Archive for June 30, 2008

Carnival of souls

June 30, 2008

* At the Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon has posted an obituary for the late Michael Turner with an admirable focus on his work and its impact. It features extensive quotes from me, which is humbling.

* At, I interview artist Mike Perkins about his upcoming Stephen King adaptation, The Stand.

* In this month’s Maxim I’ve got a little piece on ugly movie heroes, tying in with Hellboy II: The Golden Army. I don’t think it’s online, but there are worse ways you could spend a few bucks than for some nerdy snark and sexy ladies.

* Good Lord look at the cover for Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library #19.


* I’m not gonna post them myself because they’re kind of spoilery, but Bloody Disgusting has yet another pair of deeply impressive stills from The Midnight Meat Train. Meanwhile, BD’s Spooky Dan notes that the film has an anti-meat subtext, a welcome addition to any horror movie (cf. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Hostel) and a surefire way to make me even angrier that the movie’s getting buried due to office politics.

* Back over in Spurgevillie, Tom has posted YouTube clips of entirety of his New Art Comics Panel with Alvin Buenaventura, Sammy Harkham, and Dan Nadel from Heroes Con the other weekend. These guys are doing important work and it’s well worth a viewing.

* This trailer for the next James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, is pretty great. Looks like the hints toward the reemergence of SPECTRE from the first Daniel Craig Bond film are gonna pay off.

* They’re maybe gonna make a sequel to 300 with Frank Miller and Zack Snyder. Um, okay. (Via Whitney Matheson.)

* Becky Cloonan draws Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari…with sexy results!


* This piece comparing and contrasting the summer event comics Secret Invasion and Final Crisis by Pitchfork columnist Tom Ewing (via Big Sunny D) has a couple of things going for it: 1) It’s quite thoughtful and fair in addressing the strengths and weaknesses of each series, angrily dismissing neither; 2) it will hopefully force Pitchfork-reading hipsters into thinking they have to read Secret Invasion and Final Crisis to be “with it.”

Comics Time: Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

June 30, 2008


Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

Fumiyo Kouno, writer/artist

Last Gasp, 2006

104 pages


Buy it from Last Gasp

Buy it from

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is an exercise in addressing a bottomlessly complicated subject in a breezily simple fashion. That complicated subject is the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and its lingering physical, psychological, and sociocultural side-effects on residents of the town and their families. That simple fashion is Kouno’s writing, which sort of brushes against the topic like a breeze while telling stories of romance, friendship, and family, only to occasionally slam into it with gale-force intensity; and Kouno’s art, the pictorial equivalent of young-adult prose, warm and just so. (And it takes some kind of mental masterstroke to make your characters look like Peanuts when you superdeform them.)

As such it’s perhaps fitting that simple things keep the book from really doing all it might otherwise be capable of doing. For one thing, in both of the stories (one set in the ’50s, the other in the ’80s and ’00s) the main characters simply look like little kids even when they’re supposed to be in their 20s. Since so much of the plot is driven by looking into the past and contrasting children with adults, it’s becomes a major obstacle to understanding just what’s going on–particularly in the second story, which was already too loosely constructed by half. Another flaw, and this is maybe nitpicky, is the typeface used for translated Japanese text. Comic Sans? The cover is lovely so I know someone at Last Gasp makes good design decisions, but that wasn’t one of them, and it knocks me out of the story whenever it shows up.

But those complex moments…they hit hard. The first story, “Town of Evening Calm,” could with minimal tweaking become a first-rate horror story, so powerful is the way its sense of impending, at-any-moment suffering and death sneaks up on the reader. Two moments in particular–I don’t want to spoil them–practically reach out of the book and punch you in the face, a testament as much to Kunuo’s pacing as to the horror of the topic itself. The second, two-part story, “Country of Cherry Blossoms,” relies more heavily on knowledge of the stigma victims of the Bomb (and even their descendants) face in Japan for its power, knowledge I didn’t really have, sad to say; but the way it develops the ticking-time-bomb themes established in “Town” creates a satisfying sense of connectedness that the two otherwise unrelated stories lack. The flaws irk, the strengths stick.

