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Alec: So let’s get this straight. This is a real work email from a lawyer at the law firm where you’re employed, yeah?

Alec: Yeah.

Alec: And he’s actually trying to be considerate here?

Alec: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think it’s a joke. There’s no way, right?

Alec: Yeah, no. There’s no way.

Alec: But they sent this at 11:18 p.m. Like, that’s joking hour, yeah? You joke around in work emails at that point because it’s after hours.

Alec: Yeah, man, but where are the “haha”s?

Alec: You’re right.

Alec: This guy is for real.

Alec: Fuck.

Alec: I mean, I complain about my job, and I do this a lot, and I do this thoroughly. Like, I’ve covered every angle of it, and I’m tired of hearing myself say the same few things over and over and over again, but the whole act blows off steam.

Alec: Yeah.

Alec: Maybe you do something similar?

Alec: Yeah, yeah. It’s all bad news. It’s all bad times.

Alec: But emails like this one justify talking shit.

Alec: Absolutely. Say any negative thing you feel. It’s your blog.

Alec: Yeah, yeah. Thanks. —

The sense of nobility in it is the worst part.

That, and that it was sent so late, and that I had to read it so late.

Alec: Well, he’s on the west coast.

Alec: Still, man, come on.

It reminds me of those dudes who want everybody to throw out all their stuff.

Alec: The minimalists?

Alec: Yeah.

Like, I get it, and they’re not totally off-base, but the whole identity created from it is annoying, and it’s become this way for dudes with money to act self-righteous and write books.

Alec: Yeah, man, you tell ‘em. ; )

Alec: Seriously.

Alec: I know, I know. Just fucking with you.

Alec: But, like, who is he being noble for? The private equity firm that’ll hire him? I mean, fuck. Charge that thing all the money you can get. He doesn’t work for the little guy.

Alec: Yeah. But that’s lawyers. Being a lawyer is a way to harbor respect and appear beneficial while pulling cash and being a fuck.

Alec: So you think he’s just doing it for himself?

Alec: I think he’s just doing it for himself.

Alec: Yeah. —

I guess we all are.

Alec: Hey, hey, bud. Don’t compare us to this fucking guy. We are not this guy.

This guy sits somewhere out in Silicon Valley and pats himself on the back for being apart of something “disruptive” or “innovative.” He’s out there everyday in California working his time away for another big business, to lead the way, to get the bones moving, thinking he’ll help remodel history, pocketing more green, selling another smile, thinking he’s so conscious of the world surrounding him, but he doesn’t know anything. I mean, he doesn’t know anything, and maybe he knows he knows nothing, but he won’t admit it, especially not to himself. You know?

We can admit that. He can’t.

The dude’s a wash. He’s another suit and tie thinking he really matters.

Alec: But can’t an argument be made that he really does? Like, considering the shape and play of our day-to-day life, driven by business, the dude is able to navigate all this much more than we can.

He’s probably got connections.

Alec: Fuck his connections. You’re not listening. This guy sucks. The email makes that clear.

Alec: But how can we say that if we, admittedly, don’t know anything?

Alec: Omg

Alec: Also, this format is getting old. It’s done its thing.

Alec: Look: Yeah, we don’t know what this guy’s childhood was like. We don’t know his beliefs, or what sad things have happened to him that have defined his perspective, or what his mom made him do, or what his frat made him do, or what America has made him do. It’s entirely possible the guy doesn’t actually suck but is just existing how he knows best to, just like so many of us, trying and trying and trying. And, yes, it’s simplistic to sit here and say tired things about wealth inequality or capitalism or corporate greed or recite the typical criticisms of the typical narrative of the typical individual in this country. I get you, man. I do. I hesitate to be that way, too. I like to consider things with some nuance.

But, look, you sat up late some Tuesday night and read this email and you had a reaction. A “fuck this guy, he sucks” reaction. You felt that, yes?

Alec: Yeah. But —

Alec: Own it. Just own it. That’s your perspective. And it isn’t even permanent. It was momentary, specific to an event. Let yourself have it.

