Monday, October 29, 2012

diary of a guttersnipe 10/29/12: earth a.d. ("after disaster")

by Shawn Starr

It's a short one this week because i spent three days in Maine being a lush, so Happy Halloween and try not to die in that hurricane.


Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth, Volume One (DC)
by Jack Kirby, D. Bruce Berry, Mike Royer

If someone asked me to name the perfect action adventure comic, i could think of no better example than Jack Kirby's 'Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth'. Every single issue of this book, fuck that, every single PAGE of this book is exploding with the best choreographed action ever drawn, and idea's so purely Kirby that they defy explanation. Giving a plot summary of any of these issues is nearly impossible, because it loses something in translation. They're Kirby, that is all.

I think a lot of the "age of awesome" of the mid 2000's and the recent crop of high concept books try to ape whats going on in this book, but all they do is throw all these ideas at you that are primarily just references to other things (i.e. The 'Family Guy' method of comedy) and trusts the reader to identify them as cool (because hey i saw that movie once). 'Kamandi' on the other hand just sweats awesome, it doesn't need to reference anything because Kirby can just create something twenty times better than whatever movie you were thinking of. 'Kamandi' itself even started life as a "Planet of the Apes" rip off and then Kirby turned it into an entire world with so many possible stories and alternate histories that he could have stayed there forever and still had material to mine, something the latter "Planet of the Apes" films failed to do.

In conclusion, Fuck every other comic, i got 'Kamandi'.

Batman Incorporated #4 (DC)
by Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham, Nathan Fairbairn

I thought we all knew who Wingman was the second he was introduced?

Wolverine MAX #1 (Marvel)
by Jason Starr, Roland Boschi, Connur Willumsen, Dan Brown

I can't think of a book that's had such a dramatic shift in the general level of skill between artists as they trade off pages, Roland Boschi is a competent "mainstream" artist that doesn't do anything past exist and fill pages; while Connor Willumsen has this amazing Crumb mixed with Miller (circa 'Ronin') kind of style (along with a dozen other influences) that just blows Boschi off the page in every conceivable way. Which makes their pairing all the stranger, they don't complement each other in the slightest, one just highlights how terrible the other one is.

It also now seems Willumsen is off the book, which saves me from needing to worry about its existence anymore. Good game Marvel!

Godzilla: The Half-Century War #3 (IDW)
by James Stokoe


FF #23 (Marvel)
by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, Cris Peter

The point of this issue (and what Hickman supposedly sees his run as ultimately saying) is that "Intelligence without imagination is pretty much useless, Creating is harder than knowing". He then goes on to "imagine" the completely original idea of Cowboys vs Dinosaurs vs Jello Knights.

I liked this issue (and Hickman's tenure on 'Fantastic Four' in general) but it doesn't work as an epilogue to the run it tries to encapsulate because Hickman's imagination ran out after the first arc. After the first arc was where Hickman began to focus on his hyper detailed mega-plot full of "awesome" moments and issues packed with exposition, and didn't show up again until 'FF' launched, and even that relied way to heavily on having all the exposition spelled out in 'Fantastic Four' and letting 'FF' exist as a side book (while occasionally still putting in fill-in exposition left out of the main book). Maybe having (old) Franklin push his younger self to have more fun is Hickman admitting he lost the thread a bit and perhaps urging Fraction to up his game a little bit for his upcoming run on the franchise.

==============MISS, GET OUT OF THE CAR ===============

Shifty Nifty

A bunch of "legendary" runs ended this week, and I am not sure what that means besides that they were long and generally well received. None of them changed comics, and they wont have any real lasting effect outside of being put on some publishers' "MUST READ" PR list whenever the next movie involving those characters comes out. Sure Fraction's 'Invincible Iron Man' is probably the best modern Iron Man run out there, but that doesn't make it "legendary", does it? Being the best run of something doesn't make your run "legendary", it makes it exist. If i wrote the "best" 'Witchblade' comic, does that mean i had a legendary run ? or does it mean that the level of competency on that book was so low that anything above shit was heralded as the next 'Watchmen'.? The better question is does it stand up to Jack Kirby's 'Fantastic Four', Frank Miller's 'Daredevil', Alan Moore's 'Swamp Thing' ? I don't think so. The only one which would possibly meet that criteria is maybe Brubaker's 'Captain America', but i couldn't read that comic past the first Omnibus because Frank D'armata is a terrible colorist. I mean he's like the worst colorist to ever color anything ever. It's the same reason i couldn't read Fraction's 'Invincible Iron Man' for any extended period of time because Frank D'armata colors everything in this vague shade of shit that makes me want to burn anything his over rendered hand touches. Maybe that was their lasting effect, teaching me that the colorists do matter.

That "Evil Dead" remake trailer looks atrocious, in the sense that it seems to be remaking "The Evil Dead" into a bland retread of every other horror movie from the past decade and dropping everything that made anyone care about the film in the first place by the wayside. Which brings the question of why remake a film that is so purely an expression of a single director and actor ? Especially when said film has very limited wide spread recognition (most people have a vague recollection of who Freddy Kruger and Jason are, no one knows who Ash is honestly), especially when you remake it into a broad base horror film that could have been named anything else and reached the same target audience (a.k.a. teenagers trying to feel up there girlfriends on a Friday night). (Editor's Note: while i totally agree with your take on the new trailer, can we at least agree that the star Jane Levy is really fucking gorgeous - Joey)

This was a interesting discussion on Ware's 'Building Stories'.

