THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (4/28/10 – Mr. Wilson & the Children Who Hate Nazis)


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

FOOTBALL RIOT AT SMURF VILLAGE – not an uncommon sight, I hasten to add. Those lovable (and almost certainly delicious) blue creatures may be best remembered in the U.S. as a mega-merchandising juggernaut accompanied by a five million-episode television cartoon, but those old ’60s/’70s albums by creator Peyo and co-writer Yvan Delporte (editor-in-chief of originating magazine Spirou for some of that period) were lean, tight little comics, marked by a rather jaundiced view of societal stability. The Smurfs are always fighting, be it from Flanders/Wallonia-inspired linguistic differences (Smurf of One and Smurf a Dozen of the Other, seen above), catastrophic and possible inherent flaws of the democratic system (King Smurf) or an old fashioned insect-borne rage contagion (The Black Smurf, or sometimes The Purple Smurf if your region cares to head off a particular allegorical construction); if this is supposed to be some kind of anarcho-socialist utopia, its maintenance costs are transparent indeed!

Don’t mind me, I’m just counting the weeks until the (apparently) late August debut of the new English-language North American line from NBM/Papercutz, albeit (apparently) to be published at the same smallish 6.5″ x 9″ dimensions as NBM’s Dungeon paperbacks. Still: vintage Franco-Belgian stuff for $5.99 (unless you want the same-sized $10.99 hardbacks) sounds like an okay enough side-effect of the continuing march of movie franchise continuations, here a live-action/CGI whatsit from the director of Beverly Hills Chihuahua and two of the screenwriters of Shrek 2, coming soon, 2011. Starring Neil Patrick Harris as Johan, so you know they’re going all way back into the 1950s Belgian kiddie komiks, by which I really mean the 1976 animated movie The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, co-directed by Peyo himself, having worked in animation during WWII with several future principals of the mighty Marcinelle school of Belgian comics art. Teenage Peyo wasn’t immediately accepted into Spirou with Franquin and Morris and such, which makes it a little ironic that the Smurfs’ international assault left Peyo’s clean but rather dispassionate iteration of the period’s style its sole lingering image in a lot of places, the U.S. not the least of them.

Comics and movies, folks. What else do we have?

Wilson: Oh, comics and literature. I think the wider critical/(sub-)cultural conversation has packed lit comics stereotypes into a firm enough state by 2010 to wonder freely if Daniel Clowes isn’t on some level fucking with us by devoting this, his first-ever original graphic novel, to the seriocomic travails of an anxious schlub shuddering down a life’s path mined with those transient epiphanies that tease our appetite for wholeness. Clowes’ especial variation is twofold. First, titular Wilson rockets past depression and self-delusion into stretches of bona fide sociopathy, sending boxes full of dog shit to ex-relatives and appearing maybe half-aware at best of how his confrontational rants against absurd modernity and human avarice cause him to register.

Secondly and moreover, Clowes assures that Wilson registers differently to us by way of a much-noted formal technique: every page of story is an essentially self-contained ‘scene,’ usually drawn and colored in a wildly different style from whatever is around it. Each page has its own title, and typically ends in a little beat, usually comedic or awkward-comedic but sometimes straightforwardly (even indelicately) dramatic. The effect reminded me strongly of the Todd Solondz movie Palindromes, wherein the lead character is played by eight extremely diverse performers so as to project a sense of universality while emphasizing the core, unchanging nature of the character, crucial to the philosophic idea that people are substantively incapable of change.