Alec: Why is this about me now?

Alec: Idk

Alec: You know what else?

Alec: What?

Alec: I want to get this on the record now. —

In six months everybody will be wearing big rain jackets all the time. Like, that’ll be the look. I guarantee it. Hot girls in rain jackets.

Alec: Alright, yeah. Hot girls in rain jackets. Let’s go.

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His Wife Leaves Him by Stephen Dixon

Stephen Dixon, man. I don’t revere the guy, but I appreciate from a limited perspective (some of) what he did. His Wife Leaves Him, his novel published in 2013, approaches story structure and time in a very playful way that’s also ambitious and serious and respectable for a “writer’s writer.” All of that is thought provoking and invigorating, but it’s a book that will annoy you (intentionally, I think, but still) in many instances because it’s literally about one guy thinking for 400 pages.

And not only that, but thinking to himself. As if in conversation. He spends the night after his wife’s funeral lying in bed, wide awake, reconsidering much of their marriage. Sometimes, he stands up to visit the bathroom and pee, and it’s in these spare instances that his train of thought halts, and the actual present tense of the novel exists. Much of the action is in the recollection. It’s in there that people walk around and pick up coffee cups and hail cabs. It’s in there that about a quarter of the book is dedicated to the narrator reconstructing – or trying to reconstruct – what it was like to call his now dead wife decades ago to ask her out for the first time.

It’s one of those books. It narrows in on small moments and blows them out into their own universes, and it really demands you take a seat in them. There’s a lot of stops and starts, trying to get the memories correct, tangents, weird dialogue that makes every character sound like a telephone receptionist, old people sex, and gooey, gooey love eyes, but above all that are these long, very long paragraphs (pages and pages and pages of the same paragraph) until those paragraphs grow short and the variety of the text expands. That’s the good stuff. All those paragraphs, I should say. That attention to framing the story in such a way is why it’s worth reading.

The paragraphs are (in a structural sense) divisions of time. They mark a particular moment in which the narrator’s thoughts turn to a certain subject or remembrance. Like, the longest paragraph in the book (I think?) is the one dedicated to the first date phone call. But there are layers to this. While the main focus of this particular paragraph is the first date phone call some decades ago, it also features a time when he and his wife made sandwiches or a time when they hugged or a time the narrator slept with someone else or whatever. The narrator jumps around his personal timeline and at times maintains the present tense to really pull the reader into those events, so much so you forget the first or second focal point of the paragraph, such as the first date phone call. It cycles through these layers blending them together, in essence creating this representation of time that is all present, everything at present, all happening at once.

That tells you something about how your brain works. It says memory isn’t imagery or a sensation but proof of a multiverse. It says the novel, or at least the written word, can do this. It can conjure all these moments at once.

Big concepts, you know? But what makes it impressive is that Dixon does all this through action that is, on its surface, basic. His sentences are brief, and they rely on small diction. They are about driving to Maine or classical music or wondering whether the dead wife liked pasta. There’s a lot of repetition and stammering because every word in this book is from the mind of one old guy who can’t fucking sleep. It appears simple, but it contains a lot.

Which is just good storytelling. And the use of paragraphs in this way is very effective because it’s easy to understand, and it utilizes the fundamental form of written words on a page. It resembles the formalism of panels within a comic book (sensible for Fantagraphics to publish this, yeah?). Dixon reminds you that paragraphs are units, and they can be dispensed to achieve a story structure and desired momentum.

But, many times, I almost gave up on His Wife Leaves Him. It’s a frustrating book because of who the characters are and what they do and how they entertain themselves. This is purely subjective. I can’t handle Upper West Side intellectuals who talk about Camus and dissertations and classical music, and the way the narrator and his wife speak to one another, depending on the timeline of the book (and maybe this is generational) is either so, so rigid or very overcooked, and I wanted them to shut up a lot, and I didn’t care about their relationship in the slightest.

