Friday, July 23, 2010

Young Lions, by Blaise Larmee, is the story of a three-artist performance group comprised of Alice, a wealthy snob, Wilson, a didactic leader, and Cody, who is dreamy and less ambitious. The book opens with Cody saying, “Our conceptual art group is not going as planned.” Later, there’s a party. Cody and Alice go to “The New Museum” and enjoy it. At a performance the trio meets Holly, who is presumably a non-institutional being who nearly becomes a fourth member, but serves to illuminate to character and audience the inner lives of the three primary members. She is an ethereal muse. The crew travels to Florida; they fail at a quasi-Spiritual act; on a walk, Alice remarks how much better her experience would be if it were in a museum; Holly is left behind; they return to normal life. The book is well paced and nicely drawn in pencil, smudges and detritus left in, rendered somewhere between CF and Jockum Nordstrom (the topic of another debate: right down to the lettering style, it’s a lot of CF, but who cares? Influence is inevitable. Four years ago it was Brinkman. There will be others.); it is frequently beautiful, especially when Larmee allows himself to render a detail: a lamp on page 25, or Cody and Alice languid and relaxed on page 51.

It is also, most obviously, the work of a young man (born in 1985) trying to understand the mythologies he’s constructed for himself. That is the second, and for me, most intriguing narrative here, and one inseparable from Larmee’s writing on art and comics. The art collective is obviously based on some amalgamation of an imagined Paper Rad and Forcefield. Providence and Western Mass loom large for Larmee and his peers. The road trips, the personalities, the remarks on museums and strategies — it’s all casually presumed and I assume it’s meant to be transparent. All the more so because the artists’ conflicts feel posited, not experienced. A memoir would inflict detail and a piece of reportage would be far more boring. Nope, Young Lions is a book-length attempt to do what Larmee does in prose at Comets Comets: Try out theories of what it is to make art. That’s very different, of course, from making art, and assumes a level of self-consciousness on the part of other artists (or publishers or whomever) that more often than not simply doesn’t exist. Side note: Back in 2005 (I think), after we’d started working together again, I asked Ben Jones what it was like to observe the Forcefield dudes interacting “behind the scenes.” He was incredulous and said something like, “You just saw it; it’s the same shit as this exchange. It’s boring. Who cares?” He was right and wrong, but it’s a good point. In other words, it’s one thing to analyze and search for meaning, it’s another thing to project intentions and methodologies. Sometime Larmee does too much of the latter and not enough of the former.

Anyhow, Young Lions represents the first expository attempt by a younger generation to come to terms with its primary influence, and it’s backed up, as I’ve noted, by Larmee’s writing. That’s partly why it feels important to me to discuss it. After all, I have a lot wrapped up in all this stuff, which is why I don’t begrudge Larmee his myths. I once had some too. I probably still do. And I appreciate his nearly rapturous embrace of the search, even if I often disagree with his ideas. That why I wrote that I didn’t recognize the artists Larmee was writing about a couple months back when he was lamenting the end of another company. It’s because I know these artists — Ben, Christopher, Brian, and the rest — as my friends and colleagues. As humans. The myths around them have long since dissipated, and, if anything, feel like traps.

In the past, the artists that embrace those myths must either do it shrewdly and make that part of the work (like Matthew Barney)  or ignore them and make work that stands on its own (like Mike Kelley, let’s say). Of course there plenty of middle passages, too. I think Blaise knows all of this somewhere, and in his somewhat clumsy, though affecting, ending, he gets at that; when Cody resumes “real life” it is as a person in the world, not as a myth maker. That’s kind of the only way forward. Forever wondering about the meaning of what you’re about to do, or mythologizing people just ten years older than you is a trap. It leads to nothing but fake nostalgia, followed by disappointment and then cynicism.

Towards the end of the book Wilson says, “Art becomes magic when it has nothing left to hide.” That’s meaningless, of course. The only “magic” is perceptual. You make your own problems and screens. Art is art. It’s part of life, and as you live it, you accept and enjoy the directness of experience, and cast aside the myths. You can be cynical and toss around Warhol and cults of personality and all the rest, but if you’re in it and you brush off the chip, you know that while art may not be what you want it to be, it’s not as bad as you imagine it to be. And in the end, it’s the art that stands.