"Argo" was a solid film.

I watched "Demolition Man" recently and that film still holds up surprisingly well visually (Joey pointed out this as well with the 1995 "Judge Dredd" film recently on a Chemical Box episode), the production quality really sells the future setting. In this film the "underground society" looks like an "underground society" and the "Utopian" world looks "Utopian". They also do a great job of layering in both a "vague" history (the franchise wars, Schwarzenegger as president) along with new and interesting technology (what are the shells for?) to make it into an actual film.

"OMAC lives.... so that man may live !"

New Dash Shaw! Good,  i was starting to wonder where that guy went (besides animation).

A new Ben Marra comic came out, i somehow didn't hear anything about this until after it was released. I guess I'm slacking.

I liked this review of EC Comics by Chris Mautner.

Marvel solicited a trade collecting various female X-Men stories and anchored it with the Milo Manara / Chris Claremont 'X-Women' one-shot, because Marvel doesn't understand woman.

----Random Gulacy Kung-Fu to finish us out----

Monday, October 22, 2012

diary of a guttersnipe 10/22/2012: it's called topicality! (do you think i'm handsome, no you?)

by Shawn Starr

This week in Diary of a Guttersnipe we talk about the recent crop of announcements at NYCC with Joey Aulisio (aka “The Guy Who Runs The Site”) and then i do some other stuff.



-----(((((((("We've been grateful that [you've] found other writers to fill words"))))))))------

SHAWN STARR: Well New York Comic Con happened!

I think it's fair to say Image won NYCC this year, or won as much as any comics publisher can “win” a con that is primarily devoted to pandering towards film and television fans, announcing a strong lineup of old favorites and interesting newcomers.

Its amazing that not even a year ago the thought of Image being a dominant force in the market was preposterous. Fuck I’m pretty sure Dark Horse was beating them in market share last year (or were very close) and the only thing of value at Dark Horse is Mike Mignola’s Hellboy Universe and those overpriced Milo Manara collections, and now Image is the home of just about every major writer in mainstream comics and a healthy portion of its top artists (they may even be publishing the best “mainstream” book of the year in 'Prophet'.)

Imagine if the 'DC New 52' had the same lineups as Image this year? I would probably still be buying a DC “proper” book besides 'Batman Inc.' (and even that was more a legacy title).

New Howard Chaykin always has me excited, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's ‘Sex Criminals’ spiked some interest too following Fraction's recent creative renaissance (Casanova/Hawkeye) along with Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly's ‘Three’ which seems like a collaboration that has taken far too long to occur. So which books jumped out at you?

JOEY AULISIO: Yes, NYCC did happen, and this was the first year i did not attend it since 2007. On Thursday I was starting to get a little bummed that i was not going and then once i saw this...
...i was 100% certain i made the right decision not to attend.

But yes i would agree that Image certainly “won” the con once again in terms of announcements, and it does not look like any other publisher is going to challenge that crown for quite a while. The three books you mentioned in particular were certainly standouts among a handful of others.

Chaykin’s ‘Midnight Of The Soul’ sounds like the exact kind of book i want to read right now. It’s hitting all the Chaykin checkpoints so far, Noir mood, 40’s-50’s period setting, takes place in NY, alcohol is involved, and i am sure someone is getting shot and/or fucked at some point. There’s also a parallel universe involved to boot! ‘Black Kiss 2’ has mostly been a fun exercise in excess and depravity so far, but i think this series is probably the one to really pay attention to. I predict it will be the book Generation Wuss will be having a shit-fit over next year but it will be probably be in my Top 5 of 2013.

I notice Matt Fraction seems to be on the explicit tip more than usual lately judging from the books he has announced from Image so far. That murder mystery book he announced with Chaykin back at SDCC looked to be more on the skeevier side of things (Chaykin is drawing it so it will feel like that regardless), and this book literally is about people who have sex to stop time and then commit crimes, so if he wanted to shed his “Marvel hack” image, i guess this is a start. Like you said though it does seem like Fraction has had a creative renaissance recently between the most recent volume of ‘Casanova’ (which came off rather brilliant on a re-read) and the solid work on 'Hawkeye' (and 'FF' from the looks of it), i am more excited to read these now than i would a year or two back. Both Fraction and Zdarsky come off as those annoying kids in the back of the class who won’t shut the fuck up on twitter, but they do make some pretty great comics from time to time.

I agree that Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly collaborating on a book does seem like one of those “this should've happened already” things and i am glad that they decided to come together especially on an original book. The fact that it is a book about Spartans and war threw me off at first but then i remembered that the creative team worked on both ‘Thor’ and ‘Northlanders’ respectively, now it makes more sense. I also like how Gillen described the genesis of this book, as being both a response and appreciation of Frank Miller’s seminal masterpiece ‘300’. Personally, i find it more entertaining and interesting when creators critique each other through their work as opposed to other means, that’s how we get better in a ‘call-and-answer” medium. I do also have to wonder if this was also the book Gillen has been saying was coming from Avatar Press for years, if so my eyes are thankful Image and Ryan Kelly picked up the ball on that one.

Staying on Image announcements though, it seemed like Jonathan Hickman and Ales Kot were certainly the most prolific and ambitious in what they announced. It looks like the Hickman written and drawn book 'Feel Better Now' is finally getting a release as well as a new sci-fi western series with artist Nick Dragotta called 'East and West', While Kot announced the books 'Zero' (featuring like 10+ artists) and 'The Surface' with Langdon Foss on art. Any of these happen to spark any interest for you ?

