THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (8/25/10 – Not on the list, but if you see A Drunken Dream, vintage girls’ manga, flip through that.)


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It is my distinct pleasure to mention that the above image hails from the millennial L’Association anthology Comix 2000, a copy of which I recently found sitting in the Adult section of a comics store I’d visited only two times prior. It was buried in porn. Always check the Adult section – there might be more than just Love and Rockets back issues!

Comix 2000, of course, is one of the mighty monuments and grand follies of ‘alternative’ comics in the last decade: 2000 pages of original work, accounting for 324 contributors from 29 nations, restricted from the use of dialogue or narrative text and honed in on the theme of “the 20th century.” Despite this — and yes, I know it was actually published toward the end of 1999 — I consider it to be the beginning of the ’00s in comics, that mad chaos epoch of diverse ambition, multiplied formats, and saturating foreign insight. It’s a huge, stolid hardcover brick of a comic, a solid red jacket design covering gossamer-thin pages, like a reference tome. Indeed, it was meant as a summing up – a book anyone, anywhere could theoretically open up and understand, and thereby grasp the mess of what happened in the world.

The trick is, you might need to just open it up somewhere and start reading, because going from front to back strikes me as attempting to read the encyclopedia as a novel. If we apply the traditional criterion of an anthology’s worth — superior contributions arranged to form a revelatory whole by way of keenly focused editorial vision — Comix 2000 registers as a baffling fog of tonal incoherence. I have no idea how an editorial vision is even supposed to stay focused over 2000 pages of contributions from people speaking over a dozen languages, even under the best of circumstances — although the book’s introduction, repeated in 10 languages, that ‘alternative’ visual styles blend and travel far more efficiently than the provincial populism of the Franco-Belgian tradition, commercial manga or superhero art, suggesting at least a purposeful cultivation of ‘individualism’ as a prevailing motif — and coordinator J.C. Menu ultimately opts to simply arrange the artists in alphabetical order. The stated theme, broad so as to become vaporous, moreover guarantees that everyone will do basically whatever the hell they feel like anyway. What’s your 20th century?

But god, the proportions! An alphabetical, non-comprehensive reference of contrasting perspectives on enormity! It had to be this big, true believers! And further – doesn’t it simulate what we’ve done for ten years now, comics qua comics? Ten years of growth? Of categorization, of manipulation? Framing? Considering the past, the Golden Age of Reprints? Downloads? The whole fucking internet? The availability of works, of works-on-works, of criticism? Navigation of a seemingly exploded terrain, sick with looping, lurching, overlapping perspectives? New freedoms? Could you even imagine a Comix 2000 in 1997, even leafing through your NON #1, you lucky kid, your Collection Ciboulette? Because if it hadn’t existed by now, it’d just be logic to suggest it. Or something like it – 2010 pages just sounds weird. Wasn’t that a Jamie Delano series?

Right now, I’m busy exploring suggested routes; as Bart Beaty remarked in Unpopular Culture, it’s “a book manuscript not so much to be read as to be toured.” I’ve just finished reading Sammy Harkham’s chat with project coordinator J.C. Menu from The Comics Journal #300, and I’ve gone and read all the selections named in there. Prior to that I picked out all of the manga artists, forming a mini-anthology in my head – the picture above was drawn by Muddy Wehalla (also spelled Wehara), a Garo contributor most prominently seen in English via the 1996 anthology Comics Underground Japan, which featured a two-part, all double-splash saga of salarymen in combat with monsters, bisected by odd, probably pun-laden gag strip breakdowns. His is as direct as contributions get, a hugely visceral saga of adorable babies crawling through seething nests of snapping, writhing serpents, one of them finally shrugging off his tears and learning to walk, only to happen upon precarious cliffs knotted with really BIG snakes.

Is… is it all an allegory for Japan emergence into the global community from the womb of isolationism? Is the fat baby eating snakes the shade of militarism? To be continued…?! It’s gonna take forever to see part two. Way longer than in MOME. By then, I might even be finished with the damned thing! Unless I’m somehow distracted:

The Tango Collection: Over 50 Creators From Australia & New Zealand: Ah, but even when we’re new we’re old. This 264-page softcover was actually published late last year by British outfit Allen & Unwin; Diamond is now distributing it to North American comics stores. It’s a ‘best of’ compilation of material from the Australian romance comics anthology Tango, launched in 1997 by editor Bernard Caleo; it appears to have grown a lot since then, with last year’s vol. 9 tipping the scales at 346 pages. I know absolutely nothing about the material in here, which naturally makes the book fine for perusal. Dylan Horrocks offers an introduction. Official site; $26.95.