So I look forward to Larmee’s innocence giving way to experience, and his articulate, thoughtful sensibility searching for ever more clarity.


58 Responses to “Youth”
  1. Ian Harker says:

    This is going to be fun.

  2. Feel like this is a ‘good review’

  3. Ian Harker says:

    The Blaise/CF comparison seems like an obvious one on it’s face but somehow I don’t feel like it’s totally fair. Blaise’s renderings are pretty developed in their own right. It think there might be more of a “great minds think alike” situation going on then a straight up lineage of influence. Considering both CF and Larmee’s early works they’ve taken very different evolutionary paths to arrive at their current styles.

    In terms of presentation and page design though I think there is more of a clear influence. I think Blaise is doing things in this department now that CF isn’t though, and of course their stories aren’t very similar at all.

  4. this is worth inserting into the conversation

  5. Once you read Young Lions, you’ll just be BLAISED!

  6. Miguel says:

    Who knew there were so many eunuchs making comics these days?

  7. guillainbarre says:

    jeez, why would you do this, seems a bit like giving validity to what is ultimately just generic hipster crap
    I know that’s the “i dont get it” response to this work but ultimately the entire book is just one extended page of “Last Night’s Party” shot through a filter of hipster touchstones like Tao Lin, CF, and hipsterrunoff.

  8. Matt Seneca says:

    Man, who cares if this comic is about hipsters, it’s still pretty good. Hipsters are what’s popular now. That’s what young creative people are going to be. Art documenting life will always come filtered through big cultural touchstones. That’s the way it SHOULD be. This might be hyperbole but can you imagine if Crumb hadn’t addressed the larger themes of ’60s culture, or Gary Panter hadn’t explicitly made his comics part of the larger circle of what was punk? So Larmee isn’t at a Crumb or Panter level — who is? It’s good he tries! Hermetically sealing one’s art off from the culture one is a part of seems disingenuous to me. Let it flow. I’m just saying.

  9. Gabe fowler says:

    If I see the word hipster one more time my fucking head is going to explode. People who use this word as a critical jab are pathetically insecure about “being cool” and utterly clueless about culture. Stick to watching baseball, you clods.

    • I agree, except about the baseball thing (sometimes). I used to be a hipster-hater, but then I realized that it’s just the current form of bohemia. Like Matt said, it’s unavoidable, it’s just reality, don’t be so threatened by it. If you’re annoyed by it you’re probably just old. Let’s the kids be kids, quit hatin’.

      There is plenty of humanity in Blaise’s work. That transcends generational differences.

    • Sam Gas Can says:

      If anyone wants to talk about basketball with me, feel more than welcome to drop me a line.

    • zack soto says:

      Agreed, gabe. Using “hipster” as pejorative says more about the user than the subject.

  10. guillainbarre says:

    I’m not using “hipster” in the pejorative here. I’m talking about the subculture and the nature of it. And ultimately this neurotic obsession with the “meta” “memes” and youth culture in Young Lions is to me what make it just a dull book by a young person who got sucked into fashionable vernacular and concerns of a subculture. I mean ultimately thats a huge burden… but when I say “it’s giving validity to something that’s generic hipster crap” I mean that this blog post adds fuel to that ‘meta’ fire. I wouldnt be surprised of the “comets comets” blog or blaise’s own blog has it’s own post in commentary to this critique. There is some great discussion over there, but a post like this to me is ripe for sardonic critique by some 25 year old who is too lost within his own boundaries of irony to be sure of whether or not he’s a construction of the culture or a critique of it.

    I think saying that a young artist “SHOULD” be a hipster is a weirdly sheep like attitude, and part of the grace of Panter and Crumb’s work is that they werent actually hippies or punks. I would argue they stand out amongst comic art culture so strongly because they arent relics of their era.

    • Lastworthy says:

      Mmmm, I dunno. 
      I agree that Crumb is more interesting for expanding beyond hippie issues, but that’s an unfair comparison because we have the benefit of knowing there’s more to him than Fritz the Cat, a work which has many similar hangups to Young Lions. 

