Archive for February, 2009

… But I Sure Can Pontificate About Them!


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Friday, February 27, 2009


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I think I may have killed the comments thread on the last post with my most recent unwieldy contribution, so I thought it might make sense to just copy and paste a big chunk of it into a new post. Longtime readers will remember me making similar arguments in the past, and may get bored. I have no idea if Dan or Frank disagree with me on this, so it shouldn’t be considered Comics Comics dogma or an underlying subtext, except perhaps in my own writing.

I’m basically not a big fan of using the term “literary” when discussing comics, because I think it causes more confusion than it helps. Almost everyone uses “literary” to refer to subject matter, and so they call Chris Ware’s work literary because most of his more recent stories have revolved around the real, mundane lives of ordinary people, but in my mind it makes more sense to use words like “literary” and “novelistic” to refer to the formal qualities of prose [and/or poetry], the effects and techniques that best exemplify the medium of fiction the written word.

We really need an adjective that can do the same work for comics that “cinematic” does for film, or “literary” does for prose [and poetry], because despite his subject matter, Ware is one of the most purely “comic-book” creators currently working. Nearly everything in his recent books seems to have been conceived in order to take full advantage of the comics medium. It’s really not that different from Frank’s earlier comment about Alan Moore: “he wrote Watchmen to highlight how the medium of comics is unique. That it would be impossible to film the series. That he used device after device within the medium to show off its power.”

You see the same thing in movies, but people don’t seem to have any trouble separating subject matter from formal techniques there. Eric Rohmer‘s movies are just as cinematic as Steven Spielberg’s, despite the fact that the first director generally makes films about people talking and the other generally makes movies about sharks and aliens and Nazis.

To a certain extent, this is all a matter of taste. If a reader is more interested in comedy or satire or thrillers than “slice-of-life” fiction (for lack of a better term), than they’re going to prefer Quimby the Mouse or Take the Money and Run to Jimmy Corrigan or Crimes and Misdemeanors. Personally, I love the most recent works by Ware and Clowes (though I do selfishly agree that I’d like to see more comics from Clowes), but I can understand why others might not. Sometimes I’m more in the mood for “Needledick the Bug-Fucker” than Ice Haven myself, and pull out my old Eightball issues.

But I think it’s a mistake for people to use the word “literary” pejoratively as a way to close off or shrink the artistic territory “appropriate” for comics. Imagine if comic book subject matter had never spread into new areas after 1939. No Crumb, no Woodring, no Tezuka, no Kirby, no Clowes, no Altergott, no Hernandez, no blah blah blah.

UPDATE: I do agree with last post’s commentators to a certain degree, though, and want to make that clear. There are many comics made these days that I think are too “literary” (or too “cinematic”), but they aren’t those created by artists like Ware or Clowes, who strive to take full advantage of the comics form’s potential. Mostly they’re created by younger artists, who haven’t adequately thought through their material. Often there’s no apparent reason the stories had to be comics, as opposed to a prose story or play or something. But it’s not necessarily the subject matter that makes them overly literary, it’s the execution.

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I Don’t Read Comics Anymore


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Wednesday, February 25, 2009


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Sorry about that. It makes it hard to think of things to say about them, though.

Actually, I’m exaggerating. I read and mostly liked the two new Urasawa series that finally got published last week, and re-read and loved the Tezuka story that one of them adapted. I still don’t have anything to say about them, though.

So how about this instead?

1. Paul Karasik can still surprise me, which surprises me. Check out his take on the above Jimmy Olsen cover over at the Covered blog.

2. I like a lot of Alan Moore’s stuff, but have recently gotten tired of reading all the articles about how he doesn’t like movies made of his comics. Not that his stance bothers me, but I’ve heard it a million times now, and don’t understand why the entertainment press still thinks it’s so shocking and interesting. So it was funny (to me) that when I read the latest big Alan Moore interview, this part jumped out at me as being particularly enjoyable:

One of my big objections to film as a medium is that it’s much too immersive, and I think that it turns us into a population of lazy and unimaginative drones. The absurd lengths that modern cinema and its CGI capabilities will go in order to save the audience the bother of imagining anything themselves is probably having a crippling effect on the mass imagination. You don’t have to do anything. With a comic, you’re having to do quite a lot. Even though you’ve got pictures there for you, you’re having to fill in all the gaps between the panels, you’re having to imagine characters voices. You’re having to do quite a lot of work. Not quite as much work as with a straight unillustrated book, but you’re still going to do quite a lot of work.

