Archive for April, 2008
Thursday, April 24, 2008
I found the comic pictured above for 25 cents today. Am I the only one out there who didn’t know that Steve Ditko drew an FF Annual? And inked himself? In 1981? I haven’t read it yet but it looks amazing and, well, I’m that much of a comics fan that this was a big find. For a quarter!!
message to all auto-bio comics / art comics lovers out there, this post is for you: Read more old school super-hero comics.
Labels: Marshall Rogers, Steve Ditko, superheroes
Sunday, April 20, 2008
This is Kirby’s last issue of Mister Miracle (no.18) and effectively the end of his Fourth World saga. Jack would, of course, complete the tale of Orion and Darkseid in a Baxter paper deluxe mini series for DC in 1984 that reprinted the original run of the New Gods series, but this was the end as it happened, amid struggling sales and a changing audience. It’s a funny issue in many ways but it’s also a gem of formal invention, and a classic example of Kirby’s almost Beat-like stream of consciousness symbolic storytelling. I thought it would be a fun example of very simple grid layouts and how the grid provides a counterpoint to the symbolism and dynamism of the drawings.
(Above)It begins with Mister Miracle, Scott Free (Kirby), in a tank of water, in a grave. When the page is turned the grave becomes a trench in war (Below). Scott Free’s allies are silenced by, what I read as, THE HANDS OF FATE. It’s as though Kirby had no script and simply filled in each panel with what frightens him most.
Mortar Fire. Approaching Armies in the distance (Below) and the appearance of an archetypal German soldier. For anyone versed in Kirby’s personal history in World War II, it is apparent that these are powerful symbols for Jack. And it’s not lost on me that he is employing these images in the last issue of this series with full knowledge that the title was being canceled.
Crisis. Romance. The killer framing of Barda slows the pace down, a violence of it’s own that’s played sweetly against the action which will surely erupt again.
Capture. Notice how Kirby holds the framing of his main character (Below)and doesn’t really alter the angle all that much. But by doing so he’s able to show the weight of the figure sinking in a very “realistic” fashion. Also by using the grid to “hold” the framing sequence in place, he allows the reader to piece the stages of the action together very quickly.
Submission. Here, after Scott Free is captured, Kirby created a chapter break and shows himself submitting to the powers that be. A rare sight in a Kirby comic. The hero limp and submitting to “CANT” –okay, well, a character named “Kanto” who Mister Miracle calls the “master assassin” but you get the idea. When in 40 years was Jack ever bound by “cant”? There’s also a Dante reference here but I’ll pass on turning that rock over in favor of encouraging you, dear reader, to go over to your local comic shop or some corner of the inter-web and track down a 5 dollar copy of this comic. The conclusion is great and I don’t wanna ruin it for you.
It’s a fun comic, a wonderful example of “the blueprint” of Jack’s mind that manifests a lot in his work, especially in the 70s. I think that the grid format that he sticks with “opens up” nicely in certain spots (to a double panel or a full page). It’s also a formal structure that allows Kirby to improvise much like the Kerouac does in his spontaneous prose works. Kirby can make quick decisions and change the direction of the narrative in one panel and not upset the rhythm or flow that he has set in motion from page one. Also like many of the Beats, Kirby’s personal mythology provides the reader with clues to possible hidden or double meanings within genre stories. It’s the scrappy, personal pastiche of those genres that feels whole and unique to him and NOT just because he more or less invented these genres within comics. For a comic to utilize war, romance, adventure and occult imagery so effortlessly and simultaneously is just too much. I guess they had to cancel it.
Labels: Formalism, Jack Kirby, symbolism
by T. Hodler
Monday, April 14, 2008
In other news, the Inkstuds gang have shown extremely questionable judgment by asking CC‘s own Frank Santoro (!) to help moderate their new message board. This is a mind-boggling development. Normally, I’d ask readers to go there and give him a hard time, but I’m hoping all the troll-hunting doesn’t keep Frank too busy to post here. So please don’t bookmark that link.
