Posts Tagged ‘Paul Pope’

CC exclusive: Brandon Graham news


Saturday, February 5, 2011

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King City collection cover idea

I asked Brandon Graham what the news is on the King City collection. “TokyoPop is still getting quotes from the printer and whatnot,” Brandon wrote me. I asked him if he had any preferences for the way the book might be printed, and he said, “Ideally, TokyoPop will print a collection that is the same size as the Image issues.”

“I think it’ll be real basic with what was just what was in the issues with some of the layouts and pages I’d cut from the issues in there,” sayeth Brandon. And then he said it would hopefully be out by the end of the year. He added that he’d like to see it be an affordable edition but added to his additional amendment that he understands that publishing is a tough racket all around. “I just want to see it in print”.

The idea that something as popular as KC might not see print made me think of THB not seeing print either, when it was in demand in the ’90s. Like the rarity of the comics so early so fast. And then P.P. doing work for Dark Horse and DC and those works being the first things that people read cuz that is what’s available. And Hey! That’s OK! I’m just speaking in like, DISCOGRAPHICAL terms. Like I enjoy seeing an artist’s progression through his/her own obsessions and how that all plays out. Like I hope KC sees print immediately because it would be really too bad for the readers who wanna read this now to somehow be denied. I know I say this all the time but: KC is a perfect comic book for right now, for today. And plus, I want all my friends to read it and I’m sick of lending out my run of the issues.

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Revolver by Matt Kindt


Sunday, July 25, 2010

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One of the few comics I’ve read recently that does not feel like it’s nostalgia driven or overly genre based. The press release for the book says it’s science fiction, but it feels like some weird hybrid of slice-o-life daily office life banality mixed with an action movie. The hook is that through time travel, whenever the clock hits 11:11 pm the protagonist switches from office life to action-hero life and thusly gets to experience both as the story moves forward, instead of the usual zero-to-hero plot development. Okay, maybe it is genre-based sci-fi. Still, it doesn’t FEEL like some re-hash of a genre comic book or a self-referencing comics nod. There’s even a comic book that is read by the zero/hero within this graphic novel that is used as a narrative device but that doesn’t FEEL nostalgic to me either. Hurm.

But all that is so inside baseball. I guess it’s from working at Copacetic. Like I can’t explain a lot of comics to customers in “comics terms” cuz most of our customers are fairly new to comics. So me explaining that it is Kindt’s brushwork that keeps this rollicking tale from coming across as a re-hash, or that his brushwork is, to me, a flowering of the alt 90’s Mazzucchelli/Pope bang-it-out approach and is a beautiful counter-point to all the slick photo-reffing schlubs who can’t draw an action scene to save their lives—that just barely makes sense to them, or maybe even to you, True Believer. But I gotta try, and will, for you, Believer, before I move on to how I pitch it to the lay people. (more…)

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Paul Pope and Dash Shaw


Thursday, May 13, 2010

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Pulphope versus Darth Shaw.

Robin McConnell as Emperor, er, moderator. From TCAF 2010.

Listen to all the pulse pounding action over at Inkstuds.

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Random Riff Round-Up


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

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Hey everybody. I thought I’d copy Jeet and post some of the things in my notebook that I’ve been carrying around for the last few weeks. Nothing super substantial but hopefully enough to get some discussion going in the comments.  I just got back to Pittsburgh after a week in NYC working with Dash on his animation project. He and I talked a lot while I was up there and I gotta get this stuff outta my head. Please forgive the randomness of these notes. Maybe someday I’ll turn some of these riffs into more well-rounded posts but until then this is it. 

Why don’t the old guard guys make graphic novels? As someone who loves tracking down old comics by Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson, Barry Windsor-Smith, Michael Kaluta, and other guys who made “art” comics back in the day, I often wonder why these guys don’t make long form works. Chaykin just did a new Dominic Fortune story but released it as a serialized comic book. His pair of Time2 graphic novels from the late ’80s were amazing and it makes me wonder why he doesn’t “do a Mazzucchelli” and really show us something. Is it the money? I figure he probably knows he can do it as a serialized comic and get paid. I’m guessing that not many publishers can offer guys like him a hefty advance so he can take time off from the pulps and focus on a long form book. But it’s kind of weird, isn’t it?  When I dig through my collection I come across comic after comic from the ’70s and ’80s by guys like Chaykin, Windsor-Smith, Corben, and many others that all held the promise of some future where they could make long form “adult” comics that would appeal to a wide audience. Well, the time is now and it’s strange to me to see them still doing serialized comics. Only Mazzuchelli made the jump. Will others follow his lead and do long form works that aren’t serialized? Does it matter? No, but it is weird, I think.

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Revisiting the 2009 TCAF Mainstream/Alternative Comics Panel


Sunday, October 4, 2009

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Robin at Inkstuds was kind enough to have the TCAF panel Frank, Robin, Robert Dayton, Dustin Harbin and I participated in transcribed by Squally Showers. He sent me the transcription a few weeks ago and I finally got around to reading it.

Frankly, I thought this panel sucked, due to nobody in particular’s fault. But I think most panels are meandering and boring despite having intelligent moderators and participants. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations. Anyway, I’m just going to excerpt sections of it here and intersperse it with some new commentary.

I wasn’t sure what the point of the panel was and, reading the transcription now, I don’t think anybody knew what the point was. If the point was to hear Frank speak enthusiastically about Kirby and Steranko, it succeeded and that’s definitely an enjoyable, worthy reason to attend a panel. No joke.

But I fear that the panel was interpreted as a statement that “alternative” cartoonists having affection for “mainstream” comics is noteworthy or unusual or “new” somehow. It’s not. “Alternative” cartoonists bemoaning the abundance of boring, mundane mostly-autobio work is a false feeling to me. There are a lot of autobio “real life” stories, but they’ve always been dwarfed by the pseudo-“mainstream” genre work, even outside of Marvel and DC. Look at Oni Press and Slave Labor Graphics and Antarctic Press and Caliber Comics and Tundra and on and on. Look at the Hernandez Brothers. Look at the wave of alternative comics in the nineties… Zot (which somehow looks both really dated and also pre-Tezuka reprint boom ahead-of-its-time), Bone, Kabuki (don’t forget that Scarab spin-off series!), Madman, THB (fucking Escapo! still lookin good a decade later,) etc.

When I was a student at SVA in the early ’00s I was mostly hanging out with the Meathaus guys and almost all of them were doing “alternative” sci-fi/fantasy/horror/whatever genre comics. Some later did more “alternative”-leaning books for DC or Vertigo. Tomer Hanuka did Bipolar (the last issue of which was essentially a Bizzaro World Aquaman story) and later did the Midnight Mass covers for Vertigo. And, of course, Farel Dalrymple did the great Omega Man the Unknown series after doing his solo, surreal Pop Gun War series that, aesthetically, is in the post-Marvel House Style world similar to Jim Rugg (Street Angel from Slave Labor). Even Thomas Herpich’s (who I adore) second book was mostly science fiction short stories. Meanwhile the amerimanga artists at Tokyopop and Oni were doing sci-fi/romance/fantasy comics.

