THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (9/15/10 – SPX gave us ACME, Diamond gives us more.)
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Amazing the things you can find at a comics show like SPX. I mean, I hadn’t expected Mark Millar’s comics magazine to be so well designed! Or distributed by Drawn and Quarterly! “I hope the little girl cuts someone,” I grinned to Tom Devlin, who looked slightly more than halfway toward the verge of tears, and maybe vomiting, which was understandable. I was pretty upset they’d moved the Miss Maryland Teen USA preliminaries to another weekend too, leaving the official SPX hotel neighbor slot to be filled by some sort of medical conference (which later became a wedding reception, perhaps spontaneously).
Much to my embarrassment, it was later explained to me that LINT is in fact the subtitle to ACME Novelty Library #20, while the Mark Millar comics magazine is titled CLiNT. This is so you might look at the title a certain way and mistakenly (hilariously) think the magazine is really titled CUNT. “But mom,” I said, “that’s an awful name for a magazine! And disrespectful to Rory Hayes! There really are no ideas left. Alan Moore was right.” I noticed then that she was softly weeping over the phone, as is her tendency. God, it’s not my fault the apple harvest festival isn’t until October!
Pertinently enough, ACME #20 continues the prior issue’s motif of apparent production errors taking on deliberate and meaningful narrative properties; while a seeming color flub in the outer space portion of issue #19 actually revealed the subjectivity of the story’s narration, #20 at times sprinkles its pages with tiny image dots — a ‘lint’ of production — as a means of evoking sensations beyond the reach of comprehension. Turn to the back cover of issue #20, and you’ll find a pair of incomprehensible tiny words in the center of the blue paper band, floating like loose date, but really they’re the echo of one Jordan Wellington Lint, one of the periphery teen bully characters in Chris Ware’s larger Rusty Brown narrative, whom this issue follows from cradle to grave as a sort of mid-story interlude.
Eagle-eyed readers will note that portions of the story also appeared as Ware’s contribution to Zadie Smith’s 2008 anthology The Book of Other People, and indeed this may be Ware’s most thematically ‘literary’ work ever, awash in gnawing male lust for sex and power and tragic guilt and sour, neurotic ambition and nagging, spoiled dreams and women thrown aside and religion and violence and Mother and a symbolic biting of the thumb representative of the thumb’s murderous power over the humble ant, the dotty lint of natural life, and a triple-shot of contemporary import in the form of corporate financial shenanigans, sexual intolerance and media-saturated detachment from ongoing foreign conflicts. If issue #18 was a blueprint of a life among architecture, and #19 studied the lingering concerns of the (frustrated) creative mind, this one demands no less than to address American life as witnessed by one F.C. Ware.
Appropriately, then, we have some wide vistas as seen in the above image. An interesting departure for the this issue is that Ware’s characteristic iconographic techniques seem more inclined than ever toward simulating experiential properties, rather than depicting interrelationships from an omniscient narrative view. So, early pages use simple labeled images to approximate a child’s sensations of the world — sometimes breaking off into a flurry of word-picture combination to illustrate a child’s thought processes — while, toward the end of the book, the panel-to-panel narration becomes befuddled in the manner of a failing mind. Common to the second quarter of the book are ‘wide’ establishing panels (again, as seen above) bordered by tight narrative panels down bottom. You know:
This is from Jim Steranko’s 1981 adaptation of the motion picture Outland, produced for Heavy Metal magazine and never collected in English, although it’s been posted online (presumably with permission) here. Having recently finished a long conversation with Matt Seneca on the topics of Outland and Jack Kirby’s 1976 comics version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was inevitable I’d make some mental connection between Steranko & Ware, two comics artists fascinated with building up pages from tightly coordinated word-picture interrelations. Nearly every ‘page’ (actually double-page spreads) in Outland consists of a huge ‘master’ image with bordering or inset sequential panels confining character relationships to reactions in little boxes. Prolific narrative text or long chains of word balloons otherwise cover the area, breaking the characters apart from the (extremely simple) story being told and confining them in the isolated mining outpost that serves as setting for the action. Paradoxically, such wide images afford the characters no escape – it’s a claustrophobic work, stiff and harsh, nearly unwavering. Airless, oppressive.
Ware isn’t opposed to a bit of narrative- appropriate oppression himself, although he is a far more varied and thoughtful architect than Steranko ever was. There are three (forgive me) ‘Outland-style’ pages in ACME #20 — which is a landscape-format book, so it’s really just one page each, not double-images — each of them adopting a different tone. The football game I’ve scanned here establishes the might and expense of wasted college life up top, then (sequentially, with the big image serving as panel #1) diving at Jordan “Jason” Wellington Lint’s isolated person, popping inside his mind to contrast his confined desires and personal obsessions with the spatial ‘weight’ of the outside. While we’re studying his thoughts, he’s already off to bed.
What I’ve described is the second of Ware’s Outland pages. The preceding first depicts a city tableaux with a smashed car at rest on snow streets, then dives into the tiny boxes below to depict activity inside the car both before and after the scene depicted in the wide panel; there, the massive top image is the enormity of time dwarfing even as big a personal event as a vehicular accident. The succeeding third such page is another snowy city, as glimpsed through a window, dominated by a man’s reflection (and, sure enough, reflections thereafter become another big, grown-up motif, as if picking up from a young man’s fancy for widescreen action); the small bottom panels there merely continue the action, with the top image representing the enormity of the character’s anxiety, symbolized by his face splashed across the landscape. As the last of the three Outland images, it makes the character’s confinement personal: he is dwarfed by (1) landscape (2) population and (3) his own futile ache for something better, maybe three great concerns for Chris Ware, he of mighty buildings and charted activities, and scorched depression.
