically the motion-heavy cartoon exaggeration of André Franquin, master of the mid-century "Marcinelle" school of comics art. No stolid, sharp ligne claire for Żuławski's mise en scène; the general tone of this film is pitched somewhere above where oxygen deprivation causes the mind to flutter, as if the subway scene in Possession would do best reprised every five or so minutes. Characters generally do not talk when they can SHOUT, they do not gesture when they can FLAIL, and virtually any scene of people in motion becomes a messily choreographed riot of bodies and bulging eyes. It is utterly unafraid of looking silly, and it indeed looks very, very, very silly at times, to the point where no viewer will last all 105 minutes without cringing, and seven out of ten will dismiss the entire experience as intolerable.

That said, it is an interesting work to consider from this viewpoint I've manufactured: if making 'serious' comics is arguably like composing a symphony with fart noises, then L'amour braque literalizes an aspect of this fear by pitching its performances as cartoon gestures in the midst of a unique filmic construction. The plot adapts Dostoyevsky's The Idiot to '80s Paris, but in hardly a straightforward manner; the primary screenwriter is the adventurous French musical personality Étienne Roda-Gil, who conveys 'dialogue' as a Joycean spew of puns, rhymes, allusions and alliterations, exceedingly difficult to translate, one imagines, to the point where the story is very difficult for the English monoglot to follow... unless, of course, you put your faith in The Idiot. You are distanced, thus, from the immediate action of the film, yet firm (ideally *inquisitive*) in a general understanding of what's happening.

Remember that comics were relevant to the Nouvelle Vague, to Godard and Resnais, before the great leaps made by BD itself. In his Godardian acknowledgement of directorial presence -- an avoidance of visual "psuedo-realism" -- Żuławski suggests a distension of words and images that allows for accumulations of discreet meaning: a valuable potential for comics themselves. Most emphatically, I think of Yves Chaland's & Yann le Pennetier's 1986 The Comet of Carthage, one of my favorite BD, and a work also fascinated with blending mid-century cartooning style with a verbose disquisition on a literary work: Flaubert's Salammbô. It is a much smoother and more pleasing work than L'amour braque, insofar as skilled comics art can replace temporal and scenic reality in a way that cinema artifice cannot.

Żuławski, thus, is compelled to add the notion of *performance* -- one of his great obsessions -- to his arsenal of investigations. A play-within-the-film suddenly transforms the action into another Russian adaptation, that of Chekhov's The Seagull, which itself featured a play-within-a-play evocative of Hamlet, which also had a play within its' play. I imagine this director, though, was more interested in the shade of Stanislavski -- a man of adaptation himself, let's say -- and his system of experiential acting, which pings off the many levels of political and class performance at work in the film. It is laborious, again, but that is the burden you carry for being real and breathing, and reading.


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.



Black Paths: *YAAAAWN* Another week, another major SelfMadeHero release via Abrams. Oh, this one's a 6.5" x 9.5", 128-page color album by a titan of French alternative comics? That's nice. David B. has indeed returned, and this time he's bringing a 2007-08 fantasia on an episode from the life of Italian poet and proto-Fascist operator Gabriele D'Annunzio, who in the period immediately following the Great War led a nationalist seizure of the port of Fiume, initially hoping to annex it into Italy but eventually declaring it a sovereign nation with himself as duce. As anyone who's read The Armed Garden will tell you, this is prime Beauchard shit, although I understand the artist expands his scope here to incorporate various luckless fictional personages as key players in the drama. Preview; $24.95.

Judge Dredd: Origins: ROLL OUT. I think this particular 2006-07 storyline for the UK action comics mainstay -- originating, of course, in the pages of 2000 AD -- stands apart not just for providing a 'definitive' origin for the character in commemoration of his 30th anniversary, but as a bellwether for the tone the strip would subsequently adopt. Written and drawn by the original creators, John Wagner & Carlos Ezquerra (with a prelude drawn by Kev Walker at his most Mignolaesque), the story is prone to just as many seriocomic digressions and time-killing oddball tangents as a vintage '70s mega-epic -- in some ways, it's a deliberate evocation of 1978's The Cursed Earth, the first really big Dredd storyline -- but to a considerably bleaker ultimate effect, whereby Wagner begins to emphasize his title character's fictional society as less a quasi-sympathetic platform for satire than a sort of unkillable monster existing terrifyingly apart from any serious notions of threat or preservation. This is the origin too of that monster. Gross, weird, violent, funny and frustrating, but also sincerely melancholic, even depressive in ways 'dark' superhero comics in the U.S. never seem to grasp. This is a North American edition from Simon & Schuster, 192 pages in color; $19.99.



Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos Vol. 1 (of 2): The Fourth Faction: And if Origins was a bleak, modern take on The Cursed Earth, this gigantic 2011-12 storyline -- Wagner's swan song on his co-creation, for now -- very specifically evokes 1982's The Apocalypse War, i.e. 'the one where Dredd nukes the Soviets (of the future),' except with urban terrorist activity replacing the certainties of direct war and its easily nukable targets. Mostly, these first 192 pages offer a paperback thriller's perspective on exactly how a stolid society can best be made to go to pieces, with art by a whole lot of available hands, but primarily Henry Flint, Ben Willsher and Colin MacNeil. A Rebellion edition, available for import; $28.99.