There’s been wave after wave of “alternative” comics with ties to “mainstream” comics from the ’80s to today, unaffected by some horrible glut of boring real-life comics that people complain about. I’m not saying that those books don’t exist (they do). I’m saying that I don’t think there’s been a point where one genre was threatening to extinguish the other.

Frank Santoro: Is everyone … I’m going to talk as if everybody knows what I‘m talking about. If you don’t know what I‘m talking about, please interject at any time. But basically, it’s like Kirby of course created Captain America, the Fantastic Four, but then in the ‘70s, when he went back to Marvel, he was doing these really crazy books like 2001, which was essentially based on the movie. But by issue 5 it had nothing to do with the movie. [laughter] What’s really interesting about this comic is … can you scroll ahead a couple of things … it starts off as this crazy battle and—couple of more?—and he goes to The Source which is, if you remember 2001, the black monolith. I call it The Source. [Robin laughs] Can you scroll ahead one more time? He’s coming out of this battle—one more, one more—and then it’s just like it’s all—keep going one more, a little more, a little more. [murmurs of dissent.] Where’s the locker room?

Robin McConnell: Oh, it didn’t make it in.

Frank: Oh bummer. Well, anyway, it’s like a game. It’s basically like, was it Heroesville?

Dash Shaw: Comicsville.

Frank: Comicsville. So it’s like a game. It’s like a virtual reality game. So this whole episode in the beginning is just this game but it’s like to me, it was this treatise on Kirby’s idea of what being a hero is or was. It’s a game. It’s like a sport. I think it was transparent about what all his comics are about. To me, this particular comic wraps it all up, I horde this comic whenever I see it in the bargain bins. A lot of people don’t like this late style, but I think this is the kind of style that I think is carrying on. It’s still, I think, very fresh. It’s not like his old stuff. It’s really different. I think it’s really ahead of the curve and I’m running out of steam.

Robin: When did this come out in comparison to the New Gods stuff?

Frank: This was after the New Gods stuff. So this is post-DC. He got canned from DC. All of his DC books got canceled. Then he went back to Marvel. This was around the time he was doing The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, the Captain America/Black Panther stuff. Anybody who read that Captain America—Madbomb, those issues. Those are really great. Anybody else want to riff on [inaudible, 2:47]

Robert Dayton: You know what I find really interesting about his 2001 stuff is it’s almost like a mantra. You buy every issue and as a kid you probably feel ripped off, because every issue goes exactly the same. At the end of the issue, a caveman or someone back in time, meets the monolith. The End. Next issue: Same thing. It’s almost like reading Gerald Jablonski’s comics. It becomes like a mantra. It’s just repetition. It’s kind of fascinating reading each and every issue, because even the series, like basically he did a Treasury edition of 2001.

Dash: Yeah, it’s insane.

Robert: Which is insane. It’s massive. It’s huge. It’s gorgeous.

Frank: It’s beautiful. You know those oversized treasuries? Remember those things from the ‘70s? It’s an adaptation of the movie, right?

Robert: Yeah.

Frank: But it’s totally different. It’s Kirby-style. It makes no sense.

Dash: He got some production stills from the movie that you can see that he directly swiped from.

Frank: Yeah!

Dash: And then he just connected it with like just Kirby stuff.

Frank: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Robert: And Kirby was such a collage artist, too. So in the Treasury edition, there’s all these crazy collages.

Dash: The sequence right after this where it moves into the reality is really nice, too, because the reality turns out to not … I don’t know if …

Frank: Yeah, well see, he’s playing this game.

Dash: This isn’t real. Like sometimes when I …

Frank: Like self-heat chicken dinner? He lives in this giant apartment complex and then it’s just this thing. It’s Mountain Air.

Dash: But that beach scene isn’t real.

Frank: So it’s all Matrix! It’s like Matrix. It’s all … but like pre- … whatever, go ahead. [laughter] Go ahead. Go ahead.

Dash: I was going to say when you flip through a lot of these comics, my first reaction is these are way too wordy. I don’t know. Do you have that feeling?

Robin: They’re wordy, but …

Dash: But then in this sequence, you flip through it and you think that “This is actually real,” but all of the text is about how none of this, “This isn’t a real seascape” and everything like that. It’s a juxtaposition.

Robin: Do you find this is one of the more Kirby doing a better job of mixing the two.

Dash: Well, he wrote these, too.

Robin: Yeah, but that’s what I’m saying. Sometimes the story isn’t as strong as the art.

Frank: Well, I think the story is equally as strong as the art. I mean … go ahead.

Dash: Well, I don’t think he would do this the Marvel style if he was doing it for himself. Right?

Frank: Right.

Dustin Harbin: I would have thought with the wordiness that this was in the Marvel style. Because the story looks so clear with that page layout and then all these words were kind of scotch taped on top of it. Which is kind of the Marvel style …

Frank: Well, he wrote, all of Kirby’s stuff, you look at the originals in like the Kirby Collector or whatever, all of his stuff, he has all of the dialogue written in the sides or the back and then Stan or whomever just kind of cleaned it up a little bit. So I think that he’s still doing it in that style, in that way, because I think Mike Royer edited these also, so he helped clean them up. But for me, this was a real gateway comic—just to go back to the main thrust of the panel. It’s like, I was really into Kirby but this was way out there. I didn’t like his ‘70s style. I thought it was really wack and I hated it for a long time. It took me a long time to get into it. But to me, this starts heading into this alternate world. I don’t want to say alternative comics, but it’s just so different from what he had been doing for the 20 years previous that, like I feel like this is what ends up influencing the current generation. So …

It’s hard to read this and not think of Mazzucchelli, both since Asterios Polyp came out recently and he’s one of the kings of the “mainstream”/”alternative” fusion artists. Polyp has some stellar examples of this. My favorite sequence in the book is when Polyp, the “paper architect,” builds a tree house. I told Mazz I loved this scene and he said: “Kirby.”

Or how about this Steranko-esque film still-like panel of Asterios and Hana at the beach, pausing in silhouette, below. I like the melodrama of it. It’s ballsy.

Frank: The Escape Artist. Yeah, so Steranko, after Kirby—Kirby was a big deal in the ’60s, but then in the late ‘60s, there was this guy who was really kind of like the new regime was Jim Steranko, James Steranko. He took Kirby’s style and made it really design-y and really modern.

Robin: Deco pop, almost.