Likewise, Wilson begins the story by declaring that he loves people and that he’s a people person, and then the first punchline is his urging a passerby to shut up. We’re stuck with him; he’s the focal point of every page, always narcissistic, always struggling, and usually interacting with other people – he just can’t stop, he needs their fuel for his righteousness, even as the gaps in time in between pages seem to grow wider and characters recur. “We like our stories to end with a promise of hope – ‘happily ever after’ and all that,” he remarks to yet another hardly-willing audience later on. “Too bad real lives don’t have that structure. Or hell, maybe they do. Maybe it’s right there in front of us and we can’t see it.” The page structure, then, the differing art, is the external view on Wilson, how he’s glimpsed by passerby or trapped airline seat buddies, inevitably seasoned by a host of intangibles and personal baggage simulated by Clowes’ flickering draftsmanship. Yet Wilson is always Wilson, always the same despite the art, which he can’t see, living on the page and all.

This is the give and take of Clowes’ first-ever graphic novel construct – words as life-as-lived, and pictures as life-as-observed. It’s a worthwhile experiment, and sometimes a trying, tedious one, particularly as the comedy — and sure, there’s two or three really big laughs — gives way to a wholly expected whiff of fleeting redemption, Our Man shifted closer to Romantic for his teary slow self-destruction, and oh those rhapsodic beats at the ends of pages, it’s less outside eyes there than the sure hand of God and Author. Of course, your interpretation may greatly differ; these can be rich pages. There’s 80 of ’em, in a deluxe 8 1/4″ x 11 1/2″ Drawn and Quarterly hardcover. Preview; $21.95.

Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers: But enough of these virgin graphic novelists! Matt Kindt is experienced enough that his well-regarded 2007 historical espionage book Super Spy now has its own companion item; think of it as the bonus disc of supplements in the new dvd package you just double-dipped on, hence the outlay of funds. Its 96 pages collect fancy promotional comics (like a shipwreck story you cut up and lay out by following a map), prose pieces, production art, seven pages of annotations, abandoned ideas, extra-extra stuff related to the artist’s 2004 book 2 Sisters, an all-assembly-required arts ‘n crafts project – not a great place to start, but Kindt and publisher Top Shelf look to have poured in some effort to treat the initiated. Samples; $12.95.

City of Spies: The first of three First Second releases of the week – a 1942-set young people’s adventure about kids vs. Nazi spies, composed in apparent homage to classic Franco-Belgian youth comics of the mid-century. Written by Susan Kim (primarily a writer for television) & Laurence Klavan (a novelist and playwright), with art by Pascal Dizin (apparently delivering his first longform comics work). Preview; $16.99.

Resistance Vol. 1 (of 3): First Second number two – another kids in WWII story, this one looking a bit heavier as a brother and sister attempt to assist the French Resistance as their home life and local environment goes to pieces. Written by YA prose author Carla Jablonski, with art by Leland Purvis of VÓX, Pubo and the ACT-I-VATE series Vulcan & Vishnu. Preview; $16.99.

Foiled: First Second number three – this time it’s a contemporary fantasy from writer Jane Yolen, about a girl whose fencing equipment restores the color to her sight and opens up a magical dimension. Art by Mike Cavallaro, also of assorted ACT-I-VATE projects. Preview; $15.99.

The Tale of One Bad Rat: A new Dark Horse hardcover collection of Bryan Talbot’s 1994-95 drama melding the works of Beatrix Potter with a teenage girl’s flight from sexual abuse in her home. In addition to a new introduction by Neil Gaiman and updated supplementary materials, this edition features totally redone color separations; my first impression is that everything is much brighter. Have a look; $19.99.

Walt Kelly’s Our Gang Vol. 4: 1946-1947: Fantagraphics has a bunch of new softcover editions of older releases out this week — the 2009 Warren war comics compilation Blazing Combat and Tim Lane’s fascinating 2008 story study of the great American mythological drama, Abandoned Cars —  but here’s a softcover original reprint, scooping up another 112 color pages of Kelly’s franchise work. Samples; $14.99.