SHAWN STARR: Yeah that floor makes me want to have a panic attack.

Howard Chaykin seems like the definitive “fuck generation wuss” comic writer/artist. For a man enamoured with Jazz and the 50’s (both for machismo and style), it is fascinating that he can still elicit such a strong response in 2012 for his content, you’d figure we would be past it, or at least see it more as scandalising than content, but that's what makes 'Black Kiss 2' so strong, Chaykin is able to write a book which smears decades worth of romanticism of Old Hollywood, the French Resistance, the Titanic and fucking Disneyland by turning them into these bastions of exploitation and violence, but also subtlety use it as a critique on the American Dream and its acceptance of sex/violence.

So yeah, Chaykin and alcoholic bikers in the 1950’s sounds amazing or awesome, whichever one is more “critically” minded.

(I hope it’s in black and white and everyone dies or gets fucked though.)

The two Hickman books sound strong, Nick Dragotta is one of Marvel’s best artists whenever he shows up on 'FF'. My only complaint is that the “high concept” sounds so “high concept” that it avoids any possible discussion as to what it is actually about. Seriously what does “[A] sci-fi/western hybrid about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse's mission to kill the President of the United States.” even mean at this point in time? It’s so “AWESOME” to be rendered meaningless.

New Hickman art is interesting, i'm fascinated as to what a couple years of only writing Marvel Comics has done to his style (aka his Graphic Designing) since we’ve never actually seen one of the “Marvel” guys draw a book after becoming a “Marvel” guy (Bendis, Brubaker, Remender). Does he still have it? I’d like to see (My guess is no, but as always I would like to be proved wrong).

Ales Kot is one of those guys i’m fascinated by, he’s only had one book out (to my knowledge) which is 'Wild Children', which i think worked well enough as a piece of political comics writing; not “political” in the sense of normal “politics” (aka Republican/Democrat) but as a manifesto on comics as a medium, something akin to 'Promethea'. That said it was clearly modeled after political writers and their need to constantly write a “fictitious” story around their ideas (Fathers and Sons/Thus Spoke Zarathustra/Anthem) and their failure to understand that an actual story needs to occur in their essays (except in the case of Orwell, because well he’s Orwell and the dude can write).

'Zero' seems so ambitious as to be either a total failure in every aspect or a landmark comic. Can’t wait to see which it will be. That's one thing i have to give to Kot, the man does not take half steps - every one of his comic(s) end up being a swing for the fences, which i have to respect (His acceptance of this fact, and its natural polarization among critics and readers is even more admirable, as opposed to Morrison's recent bout of condescendence, valid or not).

Image’s big get this con seems to be Paul Pope's 'One-Trick Rip-Off'; a title originally set to be published by Legendary, which brings up the (unanswerable) question of what happened with Legendary? 'One-Trick Rip-Off' has already been solicited for a January release so it had to be in a late stage of development/production at Legendary, and along with Jamie Grant's coloring (which Image, however flush with 'The Walking Dead' cash, could never possibly afford) seems to point towards a colossal fuck up on their part.

Anyways, new Paul Pope is always a good thing.

Which brings me to a question about Legendary as a publisher, they seem to want to be making “pitch books” for their movie studio counterpart, but so far they have only published 'Holy Terror' which is really and truly "unfilmable", and their recent crop of announcements do not look much better in that respect. The description for the new Grant Morrison book 'Annihilator' reads like a Michael Bay script that someone forced Charlie Kaufman to write under threat of death (or in Kaufman’s case probably a heart to heart with his mother). Which brings us back to the question of what is the point of this comic for Legendary, since "Adaptation" was, while a critical hit (primarily because of Kaufman, or only because of Kaufman), a financial wash. It really seems like a book a post-Animal Man Morrison would produce, which means i will read it, and then be disappointed in it not being 'Animal Man' or 'Doom Patrol' like i am with every Morrison book nowadays.

Legendary announced some other comics right? I didn't read the whole press release since it was long, but i saw Del Toro’s name which seems interesting (I wonder if in two or three years we will be looking at Legendary as another Tundra? Only with less sympathy since seriously fuck Hollywood).

JOEY AULISIO: Legendary the studio brought us “The Dark Knight’ trilogy so i am forever grateful (but they also helped unleash Zack Snyder on the world which is an unforgivable act),

Legendary the publisher really just has a series of announcements under their belt and not much else. I loved ‘Holy Terror’ and was really happy someone had the balls to release it and especially throw that much promotion behind it. They recently released the first part of a collaboration with Matt Wagner and Simon Bisley but other than that nothing has actually showed up in a store. Of the stuff they announced this go around, I think the Grant Morrison book ‘Annihilator’ definitely sounds interesting, and i trust Morrison a lot more with those “run on sentence high concept ideas” than almost anybody else. No mention of an artist yet though unless it is Morrison himself, and if so, Legendary clearly won the con then.

The Guillermo Del Toro book is just a prequel to his upcoming film “Pacific Rim” (of which Legendary is the studio funding), so in other words probably a waste of time, but then again the Del Toro project at Dark Horse right now ‘The Strain’ has a great team on it and is actually a really entertaining read, so who knows? Maybe Del Toro is one of the few Hollywood guys who actually does give a shit if books with his name on it are actually good.