Frank: Deco pop is a good way of describing it. This particular story on the right, this is Bernie Krigstein from the late ‘50s and this is a Steranko story from the early ‘70s and a horror comic from Marvel. Can we click ahead one? And you can see he’s doing all these really wacky layouts and stuff like that. It’s not very … like this face is very Kirby to me and a lot of the figures are very Kirby, but as Dash likes to point out if you think Kirby’s anatomy is messed up, Steranko’s is even more messed up. He’s just doing it. So a lot of these figures are really cut-out figures and stuff. But he’s doing a lot of things with time that hearken back to what Krigstein was doing in the ‘50s.

Dash: The Krigstein comic is “The Master Race,” that Spiegelman likes so much to talk about. He did an article in The New Yorker about it.

Robin: Yeah. I think he first did an essay back in [inaudible, 11:14]

Frank: See, this is the subway going by and all the figures going by fast. He’s breaking up the time like way differently. I mean, this is ’59 …

Robin: This is earlier than that.

Frank: Really?

Dash: I want to hear Frank … you called this cinematic before, those panels. I’ve heard that used a lot. I don’t know if you used it.

Frank: Did I say that?

Dash: Why do you think people call those kind of panels, tall …

Frank: Oh, the tall panels. Because it breaks up the time differently. I think it’s a way of like Kirby is all about it’s not instantaneous moment to moment. It’s more like every ten seconds or something. You see the punch, then you see the reaction. But he’s doing every … this is like five seconds or whatever. This is like an instantaneous thing. Cinematic … I think so, but it’s just more like … Steranko’s cinematic in the sense of his framing, I think. His framing is way more …

Dash: If you scrolled, those long horizontal things like this.

Frank: Oh this. Yeah. Well, I think that’s cinematic because in the late ‘60s, everybody went panorama in the ‘60s, so it’s like your eye, I think, is going across these panels.

Robin: It’s kind of like the whole Orson Welles …

Frank: Deep focus.

Robin: That long …

Robert: The pan. You know what I was thinking? I was looking at these and speaking of cinematic, I was really thinking that Steranko’s a lot like Brian De Palma. That’s because both De Palma and both Steranko, for a lot of reasons, actually, they both use a lot of genre tropes. Like this is an old dark house kind of story. Also, De Palma would always make you conscious that you were watching a film and I think Steranko makes you really conscious that you were reading a comic. That’s what the framing—I mean, De Palma would use a lot of split screen and you see the way things are divided up here. Also, the way that they acknowledged the old masters: Steranko acknowledging Krigstein and Kirby and De Palma acknowledging Hitchcock, most especially.

Something that Jeet Heer touched on previously on CC, and was also asked at the TCAF panel, was how necessary it is for readers to track or be interested in artist’s influences.

Audience member: [inaudible, 45:45-] I mean, there is value to knowing stuff. It’s okay, but if you just want pleasure and it doesn’t matter to you and you’re getting the pleasure and something’s hitting the pleasure button and you don’t know that it’s just a third generation knockoff, then it’s okay. At the same time, if you want to be an informed reader … [continues]

Dash: I think if you’re coming to this panel, you want to be an informed reader.

Audience member: … reading the best work …

Robin: The main thing is you enjoy comics. Let’s see what that person enjoyed.

Robert: If you like this, you might like this.

Robin: That’s exactly it. Without being commercial thing like DC’s, “You like Watchmen, here’s the next thing to read.” You like Brandon Graham? Read Moebius, you’ll love it if you haven’t read Moebius. That’s kind of the conduct of people who love this stuff and reading it is rather important. There are so many comics to read, and people don’t really know that. And good luck at finding this stuff for an affordable except for the horrible Incal reprints that are re-colored.

Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary for readers to be informed about this stuff. It’s only of interest to people who care. But, I think the big “trickle down” effect IS interesting. I care. Not for an “I know who’s ripping off of who! Ha ha!” annoying reason, but because it’s telling a wider story about the psychology of artists. If you’re someone who’s interested in that, it’s worth tracking what was coming out when, or who was reading what when, because the “trickle down” effect over time is more exciting, to me, than holding a romantic belief that everyone’s working in a vacuum devoid of influences. All of the artists struggling to reach that “vacuum”/influence-less state are revealing in their own way.

Obviously, I don’t think people should feel that artists are handed a menu of what came before them and starting ordering things (“I’ll have a little bit of Kirby sprinkled with Sol Lewitt, please”), and I don’t think people should feel artists are necessarily having a conversation with other artists exclusively (“Ware did this, so I went the other way.”) The motivations are a tangled web encompassing a million things. It’s the whole psychology of the person. If you’re happy never reaching a conclusion, just bouncing around reading comics history or whatever, then it’s a journey worth making. Or at least a panel worth attending.

Huge thanks to Robin again and Squally Showers, Robert Dayton, Dustin Harbin and Frank.

Here’s a random Gray Morrow Edge of Chaos spread, because it rules. Show n tell.

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Frank’s Soapbox #2


Friday, August 21, 2009

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I’ve gotten some weird e-mails in regards to the “80%” quote I made in the comments section of my Tom K post from last week. In the original post I wrote: “For me, Tom’s work is an oasis in the desert. And the desert is contemporary alternative comics. I find 80% of today’s alt comics poorly constructed — a veritable colony of lean-to shacks that could be blown over in a strong wind. In contrast, Tom K builds comics that could be likened to a brick house. These are solid comics.”

And then in the comments section I wrote: “I worked all last week at Copacetic Comics and went through the shelves, book by book. I’m sad to report that how UNREADABLE most alt comics are. My 80% figure is not an exaggeration. I made a list (which I’ll never publish). It’s embarrassing how little structure alt comix have compared to mainstream comics.”

What I’m bummed about in hindsight is that the post was meant to be an appreciation of Tom K and not about how I feel most alt comics are structure-less. I try to go out of my way in my reviews to praise comics that have good structure, and when I point out that most alt comics do not, it is not my intention to “shame” anyone. If I review a comic that is structure-less, I’ll say so. But the point of my post on Tom K was not to criticize others but to praise Tom. Still, since the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, I thought I’d add a few more thoughts on the subject.

Okay then:

I said that 80% of alt comix are unreadable because of their lack of structure. I did not say these comics are “garbage.” I said they were “unreadable” and that they are “poorly constructed.” I’m specifically talking about sequencing, not really the drawing itself. “Unreadable” is a bit hyperbolic though. What I mean is that most alt comics are not well crafted on a narrative level. Alt-comix creators, for the most part, get away with being structure-less. They focus on style and “earnest-ness” at the expense of transitions and effective storytelling. Mainstream creators have editors and house styles. (While “house styles” and editorial constraints may sometimes lead to formulaic stories, they actually also often provide a solid foundation for the artists and writers to build upon. It’s not always conformist formula.) Alt-comics creators are “free to be me” and often bristle at the notion of editorial input. Editorial input is not necessarily the same thing as “structure” but I think the two go hand in hand.