Star Comics: All-Star Collection Vol. 3: Ah, but the Golden Age of Reprints isn’t just a back-of-Previews thing – witness this third softcover compilation of mid-’80s Marvel comics built to fill the magnificent power vacuum left by the absence of Harvey Comics. Collecting Planet Terry #5-6, Royal Roy #5-6 and Top Dog #7-9, all of them by Harvey vets Lennie Herman & Warren Kremer, along with Wally the Wizard #5-6, which by that time had seen the departure of creator Bob Bolling (of Little Archie) for one Ben Brown. Is that the pre-Code horror guy that drew The Purple Claw? Anyway; $19.99.

Giant Size Little Lulu Vol. 1: But some reprint series are so far along they get their own reprints; hence, in true manga repackaging style, Dark Horse presents vols. 1-3 of its John Stanley/Irving Tripp collections in a single 664-page b&w horse choker of all ages fun. Preview; $24.99.

B.P.R.D. Vol. 12: War on Frogs: They sure don’t look like they’re up to vol. 12 when they’re comic books laying around. Anyway, this was a series of action-focused one-offs and a MySpace serial John Arcudi wrote without series godhead Mike Mignola (whom I believe shows up for some of the added material), worth your attention for the participation of guest artists John Severin and Herb Trimpe, along with Peter Snejbjerg, Karl Moline and primary series artist Guy Davis; $17.99.

JLA: Deluxe Edition Vol. 3: Being the latest in DC’s fat hardcover collections of writer Grant Morrison’s big booming megahit superhero spectacle from the bad ol’ years of the mid-to-late-’90s, an influential approach (at least tonally, it seems to me) on later defining genre projects like The Authority. That said, I can barely even remember what happens in these late period scattered storylines, issues #22-26 and #28-31 (omitting a Mark Millar-written guest issue). The JSA shows up for Crisis Times Five, I know that. Also included is the Event crossover tie-in JLA #1,000,000, an odd choice in that it served as a de facto extra issue of the core DC 1,000,000 series Morrison was writing at the time, much in the way his Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D tie-ins became mandatory reading for the Final Crisis series as a whole; $29.99.

Iron Man 2: Public Identity #1 (of 3): Apparently not a movie adaptation, but a short series set in the world of the movie, noteworthy for a nice team of performers that can have fun with a project like this: writer Joe Casey and artist Barry Kitson. Preview; $3.99.

The Romita Legacy: Your book-about-comics for the week – a 200-page enormous interview tome (from Dynamite Entertainment) in which Johns Sr. & Jr. chat with Tom Spurgeon, who also provides an overview essay. Many images are promised, along with an introduction by Alex Ross. Jazzy John is an eyewitness to most of the development of the comic book form, JRJR is possibly my favorite superhero artist working today, and I can’t think of many people more adept at longform comics interviews than the Comics Reporter himself, so I’m looking forward to this. Preview; $29.99.

Instructions: Finally, your not-really-a-comic for the week – a new HarperCollins illustrated storybook by Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess, its 40 pages promoting trust in Dreams, Your Heart and Your Story, which is a bit like the Smurfs, now that I stop and consider it, so I’m definitely holding out hope for a football riot. Preview; $14.99.

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19 Responses to “THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (4/28/10 – Mr. Wilson & the Children Who Hate Nazis)”
  1. Adam G. says:

    Small or not, I’m looking forward to any translated Peyo books.

    Tangentially related, I found a great Smurfs record over the weekend:

  2. David Roesing says:

    Really looking forward to WILSON but, (and I realize this is pretty inside baseball) why is dan clowes publishing with D&Q rather than fantagraphics?

  3. T. Hodler says:

    Hmm. I liked Wilson a lot more than you did, apparently. But then, I’m not sure I’m correctly understanding your criticisms.

    “The page structure, then, the differing art, is the external view on Wilson, how he’s glimpsed by passerby or trapped airline seat buddies, inevitably seasoned by a host of intangibles and personal baggage simulated by Clowes’ flickering draftsmanship.” This is a really interesting idea, but I’m not sure it’s actually the way the book works—how to explain the pages where Wilson is alone? I’m going to read it again with this in mind, though, ’cause it’s intriguing in any case.