That said, Dixon can write prose because every time I would pick it up, twenty, thirty pages would pass by like nothing. That dude knew how to sink a reader into a rhythm and take them. So you end up at the close of the novel, the narrator getting out of bed, 7 a.m., making breakfast on the first day of his new life, and you realize, though the book spanned so many different years and moods and images and conversations, that all of it only happened last night, and it will likely continue to happen. Maybe every night. Maybe all the time. Living all those different times. Until time is up for the narrator. It’s all macro in the micro. It’s all how you frame life.

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Blog again

I’ve got to get off Twitter, man. It’s bad. I’m going to try. Some people just can’t handle a few beers, and I can’t handle that website. It isn’t at all as dire as that analogy implies, but I spend a lot of time on there looking for validation, like please, Profile Man, tell me my existence holds purpose, and the whole act is pathetic, and it’s getting to me, and it’s getting old. I just scroll and scroll and think of things to say, and it all comes out as bad, unfunny, embarrassing, ironic/kind-of genuine ramble that’s designed to please whoever comes into contact with it, especially someone (hopefully) cool (and yet, despite the self-tear down there, I do sometimes nail a tweet to the fucking wall, dead-ringer). And, I don’t know, that isn’t so fulfilling. It’s weird performance art for no one at all, and its simultaneously compared to all the other performances (tweets) around it, and it doesn’t do the thing I like writing to do, which is facilitate some conversation with the self, as it’s entirely aimed outward for the favorites and retweets. So, anyway, I’m on the toilet right now, and welcome to the blog. I want to come back to the blog.

I want to do this somewhat often, but I’m not setting a schedule. I want to write on this blog from my phone and treat the whole thing like a text message to myself. I’ll likely tweet a link to a new post, but I will log off right after that has occurred. I used to write about comic books on here. I’ll probably do that again. And while it may skew the focus of “alec reads comics” to post entries like this post, I feel it makes sense to revisit this space as it’s been sitting here for about a decade, all mine.

Now that I’ve said all that, who knows if it will actually materialize, but it could and it can. We’ll give it a shot. I’ll give it a shot.

Two more things:

I wrote more about self-image stuff (very happy shit, man) at Neutral Spaces. The post is called Hi, Stranger. Very short. Give it a look. It’s related to the Twitter thing.

I also tweeted something about Twitter (wow, yeah, I know) the other night. I still like this line of thought, so I’m including it here since we’re on the subject. See below.

SEE BELOW

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Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child by Frank Miller

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I don’t know, man. At one point in time, it was interesting to see a writer with skill take select super heroes, exploit their symbolic properties and hollow them out — emptying their forms of all the baggage inherent of an industry and the expectations placed on that industry by a readership with various wants — to solidify the idea of what a specific character can represent or tell us. You know, to get to the point of the whole exercise. To nail down why a certain idea even exists in the first place, and to cash in on the potential of it all. It read like righteous pay back to all those men who spent their heydays making this stuff up, who had to watch corporate guys in nice shirts get rich and tan and relaxed from things they put no effort into. It said, ‘Hey, we appreciate the sacrifice. We know you lost all that security, but we can at least give you back something. We can at least show ‘em you were chasing something stimulating or evocative.” 

Frank Miller did a lot of writing like that. That writing is so entwined with his career. It not only told us so much more about the fiction we thought we knew and conquered, it managed to raise the stakes. It took loose ends and half-thoughts, and it showed the actual potential in those things to create art worth time and concentration, that could stand on its own. If you look at those few infamous years in the ‘80s when Miller, Alan Moore, Howard Chaykin, etc. were trying, really trying, and if it’s correct to assume what motivated them was a real concern and excitement for the medium, you’re looking at something very interesting. You’re looking at an attempted takeover and correction of history. It says so much that Moore signed the type of contract he did for Watchmen. As much as that book is, in some sense, about the end of super hero comics, that contract (if it had all gone to plan) really was the final thought. 