I’m being vocal about this issue because I think too many alt creators don’t even realize it’s a problem. I want to wake them up to the fact that even the most experimental comics creators need to study story structure and craft (and could potentially benefit from editorial input) — not just their mainstream peers. I’m talking about myself here too. I study structure religiously and am trying to improve my own fundamental skills day by day.

I remember running into Chris Staros in 1997 (’98?) at the APE convention when it was still in San Jose. He told me a story about a young cartoonist he was working with named Craig Thompson. As I remember it, Craig turned in his manuscript for Goodbye, Chunky Rice and Staros wasn’t thrilled by the ending. So he suggested Thompson take another crack at it. Staros said, “It came back and it was unbelievable. It made me cry.” Fast forward to ten years later, and I’m talking to Nate Powell about his new book, Swallow Me Whole. I asked Nate how involved Staros was as an editor. Nate told me that Staros asked for the book to be drawn entirely in pencil first so that any changes would be easier. Makes sense to me.

What I’m getting at is this: Both Thompson and Powell are “alternative” cartoonists who have grown considerably in their short careers. And both worked closely with an editor who is well versed in comics structure. They both benefited from Staros’s critical eye and both have produced solid comics. Would they have made great comics without Staros’s input? Sure. But with an editor they pushed themselves to go beyond their comfort zones, and I believe they are better, more well-rounded artists because of the experience.

Another great example would be Paul Pope. He appeared almost fully formed, seemingly out of nowhere. Yet he was raw. When he began producing stories for Dark Horse Presents he worked with the editor Bob Schreck. I would argue that this helped Paul. Pope has said, “He’s an editor, but he’s also a friend. He knows how to get me working on it. Sometimes it’s flattery, sometimes it’s encouragement, sometimes it’s — well, he just opens Holy Hell before you.” Would Paul have made great comics without working with an editor like Schreck? Sure. But it didn’t hurt.

My beef with many alt guys is this aversion to structure, to editing, to criticism. Do you know that Chris Ware “sits” on a story for years before he releases it? From what I understand, he works on a couple of stories and strips simultaneously and over YEARS slowly adjusts them, until the story is finally ready to be published. He edits himself in ways that I think most young cartoonists cannot imagine.

I’d like to recommend Dave Sim’s Following Cerebus #5. It’s all about “editing the graphic novel” and contains conversations with Craig Thompson, Paul Pope, Frank Miller, Chester Brown, Seth, and many others. It is where I found the quote about Bob Schreck.

[Thanks to Mr. Hodler, my editor, for help on this one.]

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My Mouth Don’t Work Right


Thursday, October 2, 2008

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So, following Frank and Dan, I am now the last of the Comics Comics bigwigs to get interviewed on Inkstuds. You can listen to the carnage here.

I can’t really bring myself to listen to much of it yet. Lauren tells me it’s actually not that bad, but I still remember several answers that I would change if I had the chance to build a time machine and do it all over again. I’m sure I made other misstatements that I should correct, but I’ll spare everyone by just addressing the two I still recall in vivid insomnia-inducing glory.

1. When Robin mentioned Guy Davis, my brain immediately leaped to thoughts about the difference between “mainstream” and independent cartoonists, and for some reason I started talking about this post by Jacob Covey. I was thinking “generic talented artist working in the corporate comics world”, but in this context, Davis himself is about as bad a specific example as I can imagine. The bulk of his work is independent and/or creator-owned, and even in his work for DC and other big publishers, his art is almost unfailingly personal and ambitious. If I had been writing slowly instead of speaking quickly, I would’ve pointed out that Davis was not really the kind of artist I was talking about.

2. If I remember accurately, when discussing Steve Gerber, I talk about how while he never really wrote any entirely successful comic books, he still managed to pave the way for future good work, simply through his willingness to stretch the boundaries of corporate comic writing. I think I ended up saying that “someone had to do it.” In fact, though, his importance stems from the exact opposite of that statement: No one had to do it. He did it anyway. That’s what’s important about him. (This doesn’t even go into his legal fights for creator rights, which may be a more important legacy, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, that’s it, I think. Number 1 is much worse than number 2, and the one that really bothers me. I don’t want to know what numbers 3, 4, and 5 are, but feel free to point them out and mock me in the comments, or in person this weekend at SPX.

UPDATE: Okay. I listened to it. It’s not that bad. There are a few more parts that made me cringe a little, but nothing egregious enough to write about here. Only the Guy Davis part really makes me feel embarrassed ashamed embarrassed. Carry on.

UPDATE II: Also, it may have sounded like I was joking when I suggested that Robin get Paul Pope to do a cover for his bound collection of Ambush Bug comics, but actually, I think that would probably be pretty great!

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This is Unseemly #2


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

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Everyone and his sister has already linked to this profile of Paul Pope in the Wall Street Journal.

And I still agree with John Updike’s rule for critics: “Review the book, not the reputation.”

But man, I have to say this makes me wish I’d been a little harder on Heavy Liquid last month.

This does not reflect well on me, I know.

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Cage Match #2: Heavy Liquid (1999-2000)


Monday, February 18, 2008

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[TIM: For those new to the concept of the Comics Comics Cage Match, it’s basically a recurring feature that gives us a way to present no-holds-barred arguments about comics and comics-related issues about which we don’t quite see eye to eye. Rules: Dan puts up some thoughts, and sometime in the near future, Frank and I will respond. We’ll keep going back and forth until it feels like we’re done. Readers are welcome to throw tomatoes at us through the bars in the comments. (Oh, and if you haven’t read this series yet and don’t like spoilers, you may want to skip this.)]

DAN: Put on your masks and pull up your tights, because, as advertised, our second cage match is about Heavy Liquid by Paul Pope. (1999-2000, DC Comics).

I should note, before this gets bloody, that on most days I really admire Paul Pope’s sheer rendering skill. He makes exciting comic book pages. His Batman was incredibly fun. So, I like Paul Pope the action cartoonist. He gets the visceral pleasures of fight scenes and running and humping and going fast and etc. That’s not easy to do. I am not so much an admirer, however, of Paul Pope the artiste. I think his single image work is, at best, a goofy kitschy pastiche of good girl and pulp imagery. At worst, it’s just humorless advertising art, not so dissimilar to this guy. What bothers me about both of these guys, and Pope in particular, is that the work exudes “attitude”, like a model’s sneer. It signifies something, but has absolutely nothing else going for it. So, when I note that I like Paul Pope as an action cartoonist I mean I like him in a utilitarian way — like, I wish he’d drawn Batman for 20 years. I like him in a similar way as liking Gene Colan or even Alex Toth (though both are more interesting artists) — I just want to look at the comics and try not to read them. If you read them, for the most part, you’re sunk.