    There’s no real arguing with the rest of what you write, since it seems mostly based on differing taste—Clowes is definitely getting more and more Nabokovian (more the authorial puppetmaster, the magician who lets the audience pierce the veil, but only rarely and briefly) as time goes on, and some find breathing that particular kind of rarefied air stifling. (Not me! I love it!) I was a little surprised that you found it predictable, but that may just be because I’m easy to sucker. I also tend not to care so much about those kinds of things—would it be better if the book didn’t have an ending?

    I’m not sure it’s as Romantic as you imply, either, but I’m likely misunderstanding you.

    For my part, I loved this book instantly, and read it in one sitting. It also seems like the funniest thing Clowes has done since … I don’t know, a long time ago!

    Still, great post.

  4. Jog says:

    Oh, I didn’t mean he’s literally being observed at all times… I mean, he IS, by us reading the book, but not by other characters. It’s a simulacrum, in that the way us readers see him is broken up page by page so that he’s “as if” spotted by a somewhat different (biased, interested) observer, even in scenes where no observers are actually present. The idea is that it puts the character’s own limited ability to see outside of himself in sharper relief, by couching that aspect of him in dialogue (and I guess expression, body language to an extent), and allowing the art to ‘interpret’ him differently. I think the sense of ‘watching’ is profound, but Clowes makes it so we can’t observe in entirely the same manner; Wilson is constantly interacting with people he hardly knows (even people he lives with he doesn’t seem entirely close to), so that aspect is reinforced in-story.

    (Obviously you can query whether our perspectives on Wilson are circumscript so that we just don’t understand his deeper relationships with other people, but that doesn’t seem like Clowes’ narrative thrust at all.)

    And believe me, I’ve got nothing against endings, but… I mean, at risk of spoilers here, there’s a tearful, acute, CLIMACTIC lack of communication that sees Wilson longing harder than ever to connect in counterpoint to his earlier, self-interested communications with other people, followed by a big defiant shouting at the universe bit THEN followed by a quiet denouement involving rhapsodic weather… and a lot of it’s presented in a sorta-ironic, hands-off context — not the tearful bit, though; I’m pretty sure that and its facing page are the two closest bits in visual style across the whole work, and I can’t imagine that’s an accident — but I did find it to be gunning for a little man-against-the-world sympathy there, no matter how much the man poked the world in its cage… that’s the romanticism.

    Clearly it is a worthwhile book to examine, though… I didn’t like it as much as some folks, but there’s substance to mull over…

    • T. Hodler says:

      Ah, that makes sense. I will re-read it with your simulacrum theory in mind.

      I still don’t agree with your romanticism argument (I don’t think we are supposed to think of Wilson as special in that sense, or as deserving any more sympathy than anyone else—he’s just one idiot out of six billion), but I think I understand what you mean, and can see why you think of it that way.

      (Also, if you’re talking about pages 76 and 77, they are drawn in pretty different styles in my copy. Page 75 is very close to 76 in style, but they aren’t facing…)

      Anyway, thanks for explaining. Maybe I’ll change my mind when I read it again.

  5. gabe fowler says:

    How do you fuckers all get copies of these books before they come out?

    • Got mine last week (!) at my local comics merchant. He led me back to a room, whereupon he pressed a button, and a false wall slid up to reveal a comics-speakeasy. I asked him “What gives?” He told me “This is how we roll in this neck of the woods.” I asked no further questions, bought my copy of “Wilson,” and even got a free poster. This is what we need more of– comics peddlers that flagrantly ignore street-dates.

      Addendum: When I got home, however, I dropped a dime on his ass so that D+Q can send some goons with axes to bust the joint up.

  6. I know, you “reviewers” get all the laffs first, not fair

  7. Adam G. says:

    Let’s talk about SMURFS, everyone! They’re Smurfy!

    Really — I grew up watching the Smurfs. I really think they’re pretty great.

    This episode (based on one of the early Peyo books) is about communicable disease or zombies, I’m pretty sure. Maybe vampires?