      I think what you’re dismissing as “generic hipster crap” is perfectly legitimate in terms of both subject matter and execution, particularly for a 96-page b+w Xeric grant project. It’s just blatantly the wrong place to look if you don’t have the patience to differentiate between hipster A and hipster B. What’s considered “Hipster culture” pulls from a tremendously broad spectrum of influences, so much so that it’s counterproductive to use the term in the critique of anything other than the kids playing on your lawn.

  11. Matt Seneca says:

    Didn’t mean to imply anything that specific, my bad. Just that art “SHOULD” grapple with the prevailing culture. And especially when it’s by young people, about young people. Hipster lives are the lives we’re living, especially given that culture’s venn-diagram overlap with comics culture. And who cares if some 25 year old sardonically critiques this post? Should he be playing video games instead? Working at H and M? And is there really anything wrong with someone trying to use their critiques to figure out who they are? To define the parameters of what something, anything, should be? Isn’t that like what art’s for? Most importantly, should we refrain from reviewing a comic we think worthy of reviewing just because someone might critique it in a way we deem inadmissible? I certainly don’t think so…

  12. chest rockwell says:

    I was going to respond to this post at some length, but after realizing how little effort the creator of this work seemed to put into it (visible erasures, all in pencil, etc) i just thought, what’s the point, right? also, there are plenty of tampons and teacups in my house, i could assemble the the cultural worth of this work on my own and save the ten bucks it costs.

    • zack soto says:

      Misunderstanding of the difference between putting work into a drawing and having a “clean style” AND a cool/lazy callback to “Art School Confidential”!

      • chest rockwell says:

        yeah, i know the difference, just trolling a bit. i was trying to stir up the pot a little because i thought this thread would be a little more feisty. oh well. at least someone got my reference so i’m happy enough.

  13. nam says:

    what are dan’s motives in publishing this review? why is dan playing into blaise’s “give me attention/ love me love me” schemes?

    @matt seneca, the difference between Panter and Crumb and young lions is that the former artists helped define those scenes, they were geographically involved in “something.” larmee is involved in internet culture, and promoting his work anyway he can (which somehow seems to be working) what he is portraying in young lions (waifish american apparel post tomine characters) doesn’t seem like the hot bed of 2010 culture, but highly mediocre bleached white.

  14. guillainbarre says:

    “Mmmm, I dunno.
    I agree that Crumb is more interesting for expanding beyond hippie issues, but that’s an unfair comparison because we have the benefit of knowing there’s more to him than Fritz the Cat, a work which has many similar hangups to Young Lions. ”

    this is true, though for what its worth I wouldnt have brought him up.

    “What’s considered “Hipster culture” pulls from a tremendously broad spectrum of influences, so much so that it’s counterproductive to use the term in the critique of anything other than the kids playing on your lawn.”
    this is a good point. that subculture is far from homogenous. I think to more narrowly define the scope of my criticism: young lions, to my eyes at least, doesnt appear to be drawing from a really deep well. reviews seem to pick up on this and that’s why the criticisms of the work tend to be somewhat the same (more or less “looks like CF…very pretty…not sure about the story….”) and to me the well I see it drawing from are the aspects of hipster culture concerned with hipster culture: concerns of ‘authenticity’, hipster run off, “meta”, tao lin. that’s why to me it seems like generic hipster work, I’m not claiming it’s trying to be fashionable or something, but just that it seems to strongly a product of these few influences. I mean any artist in their 20’s will probably battle this criticism at some point. so in a sense I am using ‘hipster’ as a word in the critical context, but it’s still a very poor word to use, like you said.

    yeah, it’s true. it’s a blog and ultimately they can do what they want. I guess this is just a bad point to be made. to me though…. there are other guys over on that blog making much more interesting /confusing work that i would like to see such an articulate critic like dan confront. like i said, just an invalid point I was thinking.

  15. Ian Harker says:

    Not exactly sure why Dan is tagging the Comets Comets crew with the charge of swinging from Fort Thunder’s nuts. If anything the Comets Comets guys, as artists (as well as critics) seem very interested in “what’s next” when it comes to art comics. Seems like his premise that Blaise and the gang are mythologizing the Fort Thunder generation, and in doing so are ultimately blocking themselves as burgeoning artists is a bit of a projection.