So that brings me to Heavy Liquid, which is about a disaffected male model’s (ok, maybe not, but basically) adventurous journey to find his disaffected artist ex-girlfriend and learn about the mysterious new substance, Heavy Liquid, which can be used as a drug or made into a weapon or even — gasp! — art! Sound familiar somehow? Well, it’s basically like P.K. Dick with a dash of D. Hammet thrown in and some liberal use of “downtown” art references like Rita Ackermann (misspelled once, but who’s counting, and an obvious influence on Pope’s rendering style and general artistic pose). The material is so slim that is just slips by. Everyone smokes. There’s coffee brewing all the time. And shit is always hazy. Oh yeah, and then there’s narration like this: “The artist’s city. More like hamburger city. Besides, they killed art years ago. They killed it, then replaced it with a simulation. Then life was replaced with a simulation.” I mean, are you kidding? This is the sort of thing I tried to pass off as “deep” at age 14, holding a bong in one hand and an issue of X-Men in another. It’s so dumb that I actually feel guilty pointing it out. I could look past all of this and just enjoy it if I bought into the attitude behind the work. Or rather, the attitude, period. Because besides the art, the whole thing is attitude: it’s one big trashy leer. It’s about being world weary, skinny, jaded, romantically paranoid, romantically tough and romantically romantic. It’s also completely humorless and un-selfconscious, which is surprising considering how brazenly it’s drawn from other sources (name your film noir or crime novel, your Fellini film, your late 80s/early 90s indie rock, etc etc.).

Which brings me to Nick Cave. The only comparable thing I can think of is Nick Cave. Like Pope, he makes competent, sometimes exciting genre material (though, unlike Pope, he did have a glory period with The Birthday Party). And like Pope, he depends a lot on buying into a kind of shaved-chest/copious hairdo/smokey/sexy/wounded/bad boy/asshole thing that I know someone finds interesting, but I’m still not sure why. I don’t like Nick Cave either. He’s boring, too. So maybe that’s just it: I don’t like this particular attitude. Other attitudes I suppose I like, or at least have more patience with. Just not this one. I need something more than pithy cliches about love lost and finding authenticity and smoking, and wearing little t-shirts and stuff. And, for me, Heavy Liquid pretty much ends at the attitude. I’m sure Frank and Tim will come up with something awesome, though, especially since Frank secretly loves Nick Cave. Just kidding, Frank.

TIM: Jeez, Dan. You were smoking out of a bong at 14? You matured faster than I did, I guess. I’ve got to do some scanning before I respond at greater length, but I do think that Dustin in the comments has a point. A lot of this seems more like an ad hominem argument (what does Nick Cave have to do with anything?) than it does a critique of the book per se. Outside of that bit you quote from the Paris scene in issue four, anyway. That monologue really is one of the worst parts of the book, though you cut it off before it got semi-interesting (in a revealing way) — when the protagonist starts musing about “the Romantics”:

People going to see the Mona Lisa, not to look at it, but because it’s the Mona Lisa. Then they quit going to see it all. They’d just stitch it on a screen. A picture of a picture on a screen. A knowing, tired nudge and wink saying, we’ve seen it all. It’s all been done. Don’t try anything new. We’ve used up “new.”

…the Romantics never believed that, though. They’d say, maybe you’ve heard it and said it all — but I haven’t. So art isn’t dead. It’s just holed up in some second-floor studio…

All the same, I say to Hell with the Romantics. They were never a sensible bunch to begin with.

Leaving aside the grammatical issues here, considering that there’s no real reason for “S” (the protag) to care much about art, it’s hard to see this is as anything other than a statement from Pope himself. But what that statement means is beyond me, at least for the moment.

FRANK: I don’t like Nick Cave, I’m more of a Reid Paley kind of guy.

Shit, I haven’t even had a chance to breathe, Dan’s been smashing my face against the turnbuckle and then the cage’s fence. The referee is calling for a break. Okay, here goes:

So everyone knows about THB, right? THB was a big free-wheelin’ indie hit in the mid ’90s. After that, if I remember correctly, Pope did stories for Dark Horse Presents (and famously worked for a Japanese publisher around then, too), and after that, Heavy Liquid was his first book for the majors. I think on his Dark Horse stories they had someone else lettering. The idea was to polish Pope up. You can imagine the meetings at DC: “So, we’ve got to get him to tighten up the way the balloons are placed — and don’t let him letter the book himself–” So Pope agrees (I’m imagining all this) and uses a circle template for the balloons. And DC gets workhouse John Workman to letter it in a “futuristic” style.

Well, it worked! I remember not liking this constraint put on Escapo himself (Pope) and maybe I shied away from the book at first because of this, mostly because I was a real THB fan and thought it looked “off” compared to his black-and-white work. I liked the color of Heavy Liquid and appreciated the way it created a different depth compared to the black-and-white, but I liked how I “immersed” myself in the B&W work and how the whole reading experience was about this connection to shapes, positive and negative, blah, blah, blah. So despite thinking it looked cool Heavy Liquid looked too busy for me, too complicated to follow. I just wanted HR Watson and THB jumping around the page, crazy easy-to-follow action scenes, and also a storyline that was like, oh I dunno Sub-Mariner vs Iron Man. Action! Then I could just skip the talking heads parts. So that’s why I didn’t read this when it came out. Now when I look at the color and the default circle word balloons and the non-Pope lettering, I kind of like it.

But this is going to be “tough love” because while I think this book is good, it’s not great. And forgive the “notes” like quality of my comments. I don’t have the patience to flesh out all my observations or arguments:

— Love the opening with the parade, the elephant, the lighting, the airiness of it all, reflecting the drug, the swirling steam from the kettle.
— It feels like a concentrated effort, a “try-out” for the majors. Symbols reinforced strongly — a little “stagey” — and that’s not helped by the clunky, noir-ish dialogue. As the story goes on, the lead character’s interior narration becomes annoying and I found myself only reading it for information when I didn’t understand a passage by action alone. The bath scene in issue 2 is particularly exhausting.

— NYC feels impenetrable. Downtown, Chinatown, pre-9/11 take on the “future.” We don’t know much about S’s life before they cook up the stuff (heavy liquid as drug) in #1. Inherently noir approach and narrative propulsion, but also familiar entry point in NYC: drug experience, shared experience, portal inside — as soon as heavy liquid arrives there is this access, this feels real, like NYC.

— Hard to identify with lead (classic cypher), yet he’s almost too defined, not “blank” enough for the reader to project upon. A Bogie/Mitchum type with none of the weaknesses that make them so likable. Yet the character is believable. You gotta have balls to navigate the part of NYC I feel he is depicting.