Speaking of Dark Horse though, they had two pretty intriguing announcements which seemed to fly under the radar a bit. The first was that the long awaited book from Gerard Way and Becky Cloonan “The Fabulous Killjoys” looks to finally be hitting shelves in 2013 after originally being announced back in 2009. Way is one of the few “celebrity comic creators” who seems interested not just in the actual medium itself but also trying to push it forward. ‘The Umbrella Academy’ certainly did not reinvent the wheel or anything but it was a genuinely pleasant surprise and an energetic and imaginative read. I also wager that book brought more people (young people especially) to the comic medium than any other comic stunt Marvel or DC has pulled in the last ten years. So another book from him, especially with art by Becky Cloonan, will definitely be something i will check out.

The other book that is one that if i had to say was my favorite announcement overall would be that Joe Casey is reviving 'Catalyst Comix' and using a rotating cast of artists including Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury, and Ulises Farinas (the latter two really caught my eye on ‘Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies’). I believe the idea is to continue the book and bringing in more ‘indie’ artists as it goes along, and since Casey seems to be the only guy really pushing the idea of a superhero comic further, i am excited to see where this ones goes.

SHAWN STARR: I don't really care what Joe Casey does in the first issue of 'Catalyst Comix' because him name dropping Ben Marra is enough to secure my $3.99. Although how amazing would a Ben Marra/Joe Casey comic be? Seriously my brain / dick would explode. So yeah, that comic sounds decent, even though i don’t know what it’s about past “Joe Casey revitalizing a bunch of dead characters no one cares about”; which seems like all Joe Casey does nowadays.

The only real imprint left talking about is Vertigo, since DC and Marvel decided to not bother announcing anything besides 'Young Avengers' (which was leaked a month ago) and a Jim Lee/Scott Snyder Superman book (which was also leaked a month ago). I’ll buy 'Young Avengers' simply because i want to see Gillen/McKelvie do another project, even though it’s not 'Phonogram', and i don't care in the slightest about a Lee/Snyder book because this is not 1992 and i don’t think “LEE IS THE DREAMIEST SCAB TO EVER SCAB” or any book which shares the same name of the movie which is going to be released around the same time will ever be good.

The Scott Snyder/Sean Murphy (it PAINS me to spell Shawn as Sean, like morally, he spells his name wrong and god help me if he didn't draw better than every artist at DC) sounds interesting, Snyder’s name does not elicit much response, he seems like a competent writer, if not over wrought in most cases ('Batman' #12), Murphy’s 'Punk Rock Jesus' is tied for the best comic DC is publishing (with 'Batman Inc') so anything he draws is an instant buy for me, although Snyder may push that into a instant trade buy, by the end of the series. The Jeff Lemire series sounds interesting, although I found 'The 'Underwater Welder' lacking and 'Animal Man' to be running in place after issue #6, but he still has some indie cred left over from 'Lost Dogs' and 'Essex County' for me.

JOEY AULISIO: I am really looking forward to ‘Young Avengers’ but i’ll buy any Gillen/McKelvie collaboration sight unseen, and I could not give less of a fuck about that ‘Man Of Steel’ book. I do think it is interesting that Scott Snyder is just “the guy” for all of DC Comics right now including Vertigo. If you think about it ‘American Vampire’ is the last bona fide hit that Vertigo has had in years, he’s certainly the golden boy at DC proper handling Batman, Swamp Thing, and now Superman to great sales so far. Has there been a creator at DC before who was literally at the top of the sales chains in both camps at DC ? I honestly can’t think of one.

Sean Murphy on the other hand has become the reluctant superstar artist at Vertigo despite DC under utilizing him in every way, and yet everything he works on winds up being a hit. To think in 2007-08 DC signs him to an exclusive and DOES NOTHING with him for years, that is just insanity! Vertigo decides to use him for some ‘Hellblazer’ fill-in’s (most of which did not see the light of day for three plus years), some superhero stuff which they shut down because it did not conform to their “house style”, and then finally gets a hit when he does “Joe The Barbarian” with Grant Morrison plus an ‘American Vampire’ mini that gets him some well deserved recognition too. Now ‘Punk Rock Jesus’ is a hit for Vertigo in spite of the fact that they tried to handicap it several times out of the gate (and like you said it is the best book DC is publishing not called ‘Batman Incorporated’), and only now with ‘The Wake’ is he getting the star treatment.

On the actual book itself, i am not a Scott Snyder fan at all. He’s competent like you said but pretty damn boring otherwise. Sean Murphy on the other hand i have bought pretty much everything he has done since that 'Year One: Batman/Scarecrow' mini and i don’t think i am going to stop now. I’m in for the Lemire one as well, at least 'Trillium' is only a mini so he can’t pointlessly meander for issues at a time like on ‘Sweet Tooth’. That’s the other thing about the Vertigo announcements is that these are basically the three guys they have left that sell anything or draw any interest in a potential audience at all (at least until the new Gaiman/J.H. ‘Sandman’ book drops). Also all the books (even the Gaiman one) are all mini-series now, i guess that’s what they are transitioning into publishing now as a model.

SHAWN STARR: Well Scott Snyder is the only reason Batman sells any copies whatsoever according to him. Take Snyder off Batman and that book will sink like a 1974 Buick LeSabre filled with misfitted clown costumes. That or he’s writing every major franchise with a top tier “superhero” artist, which has a pretty built in audience (along with the perception of its “importance”); it’s not like he saved Green Lantern and turned it into a giant dissertation on rainbows and “AWESOME” moments that are not really that awesome or anything. A new Murphy comic should be good, maybe they will even pay to color it this time (although 'Punk Rock Jesus' kind of proves color is not necessary when it comes to Murphy) and possibly keeping Lemire under 600 pages is for the best.