But whatever. Time’s moved on, and those years (as have been covered extensively) backfired on those participants. Sadly, though, I think a participant like Miller has grown nostalgic for that period, and it feels as if he’s acting against what it was all about. I don’t hate what he’s trying to do with Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child. The entire Dark Knight Returns series has flirted with elements of the real world, whether Ronald Reagan or 9/11, by way of extreme, flamboyant images and tone, so it makes sense to me that Miller would want to use the latest installment to do the same with Trump and all that’s come as result. I also don’t hate the sentiment imparted by this comic, though how it’s executed is definitely on the nose (especially on that last page) and lecture-like. What I find disappointing is how bland it feels. 

It reads like everything else created now. The motivations of the characters are obvious. Why they are present feels obvious. All the crazy, crazy wild of life is reduced to protest signs and clear indications of where everybody stands. It’s a story that doesn’t even really engage any of the other countless pieces it contains because it’s so caught up in being relevant to the thing none of us can escape. Whereas The Dark Knight Strikes Again felt and feels insane and is insane because it took reality and dyed it and threw electric current and weird noise and fire at it, all to distort the hue, The Golden Child comes across as a little desperate to shock or is hungry to make us go, “Ohhhh, wow, the world.” It’s a book that can’t keep up with reality or outdo reality in its fiction, so instead it simply reflects what we see all the time back to us, and it ends up displaying not Miller’s strengths but his weakness to do anything in this comic that can really stretch our imagination. You read it, look at it and say to yourself, “Yep.” And when you put it down, you feel like you could have said everything in that comic yourself because you have. You have been holding this conversation for years now, everyday, with yourself, your friends, your family, and strangers on the Internet. You have read every article. 

I don’t know what that says of Frank Miller right now. I know he’s lost a lot of favor for his questionable outlook on the world, but I still look at his classic work as some of the best of a certain type of comic. It means a lot to me. It’s weird to see him back at DC seemingly trying to bolster his legacy or brand by turning works like The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again into franchises. It’s literally the opposite of what Alan Moore has committed himself to. That said, Miller has every right. I can’t say there’s anything inherently wrong with it. The man has earned the opportunity to expand upon his body of work in any way he deems appropriate, and maybe he is legitimately interested in telling more super hero stories with characters he has experience with. 

I do wonder, though, if the Frank Miller who drew those pages back in ‘84 or ‘85 would do this. I wonder if the guy who thought to work hard and take all this stuff in a new direction, to make a point of its artistic merit, would appreciate a DKR line of books. Because, now, isn’t it just like anything else they sell in those comic book stores? Isn’t it now just another story to exploit and perpetuate? At least it’s Miller doing so. I guess that’s the difference. The man is in control. 

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Just keep counting

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Tillie Walden – A City Inside

Tillie Walden’s new book, A City Inside, is an ode to the ebb and flow of living; it says that growth is a process, not a matter of time.

It’s a universally appealing piece of work that operates on lyrical narration and softly sequenced imagery, demonstrating the balance Walden can strike within the interplay of words and pictures. She paces her story with confidence. Her pieces of prose pull readers through the book as they float in succession, yet play so well into the images and panel compositions that they assure you read these bits in tandem with what Walden has drawn.

Her line art conveys both tangled vegetation and precise city landscapes. Walden wants us to attend to the thought that we age in physical spaces, whether they be farms, beds or offices. She suggests that locations both free and confine us, and that settings once habitable can turn toxic, or vice versa. In general, her setting selections diligently illustrate this concept, but it’s Walden’s exact lines that create these settings. They imbue texture and the hand that made them. They speak to where characters live and to why characters chose to live there, and how such decisions inform their lives.

Walden’s main character, a young woman, could be an analogue for the author, yet she’s neutral enough to represent us all. Again, the author strikes a balance. She provides the woman enough of a past, as well as a love interest to enable her to stand on her own, yet these attributes are not too specific, so that she’s not defined as someone particular. This appeases Walden’s grander interest in universal appeal while still lending some shape to the emotions within the story.

A City Inside is impressive because it says what’s on its mind so clearly, while maintaining a fluid, dream-like flow that other comics exploit to be flirtatiously vague.

Written here.