Labels: Frank Santoro, Gary Panter, Inkstuds
Sunday, April 13, 2008
I was going through yet another unmarked box of comics and found two books next to each other. Black Dogs by Ho Che Anderson and the issue 3 of the anthology, Instant Piano. Both are from the early 90s and both have stories in them with lots of dialogue. So I thought I’d compare them and riff on the striking differences between the two.There’s a Kyle Baker story in the Instant Piano about a couple at an outdoor cafe that is pretty great. Baker employs an invisible grid to hang his panels on and puts all the dialogue under the panels and more importantly under the person who is talking. It’s a signature device that Baker really made his own in Why I Hate Saturn and here he uses it effortlessly to great effect. By placing the dialogue below the panels he opens up the drawings themselves to function as film stills and encourages the reader to “read” the expressions, to really take time with them somehow. I’m not as hurried as I would be in other types stories that depict static characters with a lot of dialogue. Case in point would be the above page by Ho Che Anderson from Black Dogs. The opening shot is the first for this scene. On the previous page there is no mention of the couple in the story going to sit somewhere and talk under what appears to be an outdoor picnic area type of place. But there is no “master shot” of the couple talking, just that mustard color jacket under the shelter to give us a hint that they are sitting at a picnic table. Like Baker, Anderson uses close cropped framing to draw out the emotional content of the dialogue, but unlike Baker, Anderson makes it very difficult for the reader to follow the thread, to “read” into the charged conversation (it’s about race). In fact, it’s almost “un-readable”, the cropping of the figures is crowded further by the balloons of text creating a claustrophobic feeling that might in some strange way add tension to the conversation but instead just turns me off as a reader. I lost interest simply because it’s too hard to follow along. And I found it frustrating that such an important passage of the story (on the next page there is a fight) is without any structure to hold it all together, to move the reader through the page.
Anderson uses a grid, essentially, for the page but the way the dialogue overwhelms the page design obscures the flow of the reader. Baker’s “cleaner” approach is more successful and although I don’t think it necessary to put the dialogue under the panels, I do think that composing pages with grids is not as simple as it appears. One still must consider how the page is going to breathe and unfold in time.
Labels: Formalism, Ho Che Anderson, Kyle Baker
by T. Hodler
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
As a lot of you probably already know, great writer-about-comics Jeet Heer recently got into a small disagreement with another great writer-about-comics, Michael Chabon, in response to a piece Heer wrote about David Hajdu‘s new cultural history of the crusade against violent comics, The Ten-Cent Plague. I don’t have too much to say about it, other than that in his Slate article, and in several other recent pieces, Heer has been making a worthy attempt to depict the complexity of the 1950s comic-book scare. (That second link, a discussion between Heer and Fredric Wertham biographer Bart Beaty, is particularly interesting.)
I wish the same could be said of the ongoing debate about the book between Hajdu and Douglas Wolk at The New Republic (to which both are frequent contributors). Wolk’s a smart guy, and as evidenced by the Jeet Heer links above, there’s a lot of potentially meaty topics to discuss in Hajdu’s book, so why waste this opportunity with a lot of talk about how comic books are too taken seriously!? Hajdu’s answers aren’t particularly enlightening, but I can’t really blame him after Wolk starts with that bizarre hobbyhorse tangent inspired by a stray Newsarama (!) interview question that has little or nothing to do with the subject of Hajdu’s book. Can we ever lay off this tired “are comics sufficiently recognized?” stuff? Anyway, the exchange isn’t over yet, so there’s time for things to get more cogent. It would be great if Wolk followed up on some of the questions obviously posed by Heer and Beaty’s writings.
UPDATE: The second round of questions is up, and it’s really not much better. I’m curious to see if Hajdu can make more sense out of them than I can. (And Bernie Krigstein‘s artistic accomplishments should be judged only by how many of his stories are famous? Really?) Oh well.