Well i think that wraps for New York Comic Con, unless something else was announced, but i really don’t care and i figure i would have heard about it by now.

So...we done?

JOEY AULISIO: Yeah, “we done”.

-----((((((((((("a defined purpose to breed familiarity and trust ")))))))))))------

Not so much a review, as a thought on one comic.

Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories (Fantagraphics)
by Gilbert Hernandez

I'm about a hundred pages into the Gilbert Hernandez 'Palomar' Hardcover and Gilbert's first string of stories are much stronger than Jaime's early Locas entries; they're both there for the most part art wise but Jaime's early stuff is overwritten beyond belief making it a chore to get through. That said the reward at the end of it all is one of the greatest long form narratives in comics, but those first hundred pages are a bitch. Gilbert on the other hand introduces a cast of roughly twenty characters who are pretty well fleshed out early on with believable relationships and conflicts. My only complaint is Gilbert has a tendency to have odd panel transitions which, while not jarring, just stand out a little more to me than they should.



leaflet full of sweet things. #WhiteGuySayings

pamphlet full of honey's #WhiteGuySayings

spreadsheets full of broads. #WhiteGuySayings

phone books full of dames. #WhiteGuySayings

file cabinets full of shorties. #WhiteGuySayings



“I promise you that this will be the best drive-in movie ever made. It will be a movie that people will love. It will be fun, we’ll have a great time making it, and just trust me.” - Joel Silver selling Kelly Lynch on staring in "Road House".

Truer words have never been spoken by a producer, although that was followed up with the following statement "And by the way, you don’t have a choice, you know. You’re under contract. You can say ‘no’ and we can get really difficult, but we want you and you should do this. It could be great for you." just to prove hes still a scumbag.

/////////"That gal's got entirely too many brains to have an ass like that."\\\\\\\\\
I've been attempting to watch every Nicolas Cage film (starring roles, i have a life), so far the worst ones have been:

"Seeking Justice"

Seriously don't watch these movies, they're terrible.

Jamie Hewlett looking Swayze.

"Sometimes, you get your throat cut while a clown is pulling your pants down." - Josh Simmons interviewed on The Comics Journal.

----The best tag line for a movie ever. ---

----The best tag line for a movie ever. ---

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

broad horizons: my relationship with the fiction of doug tennapel

by Jason Farrell

A rubbery body.   A determined look, one bulging eye noticeably larger than the other.  A dashing, daring hero with a robotic suit and a ray-gun who also happens to be the most innocuous and least daring of all creatures: a worm.  This was Earthworm Jim, a 1994 Super Nintendo video game, and my first exposure to the wacky, and yet remarkably consistent, mind of Doug TenNapel.

I wouldn't know TenNapel by name for nearly another decade, but his distinctive creative vision stood out even on shelves full of brightly colored boxes jockeying for attention.  It's hard to get that image out of your mind once it's in there, and even the game's title is perfect in its madcap simplicity.  It's as ridiculous a concept as you're likely to come across, even in a genre defined by over the top ideas, and yet it's also oddly grounded.  While the protagonists of other platformers had superhero names like Rayman or Sonic or Megaman, this space faring worm was known simply as Jim.  The amount of character development afforded by a 16 bit cartridge in the mid '90s was necessarily limited, but Jim, for all of his whip cracking, gun shooting, earthworm headed ways, was still just an ordinary guy.

I still love video games, but comics are my first and greatest love.  Turns out that also seems to be true for Doug TenNapel as well.  He's had a long and successful career in gaming and animation (among other pursuits), but some of his most prolific output has been in the realm of graphic novels where he puts out about one full length graphic novel per year.  I've been reading them nearly that long, and he's still mining the territory where the ridiculous and the ordinary meet as effectively as he ever had.  Even when there are more brightly colored books jockeying for attention on the shelves of bookstores and comics shops, his work still stands out.

Here's a punchline you probably didn't expect:  Supposedly, I should hate Doug TenNapel's work.  Or at the very least, i should avoid it like the plague.

There are a few things that TenNapel is known for.   His art style is instantly recognizable:  thick lined, gangly, exaggerated figures, with jaws that drop several inches further than looks comfortable, and limbs that stretch and bend in near impossible ways.  He writes about family, fathers and sons in particular, and how those bonds endure even the most spectacular trials.  He loves to create and draw bizarre creatures, often the result of ordinary, harmless creatures being mashed together or mutated in newly deadly ways.  And, as has been heavily reported by many who discuss his work, there is often a significant spiritual component to his stories.  Doug TenNapel himself is a practicing Christian, and themes of morality, conversion and faith pervade his stories.

I'm not a Christian.  I'm not a religious person at all.  I'm an atheist, and while I try not to discriminate against any belief system that is not actively antagonistic to life or free thinking, I am fairly sensitive to dogma, and to proselytizing of all kinds.  I'm not interested in fiction that tells me how to feel, how to act, or how to live my life.  Tell me about your characters, authors, and their lives, and let me draw my own conclusions.  If it's heavy handed, if it sacrifices plausibility and narrative momentum and the humanity of characters in favor of serving an ideological agenda, it's no longer fiction.  At the very least, it's no longer fiction I have any time for.

