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Saturday, September 11, 2010

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This comic tore me up by which I mean it wrapped me up and held me. Death grip. Eyes closed, squeezing too hard to nothing. SCARY. This comic is WEIRD. I picked it up from the quarter bin. The art looked good, the colors strange and… um, it was a quarter. And by the tenth page I couldn’t take it no more and had to get up and wash the cover, seriously. Quarter bin comics can be GRIMY. Normally I can take it but in this case the grime was comprehensive. It was plaque. Real lived in terror page by page and despite what I’ve seen it’s hard to reconcile what David Wojnarowicz has seen… I take a paper towel and hold it under luke warm water until its soaked and then I squeeze it until I have a damp wad of paper towel in my hand, then I shake the thing out and wipe down the cover (this is how my Grandma taught me to DUST).

Writer: David Wojnarowicz
Artist: James Romberger
Colorist: Marguerite Van Cook
Year: 1996

This comic keeps its distance. Toes on the edge. You can see EVERYTHING. Every God-damned thing. Every sad sad thing. Everything antagonizes in this comic. Everyone is a VICTIM, which could be a criticism but I don’t mind. This comic describes an out of control helplessness, always tragic and leading to one thing: DEATH. And sometimes dying can be beautiful if not ecstatic. FLEETING. We have very little time and what time we do have is out of our control. “The minimum speed required to break through the earth’s gravitational pull is seven miles a second. Since economic conditions prevent us from gaining access to rockets or spaceships we would have to learn to run awfully fast to achieve escape from where we are all heading…”

I’ve seen this cover a million times. I’ve known this cover forever. Where has this comic been? Why haven’t I read it before? What took so long? (more…)

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

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I’ve always been attracted to genre comic-book characters from (or descended from) pulp magazines. These characters and their stories, imagery, and cult seem to have their own point of reference, their own pool of collective unconscious, their own roster of archetypes separate from the majority of popular entertainment.

Pulp’s well known characters include Doc Savage, the Spider, and my favorite, the Shadow, an ink splotch of a character, an icon made of three or four distinct visual features: a large black hat, a Cyrano de Bergerac-esque nose, and guns.

Over the years since the character’s inception, the Shadow has rapidly lurched in and out of the public’s trash consciousness, I think due in large part to the Shadow (aka Lamont Cranston) being a real son of a bitch, a bastard of character difficult to identify with. I’ve often thought that if Lamont Cranston’s crime fighting motives were as empathetic as Bruce Wayne’s call to the Bat Signal then the Shadow’s presence in our daily genre lives would be more consistent.

I’m a fan of the many different takes on the Shadow, visual or otherwise, but I think my favorite is by Andy Helfer and Kyle Baker, in particular their six-issue story Seven Deadly Finns. Helfer and Baker understand the dark comedy of The Shadow. They recognize the ridiculous and frightening visual conflict of a large nose emerging from a large black shape accompanied by twin explosions and a rain of bullets. To think of this as the last image you encounter before death is absurd but not necessarily inappropriate.


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ROM #64


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

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I can’t stop thinking about this comic book! I can’t sleep! It’s driving me crazy!

For starters it’s Ditko inked by P. Craig Russell and it’s Rom…! Ditko’s my guy. I think he’s up there with the greatest comic-book storytellers, right next to Carl Barks, Osamu Tezuka, Jack Kirby, and Gilbert Hernandez, and like those guys he has an idiosyncratic, functional line, especially when he ink’s himself. So it’s weird to have the fucking opera-comics-guy P. Craig Russell inking Ditko. Russell’s sharp, mechanical ink-work does very little for Ditko’s acting; the best faces are either at a remove and minimal, or just on the verge of Russell over powering Ditko’s worried, angry expressions. But! Russell’s precise draftsmanship does wonders for Ditko’s layouts! illuminating the “frozen music” of his single pages and spreads. I’ve been living with this page for days…

It’s ridiculous how intuitive the contour lines shape the reading composition of this page. And just about every page of this comic book is equally stunning with innovative and exciting techniques, all respectfully appropriate for the story, and virtually never to be seen again in what we’ve accepted as the American comic book. Blackest Night indeed. Rom #64 is the alternate path never taken: a wormhole to an alternative reality where a person doesn’t have to wade through shit and mire and deceit to find such pure light, a reality where shitty movies are adapted into awesome comic books and more people are occupied by Steve Ditko’s genius (I mean that!) and a quality color job (shout out to Petra Scotese!) rather than Tobey Maguire’s abs.