  16. Dan Nadel says:

    Well, based on the comments this was a fairly pointless post. Oh well.

    Ian: Either you are blind or willfully stupid if you can’t see the CF influence. That’s like saying there’s no Panter influence on CF or no Cal Schenkel and Kirby influence on Panter. There’s nothing wrong with influence. Your most recent comic looks like a dead-on Slime Freak rip. It is what it is. Everyone starts somewhere. Live with it.

    Based on everything on Comets Comets and the book itself it is transparently a mythologizing of art collectives and Paper Rad in particular. Two guys, 1 girl; New Museum; performance. Etc. I never implied it was blocking them, I said quite clearly that overindulging in it can be an impediment, but that mostly right now it’s interesting to watch and all the more interesting to see what will come of it.

    But then, who cares what we actually write. The way of these threads is to:

    a) Skim the text
    b) Skim the book (or better yet, just judge it from a jpeg)
    c) Write something pithy and moronic
    d) Be very afraid of engaging with the work or the ideas themselves.
    e) Accuse the writer of some other motive.
    f) Call the artist a “hipster”.

    The idea of engaging in a dialog about “hipsters” (whatever that means? Bohemians? I have no idea, honestly) at my age (33) is such a fucking waste of time I can barely even type these words. I stopped worrying about who was “cool” and categorizing people when I was 13. Grow the fuck up.

    I wrote about Young Lions because it engages with a topic of great interest to me (I couldn’t have been more clear to as to my “motives”. More or less that same reason I’m writing about Thun’da next week. I have no horse in this race, if that’s the implication.) Maybe someone can send me a link to another comic by a 25 (?) year old artist seriously examining his ideas about his generational de facto mentors in art/comics. If so, I’d love to see it. If not, take me at my word and either:

    a) Decide the topic doesn’t interest you (totally legit)
    b) Decide it’s a badly done take
    c) Read the book and think about and then form a response
    d) Forget I ever mentioned it

    Or all of the above. I don’t care either way.

    p.s.: The idea of any of this work being “fashionable” is so myopic and distorted as to be laughable. Fashionable! You really have no fucking clue how difficult it is, and how marginal we really are. The economic and social reality of making and publishing this work is horrifying, but that is far too inconvenient an idea for anyone concerned about “hipsters.”

    • Ian Harker says:

      I agree with most of what Dan said, except for the Paper Rad thing. I read the main character in Young Lions as a semi-autobio version of Blaise. Also, I couldn’t help but read the high-minded elder of the group as Overby (but I might be having a bit of fun there as cometscomets fanboy numero uno.) I have a hard time seeing them as Paper Rad. For one, Paper Rad is wildly successful where as the collective in Young Lions is sorta a failure. I interpret the opening lines of the book (“Our conceptual art group is not going as planned.”) as tongue in cheek. I mean, it seems like Blaise has a sense of humor about himself (I hope.)

    • Brian Nicholson says:

      One of the weird things about “Young Lions,” and Blaise’s blog, is the way it deals with the idea of dealing with comics as art, by extending it to discuss cartoonists as artists. Not by making comics that function as art, but by discussing art-making explicitly in comics. Which is what leads to the accusations of “this is boring.” Because it feels like student work.

      The talk of “hipsters” is only appropriate because that shit ain’t real. It’s a meaningless slur, and the assumptions that prop up Young Lions are equally meaningless.

      Obviously, anyone that age (my age) is going to be working through their influences, moreso than seeming to come about fully-formed with a language of their own. (To use an accolade directed at Wally Gropius, a work by a man who I believe to be in his forties.) But the way that, say, the Closed Caption Comics dudes deal with the same influences is more interesting: They approach their comics as comics, dealing with formal properties and genre properties. They don’t write blogs talking about “art comics” as a thing, they make comics, straight-up, that are dealing with the influences of seventies horror manga, or 50s American horror comics, but updating these forms in various ways. Blaise is super-short-sighted in his view of comics, and the recent past, and this is what leads to this mythologizing of people six years older than him, while his characters claim there are no new ideas. It’s myopic and obnoxious and based on a shallow understanding of history- both of the form and of the real people that practice it.