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Priority shipping was a waste

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Howard Chaykin starts Batman: Dark Allegiances with a borrowed image. The iconic superhero is framed to fit Jack Welch’s 1955 Jello ad campaign, the conical element of his decorative cowl prominently on display. His eyes, though, suggest a man who’s lost the grip of his identity, it co-opted for another cause. Following this image, Bruce Wayne / Batman, via narrative captions scripted by Chaykin, explains to the reader why he’s different than a member of the KKK as he subsequently pounds this mob into the ground. He sees them as men “pushed to the wall of frustrated fury by the brutal nature of the times.” And while they wear masks, his is more like an onion skin, meant to be peeled to reveal the numerous, complicated angles that pertain to his person.

Chaykin imbues Bruce Wayne / Batman with a youthful vigor even when flamboyantly hateful people are his targets, and they to him. In this Elseworld’s interpretation (a DC Comics imprint dedicated to variations of familiar characters), Bruce, essentially, never grew up. He’s a playboy industrial designer who wants to offer the world a theme park as his next venture, playing cowboy on the side. Chaykin draws Batman as if he’s a coiled spring bouncing through combat. He glides through the air and blocks bullets, and in some panels it’s as if his arm detaches and simply maneuvers through a crowd of foes, knocking each of them out like soda cans along a level fence, subject to the hand of some passerby kid. Violence of little consequence. 

Chaykin’s Bruce Wayne is nothing but a guy equipped with a square jaw and blockhead smile, eager to say something clever. Despite Kitty Grimalkin’s (a Catwoman stand-in) task to threaten Wayne, he, knowing so, is only excited by the notion of having an attractive woman at his side involved in such a plot. He never takes her seriously. Even though she knows his secret identity, he won’t give her the credit of it. And when she explains what brought her to him (a case of blackmail involving a pornographic film Grimalkin is the star of), Wayne mocks the idea, suggesting they should steal the film back and watch it.

These interactions characterize Bruce Wayne / Batman as a man happily at home within his delusion. Others have offered the interpretation of Batman as someone who’s misunderstood himself, most notably Alan Moore with The Killing Joke, but Chaykin offers a character who sees the signs, and chooses to ignore them. As the character indicates in the comic’s opening sequence, “If I start worrying about that, I’m in deep trouble.” So rather he fights and smiles, clinging to his botched idea of world order because it gives him purpose and pleasure. Of course, this is also Chaykin just choosing to have some fun, and that choice reflects much of what Batman readers do when they pick up a Batman comic. They’re deciding to engage with a ridiculous idea simply because it seems like fun, and little thought is required.

But, with those elements in mind, Chaykin sheds some sort of truth, and you can certainly paint a damning portrait from it. That of a man conscious of a world and its bruises who looks the other way, with a hedonistic twinkle in his eye, aware of opportunity.

That man isn’t fiction.

The Welch ads show animals in profile eating or serving Jello, and they’re accompanied by captions describing their specific physical traits. Those traits then emphasize the great promise and excitement of Jello, as product, dining accessory, and conversation starter. Chaykin’s image lacks the dessert and caption, but the basic principal of the image is the same. A creature of the world removed of its habitat and self, held so a reader may stick it next to something else to take it apart and measure it. 

In essence, that’s Chaykin’s approach to Batman. Take a brooding totem away from its emotional ghetto, and supply an opportunity for it to laugh at itself. When Chaykin says the book is about “Hitler in a Hawaiian shirt” in Howard Chaykin: Conversations he’s not wrong. It is. But it’s not without the stoic Welch image at the front, placing the character in context as the pop culture product Batman is. A character under the cover of a plated cowl, protected from the world his eyes see. As a character – real in his own reality – he operates individually as his emperor of self, making decisions, inspiring consequence by taking the law into his own hands, but as an image he’s just something to be used or briefly considered. A figment of the mind, like Adolf today, he can be dressed in a Hawaiian shirt for laughs.