— Beautiful scenes of NYC life. The vibe, the “background”, really informs the action, but S doesn’t really engage the setting. (He’s in his own world understood, yes, but it feels like a missed opportunity.)

— Poor transition in issue one at key scene, with Guernica horse-head-mask-wearing Clown. This scene in number one is awesome where at one point a bad guy is gonna catch up with the good guy main character but when the action unfolds a very important transition is fumbled, I’d scan all three pages in here but it’ll take forever. Beginning with page 21 in issue one the Clown Gang sees S in a cab and chases him down, they get stuck in traffic so the clown wearing a horse-head mask that looks like the horse from Guernica walks between cars and approaches S’s cab. There is a striking image of the masked clown, half a page that sets up the page-turning action which … FALLS IMMEDIATELY APART when the page is turned because it is unclear if the car is speeding away from the clown or towards him, at first I thought the clown was getting run over and then I looked closely and the cab was simply pulling away. Hmmm. I mean, it’s beautifully drawn and when I examine it closely, I see that, okay, it’s not that muffed a transition, but really this is one of the most dramatic and striking moments of the first chapter and whatever momentum was building was thwarted by a simple transition. I appreciate his action sequences, but details like this are of paramount importance, I think. Like a beautiful thrilling, dazzling, stick-handling display by a hockey team on an offensive rush, a mighty slap shot is unleashed and OH! He MISSED the NET! Bummer.

— But then a few pages later, a moment like this one with the red curtain just overpowers me and I stare at it for awhile.

— Motivation beyond lost love and addiction?

— Issue 2 screeches to a halt — the beginning “explains” the first issue. A plodding, barely tolerable pace sets in. S takes a bath, reflects on the fix he’s in. While I enjoy the counterpoint of the action (bath) to the narration (long-winded explanation over 2 pages), it interrupts the flow considerably.

— For someone on the run — or at least in danger of being found, S is very languid. Besides the bath, he lounges around while “stitched in”, searching for Rodan. Then real world art star Rita Ackermann is introduced, except she’s old now, it’s the future. This all seems like a romantic sci-fi interpretation of Pope’s life.

— By the middle of issue 3 (there’s only 5 in the series), even though I know exactly what’s going on, nothing is going on; the dominoes that Pope sets up never seem to drop. There’s little in the way of real tension, or real motivation or empathy on my part for any of the characters. I have no emotional connection with them, or the narrative. It takes me along on the ride and I thoroughly enjoy looking at the faces and composition and everything, but it’s almost worse because I DO like the art and the storytelling so much. There are so many narrative side streets that Pope sets up (the Forked Tung gang) that feel very genuine and interesting, but add very little to the overall narrative thrust. I really like the bar scene with the handcuffs, but the whole set-up of the Forked Tung gang feels like Pope got bored with the non-story and began making a more exciting one within..

— Info not conveyed in the fight scene in issue 3. Does he have the briefcase in his hand on the previous page? Oh, so that’s what he whacks the guy with… It stops me. Have to go back..

— End of 3 is soooo bad. Builds tension then typical cliffhanger but feels ‘off’.

— Wait, did S “discover” using heavy liquid as a drug? If so, then why are the Clowns after him? He never explains what it’s for in issue one, and because he shows it being used as a drug twice in issue one, it’s assumed that it is valuable for that reason. When it is revealed that S invented the method, then it feels as though Pope had to add that the Clowns use it for explosives, and while I’m at it the Clowns feels like an Akira sample. Or The Warriors, your pick. Their role diminishes as the series goes on, and their threat feels canned when this info is revealed in the fourth issue. If the Clowns used it like S uses it, then I can see the motivation for finding him and it. If it’s just for explosives then big deal.

— End of 4 has no drama. The implied drama — Rodan saying she never wants to see “S” again — feels as though it’s supposed to be dramatic and instead comes off stale. That’s the cliffhanger for the penultimate chapter? These flourishes weren’t so common in THB and unhinged from serialization (most THB stories are modular but also self-contained — look THB is fighting someone, saving HR!) Pope’s emotional interpersonal dialogue in that series is a little more naively endearing.

— The “emotional” exchanges are really clunky, and while the body language, drawing, lighting, composition, etc., is impeccable, I feel nothing for the lead character and only a slight “something” for the mysterious Rodan who’s been getting the buildup for 100 pages. Sigh. Old lovers re-united. A dime-a-dozen type scene handled without any real originality.

— It’s really a shame. The art is so good, but the story is so muddy. Like some series of events in one’s life that are all connected and deeply intriguing to the person in question, but a story which to another person is like a confusing anecdote told in a loud bar that comes in snatches. Wait, what happened? Tell me that part about the Forked Tung Gang, I like that part. If S would have ditched everyone and made a left turn in the narrative with the girl he was handcuffed to, that would have been great. In the end it feels unnecessary to the overall story.

— Oh, he conveniently wraps it up in a nice little package, literally, at the beginning of issue 5. And then as the train rolls away into the sunset, makes a grocery list of loose ends that he needs to tie up.

Trust, drug addiction, the “other”, the secret sharer, NYC anonymity that leads to “After Hours-like” adventures. The drug sharing is the bond and the blade. It’s a smart story, and I enjoy the topic. It’s so much better than most comics, but I think Pope either tries to do too much or too little. It’s weird, for the first half of it, 100 pages in, I feel like I’m enjoying myself despite nothing really “gelling.”

— Action framework and trying to shoehorn “feelings” into it. Would have preferred it the other way around.

Okay, there’s my round. I might lose this one fans, I can’t defend this work so well, and I really like Paul’s comics.

DAN: I’ll have to respond to Frank later — that’s a lot of text! But first I’ll respond to Tim: I think the rest of that “romantics” passage is just as bad — the bit about Mona Lisa is the kinda thing you hear at midnight in a youth hostel from that guy you met during the day but now really want to get away from. Basically S/Pope is trying to find a way to re-engage with the world but at the same time won’t commit to any actual philosophy, thus maintaining the devil-may-care/disaffected stance. I mentioned Nick Cave because he seems, like Pope, to be creating proficient, pulp genre-based stuff that also substitutes a posture/attitude for real content. There’re no real characters here — just “feels” or moods. That’s a real problem. There’s no there, there.

TIM: Oh of course, Dan. I wasn’t trying to say that the rest of that passage was any better, just that it seemed to reveal a little bit more about Pope’s art philosophy. But you’re right.

We may have already scared a lot of readers a way with this kind of impenetrable commentary, so maybe we should explain the basic plot of Heavy Liquid for anyone who’s left.