I’m compelled to assume that Ditko and co. weren’t aware what pages would be presented as spreads and what pages would be faced by ads, but because these are consecutive pages I’m equally compelled to assume they knew exactly what they’re doing. This spread in particular reminds me of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan.


ROM™ Vol. 1, No. 64, March, 1985
ROM™ copyright ©1984 Parker Brother
Story Title: Worldmerge!
Story: Bill Mantlo
Art: Steve Ditko & P. Craig Russell
Letters: Janice Chiang
Colors: Petra Scotese
Editor: Mike Carlin
Prime Dork: Jim Shooter

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Friday, October 30, 2009

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The only thing I’m really obsessive about is trying to find the real worth of something and my relation to it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s comics or anything else, you know. So that’s an ongoing process. It’s a matter of possibly trying to find, to develop, what I know so that I can grasp things that I’m only seeing in an overt way. You never get to the essence of anything. What you do is just peel back layers. I just wanted to pass the first couple of layers. I feel like my whole life is wasted if somehow or other I respond to a lifetime of work exactly the same as the fucking fans.

—Gil Kane, 1977 conversation with Gary Groth included in his tribute “The Man Who Knew Too Much: Remembering Gil Kane”, The Comics Journal #222, April 2000

The first comic book I remember getting my hands on was Superman Special 1983 #1, written and drawn by Gil Kane. I obsessed over this comic book. The chunky drawing composed of spindly, coarse lines and bold, slanted hatch marks gave everything a tactile and chiseled look that made the unreal seem real to my young, impressionable eyes. I must’ve spent hours studying the cover alone: An angry Superman shoving his fist in the air, lines radiating out from under his cape, a giant flash of fire and smoke echoing his rage … A large, disembodied head hovers behind the man of steel … nervous hands reel, anticipating what might happen … and what happens is lurid, colorful, intense, over the top … an oratorio of a comic book, full of bubbly slime, furrowed brows, sweat bullets, clenched fists, tornadoes, tsunamis, an erupting volcano and Superman. Lots and lots of Superman as he navigates the silly world of mere mortals … and it’s the “mere mortals” part, which today makes me find Gil Kane’s frustration, smoldering and pinched between Superman’s black eyes.

Tonight I made the rounds; visiting several different quarter and dollar bins. I came home with a nice haul. I used to do this with more regularity but too often I found myself revisiting the same bins with the same shit, so now I go less often giving the retailers time to replenish their stock of cheap, unwanted comic books. For me, these bins are where it’s at. Flipping through thousands of grimy, moldy, water-damaged comic books in one night can be a heavy trip. It’s not out of the ordinary for a prismatic range of emotions to move through me as I spend hours digging through what seems to be the world’s supply of Image comics. But more often than not, by the second or third hour, I’ve settled into an undulating balancing act, sliding back and forth from cosmic excitement to common existential dread.

Gil Kane’s work on Superman Special 1983 #1 is fucking awesome. But it’s not enough.

It’s over! He’s gone … destroyed by his own ambitions! His mind and body couldn’t endure the trauma of endless accelerated mutation! Ambition pursuing its own ends, indifferent to the world about it … corrupts all! No matter how well-intentioned, ambition without compassion makes us … not more … but less than human!

—Superman’s thoughts from panels 1 and 2 from page 43 of Superman Special 1983 #1, written and drawn by Gil Kane.

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