UPDATE II: Since Tom Spurgeon linked to this post this morning calling these comments “unkind”, I wanted to point out that I have found Wolk to be a very likeable person in all of my encounters with him — he very generously gave me advice before a panel I moderated at SPX (something I’d never done before), for example. This is simply meant to be friendly argument. That may not need saying, but I’m weak and can’t help myself. (I like Tom, too. I like everybody!) All the same, I really think that Wolk could (and should) have done a better job with this.
UPDATE III: In the final round, Hajdu gives it the old college try, and quite rightly defends Krigstein, but understandably gives up on answering Wolk’s weirdest question: “If there hadn’t been a conflict over morality in entertainment going on, how do you think the comic books of the ’50s might have been received at the time?” That one stumps me, too. Actually, upon further reflection, it doesn’t: I’d say about the same, but with fewer bonfires.
Labels: Bart Beaty, David Hajdu, Douglas Wolk, Fredric Wertham, Jeet Heer
by T. Hodler
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
I went to the Omega the Unknown event at Rocketship last week to see co-creators Jonathan Lethem, Farel Dalrymple, Paul Hornschemeier, Karl Rusnak, and Gary Panter talk about the series. I was feeling a little under the weather, and the store was packed, so I didn’t stay long, but I did get a chance to briefly ask Lethem about the whole Rusnak/Kansur thing I pointed out a million internet years ago, and then expanded on a few thousand years later. Suffice it to say I didn’t get a very mind-blowing answer — if I recall correctly, Lethem called it “pretty obvious, huh?” and then went on to say that “Kansur” was Rusnak’s old graffiti tag, and that, sort of like how Charlie Brown always wanted to be called “Flash”, Rusnak used to wish his first name was “Rex”. Anyway, as this doesn’t exactly provide evidence for my “grand theories” (though it doesn’t necessarily contradict them!), I probably shouldn’t mention it, but due to my irreproachable personal honor code, I felt compelled to publicize it here. (That link is like my favorite political commercial of all time, by the way.)
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
I’ve been reading the original issues of Matt Wagner’s Mage. I honestly couldn’t tell you what it’s about. Magic, I think. I’m too busy looking at the art. Wagner’s layouts are quintessentially 80’s. And they are also crystal clear. There is something refreshing in the wide, thin super-cinemascope panels and the airbrushed colors made by hand. It’s all aged rather nicely. (It’s too bad that the recent reprints I’ve seen do not reproduce the original comic’s colors)
Wagner was big for me as a young artist. There was a naturalism to his layouts and figures that echoed the best of Frank Miller’s Daredevil and, well, a generic art-school “realism” that suited his stories. I remember his Demon series for DC had a big impact on me (I was 15) because of how stripped down it was for a mainstream comic. It was somewhat shocking back then to see a guy like Wagner go from drawing Mage for Comico to The Demon for DC.
I found myself actually sitting next to Mr. Wagner on a panel at SPX 2007. It was surreal. “Holy shit, Matt Wagner IS Kevin Matchstick,” I remember thinking. Without skipping a beat I pulled out my favorite Grendel issues to get them signed (numbers 16 thru 19 for all you fanboys). “I drew each of those in like a week,” said Matt. It’s always weird when I meet artists who influenced me at a young age. How do I explain to him how important his layouts were to me back in 1987? I didn’t bother. Luckily, the panel began.
Anyways, Mage. Mage is really interesting to look at in 2008. Look at the above page and how “handmade” it looks. How natural it looks. How obvious and how subtle the stylization is. It’s unpretentious. Direct. Clean. I wish I had the patience to really break it all down and explain why I think Wagner’s conservative approach is a superior one when compared to more flowery artists such as Paul Pope or Michael Kaluta. What Wagner lacks in stylistic flourishes he makes up for in nuts and bolts storytelling. He’s more of a Guy Davis kind of artist at heart. Wagner’s impeccable narrative transitions and plodding pace mixed with broad, solid action sequences make for entertaining reading. And on top of that Mage really doesn’t look like anything else. The influences are there but they aren’t worn on Wagner’s sleeve. It looked fresh 20 years ago still looks fairly unique today. Not an easy claim for ANY comic. Check Mage out if you haven’t before.