Posts Tagged ‘comics vs. literature’

Mindless Pleasures


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Thursday, February 10, 2011


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As of one week ago today, I finally finished Gravity’s Rainbow. Now that I’ve read the whole thing, I can more responsibly ponder the Frank Miller question. While I’m still not a fan of the actual cover he produced, I also still think his selection makes a lot of sense: there’s a ton of comic-book imagery in the novel, and many of Miller’s themes (militarism, noirish overcomplicated plots, skeezy sex, fascism) are present. The more focused and disciplined Ronin-era Miller would probably have done a better job, but that was clearly not in the cards. In any case, let’s move on from Miller — it is more fun to speculate about other cartoonists who might have worked even better.

Assuming you wanted to stick with a modern-era superhero artist, Howard Chaykin is one obvious (and arguably more apt) choice. The late Jack Cole, who is referenced often in the story itself, would have been pretty much perfect, though obviously he was unavailable for cover duty. While we’re dreaming, Jack Kirby initially seems like a good fit, but there’s a certain nobility in even Kirby’s saddest comics that would be far out of place in the corrupt, fallen world of GR. That thought leads, of course, to perhaps Kirby’s greatest descendant, Gary Panter, who is ultimately the one and only obvious choice for the assignment.

But there’s no reason to restrict this game to just one book. (more…)

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Comics Enriched Their Lives! #19 and #20


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Thursday, January 6, 2011


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Okay, these are both gimmes, basically, but since there are two of them, maybe that’s the equivalent of one solid post. Plus they’re both literary, so you know this is some well thought out bloggery.

First, in the immortal words of Paul Hardcastle: 19.

Rocketman, like comic books, is assembled by the Raketen-Stadt in order to serve Their designs. When he no longer serves Their ends, They dismantle him. But fragments of him survive in Pynchon‘s text. No one who reads Gravity’s Rainbow will forget the legend of Rocketman, the greatest preterite super-hero of the postmodern world. For a moment, he defied Their will and fought for truth, justice, and the Pynchon way.

—H. Brenton Stevens, “‘Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s . . . Rocketman!’: Pynchon’s Comic Book Mythology in Gravity’s Rainbow

I haven’t actually done more than skim that essay yet, by the way, as I am currently nearing the halfway mark in Gravity’s Rainbow, and don’t want to spoil things for myself. From a cursory perusal, it looks like Stevens may miss or downplay some of the subtler comic-book connections going on, such as the repeated Plastic Man references, but more knowledgeable others (and a future me) are better positioned to determine that. I will say that at this point I better understand why Thomas Pynchon tapped Frank Miller for the cover, a move that no longer seems intentionally perverse, but rather extremely apt—I just wish Miller hadn’t ultimately turned in such a relatively restrained image.

And now, 20:

At first I was read to. My grandfather had taught Greek and Latin at Columbia, and he read to me from a book that had abbreviated versions of The Odyssey and The Iliad—plus a lot of classic fairy tales, which, as you know, are extremely disturbing. Then I began reading on my own. I read mostly Westerns. My parents approved of that, because at least they were books. But when I got into comic books, they disapproved. I would read them by flashlight under the covers. No one realized in those days that 1930s Action Comics and DC Comics, Superman and Batman, would become legendary in American culture. They taught me a great deal about narrative—lots of invention and no pretense of realism.

—Harry Mathews, interviewed in the Spring 2007 issue of The Paris Review

Also no real surprise, considering the various Ou-X-Po connections, but there you go.

[Tip of the hat to DB for the latter.]

P.S. I finally got a copy of Neonomicon #3, so anyone interested in the CCCBC should find and read a copy before next week if you want to follow along.

UPDATE: Since I posted this, I found a more up-to-date and comprehensive article about Pynchon/comics connections online at The Walrus, written by Sean Rogers. I recommend it and you can read it here.

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Comedy Minus Time


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Thursday, December 2, 2010


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“The overwhelming part about tragedy is the element of hopelessness, of inevitability.”

—J.A. Cuddon, The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms

In his 1987 essay “What’s so Funny about the Comics?” (reprinted in Comics as Culture), the scholar M. Thomas Inge defends the validity of the term “comics,” despite the fact that so many of the art form’s admirers express resentment for the pejorative connotations of that name, by basically claiming that the term is literally true, and implies very strongly that all comics are comedies.

He accomplishes this primarily by appealing to a fairly broad definition of comedy:

Not all things “comic” are necessarily funny or laughable. Comedy implies an attitude towards life, an attitude that trusts in man’s potential for redemption and salvation, as in Dante’s Divine Comedy or Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Since comic strips always conclude with resolutions in favor of morality and a trust in the larger scheme of truth and justice, they too affirm a comic view of the social and universal order. While Krazy Kat and Smokey Stover may appear absurd, they do not reflect on the world around them as being irrational or devoid of meaning, as in the drama of the absurd. Comic art is supportive, affirmative, and rejects notions of situational ethics or existential despair.

(more…)

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CCCBC: Alan Moore’s The Courtyard (Part 2)


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Friday, October 15, 2010


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For the first part of this discussion, see here.