There’s a lot more at work in ACME #20, like how mini-images insinuate themselves into panel borders as subconscious feelings, or how dots — those beloved primal elements of comic book coloring — take on a pliable representative/symbolic force as everything from tiny ants to the sensation of getting stoned or building toward orgasm, the commonality being accumulative force, perhaps in that dots must accumulate to provide comic book color; ants, smushed by Lint as a child, even though they are living things, are a crucial personal image, infesting his guilty mind. This is a map of the mind, this comic, except almost fully sequential: born on page three, each succeeding page brings J. Wellington Lint closer to death. So Ware endeavors to render his comics techniques experiential, as a most appropriate homage to a bit player in a bigger graphic novel.
But I’ll stop there; the book is not yet formally released. Here are a few that will be:
Prison Pit: Book Two: Continuing Johnny Ryan’s much-enjoyed fight comic, vol. 1 of which provided maybe the most unexpected bit of successful East-West comics fusion for 2009. Two huge battles dominate these 116 pages, one of them extensive enough to mutilate lead character CF into an entirely new character design, and the second foregrounding the motif of bodily (often sexual) function-as-transformation as a specific means of plot advancement. Parts of this one reminded me a bit of Josh Simmons’ House, which could be taken as a treat or a warning, depending on the reader’s disposition. Preview; $12.99.
Berserk Vol. 34: Oh, and here’s one of the prime influences on Ryan’s approach, Kentaro Miura’s sprawling fantasy combat opus, now in the dowsy space where Dark Horse’s English-language collections have caught up with the Japanese editions, with no means of serializing the (delay-prone) ongoing action as it happens. Note that vol. 35 is due in Japan at the end of the month. Preview; $14.99.
Detroit Metal City Vol. 6: And wrapping up our Johnny Ryan showcase for the week, here’s the sparkly-pop-singer-moonlighting-and-excelling-as-a-death-metal-hero comedy he and Anne Ishii were talking about the other week. This one’s up to vol. 10 in Japan, so Viz has some space to catch up; $12.99.
Too Soon? Famous/Infamous Faces 1995-2010: Being a new 204-page Fantagraphics hardcover collection of illustrations by Drew Friedman, who probably didn’t need a link to his website as a means of your realizing who he his, but still! Samples; $29.99.
Koko Be Good: Nice looking book of the week about which I know little save for its looking nice #1 – a new First Second release by illustrator Jen Wang, jumping off from an earlier webcomic with a 304-page watercolor story about a young woman trying to be a ‘good’ person, as prompted by a young man departing on a foreign humanitarian mission he doesn’t feel so convinced about. I predict struggles and antics. Preview; $18.99.
Lucky in Love Book One (of Two): A Poor Man’s History: And #2 – a new hardcover account of a short man’s romantic longings in and out of the WWII era, plotted and drawn by comics and animation veteran Stephen DeStefano, with a script by one George Chieffet. Preview; $19.99.
The Harvey Comics Treasury Vol. 1: Casper the Friendly Ghost & Friends!: This appears to be a relaunch of Dark Horse’s efforts at releasing vintage Harvey material, following five softcover volumes of b&w and color character-focused stuff. This new series is a bit smaller (6″ x 9″) and a lot thinner (200 pages each vs. 400+) but entirely in color, and apparently primed to mix a bunch of different characters in around a ‘focus’ character, Casper in this case. A bit less expensive too. Preview; $14.99.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface: This is the new Kodansha edition of what is now rather obviously the final longform comics work by Masamune Shirow, a deeply odd, initially marginal manga figure whose detailed-in-every-way sci-fi approach found much purchase among American readers, where expectations were different. Shirow eventually spent more time working in illustration and gaming/animation concepts, spending much of the 1990s serializing this series, which he then massively reconfigured for a 2000 box set edition to replace much of his detailed pen work with shiny, defiantly garish digital color textures and environments (and explicit sex scenes), only to adjust it again (sans most of the sex) for a 2001 mass market edition.
The final result (and note that the extracted pen ‘n ink bits were collected by Dark Horse as Ghost in the Shell 1.5: Human-Error Processor) is a barely-coherent morass of technical jargon, opaque corporate-political intrigue and seething sexual desire, with seemingly every female character thrusting her genitals at the reader at every conceivable opportunity while shouting dialogue three steps removed from machine code at any graphical elements in the vicinity. Of course, this makes it all worth flipping through; it’s almost as if every predilection that ever appeared in a Masamune Shirow comic has been deliberately cranked to the maximum, just to blow out the speakers on the old car’s last drive; $26.99.
Peepo Choo Vol. 2 (of 3): This Vertical-published Felipe Smith production, following various over-the-top culture-shopping parties on a collision course of US-Japan misunderstanding, would have to be this year’s SPX grand champion in the ‘people bringing the series up to me without any prompting whatsoever’ division. Everyone thought it was really funny, and I basically agree. Here’s more. Review of vol. 1 here; $12.95.
The Bulletproof Coffin #4 (of 6): And here’s more of David Hine & Shaky Kane. I don’t mention a lot of continuing series in this column, unless it’s been a while since an issue came out or there some topic that’s worth mentioning, but I ought to say I particularly liked how reality started to break apart and merge again in issue #3. Preview; $3.99.
Joe the Barbarian #7 (of 8): Meanwhile, the penultimate issue of this Grant Morrison/Sean Murphy series arrives from Vertigo. Owing to apparent scripting delays — not an unknown phenomena when long or long-ish Morrison series approach their conclusion, as readers of Seven Soldiers will recall — the final issue probably won’t appear until November; $2.99.
Daniel Clowes: Conversations: And topping it off with your book-about-comics for the week – a new 240-page University Press of Mississippi collection of discussions with the title artist, spanning 1988 to 2009, edited by Ken Parille & Isaac Cates; $22.00.