Norman Pettingill: Backwoods Humorist: An apparently first-ever print retrospective (12″ x 9″, 144 pages) of postcard illustrator Pettingill, a Wisconsin native whose self-printed drawings documented both calm natural settings and teeming, wrinkled, riotously parodic rural living. With an introduction by Robert Crumb (who published some of the artist’s work in Weirdo), an appreciation by Johnny Ryan, and a biographical essay by Gary Groth (online here). Samples; $39.99.

Chi’s Sweet Home Vol. 2: CAT MANGA. Yeah, sometimes it seems like seinen manga is nothing but people punching one another’s faces off, its broadest construction reveals it as basically anything that might appeal to adult men. And while individual magazines typically cultivate a particular identity, there’s always room to add in a little something extra, especially something light and peppy to balance out the intense serials – hence, this ongoing Konami Kanata series about a goggle-eyed kitty talking baby talk through vignettes that veer wildly from manic to observational. It runs in the same magazine as Vagabond. Presented in rather soft, delicate color; $13.95.

Archie: The Classic Newspaper Comics Vol. 1: Beginning IDW’s 11″ x 8.5″ presentation of Bob Montana’s funny page iteration of the eternal teenage thing, 1946-48, 328 pages; $39.99.

The Complete Peanuts Vol. 14: 1977-78: Continuing Fantagraphics’ 8.5″ x 7″ presentation of Charles Schulz’s original iteration of eventually finite childhood, in spite of it all. Alec Baldwin greets you at the front. There’s also a two-volume ’75-’78 box set due. Samples; $28.99.

Little Lulu Vol. 24: The Space Dolly and Other Stories: You know the drill – John Stanley, Irving Tripp, antics/shenanigans, even the stray monkeyshine. Approximately 1800 pages shorter than Comix 2000, but in color. Preview; $14.99.

Tank Girl: Hairy Heroes: Being the latest in Image’s line of b&w comic book collections of short Tank Girl pieces by the now very much established creative team of writer/co-creator Alan Martin and artist Rufus Dayglo; $3.99.

Punisher MAX: Happy Ending: This is one of those miscellaneous not-for-kids Frank Castle stories where all the pertinent shootings occur under one cover – the setting is a massage parlor, and the writer is Peter Milligan (who also has a $12.99 softcover collection of his Batman Confidential “vs. the Russian mob” story with Andy Clarke out this week, Batman: The Bat and the Beast). The artist is Juan Jose Ryp, one of the louder and nastier Moebius-informed artists artists around, still in the midst of working a sleeker look at Marvel; he is soon to be the primary artist on a new Wolverine series, so I presume he’s sticking around. Preview; $3.99.

Garth Ennis’ Battlefields Vol. 2 #9 (of 9): Motherland Part 3 (of 3): In which Soviet forces finally turn the tide of battle against this exceedingly odd attempt at corralling a series of miniseries into a longer miniseries pitched as a sequel miniseries to an earlier series of miniseries. But, you know – just pay attention to the subtitle. Is this the end of female air power in WWII? Preview; $3.50.

Batman #702: Grant Morrison & Tony Daniel, cementing the narrative space in between their R.I.P. storyline and the mega-crossover Final Crisis, in that they both function as segments of the overarching Morrison-on-Batman story, freshly extended for at least another two years in the form of the upcoming Batman, Inc. series. And frankly, if you’re gonna read this, you either already knew everything I just mentioned or you stopped right after “Batman.” Preview; $2.99.

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9 Responses to “THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (8/25/10 – Not on the list, but if you see A Drunken Dream, vintage girls’ manga, flip through that.)”
  1. DerikB says:

    I love just pulling Comix 2000 off the shelf and reading a couple pages randomly. There’s always some artist to discover new, or someone you’re surprised to see included.