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Crickets #4 by Sammy Harkham

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The American film set motivates and cages the cast of Sammy Harkham’s Crickets #4. The actors, crew members, director and writer all have agreed to make a film called Blood of the Virgin, even when it’s clear to them this film will be garbage, and it’s difficult to do.  They, like any American, are just chained to the idea of success. The notion of working on a Hollywood production to either be placed in front of the camera or control its every movement is intoxicating to a point of grand illusion. But Harkham never explicitly states this illusion. He only alludes to it through small nods, mostly when characters comment to one another about the film’s progress, asking if what they’re doing is even good.  For the most part, it’s our own understanding of why anyone would agree to a Hollywood production that suggests these characters’ reasons for working. We just know, because we live in their world, that they are after power and a chance to be understood.

On set, they adhere to a budget and a script, and the location commands them. Harkham frames it all through a series of tight panel grids, confining this cast of several to a shared setting, bouncing all the players back and forth between each other. He just guides us through these scenes as they happen, introducing characters in passing, giving us the briefest hint of what it is they contribute to the production. There are insults thrown, jokes shared, and Harkham crafts clever gag strips around them, despite already committing to a larger frame of dense, 16 to 20 panel comic pages. This choice layers a feeling of confinement. Characters find themselves hyper-focused within 3 to 4 panel strips as a larger operation of page design exists all around them, influencing their movements. In ways, Harkham’s characterizations subtly suggest who his cast members really are, but because they’re players in short strips their involvement often leads to a punchline.

These punchlines, while funny, can be fairly illuminating. They can straddle a few angles, and be complex. When the writer, Seymour, is asked to “approve the camp set,” he simply lights a cigarette and smashes what’s in front of him. Harkham, in three panels, makes us laugh, and externalizes Seymour’s angst of being subjugated by the film’s director.

Seymour is the creator of Blood of the Virgin, yet he needs the director, Oswald, to make his movie, even though their visions don’t always correlate. Blood of the Virgin pairs these men together (as the issue’s cover might suggest), but it’s a conflict of power, of who exactly is in charge of this thing and what he wants, that disrupts their relationship and introduces reality to everyone else’s magic moment.  Oswald argues with his lead actor because of a difference in creative choice, and the actor reacts by storming off, asking “is that how you see me, you lousy pecker-wood piece of shit?”. That actor, because of the reality of who has power over him, loses his grasp on his own perception of himself. He may be a creative contributor, but Oswald decides how the audience will see him.

Ironically, this display of authority unseats Oswald. When reports of turmoil between the lead actor and the director reach the film’s financier, it’s decided, by this figure of ultimate authority, that Oswald is unfit for the project, and Seymour is handed the role. Which is what Seymour secretly wants, but with the position he finds how authoritative he must be. It’s a realization Harkham cleverly illustrates when Seymour, as director, must decide whether a take was good or not, and he hesitates in his answer with the entire crew awaiting his response. The lack of confidence Harkham draws on Seymour’s face says it all. That he hasn’t really considered what a director does, but assumed he was capable of it.

At home, Seymour has a wife. She’s introduced as a woman masturbating on a couch despite her baby crying in the other room. Harkham frames this sequence by starting with a closeup on the kid, zooming out, cutting to a large, wide panel of the wife, and then zooming in on her and her ecstasy. He’s transitioning from one image to the other as well as crosscutting them. As a housewife, this mother has great responsibility, but this responsibility can be a cage. As we know, living in our world, plenty of housewives have wanted more, whether professional fulfillment or social freedom. Their position, though some many enjoy it, can be a personal limitation, especially when the husband gets to leave and pursue what he wants. Here, though, Harkham shows this character taking control by attending to herself even though a responsibility requires attention. That she’s doing so over the cries of her child feels a bit disturbing, but it makes the act even more rebellious. It shows that with Seymour away, she isn’t lost.