It had been fully ten years since I'd read my first TenNapel book which was Creature Tech, which i then re-read in preparation for this article.  I remembered it as a funny, slightly mad romp, with the kind of imaginative blend of weird technology and mutated creatures that populate most of his work, along with strained familial relationships, hope, and a generous dollop of bathroom humor and silly puns.  Somehow, I didn't remember religion or faith playing a major role in the story's themes.

And yet, there it was, everywhere.  It wasn't subtle: at one point late in the story, our protagonist Dr. Michael Ong is transported by a symbiotic creature that has grafted itself to his chest (replacing his heart in the process) to a mysterious alternate dimension.  There, a similar creature is stretched out on a frame, its four limbs nailed to the corners like Jesus on the cross.  As he gazes up at the creature, a previously agnostic Michael is converted before our eyes.  He's returned to Earth, his chest completely healed, and when his religious father remarks on his transformation with surprise, Michael simply says, “I got saved, Pop!”

There are other religious elements as well.  The macguffin that is sought by the evil space eel riding villain of the story, Dr. Jameson, as well as by our heroes, is the Shroud of Turin, the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, an artifact thought to be capable of healing injuries and illnesses up to and including death itself, a legend proven true as the story progresses.  So, how is it possible that I missed this?   That I could be that inattentive a reader beggars belief.

And indeed, it's not that I missed the spiritual elements of this story (or in any of Doug TenNapel's work) as to some degree or another they are present in them all.  What I found is that it didn't matter. The humanity and humor with which TenNapel approaches his subjects, and the principles that he stands for behind whatever trappings, religious or otherwise, they're dressed in, are principles that I wholeheartedly believe in: family, individuality, thinking for oneself, multiple belief systems co-existing in harmony.

Frequently, TenNapel shows the flexibility in his worldview for both many different views of religion, as well as differing methods for achieving our (limited) understanding of the universe (empirical, spiritual, etc.)  There is a lack of judgment about which is superior or “right,” provided that the belief system in question allows its adherents to maintain their individuality.  It's only when a belief system threatens to overwhelm its members with a 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' like group-think that the author's own disapproval is evident.

In Creature Tech, Michael Ong is a scientist, as is his primary assistant, Jim.   Jim is a long way from Levi, the kooky proprietor of a museum of the weird, who thinks that a dried up cinnamon roll has the face of Jesus.  He is, as Dr. Ong calls him, “one of the smartest guys I've ever met.”  When Jim attributes his intelligence to being “god-given”, Michael accuses him of using God as a crutch, and reminds him that many of the world's stupidest people believe in God.   He also tells him that “a good scientist doesn't mix his personal beliefs with research.”  Jim response to that is repeated, in some form or indirectly, again and again throughout TenNapel's work.  “That's not science by definition,” Jim tells him, “It's stupid to research a problem then arbitrarily restrict the options available to solve that problem.”

Later, Michael has an argument with his father over a similar subject, and tells him essentially that he isn't smart or educated enough to debate with Michael on the subject of science.  When told bluntly by his son to choose God or reason, his father tells him that he chose God because of reason.  The message, again, is not that theology is superior to science, but rather that one shouldn't supercede the other; the acceptance of God is not a tacit rejection of logic and reason, or vice-versa.

In Cardboard, TenNapel's most recent published work, a Mr. Wing-like old man named Gideon sells a down on his luck contractor a cardboard box which turns out to have...unusual properties, shall we say.

Whatever the cardboard is used to make becomes fully sentient (if the creation would normally be sentient in its flesh and blood incarnation).  After complications with the cardboard ensue, Mike confronts Gideon, demanding answers.  An increasingly bemused Mike is told, in turn, that the cardboard was made by an alien species, who were also wizards, who were also particle physicists, who were also religious.  Exasperated by these slippery definitions, Mike storms off in a confused huff.  Once again TenNapel demonstrates his idea that many different ideologies can share a harmonious co-existence, even if our stubborn brains are often unwilling to easily accept it.

Similarly, TenNapel's idea of humanity isn't limited to biological humans, and their spiritual life isn't limited to a Christian idea of heaven (with chubby, harp playing cherubs and puffy, white clouds).  They're in there: near the end of the western Iron West, the sheriff dies defending his town, and we see him next sitting on just such a cloud (although angels, chubby or otherwise, are not in evidence.)  True to TenNapel's inclusionary ideals, however, there are several other beliefs systems and afterlives in evidence throughout his work.  In the same work, a shaman calls upon “The Great Spirit” to heal protagonist Preston Struck, news Struck receives with equanimity.

In Creature Tech, a two legged mantis creature dubbed “Blue” by the locals suffers a seemingly fatal wound before being revived.  In the meantime, we're given a glimpse of the insect heaven he ends up in, a place that looks very much like Olympus with more antennae.  In the methods of his recovery, we see more evidence of TenNapel's egalitarian approach, as well as his lack of force feeding us answers:  Michael Ong uses science to try to save him, while his father appeals to a higher power.  When Blue rises, gasping, back to consciousness, we're left to decide on our own which method proved effective.  It would probably be most in the spirit of his work to decide it was a bit of both.