In his opening essay, “The Comic of Cthulhu: Being a Letter of Reminiscence and Recollection Concerning The Courtyard”, scripter Antony Johnston discusses the problems he faced when retelling Alan Moore’s original prose story in comic-book form:

One of the main challenges is adapting prose to a visual medium such as comics is that in prose, it’s perfectly acceptable to engage the reader with an inner monologue, and often for some length. These are necessary for exposition, feeding the information vital to understand the story, because in prose you can’t simply show something as you would in a film or comic. You must describe it.

There’s just one problem; during such passages it’s also perfectly acceptable for nothing to happen.

Even more so than the task of condensing a narrative, or deliberating over dialogue, this is the biggest challenge in any such adaptation. In a comic, something must always happen. It can be mundane, it can be remarkable, it can be somewhere between the extremes. But something must happen, visually, in order to justify the form’s usage and make the story feel like it belongs in the medium.

With a few exceptions, this wasn’t too hard a task with “The Courtyard.” Where Moore makes leaps to new locations in a single carriage return, the comic can make the same journey at a more leisurely pace, using space and sequence to pace out a relevant monologue over something so ordinary as Sax lighting a cigarette, or donning an overcoat.

This sounds like a somewhat plausible solution in theory, but turns out to be a mostly deadening misstep in practice. Sax’s Harrison Ford-in-Blade Runner voice-over generally doesn’t interact with the visuals (which, as Johnston admits, mostly involve uninteresting stage business, not important narrative information), it simply dominates them. For much of the comic, you could cover up the panels and understand everything that is happening without even looking at the drawings. (Incidentally, setting this comic next to Crumb’s Genesis shows just how wrong-headed those critics who found Crumb’s illustrations too literal really were—any panel of that book puts this entire comic to shame.)

It’s no accident that the four pages Avatar has chosen to offer as an online preview illustrate one of the very few sequences in Moore’s story where something actually happens. Let’s compare. (more…)

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If I Could Write


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Thursday, September 16, 2010


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Exceptional one-person comic strips like “Little Nemo,” “Krazy Kat,” and “Peanuts” were among the first to be championed as high art partly because standard industry practices such as “ghosting” and assembly-line production obscure idiosyncrasies, freeze evolution, and desiccate scholarly and fannish narratives. Our impulse to uncover a human source — to project from reproducible artifact to traceable performer, so that we might begin to speak of cinematographer “John Alton” as we would of “Humphrey Bogart” — isn’t just a taxonomic convenience. It also reflects frustrated feelings of gratitude and intimacy, as evidenced by the career of Walt Disney comics artist and writer Carl Barks. Although Barks wrote, drew, and inked his own work for decades, his employer blocked fan mail and withheld contributor credits on the theory that sales would decline if children thought anyone other than Walt Disney was involved in the comic books. As a result, Barks wasn’t successfully contacted by readers until 1960, and his first interview (conducted in 1962) was only allowed publication in 1968. Given no clues other than style, loyal fans identified and collected Barks as “The Duck Artist,” “The Good Duck Artist,” or simply “The Good Artist,” the last eventually inscribed on his gravestone.

—From “High, Low, and Lethem”, a just-posted, confidence-killing essay in which the great Ray Davis takes nearly every subject I’ve written about for Comics Comics over the last five years—from Steve Gerber and Carl Barks to Jonathan Lethem’s Omega the Unknown and the auteur theory’s connection to comics, among others—and writes something actually worthwhile, intelligent, and stylish about them. He shows me up as a lazy halfwit actually. The funny thing is that I’m fairly certain he’s never heard of me or Comics Comics at all, and the confluence of thought is purely coincidental. Oh well, I guess I need to try harder.

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CCCBC: Alan Moore’s The Courtyard (Part 1)


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Thursday, August 26, 2010


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Welcome to the preseason for 2010′s Comics Comics Comic-Book Club, which will feature a discussion of Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’s new series Neonomicon. Before getting to that, though, it probably makes sense to start with Alan Moore’s The Courtyard, the 2003 two-issue miniseries to which Neonomicon is a sequel.

Garth Ennis, of Preacher and Punisher fame, introduces the comic with some effusive praise:

Here he is now with his latest effort, ably assisted by Antony Johnston and drawn by the always excellent Jacen Burrows: Alan Moore’s The Courtyard. And yes, it’s brilliant, and yes- sob- he’s as good as he ever was, but what The Courtyard really does is confirm the effortless quality of the man’s talent. A story bursting with ideas and characters and nice lines and spooky twists, enough to keep most writers occupied for a couple of years—but where just about anyone else would stripmine a concept like this to death, what does Alan devote to it? Forty-eight pages, no more.

Actually, Moore actually didn’t even devote that many pages to the concept, because Moore is not in fact the author of this comic (more…)

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The Orange Eats Creeps


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Monday, August 23, 2010


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That’s a pretty good title, right? It’s the name of a novel by Grace Krilanovich that I’ve just started reading. Here’s the cover:

Look familiar? Let me help you out. (more…)

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