It’s the year 2075. S seems to be a former cop/fed/private eye who lives in New York, and is now involved in hazily defined semi-criminal activities to support his addiction to “heavy liquid”, a substance that apparently fell to earth in an asteroid. He uses it as a drug that he pours into his ear, but (as Frank points out) no one besides his small circle of friends seems to be aware of this use for the substance. (We learn late in the series that it can also be used as an explosive.) A mysterious collector hires him to search for a missing sculptor named Rodan, who is also S’s ex-girlfriend. (The collector wants Rodan to make a sculpture using the strange heavy liquid.) S and a friend named Luis have recently stolen a bunch of heavy liquid from some gangsters (the mask-wearing “Clowns”), who kill Luis and come looking for S. A federal agent with strange electric powers is also looking for S and the heavy liquid, and after a series of fights and escapes, S meets the 103-year-old Rita Ackermann (!) who tells him that Rodan is in Paris. S meets her there, and hooks Rodan up with the collector. Then S takes a train, reminisces, meets the electric agent on the train, and escapes once more. Finally, he takes the heavy liquid one more time, and discovers that it is really a kind of alien life form, who he sort of wants to be friends with. The end.

I’ll be back later with some actual thoughts, but this kind of plot summary seemed like a good idea to put in somewhere.

FRANK: Wait, you met some guy at a youth hostel, Dan? When was this?

TIM: Unfortunately, it looks like (just like last time) we may be arguing about a comic that we don’t actually disagree about that much. But since we’ve already started, let’s see if we can’t draw out a few more points in detail.

First, I think we’re giving Pope a little bit of short shrift. As commenter Dustin points out, Pope occupies a fairly peculiar place in American comics: he’s got feet in both the indie and big-publisher worlds, he creates genre science fiction of a kind more often seen in Europe than here in the States, and he has a very idiosyncratic drawing style (which, partly because of his own influence, doesn’t seem nearly as idiosyncratic now as it did a decade ago). If Heavy Liquid is ultimately a failure, at least it’s an interesting one, and in 1999, most of Vertigo’s output was anything but interesting. Pope deserves credit for that.

Secondly, despite the book’s narrative flaws (I agree with both of you that there are many of them), the atmosphere of the book is really kind of incredible. Nearly all of the characters are stock genre types (world-weary anti-hero, criminal goon, female friend who doesn’t understand why men have to be such “cowboys”, wealthy and opaquely motivated client, etc.), but the world Pope creates is vivid and intense. In that way, Heavy Liquid isn’t all that dissimilar to Blade Runner, a film with revolutionary mise-en-scène but featuring a plot and cardboard characters that don’t stand up to much scrutiny.

But therein lies part of the problem, because in 1982, Blade Runner‘s weird meld of science fiction and noir, and its junky, ultra-cool, multicultural setting was excitingly fresh and new (at least in terms of film), whereas seventeen years later, Heavy Liquid feels like a bit of a retread.

Throughout the 1980s, “cyberpunk” writers like William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and many others wrote dozens of novels and stories like this: Dashiell Hammett updated to the 21st century, with a drug-, crime-, and media-saturated milieu of street-level hustlers (and artists) navigating a corrupt near-future world of mysterious corporations and government agencies. At the time, cyberpunk felt new, and writers like Gibson and Sterling brought more than style to the table: the environments they depicted seemed more plausible than the default robots-and-spaceships future of science fiction past. And their fictional worlds were thought-out — the details mattered.

Heavy Liquid doesn’t look thought-through at all. In one issue, Pope includes a map of 2075 Manhattan, and every neighborhood (Chinatown, Tribeca, etc.) is exactly the same size and shape as in 1999. At first, the front-buckled “Colonial” boots that S wears seem like a brilliant note, just the kind of thing that people would be wearing when the United States nears its Tricentennial. But later on, we learn that S has been wearing the same boots for many years, and the note suddenly strikes false. Finally, in another issue, Pope describes one of the most popular entertainments of the day, a prime-time show called “The Goose” that features “51 minutes of rapid digi-splice images of exploding battleships interspersed with close-ups of engorged human genitalia, followed by 9 minutes of white noise accompanied by a blank, pink color field.” This is the kind of idea you might find in a J.G. Ballard story, and it’s kind of interesting (how would a society that found such things entertaining come about?), but nothing else in the comic really backs it up. From all indications, people in 2075 act exactly like people in 1999. It’s just a cool detail that doesn’t connect up with anything else in the story.

At other times, this kind of detailing works a lot better. Pope includes several pages featuring the clothing and products people wear (along with their prices and wear to buy them), and it effectively sets up the designer youth culture he depicts. When S steps out of the bathtub and wraps his long, wet hair (style: “The Jagger”) in a towel, it’s funny. You rarely see a male action protagonist so vain about his appearance. But aside from that vanity, S has no discernible personality traits at all. He’s just a standard-issue dime-store detective in designer leather pants.

That’s probably the biggest problem one of the biggest disappointments for me: the second-hand nature of it all. When Moebius created sf comics, the planets and people he drew were strange and otherworldly, like nothing readers had seen before. Moebius was influenced (and adapted stories by) obscure cult writers like Robert Sheckley and Jack Vance. Heavy Liquid is just Blade Runner and Neuromancer all over again, the two most familiar sf settings of the day.

I also agree with Frank about some of the action staging; the two sequences he points out (the taxi chase and the fight in the elevator) were places I too had problems following the sequence of events. I’ll point out another once I do some scanning.

Oh, but on a more positive note: Pope’s drawings are beautiful, and that shouldn’t be understated. And the sequences where S does heavy liquid are among the best depictions of drug use I’ve ever seen in a comic. You have to give Pope that.

TIM: Okay. Man, scanning takes a long time. I guess I should’ve done this yesterday.

First, I want to highlight a passage that Frank already commented on, the section in the first issue when one of the Clowns, Kip, has just spotted S in a taxi, and gets out of his car to creep up on him.

Pope ran a contest asking readers to pick their favorite panel from the first issue, and the top panel from this page apparently got a lot of votes. It’s pretty easy to see why:

That’s a great page, evocative and thrilling. There’s some nice detail work, too. A reader who is paying attention will notice Kip creeping up in the rear-view mirror in the bottom-right panel.

Which pays off in the page that follows:

This one was a little more difficult for me to follow. I had to read the page a couple of times to get my bearings, and to understand why S was leaning forward and gasping, and basically, just how the POV works here in general. But in the end, it all makes sense, and I don’t mind the initial awkwardness at all. Others might disagree, but this seems like a pretty clever way to build tension.

But then, just as Frank claimed earlier, it all falls apart:

It’s certainly a striking series of images, but I must have read this page (and the ones preceding and following it) a dozen times, and it still doesn’t make any sense to me. Is the taxi going forwards or backwards? It’s obvious from what follows that the taxi is simply pulling away, but you sure couldn’t tell it from this.