In Ghostopolis, the title dimension is a kind of purgatory that lies between our world and a more traditional Christian heaven, which is only hinted at.  Although ruled by evil mummies, goblins and their overlord Vaugner when our story opens, it is not, by definition, a place for the wicked.  Claire, a ghost, not only exists in TenNapel's cosmology, but ends up being voted to be the new "Lord of the Afterlife", taking over for the defeated Vaugner.  And she does so with Frank Gallows, one of the primary protagonists of the story, at her side.  This world of skeletal horses and werewolves is not just a way point for the seeker on his or her way to that land of clouds and cherubs, but a worthy destination in its own right.

All of these different creatures, and many more, possess their own nobility and purpose in TenNapel's broad universe.  The heart and faith of a confused boxer made of cardboard is no less valid than that of a human preacher.   His characters are very often unsure, even wounded, but as long as they are grasping toward understanding, they have his sympathies.  The search for truth is not a competition with winners and losers, but rather a pursuit that all thinking beings must undertake.  This is a journey that has, for TenNapel, as many different approaches as there are thinking beings.  As I mentioned before, it is only those who threaten to stifle this curiosity, this search for truth, who are overtly “wrong” in his stories.  The mechanical army in Iron West, machines that consider humanity “stupid, lazy and inefficient.”  The worker drone-like creatures in Cardboard, who seek to plaster their favorite material over everything, smothering it.  The bugs in Earthboy Jacobus, who are so alarmed by Jacobus' ability to withstand their brainwashing that they dedicate decades to tracking down a single boy.  These are the enemies in Doug TenNapel's fiction, that is a message I can get behind.

Despite the strength of TenNapel's characterizations, his amazing, fluid, vibrant drawing, the diversity of his settings, the imagination brimming from every page, his humor, and his heart, I wouldn't have been able to overlook a core message of “this is wrong and this is right; this is the proper way to live.”  That's a message of exclusion, of narrow mindedness, and it couldn't be further from what TenNapel stands for, as evidenced again and again in his considerable body of work, a world big enough to include whale airships, pet Tyrannosaurs, islands made from interstellar princes and, thankfully, every one of us.

Monday, October 15, 2012

diary of a guttersnipe 10/15/2012: I don't know what this is about, but god damn am i handsome

by Shawn Starr

"Fuck you, you're on my time ticket"


Flayed Corpse (Oily)
by Josh Simmons

It would be simple enough for Josh Simmons to draw a series of gory images over twelve pages and call it a day, its something he excels at, but Simmons (as always) adds additional layers to his work, and this is something that distinguishes him from other horror artists. Simmons can be as disturbing and horrific as everyone else (more so in fact), but by including the seeds of something more lofty, Simmons forces his stories into the readers sub-conscious which makes them linger long after the final page has been turned.

The standout element of 'Flayed Corpse' is Simmons use of dialogue to tell two stories at once, layering them around a single event, an autopsy, creating both a grotesque, if not by the numbers, examination of a mutilated corpse and a commentary on philosophy and science, and their relationship to humanity.

This layered narrative begins on the first page as a mysterious voice address the other coroners "Industrial accident, I would say", commenting on the injuries the man had suffered, but also expressing a decidedly Marxist critique, which is further drilled home by another shadowy figure remarking that the marks more so resemble those caused by an angry mob wielding machetes. The two go back and forth over the next four pages, conceding some points while bringing up new ones (racism, self reliance, etc) until a third figure interjects saying that they are both right and wrong, the man was tortured, burned, ground up, beaten, and hung, but it was both of their actions that lead towards these injuries.

This third voice, has a definitive tone to it, in both discussions (the political and spiritual) being ceded the final word. By setting this story in a scientific facility Simmons seems to be stacking the deck in favor of this third voice, but his answers are no less cruel than those produced by the other figures, if not more so, due to their calculated and sterile tone. His final statement, combing the two theists ideas (like previously) of the after life "Neither of you are exactly right, or wrong" with one rooted in quantum physics, "He died terrified, in agony And it echoed out and was absorbed into a universe already sick with pain". This "educated" answer becomes a far more troubling and disturbing fate than either of the other options on their own, even the tortures mentioned by the Marxist/Capitalist were less horrible than their existence in tandem.

What Simmons never does though is push the readers sympathy towards any of these "options", by only showing the coroners in silhouette, Simmons doesn't allow the reader to identify with them in any way. Instead Simmons humanizes the corpse, who looks to be pleading for an end to it all on every page. Opening on the corpses face, Simmons depicts him in deep pain, his only visible eye seems to almost be crying, all this while the coroners argue overhead, this is followed up with an clenched hand that looks to be shouting for help to a group that never wanted to help him in the first place, only discuss his suffering in the abstract. Even in a moment of empathy, when one figure says "At least we know his suffering is over" the statement is only used to launch into the next argument, not mourn what had happened.

You can purchase 'Flayed Corpse', by Josh Simmons, at the Oily Comics website here.

Cop Comics #1 
by Michael DeForge, Patrick Kyle, Mickey Zacchilli

Three of alt-comic's current crop of top cartoonists riffing on the macho cop archetype of the 80's and 90's ends up being one excellent 18 page comic.
The End of the Fucking World #1-11 (Oily)
by Charles Forsman

In addition to 'Flayed Corpse' from Oily Comics, I also read all of the currently published issues of publisher Charles Forsman's 'The End of the Fucking World' which is one of the best single issue comics coming out currently in both mainstream and independent comics (his only real competition is essentially just Brandon Graham and compatriots run on 'Prophet').