Doom 2099: The Complete Collection by Warren Ellis: Speaking of the future, it's not all that well-remembered today, but 2000 AD founding editor Pat Mills (with frequent writing partner Tony Skinner) was one of the workhorses of Marvel's ill-fated '90s line of science fiction/superhero comics, taking over the notorious Ravage 2099 from Stan Lee himself and providing the bulk of the scripts for Punisher 2099. He also did a brief piece for the villainous Doom 2099 in 1994, although that title is surely best remembered for the young British writer just then taking over the book: Warren Ellis, whom I believe has made exactly one original comics-format contribution to a 2000 AD magazine to date, in a 1991 issue of Judge Dredd Megazine. Ellis worked more in a creator-owned mode in the early '90s -- the scene having momentarily matured to accommodate that -- and then quickly moved on to this quintessential 'new-to-America writer proves himself interesting on a small Marvel/DC title seemingly nobody cares about' endeavor, a sixteen-issue run (#24-39) with artists Pat Broderick and Steve Pugh, and shorter appearances by Ashley Wood, John Buscema and others. Complete in 424 pages; $39.99.

The Complete Zaucer of Zilk: Again! On one hand, at risk of outing myself as exactly the sort of superior, contrarian killjoy yutz we all know each and every writer-on-anything to be, deep within their black leather hearts, I maintain that I was not driven quite so far toward hyperventilation as some commentators upon IDW's initial collected release of this 2012 fable from Brendan McCarthy & Al Ewing -- it's a little too much like earlier, itchier McCarthy works, without enough in the way of the jaundiced eye it's trying to cast on the ethos of those pieces -- but, then again, seeing a work this aesthetically opposed to the pop comics norm wriggle out an unusual measure of success is valuable in its own right. Certainly it's the best-looking iteration of McCarthy's 21st century super-shiny style, and now there's a bunch of bonus features and an artist's afterword to enjoy in this 80-page all-in-one comic book; $6.99.

The Tower Chronicles: GeistHawk Vol. 4 (of 4): Also a British comics notable - Simon Bisley, who's wrapped up his pencils on this 72-page Legendary Comics project with Matt Wagner, a costumed danger guy thing that's set to continue for another three miniseries in the future with different art teams; $7.99.

Fury MAX #10: Might as well mention this Marvel project too, since I never quite know when it's coming out. Garth Ennis, Goran Parlov, a history of calamitous American warfare in the 20th century. Ennis also has new issues of Battlefields and Red Team out this week, in case there's a hole in your life; $3.99.

East of West #1: Woah, an American writer, so weird!! In further black leather circulatory updates, experience has shown I'm probably just not the audience for current superhero megastar Jonathan Hickman's particular brand of explicative poli-sci-fi, but I do like that he's dedicated to exploring frequent, original series, and this one -- a future western about one or more apocalyptic horsemen on a mission to assassinate an American President -- promises art by Nick Dragotta, an attractive talent working in a Tothian mode; $3.50.

Joe Kubert Presents #6 (of 6): All-American, this legacy of the late artist, here promising "a deeply personal final work" for your reflection; $4.99.

The Library of American Comics Essentials Vol. 2: The Gumps - The Saga of Mary Gold: USA! USA! We're going waaay back with this one, back to the popular dawn (if not the actual birthplace) of American serialized comics, as IDW presents a choice 1928-29 slab of high melodrama, all romance and thievery and broken hearts from Sidney Smith, who got the switchboards screaming with his shock ending. One strip per 11.5" x 4.25" page, for 344 pages. I love this format; $19.99.

Johnny Boo Vol. 5: Johnny Boo Does Something: I'M PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN. This is the new James Kochalka release from Top Shelf, a self-described "boring" adventure in which his lil' ghost character whiles away the minutes. A 40-page, 6" x 9" hardcover 4 kidz; $9.95.

B.P.R.D.: Vampire #1 (of 5): North and South American-born talents here, as the Mike Mignola franchise spins off a story from its 1940's-set continuity, innovative in that the artists, the very popular brothers Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá, are also credited as co-writers with Mignola. This wing of Greater Hellboy is generally very good. Preview; $3.50.

Mister X: Hard Candy: I just want to say that Canada is American too, in the continental sense. Also, this is a 32-page comic book by Dean Motter, following his architecturally-inclined signature character through a pharmaceutical mystery which I think was initially serialized in Dark Horse Presents. Preview; $2.99.

Dave Sim: Conversations: And finally, your book-on-comics for the week, a 256-page University Press of Mississippi compilation of 10 chats (and a selection of online q&a sessions) with the Cerebus creator, conducted from 1982 to 2006, including Tom Spurgeon's 1996 two-parter for the Journal and an infamously combative 2004 encounter with Tasha Robinson at the AV Club. Edited by Eric Hoffman & Dominick Grace; $40.00.