      • Ian Harker says:

        Brian, on a whole I also enjoy the CCC guys/gals work more than the Portland guys/gals, but the CCC crew are much closer aesthetically/thematically to Fort Thunder than the Portland crew. Not that I think being heavily influenced by Fort Thunder is the worst crime against humanity by any stretch. Larmee, Overby, Koch, ect. are a bigger departure stylistically in my eyes. They trace back to Hankiewicz more than Chippendale/Brinkman if you ask me. It’s this whole poetry/comics thing, I could be completely off, I don’t know.

        Looking forward to this long-format Aidan Koch book though. Want to know more.

  17. “Ian Harker says: I mean, it seems like Blaise has a sense of humor about himself”

    Marlon Brando did too. Montgomery Clift did not. Dean Martin had an unintentional sense of humor about himself.

  18. Genuine Blazings says:

    Just chill Dan, everyone can identify Blaise’s work and ideas as lame. Ian’s right – this post is drippin with ulterior emotional investment.

    PS – Only hipster doucherags get offended by the word “hipster”. fuck everyone, except for sam. basketball rules.

  19. guillainbarre says:

    even though it’s just a dumb/moot point,
    the whole inclusion of the word “hipster” that I brought up…I’ll repeat this again, it’s not the pejorative “hipsters are elitist douchebags” fallacy, it’s within a critical context.
    for instance, discussing Donovan in the context of “generic hippy music” or Nirvana in the context of “grunge”
    ‘hipster’ is now a subculture with it’s own associations and attachments the way punk is. It is one of a variety of influences and not as black and white as other subcultures but it is still a subculture. there is no inferiority complex here, as people assume 99% of the time that that word is used.
    and for what it’s worth I felt like the work was being discussed, as well as the post itself was being discussed.

  20. DerikB says:

    My biggest disappointment with Young Lions is how… tame it is. I’ve read a number of Blaise’s comics and this one is the least adventurous both narratively and visually. Perhaps the costs of producing a longer book forced him away from the color mixed media he’s used in some of his minis and webcomics. Narratively, this one didn’t leave me with the sense of mystery that comes from many of his other pieces, it left me more with a feeling of lack, I’m still not exactly sure what this one is really about, or maybe I am sure and it’s just not as interesting as I would wish it to be.

  21. Rob Clough says:

    Here’s my review from

    Essentially, I saw erase and sampling as two intentional elements of the comic.

  22. i.m.a pelican says:

    WHO will be the next Picturebox HEARTTHROB to join the ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE CROWD, hypnotizing the “Youth” and causing them to create entire GRAPHIC NOVELS in a derivative style? The bookmaker’s odds are on hunky YOKOYAMAAAA! When he’s not trout fishing in Japanese waterfalls he’s developing a hot new anti-human style, perfect for the empty-inbox soul of the Elmo Generation! Or will it be SANTORRRROOOOO!!!!???? His slashing line, arcane coloring strategies, and piercing blue eyes are ripping the history of comix a golden-mean-shaped hole! Or will LAURRRREN WEINSTEIN’s mythological insanity collide with autobio to suck a million art scholars into the vortex? Or perhaps LIBYTHTH, creator of ZISSY AND RITA, will finally begin to claim innocents under his sway as his style finally crawls out from the rubble of Fort Thunder to become more popular than Brinkman AND Chippendale combined? Or will it Be ANONYMOUS, with his dog cartoons finally inspiring a wave of anonymity and pseudonymonity? I hear SAMMY HARKHAM is preparing an army of TIM HENSLEY clones in the foothills of LosAngeles. Or will it be TIM HODLER with his Barrel Chested Guffaw and genocidal sarcasm? MATTHEW THURBER with the constant stream of drool emerging from the corner of his mouth, or SHIGERU SUGIURA with his razor sharp quips at the Algonquong ROund Table? Or will WENDY PINI’s ELFQUEST be the next Meme to Cream the Scene with red hot elfen fantasy? Keep checking this location, Comics Comics Pg. 6 to find out MORE!