I CAN HAS COMIX?: Los Bros Hernandez

June 29, 2008

[Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of interviews I’ll be posting that were rescued from’s now-defunct archives. Originally posted on June 22, 2007.]



In Wizard Universe’s new alternative comics interview column, Los Bros Hernandez reveal how their shared love of punk rock, sexy girls and Silver Age classics helped their epic series Love and Rockets launch the indie scene as we know it

By Sean T. Collins

I’ll admit that it took me a while to hitch a ride aboard Love and Rockets.

Despite the near-universal acclaim the series and its creators have received over the 25 years since the series’ first issue took the comics world by storm and kick-started a small-press revolution–the fruits of which can be seen at this weekend’s MoCCA Art Festival in New York City–there’s something daunting about it. For starters, it’s not just a straightforward one-man show: It’s an umbrella title for the work of Los Angeles-born brothers named Gilbert and Jaime (and sometimes even older sibling Mario), collectively known as “Los Bros Hernandez.”

What’s more, both Gilbert and Jaime have developed their own mini-mythoi within L&R, featuring enough characters to rival your average superhero universe. In Gilbert’s case, you have the busty, hammer-wielding femme fatale Luba and her friends, lovers, family and enemies, all swirling around the fictional Latin-American town that gives Gilbert’s “Palomar” saga its name. Jaime’s stories center on unlucky-in-love mechanic Maggie and her obnoxious punk-rock best friend/sidekick/sometimes-lover Hopey, wild women who are the stand-out members of a loose-knit group of L.A. ladies dubbed “Locas.” Both casts of characters age in real time, meaning some people who started the series as teenagers now have teenagers of their own, with their own adventures. The warts-and-all presentation of the series’ leads (particularly Jaime’s, in my case) can leave you as pissed of as you’d be at your own obnoxious friends.

And to top it all off, Love and Rockets has spawned two separate ongoing series using that title, a raft of trade paperback collections, two massive hardcovers housing nearly the entire “Locas” and “Palomar” sagas, and countless spinoff miniseries, graphic novels and even adult comix. Put it all together and it’s enough to make the friggin’ Legion of Super-Heroes’ continuity seem easy to follow.

Until now.

To celebrate L&R‘s 25th anniversary, publisher Fantagraphics recently began releasing awesomely affordable, handily portable softcover digest collections, starting at the beginning of both brothers’ epic storylines and giving readers their best chance ever to get in on the ground floor. With the first volumes (Jaime’s Maggie the Mechanic and Gilbert’s Heartbreak Soup) already in stores, the second installments–The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S. by Jaime and Human Diastrophism by Gilbert–launched this week, with some of Los Bros’ best work ever on board.

I could go on about both brothers’ mastery of character development, creating people as flawed, funny, and fascinating as your best friends. I could wax rhapsodic about their sophisticated storytelling, which relies on the readers’ intelligence as it bounces back in forth in time and between dozens of characters. I could point out that at different times, it’s the funniest, raunchiest and scariest comic you’ll ever read. I could talk for ages about the gorgeous art–Jaime’s sharp, sexy, stylish classicism and Gilbert’s earthy, equally sexy surrealism. And I could say that while you hear a lot about “creating a universe” in comics, no one’s ever done it better than Los Bros–when you read an L&R story, you feel like you’re catching just a small glimpse of a world as big, sprawling, messy, funny, horny, heartbreaking and real as our own.

Instead, in this joint interview with Gilbert and Jaime, I’ll let Los Bros themselves explain the inspiration of the series, reveal the dark secrets of the stories in the new digests, and announce their pick for the greatest superhero comic of all time. Through it all, it’s clear that when it comes to creating thrilling uncategorizable comics in Love and Rockets, the brothers are still armed and dangerous.

WIZARD: Take us back to 1981 when you guys started the books. What made you say, “Let’s do this”?