The comic ends with Seymour driving a drunk Oswald home through a desert town outside of Hollywood. A place known as “the palm of God’s hand,” somewhere you imagine great things are possible so long as they aren’t crushed. This is after they’ve fought, and Oswald has lost his position. It’s at a point when Seymour may have a right to ignore the guy. He doesn’t. He drives him home and dumps him on his front lawn. It seems harsh to do it that way, but the fact is Seymour was there when no one else was. He’s using his ability as a human being to care for someone else, in some way. You don’t know if this is where their relationship ends or just takes another turn, but you get the sense there’s some fact found. That off the film set they’re still connected. That they have some power over one another.

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Godzilla in Hell by James Stokoe

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Godzilla in Hell surrounds the character with threats his height (or taller), undercutting his advantage of size. This evens the playing field for the fights James Stokoe stages throughout the comic. More importantly, though, it shows the audience a Godzilla that is at their level who must fight his way across a landscape anchored by various obstacles. These obstacles represent possible demons plaguing Godzilla (his nuclear origin, the people he’s killed, himself), and they trigger emotional responses from a character that’s typically shown as an unstoppable force, confident of his chosen direction.

The final battle, in numerous instances, features Godzilla being thrown around like a chew toy at the whim of an attacker. Stokoe draws the character’s body from low angles in this sequence and focuses more on the whole mass of Godzilla together, in the air, spinning out of control. He elevates this idea by composing the scene through a series of smaller panels that constrict the character. Godzilla’s true size is never far from the audience’s mind, though, because of a prior scene, in which a storm cloud of human beings nearly wipes him away. The cloud itself is huge, but Stokoe shows the tiny grains of its make up, which lends perspective. So when Godzilla breaks loose of the creature in the final battle and smashes him, you think about the absurdity of a 500 foot beast body slamming another 500 foot beast from what’s likely a 3 mile fall, and you’re at once aware of the mega-status of these characters, as well as their shared territory with us. 

The best moments are Stokoe’s brief pauses, where he breaks away from the action and provides us a quick shot of Godzilla’s foot or face reacting to the violence (either in surprise, pain or strain). He does this a few times, and they emphasize the severity of the conflict the character must face. It’s easy in a story like this to do spectacle and excite an audience with colorful images, but it’s an entirely different game to do that and characterize the spectacle with nods to the character’s internal process, even if momentarily. It says more, too, that these nods are close ups. They intimately lend an eye to the actual struggle of these battles, and some even show a physical tole. But Stokoe is smart to keep these leaps short as that’s how they are most interesting. As asides. The audience reads this comic book for the spectacle, mostly. The existential glimpses work as smaller pieces of a whole.

That said, Godzilla in Hell implies opportunity for a deeper reading, if you really wish to, but it’s identity as a battle comic is really enough because of the quieter visual touches Stokoe uses to elaborate Godzilla’s character. They’re proof of Stokoe’s thoughtfulness, even when drawing a Godzilla fight comic set in Hell. The brief, poetic nature of it, too, is all the more special. It reads with a certain pride, though one affected by reality. You can tell he’s thought about all this a long time.   

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Rob Liefeld died for us

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Granted, so much of Bill Sienkiewicz’s work on The Shadow is the fact that it’s he who does it, but unlike Elektra: Assassin, which was published only a year before, The Shadow isn’t painted by the artist. Sienkiewicz strictly supplies pencils and inks, approaching the assignment in a fashion more typical of work-for-hire commitments. Where Assassin bleeds some sense of artistic dedication, The Shadow, while still quality stuff, isn’t as individualistic. The artist handles two-thirds of the work, and the third, and (in Sienkiewicz’s case) crucial step is trusted to someone else.

This someone could have really dropped the ball, colored this thing like any other book on the stands, but Richmond Lewis, colorist behind Batman: Year One and David Mazzucchelli’s wife, didn’t. A painter herself, she comes at this thing with a particular intuition. She’s conscious of Sienkiewicz’s use of blacks, and knows how to work against that in order to attribute color to them and enliven a field of depth in his drawings.

The above image (though poorly photographed) is possibly a cheap example, but is a clear encapsulation of this. Sienkiewicz starts us on the left side of the panel, steeped in solid black, focusing on the Shadow, but it’s Lewis’ hot pink that moves the eye away and over, revealing a character in the background, opening the image up and shifting our focus. It’s the concisest their collaboration can be summed up, showing Sienkiewicz set the ground work for her to capitalize on.