This and similar poorly-told action sequences are frustrating, because at other times, Pope does a great job with them. Blogger seems to have started giving me trouble uploading images, so I can’t show them right now, but some pages, such as Luna’s escape from the Clowns, or the part where S barges into the hotel room full of girl-gang members, are very compelling, and display a rare kinetic energy. It’s a shame that he doesn’t pull it off more often, because he’s definitely got the chops. And like Frank said, “this is one of the most dramatic and striking moments of the first chapter … details like this are of paramount importance.”

TIM: All right, Blogger helped me out on one more image.

This is from the fourth issue, after S sneaks onto Rodan’s Paris apartment roof.

Am I the only one who can’t figure out how he fell through that window?

Okay. Over to Frank and Dan.

For me, the packaging of the book is totally what I wanted to do with Cold Heat and it’s really funny to me to see the issues of HL now like some long lost artifact before the “war years” in NYC. (P.S. See comments section for color commentary from me.)

It really sings at issue-length, and I’m glad that I read it this way, in individual issues. Also, the color “works”. Consistently. It’s all about the tonal range and it’s perfect for the world that’s being depicted. And it’s still really awesome all around, despite everything in the story that goes off-base. I really don’t mind the stagey-ness of it because the art is so “on”, but it just underscores how good THB really is…

What? Who said that in the third row? You don’t like THB? Thats it, I’m going after you–

Well, Dan’s allowed to bring in “image” and P.P. “the artiste” and whatever, but the thing is we’re reviewing a comic book. So I tried to check my assumptions at the door. It is hard to separate P.P. the person from his work, especially when he puts himself into the story (more or less), but the hope is that the work will transcend the “attitude.” So yeah, I get it, but sometimes, for example, I hear a cool country song that I like and then I’m aghast that it’s played by a band that I hate. Or that I am supposed to hate. (This happened to me when my metal-head friend made fun of me for singing along to the Grateful Dead in the car. “I didn’t know!”(Insert Nelson Muntz laff.))

So Dan, I figure you’ll say that this book doesn’t cut it and you might be right. However, it’s a cheap shot to roll this out as your main argument. If you don’t like the book, fine, but do the work first, review it, give a little, take a little.

The art and P.P.’s comic, Heavy Liquid, is on review here, not the person. And if you’re gonna gripe about what you’ve already griped about, don’t bother.

There, that ought to rile him up!

TIM: Body blow!

FRANK: It’s the bar scenes and the “landscape” around the action that take on a real “presence.” What about that, Nadel? What’s that got to do with attitude?

DAN: Sorry, I had to take a break to run my elitist publishing company for a little while. Anyhow, I don’t think I was reviewing the person at all. What I was saying was that the work itself is about attitude. This has little to do with the person, and is really just about the feel and ultimate content (or lack thereof). Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. I dunno. I was just bored silly by it. There are no discernible characters, and the setting, once you take away the, as I’ve said, gorgeous linework, etc., is, as Tim noted, completely bland. Frank, I think the landscape takes on a nice presence because of the linework and colors, but I guess in this case it’s not enough to sustain my interest. Pope is an exciting stylist, but to my mind the best stylists, like Moebius, as Tim astutely noted, invent, and there’s nothing here invented. And, like I’ve said, there’s nothing wrong with that — I liked his Batman because he didn’t have to invent — he could just lay his style over ready-made content and, presto, instant entertainment. But that sort of does it for me. On some level it’s hard to write about this book because besides getting into the nitty gritty, as Tim admirably does (but which I’m not inspired enough/too lazy to do), there’s not much to say.

TIM: You know, I kind of wish we’d picked a different Paul Pope comic for this debate, because it might have been more interesting/fair to argue about either an early, more wholly independent comic like THB or a later title that reflected Pope’s more mature storytelling ability. But what’s done is done, so here are a few final thoughts.

First, in some ways, I think it looks like I dislike Heavy Liquid here a lot more than I actually do. I don’t want to repeat myself, but Pope does get a lot of things right here. The imagery is consistently stunning, the setting is dense and vivid, and his layouts and composition are excellent. I think his visual storytelling stumbles far too often (there are several more examples than the ones I already posted above), which is a big problem, but at other times, he handles action and movement with real and unusual grace. These are not small things, and if it seems like I’m dwelling more on the flaws than I am on what works, well … the flaws really stand out in context. But flaws and all, I have to say that I wish there were more artists like Paul Pope in comics, not less.

Someone in the comments mentioned the ending, and I have to agree that yes, it’s one of the best moments in the book, a transcendent sequence that might have just worked as a slingshot effect if it didn’t feel so disconnected from the rest of the book. Earlier, Frank mentioned how late in the series we learn that heavy liquid can be used as an explosive, and that really does kind of capture in a nutshell the missed opportunities here: how can you present a concept like that and never let the reader actually see it in action? (The much-quoted line by Chekhov comes to mind: “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.”) All the elements of a potentially great adventure/mystery story (minus interesting characters — another big problem) are here — they just got bungled in the storytelling. Maybe a big part of this stems, as Frank semi-implied, from the fact that this was Pope’s first real comic for a big publisher. In any case, reading this again has definitely made me interested in checking out 100% and some of Pope’s other work. If he figures out how to iron out some of the narrative and visual wrinkles (and maybe he already has in comics I haven’t read), I think he could pull off something really valuable and unique.

So I think that’s it for me. Any final words, Frank?

FRANK: In my post-match press conference, I’m gonna call this one a draw. Mostly because Dan came out swinging but then wouldn’t really review the thing, and while that is kinda fair, I guess — it is his personal taste after all — it makes for a dull match. We’ve just wound up with a book that we all don’t really, uh, disagree on, wanna fight over.

There are tons of books out there like that. Dan knows I like Bob Layton‘s Iron Man run and has made fun of me for keeping them ’round the office, but so what? Bob Layton rulez!

Anyways, fans, I say it’s a draw. (Though check out the comments section for a few more of my thoughts that I wasn’t able to squeeze in up here.)

The landscape, the feeling of New York in the ’90s, YOUTH, this futurepastpresent that dominated the pop culture then: Pope did a great job with these signs. The narrative fumbles, ultimately, are forgivable. It’s a comic book for cryin’ out loud! And it was a fun read, so there.

The fun was the night life and the lighting and the otherworldliness to it. The ending with the alien life form was surprising and it made me think of THB, like I said, but really it was a comic book ending. At the end of the day, I’d rather read this than Fun Home. Sorry. Or Persepolis. Okay, or Blankets.

TIM: And on that auspicious note (a hat trick of cheap shots), I think this Cage Match comes to an end. (At least for us. Please feel free to keep arguing in the comments.) I hope all bruised feelings will eventually heal. Good night, fight fans!

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

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We present a special President’s Day Cage Match.

You have been warned.

[If you want to familiarize yourself with the rules, you can see how it went last time here.]

[Oh, and thanks to Frank and Alex Holden for providing me with replacements for the issues of Heavy Liquid I own but can not find.]

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