JAIME: Let’s see, 1981…I was being paid to go to junior college, so I didn’t want a job. I was just taking art classes and stuff like that. I wasn’t thinking about what I was going to do with my life–I just liked drawing comics. By that time we were drawing comics for ourselves, but we were starting to draw them with ink on the right paper and everything, not just on a piece of typing paper with a pencil. We wanted to print it somewhere but we didn’t know where, because it wasn’t your normal Marvel or DC fare. There wasn’t really much of a market for this stuff, we thought. We were still punk rockers in bands and we were just doing comics. We wanted to draw comics the way we wanted to see them, and we weren’t really seeing much of them out there.

GILBERT: Comics were our amusement for years, and what we were into was not what the mainstream companies were into at the time. We figured that by printing an underground magazine we would get it out there, mostly to see what the response would be–just something to do, really. It turned out that when we finally got our stuff together and put out a 32-page Love and Rockets comic, a fanzine/underground type thing, we were luckily noticed right away by Fantagraphics. The timing was just right–they were ready to publish their own comics. It took a little climb to get Love and Rockets going, but the response was very good, even in a small way at first, so that encouraged us to continue.

It’s not too often that people in the alternative comics area have that kind of success right out of the gate, but I guess you guys didn’t have a lot to compare it to. Before Love and Rockets there were the undergrounds, but they were sort of a different beast.

GILBERT: Yeah. Cerebus and ElfQuest were actually encouraging in the sense that it could be done, getting a following for a black-and-white comic. It wasn’t necessarily mainstream. Even though they were both geared for that audience, they were successful on their own.

Jaime, you had more “mainstream” elements in your early work, with its sci-fi flavor. Was that an attempt to tap the normal comics-reading audience, or was it just you following your bliss?

JAIME: It was pretty much just me. I liked drawing rockets and robots, as well as girls. [Laughs] It really was no big game plan. It was almost like, “Okay, I’ll give you rockets and robots, but I’ll show you how it’s done. I’m gonna do it, and this is how it’s supposed to be done!” I went in with that kind of attitude.

That’s definitely a punk attitude.

JAIME: Yeah. I’d see something was being done in other comics and I’d say, “Ah, no, no, that is not the way to do it. This is the way to do it.” That gave me encouragement to just do it. In the beginning, I was putting my whole life of drawing comics since I was a kid into this comic. When the characters started to take over, the other stuff started to drop out because it was getting in the way.

And the result was a book that’s been credited with inventing alternative comics as we know them, though that couldn’t have been your intention at the time.

GILBERT: I think that we did create a path, at least, using all our influences and what we saw about comics that we knew of since we were kids. That developed into mainstream comics in the ’60s, and undergrounds in the late ’60s, and then in the ’70s you’d have mainstream companies that would also publish black-and-white magazines–different things bouncing around here and there with a different format. That was encouraging to us as well. I think what happened with Love and Rockets is that since there really weren’t the kind of comics we were doing, that is bringing our mainstream influences into a new kind of comic, a new kind of underground, let’s say. An underground with more going on, hopefully. [Laughs] At least I would like to think so. It basically created a path for everybody to at least get on, not necessarily making it easier, but just [having] something there. It was just a different road to go down, and I think that is what we did somehow.

In each of your main storylines, you’ve both created these big, sprawling, interconnected casts over the years. Is that something that two of you talked over, or did it evolve spontaneously and separately out of what you both were interested in doing?

JAIME: I would say that it just kind of happened as the characters started to write themselves. I think because Gilbert started creating all-out characters, it just seemed like a good idea to me, or something. On my end, I basically just created characters that would fill in the gaps of the story. If I needed someone to say something in the back that was totally unrelated to the characters, I would create a character later on. What started out as a drawing of just somebody, I decided, “Hey, I’ll make that someone’s boyfriend.” While in the beginning they were just there to color up the place, after a while they started to take on lives of their own. That is how the characters started to multiply. What about you, Beto?