By 1987 other comics were colored with such craft, but this work on The Shadow shows artists still staking a piece of the coming frontier. It’s interesting to see this amount of thought spurred by advances in technology and the companies’ investment in printing. The script on this book, at best, feels like the work of very trying young writer. It has attitude and energy, but is unnecessarily dense. Yet Lewis and Sienkiewicz ease it, give it charm, and despite the flaws have it come across as a special project. You forget the obvious attempt it made to revamp a Pulp hero and look on it to experience the thing only they can create.

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When the door shuts, just know it

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Retrofit Comics sent a few of their latest. Here are thoughts on one of them.

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Theth
Josh Bayer

I’d originally thought the protagonist of Theth was an abnormally large Yeti, crossing some landscape to escape whatever is over its shoulder, but in actuality it’s the small guy wearing the space suit dreaming below, at the bottom of the cover. His name is Seth. Theth, pronounced with a lisp. He’d like to be a Yeti.

The misunderstood ape fits Seth, an adolescent trapped in his own cage of excommunication. They’re both outcasts, kept on the outside by themselves and their dispositions to what surrounds them. Though they survive, they only survive through withdrawal, pulling into primitive means, or in Seth’s case, fictitious delusions sponsored by comic books. And there’s the difference between them. The mountains in that Yeti’s grasp are at least physical — an external force to conquer. Which is why Seth fantasizes this crypto-counterpart. He, too, would enjoy pushing past the terrain inhibiting him, and though this day dream is of something Seth finds alluring, it’s also telling that his go-to allusion is of someone ultimately lonely and forsaken. The cover, if read as so, summarizes the two-sided perspective Josh Bayer brings to Theth. Where what’s shown is understandable as it is horrific.

In the book, Bayer shows us someone incapable of dealing with reality, yet is still affected by it. The main effect is Seth’s spiral into comic book fiction as a means of coping with parents, bullying and wondering whether or not a girl will ever fuck him. A few comics have dealt with this idea before (Farel Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies is a recent one), but Bayer’s take doesn’t seek sympathy as others tend to, especially in terms of the lead character. Because while Seth is pathetic enough at times to feel for, he’s also a member of a world not entirely terrible or just (much like ours), where John Lennon can be murdered though still mourned. In comparison to our actions, Seth’s appear extreme. His step-mother, though unlikable and rough, is still shown as human rather than a cartoon villain responsible for a teenager’s demise. She wants some sense of a connection to her step-son, and her open remorse for Lennon’s death points to someone alive inside the plump, white case her shitty suburban hairdo hides. The very nature of their relationship explains Seth’s distance from her, yet Bayer’s willingness to stop and place more than a-typical exclamations in the step-mother’s mouth, layering little extra pieces of character, shades their interactions differently. It says Seth is not a helpless victim but a coward who’s unable to confront the imperfection coming for him.  Where Bayer could have oped for the empathetic, though unrealistic, nerd in need of our tears, he crafted someone tough to digest.

Other examples within Theth shine a similar light on Seth, but you can read the book for those. If anything, I find Bayer’s complicated take to be a mature one, and one that I’m not sure many other cartoonists would do. Because Seth’s distance is arguably comparable to that of a cartoonist or someone like myself who’s way too obsessed with this shit. There is an element of Theth that celebrates comics. A drawing published in the back of the book, a splash of famous comic characters like Nancy, Dick Tracy and Garfield charging the reader, holding a banner that reads “Make Comics Forever”, certainly implies victory. Though that victory rings differently knowing the ending Theth has is only on the other side of the page. So the conclusion, overall, is confused. It’s great to love comics — to implant them within your life — but at what cost? Or is there a cost? Comics are more the outcome of all the other shit we’ve seen. Their salvation is both wonderful, yet annoying. Because imagine if we didn’t need them. I think Bayer is giving that some thought.

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