    Another early book — King Smurf — is a didactic tale of a power-mad dictator. Maybe meant as a comment on the rise of fascism in post-WWI Europe? I’m not sure when it was originally created. But it seems there is at least one power-mad dictator for every generation. (Thanks to Kim T. for showing me an old translated edition of that one.)

    (Jacob C. / Mike B.: I think the Smurfs might be my TMNT / Yoda. This is a not-entirely comforting realization.)

    • Jog says:

      Oh, I’m on the record with my affection for KING SMURF (my reading was also prompted by Kim T., actually, via his translation notes in the back of Trondheim’s AT LOOSE ENDS):

      The zombie episode up there is one of the stories I mentioned; it’s supposed to be THE BLACK SMURFS, but the cartoon made them purple… both Peyo and Delporte are credited as story supervisors on that episode, but I don’t really know who made the call. From the looks of the cover art NBM/Papercutz seems to be publishing a similarly altered version of the original comic — the first-ever English-language release of that story, I think — which is pretty weird considering that unaltered French-language editions are certainly available in Canada. Maybe there’s some movie-related super-caution going on? I’m reminded that the latter color revision of Tintin in the Congo is missing from the most recent U.S. editions of Hergé’s stuff, even though Last Gasp’s facsimile edition of the rougher b&w original is still floating around… or, at least it’s still on their site.

      Anyway, THE BLACK SMURFS and KING SMURF were the title stories of the first two all-Smurfs albums, in 1963 and 1965, although the characters had debuted in the late ’50s in an earlier Peyo-created series, JOHAN & PEEWIT (also spelled “Peeweet”; the French name was “Pirlouit”) – the new NBM/Papercutz editions appear to be doing THE [Purple] SMURFS and the 1st appearance J&P album THE SMURFS AND THE MAGIC FLUTE (which is itself a post-boom retitle to match up with the ’70s animated movie of the title) in August, then KING SMURF in November, if Amazon’s listings hold… stinks that even the costlier hardcover editions apparently aren’t album-sized, yeah.

      Short history of Smurf comics in English, in case this wasn’t enough:

      • Adam G. says:

        Kim actually brought in his copy of THE BLACK SMURFS for me to look at a few months ago and I snapped some pics. Just uploaded some of them to my Flickr — here’s a link to one:

        It IS silly to change them to purple, as the “black” of the evil GNAP-ing Smurfs seems more a reflection of their ugly hearts than their ethnicity. But either way, the story is still good — the art just isn’t quite as striking. Everyone should compromise and adjust the purple to be darker. Along the lines of the Venom symbiote, but with a purple tinge instead of blue.

        Jon Vermilyea: If you see this and are game, I will pay you a pittance to draw a melting, dark-purple, Venom-Smurf.

  8. April 27, 2010 at 5:30 pm says:

    Rampant censorship and miniaturization in the English-language edition of Eurocomics. What else is new?

  9. Adam G. says:

    I’d rather they were larger, but this edition will be easy to find and affordable. I am in favor of this. Now if only NBM would let me design the thing… Terry, are you reading this?

  10. bryanocki C says:

    For more on the Smurf audio front “The Smurfs All Star Show” is an awesome LP. There are some really really good pop songs on it.

  11. Adam G. says:

    Yes! Alvin & The Chipmunks can go to Hell. The Smurfs do traditional arrangements. They are The Pogues of cartoon-mutant creatures that make records.

  12. Zack Soto says:

    Man, I had some sort of album sized smurfs collections when I was a kid (Astroosmurf was one of them) and I’m kicking myself for losing them to the mists of time.

  13. Adam G. says:

    The above thread got my brain-gears turning so I wrote this:

    If anyone can help make this happen, it be greatly appreciated.

  14. […]  Jog, in his review over at Comics Comics, refers to WILSON being a “a worthwhile experiment, and sometimes a trying, tedious one, […]

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