GILBERT: It would probably be my mainstream influence, with me. Like in, say, Peanuts: You could follow the strip with Charlie Brown and Linus for a few days, and then it would shift to Lucy and Violet. But you wouldn’t lose what the strip was about; it was because all the characters were so well informed that you are always in the Peanuts world. Even if sometimes it was about Snoopy or Sally Brown or whatever, you were always there. That’s on the high end, but in the middle there would be the Marvel Universe, actually, for me. I always liked what fans complain about now: the fact that they were all interconnected. If you needed something heavy and metallic and electronic, you went to Stark Industries. If you needed power, you went to Reed Richards’ unstable molecules. I always liked the crisscrossing of that. Of course it went into madness eventually [laughs], but at first it was very intriguing to a kid. It was something new for superheroes, that interconnecting. In the Hulk comic you could mention Stark Industries, and Iron Man or Tony Stark was nowhere near it but you knew what they were talking about. That is what I liked about it: that interconnecting, even when stuff is off camera. That is pretty much what inspired me to go ahead and do that with mine. That way, you just have a larger canvas to work from.

That’s a big part of L&R‘s appeal–you get the sense that we are following this handful of characters right now as they do things during the course of their day, but that if we just took that camera and moved over a couple of blocks, you could catch someone else in the middle of what is going on in their lives, too.

GILBERT: Yeah, and another aspect is that is how our family worked as well. That’s something we brought from home. Our family, our cousins, aunts and uncles were all interconnected the same way. That was an influence as well, the family unit.

JAIME: Yeah, it was a big family. Our aunt had six kids and our other aunt had six kids.

Talk a little bit about your main characters. In your case, Jaime, it’s Maggie and Hopey, the stars of The Girl From H.O.P.P.E.R.S., and with Gilbert it’s Luba, the main attraction in Human Diastrophism.

JAIME: Maggie started back in high school, where I wanted to create a character I could put into any type of story I wanted–send her to outer space, back to time, to her grandma’s house. She was just a drawing at first, and I just started to think wherever I go, Maggie goes. It took a while, but I put a lot of my thoughts into her, and that’s why she’s the main character and the stories follow her. I created her friend Hopey out of just wanting a sidekick, and seeing the punk girls in L.A. at the time; that was when I was first going to the punk shows. They just kind of hit off together. My Betty and Veronica, you could look at it that way. Or my Batman and Robin. [Laughs] They just worked. When we did the first issue, that was the first response I got: “I like your girl characters.” I went, “Cool, because I like doing them!” [Laughs] That is basically how that started, and Maggie continues because I know her so well and I can put a lot of stuff into her.

GILBERT: My work around the beginning was similar to Jaime’s: a science fiction, two-girls-hanging-out-type thing. Once Jaime’s came out, the response to it was immediate. I could see how much more defined it was [than mine] and how much potential it had. Jaime had already grabbed it and was working that side of it just fine, so I abandoned my stuff and thought, “What is it I really want to say that’s different?” I just kept going back to the idea of this imaginary Latin-American village [called Palomar]. The more I thought about it and the more I felt it out, the more it seemed right. It was completely different from what Jaime was doing. Even from the beginning I thought that Love and Rockets should be a bigger thing. It shouldn’t be just all the same thing, and since Jaime was taking care of that part of it, then doing something completely different but still on the same page would make Love and Rockets a bigger thing, a bigger work of art. So that’s where the encouragement came from, bouncing off the fact that Jaime’s was done and already the response was good, so all I had to do was fill in the rest. I was a little freer, actually, to do something that might not have been commercially viable. I think that Palomar was a little chancier than doing the girl/rocket stuff at the time.