  23. Snarl Werrsum says:

    i.m.a. pelican is clearly Richard Pini

  24. Dim Nut says:

    Gary Gygax owns all of this shit

  25. scud says:

    when do i start getting discussed? cow says moo

  26. zack soto says:

    It’s interesting/annoying how the spirit of the tcj messageboard has now infected comics comics! Sock puppetry and shitheadedness galore!

    • T. Hodler says:

      I think this is actually the spirit of comets comets, which is at least a little different than TCJ. Still lots of puppetry and such, though.

      • zack soto says:

        hmmm, maybe so! it’s sort of amusing but I liked the actual talk about comics.
        anyhow, I’ll just stop contributing to the talk about the talk about the talk. Frank, post some color guides or something!

        • yah yah I know. I got a stack of Hulk magazines from the ’70s – Marvel’s first full color process book – Oliff and Sienkiewicz – Ye olde double print black color process. Neato-o!

          Anyways, Young Lions is a good book. As Ian Mackaye would say “Everyone take one step back…and breathe…”

          • zack soto says:

            sweet, looking forward to seeing some of that jazz.

            And yeah, I really liked Young Lions. I enjoyed the drawing and the ethereal quality of it all.

  27. VOMITS VOMITS says:

    we at ‘comments comments’ take offense at any and all TCJ board comparisons, however inevitable. we appreciate Hodler listing us as having a ‘spirit’ and appreciate the soft palm being extended in our direction via this post, though we pray it won’t smack us, and simultaneously pray for it’s firm smacking, because after all, to be punished is to be human and true. as for this adjoining ridiculous comment deluge, we appreciate any emotions leveled in our direction, however riddled with paltry half-smiles, broken dreams, brusque balony and verifiable dullness. we have respect for the pinis, pelicans, p-box and the thick potentials of youth. we’ll pray for you, all of you.

    mr. nadel, ever consider writing a post about gaddis or elkin?

  28. The thing about the Comets Comets gang is that in my somewhat limited experience, their blog schtick is the most discussion-worthy aspect of their work. In that sense I don’t blame them for keeping it up. Indeed, given their take-on-all-comers tone, I was surprised to see just how “very pretty art, very traditional alternative-comics young-person slice-of-life story” straightforward Young Lions was. And that’s not a complaint!

  29. DerikB says:

    Sean, have you looked at any of Jason Overby’s work? His comics are far from traditional alt comics.

    • I read his strip in Shitbeams on the Loose #2. I didn’t think the execution was up to the idea. Certainly not trad altcomix, though.

      Brian: That’s sorta what I’m saying. The blog schtick is what has people talking.

      Narrator: Tyler, you are by far the most interesting single-serving friend I’ve ever met….See I have this thing: everything on a plane is single-serving…
      Tyler Durden: Oh, I get it. It’s very clever.
      Narrator: Thank you.
      Tyler Durden: How’s that working out for you?
      Narrator: What?
      Tyler Durden: Being clever.
      Narrator: …Great.
      Tyler Durden: Keep it up, then

  30. Yeah, I was gonna say the same thing. Plus he’s one of the finest draftsmen working in comics right now; his linework is pure bliss.

  31. DerikB says:

    You can view some work and download some minis at his site:

  32. brynocki C says:

    Hey i just bought the Blaise book, having it shipped to my deeply hipster infused home now. Nadel’s Gropius review only garnered 15 comments so Young Lions must be a cultural colossus. Larmee wins the week. I’m pissed that CF ditched the pencil smudges anyway.

  33. Adamb says:

    Great review Dan! I have read this book, and didn’t care for it so much, but that was mainly because I was very confused by the story and had no idea what Larmee was going for. Now I think I kinda get it (or at least one interpretation), and am going to give it another shot.

    I remember one thing I thought was odd was a character’s offhand reference to having a trust fund. You more or less never see a trust fund reference anywhere, ever, without it being a pejorative, and I found this to be a really odd thing to drop in there, like he is needlessly setting himself up for even more of a “hipster backlash”. But I guess none of the people throwing the hipster slur around on here have mentioned it, so I guess my theory is wrong!

    Anyway, again, great review. Comments, not so much. (brynocki c’s is good tho)

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