Each issue is a prefect example of a crafting a sustained narrative while still producing a satisfying single issue, all in just 8-pages. It's an interesting and captivating re-imagination of 'Bonnie and Clyde' seen through the eyes of a modern day teenager. They're bleak and cynical and pure expressions of teenage angst, but never straying far from the horror at the heart of the story.

I'll write something longer on it at a later date (maybe a dialogue of sorts) but for now all i will say is you should be buying these comics, because i was late to the party and regret not jumping in earlier.

Negron (Picturebox)
by Jonny Negron

'Negron' coming out the same month as Chris Ware's 'Building Stories' seems almost poetic, both books represent a dramatic change in the future of print (and comic) publishing. 'Building Stories' produces a story that can only be told in print; its ambition precludes any other format. 'Negron' on the other hand is the first book that is neither a collection of comics, nor art, but instead exists as a proto "Tumblr book".

There have been collections of webcomics before, but they exist in the century old newspaper strip format that requires no updating, and there have even been art books based on internet archiving, but they are simply mimicking the art books that have come before them, while "Negron' is something else entirely: a pure reflection of social media and blogging's effect on art and comics.

Every illustration in this book, even those few that are left uncredited, are forceful enough in their unique vision that they can only be identified as a Johnny Negron drawing. A prerequisite for artists to avoid the incessant need of Tumblr users to crop out credits while re-blogging. Negron's rise in internet popularity isn't solely based off his talent, it's his identifiability. A Negron comic or illustration is a Negron comic or illustration.

The books formatting goes even further to highlight its linkage to Tumblr, first by linking to Johnny Negron's Tumblr in the credits page (his sole venue for contact), but it is also designed to mimic Tumblr's stream of conscious nature. Every page flows from one Negron obsession into the next, creating an intimacy between every page, that isn't felt in any art books, because Johnny Negron curated this book over the course of a years output, not by an academic three centuries later.

'Negron' IS the next step in publishing the internet.

----------------------------------All DAY aLL cAGE-----------------------------------------------

----------------------------"I'm a vampire! I'm a vampire! I'm a vampire!"-----------------------------

My fellow Cboxer's finally posted their new episode with Tim Callahan, the one time host of The Splash Page Podcast (which is still, to me, the best comics based podcast in existence) and i think the most important comic critics of the internet era. The episodes central theme is "who the fuck cares?", and walking away from it, i don't know if i have an answer.

If you ever wondered what kind of people show up to an Adrian Tomine signing at Harvard, the answer is exactly the kind of people you think would, plus my unshaven pudgy ass.

J.J Abrams has a quote on the front of 'Building Stories'. Seriously. That is in no way a selling point.

If Joe Casey writes a Ben Marra comic i'm pretty sure my brain will explode in post-empire confetti.

I've been contemplating what will appear on CBR's Top 100 Comics of 2012 a lot lately, as this year in particular is a down year for the mainstream (that is for me and everyone i care to talk too or read regularly). Everyone seems to be experiencing a massive lull in giving a fuck about DC and Marvel past vague self hatred (aka Chad Nevett's 'Avengers vs. X-Men' reviews). I think i figured out the top two comics though, even if i wouldn't classify either one as being better than mediocre, but i don't see what else would fill these positions of sadness.

.The best comic will be 'Hawkeye' because it's the closest thing that can be compared to Waid's 'Daredevil' and comic's needs a continuity of sorts.
.The next spot will be given to 'Saga' because comics have a hard on for Brian K. Vaughn that survived the ending of 'Lost' so i doubt it will ever end, also at one point he got Fiona Staples to draw a spider lady with exposed titties and everyone is pro-that.
.The rest of the top ten will be occupied with Scott Snyder's 'Batman' (which while seeming to "crack" the CBR review breakdown never resonated past a "that's good i guess" with me).
.The rest will be a assortment of Marvel NOW! titles because Marvel is a major source of revenue along with them getting Dean White to seemingly color everything (and a couple of DC's "other titles" like 'Animal Man' which has taken 13 issues to still not get to a point)

Every page of 'Acme Novelty Library' #20 is perfect.

The perception of time in a post-internet era is really weird. Its difficult to separate original work from those influenced by it. Daniel Clowes' and Los Hernandez Brothers surely cleared the path for Adrian Tomine's career, but in a era where both creators are readily available, it is difficult to separate one from another. It doesn't help that all three are generally lumped together on panels and press junkets. It's something i see that's going to become increasingly important for critics and academics to point out as time goes on, both in comics and outside of comics.

"Suckers to the side, i know you hate my '98"

IDW announcing a 'Cerebus' covers collection is a genius level act of trolling by Dave Sim. He's still a piece of shit and i hate everything he stands for, but fucker knows how to troll.

Now I know you all wanted to know about the book fair, but i just took a bunch of pictures of woman and decided to talk about their relative level of attractiveness.

In addition to 'Flayed Corpse', Josh Simmons also made a short film. God help us if he adapts any of his comics.

Chad Nevett dropped the mic on 'Avengers vs. X-Men' while talking to Tim Callahan in this week's When Worlds Collide. Like why bother talking about that comic anymore?

I went to a Chris Ware/Charles Burns/Chip Kidd talk, afterwards their was a signing where Chris Ware said he liked my Public Enemy shirt. This caused two simultaneous thoughts, either Chris Ware was fucking with me OR at some point in the mid nineties Chris Ware was bumping "Fear of a Black Planet" while drawing 'Jimmy Corrigan'. Both are acceptable answers, but i hope it's the latter.

It's so cool Joe Casey knows who Ben Marra is.