JAIME: I could tell you that Gilbert’s approach helped me a lot in taking the girls out of the science fiction, to handle stuff more at home. Gilbert was the older brother, anyway, so he really did everything before me, ever since we were little. [Laughs]

GILBERT: What’s very interesting about the science fiction stuff is that the question we get asked the most, at least out loud, is “Where is the rocket? That’s the real Love and Rockets.” Oddly, that’s the smaller segment of the audience–they’re just more vocal. The real audience is the one who followed Maggie and Hopey’s adventures as real girls, so to speak, and the Palomar stories. That is the real Love and Rockets reader. But for some reason we have the most outspoken ones saying, “When are you going to do the rockets? It’s called Love and Rockets!” That’s fine, we love doing rocket stuff, but the real Love and Rockets is what we are famous for.

You mentioned that the audience has changed, and now the less genre-y things are actually more commercially viable. Jaime’s had his work published in The New York Times, your recent collections have gotten major mainstream-publication review acreage–could you ever have seen this coming?

JAIME: I think that for me, it was more a case of, “One of these days, sure, I’d like my character standing next to Charlie Brown and Betty and Veronica and Superman.” But I was just hoping we would be able to continue doing it and hopefully make a major living off of it because I didn’t want to do anything else with my life. It was like, “Oh boy, I can continue!” But “How long is this going to go?” I wasn’t even thinking about it. Twenty-five years later, I’m going, “Wow, a quarter of a century and I’m still allowed to do this?” It’s amazing. I just think back to all the talented people I knew in the past who had to stop because they just couldn’t live off of doing their comics.

GILBERT: The one time I got thrown was when we were getting a lot more attention doing Love and Rockets and people were really accepting what we wanted to do in it. What really threw me was when I got to a point where readers would tell us, “I used to read Batman, but now I read your stuff.” I thought that was really creepy. I’d go, “You mean you’d rather read us than Batman?” Batman, Superman, all that stuff–they were icons when we were growing up. Nobody ever thought somebody would rather read stuff that wasn’t that. It just threw me and was something I never really thought about, that someone might like a different kind of comic outside of the Big Two. For us it was always a note of encouragement: “We just better step up to the plate then. If this is what they are saying about us, if this is what they like about us, then we better be good!” And we’ve done our best to stick to our guns about giving the most honest comic we can–coming from our point of view, of course. But it threw me for a bit. It seemed like we were being scrutinized for a while, like, “Okay, this stuff is getting more attention than The Incredible Hulk, so let’s see what they’re gonna do next.” We were like, “Oops!” The only thing you can do is try to get better. Otherwise you’d crumble if you tried to compromise or change things.

What do you think of the new digest versions of your work?

GILBERT: For me, I just trust our publisher. I don’t have the say of how it is going to be packaged, because I couldn’t tell you how, so I have to trust them a lot. I think it’s great if it’ll just give us shelf space. Don’t colorize it or something like that. [Laughs] But as long as it’s presentable and someone will put it on their shelf, that’s all I can ask for.

Jaime, your latest digest includes “The Death of Speedy” and “Flies on the Ceiling,” two of your best-known–and darkest–stories. How did each of them come about?

JAIME: Back before “The Death of Speedy” and “Flies on the Ceiling,” I did this story about Speedy talking to his friend about his sister Izzy. He mentioned how she was all normal and then she went to Mexico and came back weird. When I wrote that, I didn’t know exactly what happened to her. I got that question every time: “What happened to Izzy in Mexico?” I’d say, “Oh, I’ll tell you one of these days.” But to myself I was saying, “Yeah, when I find out!” [Laughs] It took almost 10 years to write. It all came from that, and it took on many forms and shapes and sizes till I finally did “Flies on the Ceiling.” With “The Death of Speedy,” certain continuity was building up in the drama, and all of this was building up to where I wanted to kill somebody. I wanted someone to die. But it was another one of those things where I thought, “I’ll show you how to have someone die.” I was going to challenge myself and everybody else. Speedy became the guy just because of the way things were going: I wanted to kill a main character, and he was a victim of my plans. [Laughs] It didn’t have to be him, but it ended up being him. Years after that I asked myself, “Should I have ever killed him?” It was just one of those things that he fell victim to.

Do you ever wish you could bring him back to life, Superman-style?