I think the amount of work we contribute to our enjoyment of any piece of art is a huge component of that enjoyment. I think that we like the pieces that engage us, that enter into a kind of dialog with us, whereas with film you sit there in your seat and it washes over you. It tells you everything, and you really don’t need to do a great deal of thinking. There are some films that are very, very good and that can engage the viewer in their narrative, in its mysteries, in its kind of misdirections. You can sometimes get films where a lot of it is happening in your head. Those are probably good films, but they’re not made very much anymore.

I didn’t enjoy it so much because of his critique of film—which I think (or thought) was pretty banal and almost conventional wisdom at this point (Godard’s work isn’t done, I guess)—but because it just seems so refreshing after reading so many articles and interviews with comic-book people who always seem to be trying to pump up comics by saying they’re just like movies, or could make great movies, or that the reason Will Eisner is great is because he used tricks from the movies, etc. It’s nice to hear someone involved in comics who doesn’t have an inferiority complex about them, and just flat out says they’re better, and on top of that, movies are bad for your brain.

Also, usually I get all bent out of shape when someone admits to not paying close attention to comics and movies for a decade or so before turning around and bashing them on and on, but I have to admit this time I was kind of amazed at how accurate Moore was. (Though admittedly his critiques apply mostly to the superhero and blockbuster varieties.) Maybe that’s a power you get when you’re a wizard.

On the other hand, I tried again this winter, and I still can’t get through Promethea. What a chore. It seems like being a wizard has its bad sides, too.

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Whatever Happened To…


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Sunday, February 22, 2009


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The best psych artists of the underground?

Whither Barney Steel? Wherefore John Thompson? Anyone seen Jim Evans? What about Susan Morris? Wherefore are thou, oh great ones. Come back!

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reading list


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Saturday, February 21, 2009


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mainstream comics:
Kick Ass #5
Incognito #’s 1 and 2

alternative comics:
Dirtbags, Mallchicks & Motorbikes
Wizzywig #2

art comics:
Rat’s Cocoon / Lung Damage split zine
Gay Nerd #2

manga:
some giant collection called “Fellows”
that my friend brought back from Japan.

european comics:
Necron #1

I’m gonna “review” some or all of these soon.

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50 cent bin Ditko


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Sunday, February 15, 2009


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50 cent bin Ditko. Sounds like a terrorist rapper. I picked up these 70s Ditko horror comics at my secret spot here in Pittsburgh. I spent like, 3.50 total for 7 books. (Then I spent 3.50 for one new comic: Incognito #2-which is actually really good, somehow very timely) All “late” Ditko where he’s just crankin’ it out, where’s he’s just using that template of his, of generic action scenes, familiar poses. Eyeball the panel I’ve enlarged at the very bottom and think about how many Ditko comics you’ve seen that exact framing, that exact pose. Two crooks beatin’ their feet down an alley in a Ditko comic will more than likely have a variation of this pose. Yet, it scares the shit out of me somehow. So generic but so symbolic and perfect for the pulpy pitch of the story. This period of Ditko just continues to fascinate me. And unlike 70s Kirby comics which have been scooped up by collectors and are now more pricey than they useta be, 70s Ditko comics are still around in the bins if you sniff for them. Anyways, tune in next sunday night when my hunt for cheaply printed mildewy newsprint continues on ComicsComics.






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Body Painting from the 60s


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Friday, February 13, 2009


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Bodies and bodies… I also love Bodyworld. But, not-comics-wise, I feel compelled to share this video of Charlie White III, one of the featured artists in Overspray, doing some serious painting on a live body in the late 1960s. Let this be a lesson to ya! Charlie was one serious bad-ass back in the day.

BODYWORLD concludes


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Thursday, February 12, 2009


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I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again. If you’re not following the webcomic Bodyworld, then you’re missing out on the most formally inventive comic being made today. I suggest reading the whole thing from start to finish, which you can do now that the thing has ended. Enjoyable for me cuz I watched it turn and mutate over the past year so the finale really hit home. Loved it. You will too. And if you don’t, you’re just a moron who doesn’t know a thing about comics.

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