  2. “[…]that ‘alternative’ visual styles blend and travel far more efficiently than the provincial populism of the Franco-Belgian tradition, commercial manga or superhero art, suggesting at least a purposeful cultivation of ‘individualism’ as a prevailing motif[…]”

    I think this is the failing of the 00’s. It reflects that traditional styles were being thrown out and “outsider”, “individual” styles were seen as the future. After ten years of bad, bad drawing (myself included) I hope the backlash hits and classical, traditional styles will return. See Tim Hensley, Jim Rugg.

  3. C’mon Frank. That’s horseshit. I’m cross eyed at the thought of all the examples one could use to support or oppose your comment. You’re suggesting from their suggestion that there has been a major visual stylistic shift away from “classical,” “traditional” and corporate (that’s my addition to the swamp of definitions) visual styles in comics and more towards an abundance of “outsider” or “individual” or “alternative” comics!?! Really? I can see how or why you might think that but how can you substantiate such a claim beyond a hunch, especially when considering the industry of comics as a whole?

    To break this out of the Comix 2000 context: Do you think what went down visually/stylistically in the 00’s was any different then the preceding 2 or 3 decades?

    • Honestly, it’s an ability to “see”, to construct fairly realistic comics out of one’s head. Like even Eddie Campbell style realism. Any type of realism that is cartoon based. Even Michael Golden. Jim Rugg can do it. Jaime of course. Most cartoonists tho lean away from observation and to a mannerist style. Huzienga. Harkham. Clowes. Ware. Burns. That’s mannerist to me. CF is more observational, i think, but it leans towards fantasy. I’m talking about a bare bones realistic approach that most professional cartoonists had. Harry Lucey, Mike Sekowsky, Alex Toth all could do a fairly unaffected “realistic” style without alot of hatching. Just spotted blacks. The foundation of a observational contour line style like Moebius even isn’t much of a concern for half of alt/art cartoonists. That’s what I see anyhow.
      And don’t say what I say is horseshit, brotherman. I will school yer ass til next summer!

      • And before someone jumps in the gap I left above – I’m not saying mannerism is bad – that any of the examples are bad – just that those are the examples now for alt/art cartoonists – and I think there is this cult of mannerism that does not encourage basic observational drawing in comics.

      • jason t miles says:

        I dunno Frank… You clearly know your stuff but sometimes you make my head spin when you’re writing history… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it challenges my assumptions and the story I’ve created in my head about comics. I think any of the artist you mentioned could be labeled as “mannerist.” Isn’t cartooning by it’s nature inherently mannerist?

        One of the interesting things about comics is that an idiosyncratic visual style is almost impossible to avoid. Even when Will Elder was doing Chester Gould it was unmistakably Will Elder. Same goes for Wally Wood, Ogden Whitney or Alex Toth and Mike Sekowsky. Once you spot their manner their visual style is immediately recognizable as their style. Even Carl Barks is quickly recognizable and he had more anonymity than most thanks to corporate style and policy!

        Am I wrong to assume your you’re trying to get at the lack of versatility when it comes to what you’re calling “mannerist” visual styles?

        • “Am I wrong to assume your you’re trying to get at the lack of versatility when it comes to what you’re calling “mannerist” visual styles?”
          I don’t know what you mean.
          What I’m saying is that there is a lack of “naturalness” in the alt/art comics tradition. Think Mazzucchelli’s Year One. Toth’s Bravo for Adventure. Jaime’s Locas. All are “natural” or “realistic” approaches. Frank Quitely is a “natural” approach. What I call mannerism is a style that shuns “realistic” proportions and reduces everything to symbols. Think Clowes’s Ghost World. Realistic but mannered. I looked on the shelves for “unaffected, natural drawing” in comics (think Edward Hopper’s drawings or even, again, Eddie Campbell) and I cannot find much. There’s Jaime. So between photo-realism and Gary Panter there is alot to chose from. Fine. But there isn’t much to choose from on the shelves because most comics artists draw in a highly affected style. Particularly alt/art cartoonists. In fact, I think that is beginning to describe alt/art comics: not realistic. How many alt/art cartoonists “tighten up” and draw “real people” without too much reference and keep all the proportions right? Not many by my count last week when I was at work.
          I’m not re-writing history, I’m just saying that I wish there would be other alt/art cartoonists who would at least try to follow Jaime’s example.

  4. […] a recent comment thread at Comics Comics, Frank Santoro made some style related comments, that offer another stylistic descriptor: mannerist. What I’m […]

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