JAIME: That’s the cool thing with Love and Rockets: You can always have flashbacks. It doesn’t mean they come back to life; you just tell a story that happened not to screw with history. Which I get really close to, sometimes, just because it’s tempting. I can always bring Speedy back–just in the past. I don’t want it to become formula. I have to do it right.

Gilbert, in your case, again, it’s fairly dark material, since “Human Diastrophism” is about a serial killer preying upon Palomar. What made you let loose this violence on these characters in this town you created?

GILBERT: There was no direct line, no conscious effort to be that dark. It just sort of came out as the stories were developing. Whatever darkness there was is from my unconscious. I don’t really know what the source, but I just wanted darker stories. I was also tired of the cramped format, doing a few pages an issue; I wanted to do a longer story, and the longer the story is, I feel I have to give more. I was basically doing stories unchecked, throwing everything in that I could. In those days I would write stories thinking, “When I finish this story, if I get hit by a truck the next day, then I’ll be satisfied that this is my last story.” I don’t do that anymore. Now I think, “Oh, that was my first story,” and that works just as well when I work. “This is my first story, I’m just getting started, I’m just learning.” In the old days it was the other way around: “Okay, if I’m done with the story then I’m done, but I better get down to business.” I wanted to do the world in a microcosm that had death and rebirth. Everything that you can imagine in an epic story, I tried to stick it in one big story. Like Jaime’s story, I chose a character because whenever you are dealing with a story that big and that universal, the characters that you hurt the most have to be ones you care about, unfortunately. You can’t just make up a character and kill them, because it doesn’t matter. If it’s a character that the readers cared for to a degree, that’s what gives the story more resonance, especially in a large story like that. We don’t really do it to shock or anything, but it’s just part of life.

That is what I was going for with that. And once I was done with it and it did get very good response, then what do you do after that? You just start all over and do your damnedest not to cheapen the story. You try not to refer too much to that story, unless it’s little things you need that you left out or something. Jaime and I are clever enough to bring back those characters in a legitimate way, without cheapening it. In Jaime’s “The Death of Speedy,” you never really see what happened–it could have been somebody else and not Speedy who was killed. There’s that little twist that you can do and make it convincing. The same with Tonantzin setting herself on fire in my story. I could very well say it wasn’t her, it was a set-up. I’m just saying that we’re able to do stories where we can make it work–we’re just not going to. It’s too easy, it’s too pat, and it just cheapens the earlier story.

The characters in both the “Locas” and “Palomar” stories aren’t like the ones in Peanuts or in Riverdale High or in the Marvel Universe–they age in real time. Why’d you make that choice, and do you ever regret it?

JAIME: First of all, it was Gilbert’s idea to actually age them. I’ll let him explain.

GILBERT: I was thinking of a sprawling epic that took years to complete. I think I aged them too quickly for my taste now. I definitely regret that it was a little too quick compared to how long we have been doing it. We’ve been doing it for 25 years and that is not really too quick, but it is in terms of comics because I’m still doing them. I’m not done with the characters that are getting older. What happens is you get the “Tiny Yokum syndrome”: The old strip Li’l Abner was about a bachelor who was being chased by a lovely woman, [and eventually] they married and had a kid. Well, now Li’l Abner is responsible. He can no longer have wacky, nutty adventures because he’s married and has a kid. He has to stay home and take care of the family. What they did was create a character, his little brother, named Tiny. Basically, Tiny had the adventures that Li’l Abner could no longer have–but we don’t know Tiny, we know Li’l Abner. The problem that happened with aging my characters too quickly is that I had to come up with characters to replace the older characters, and it’s not as good. I’ve had several characters to replace my main character Luba, but none of them are Luba. That presents itself in that way, even though some readers probably don’t even know who Luba is because they only read the new ones. That’s fine, but it’s something I regret a little bit, and I keep pushing the main characters back.

Jaime, earlier you compared Maggie and Hopey to Betty and Veronica, but in this case there’s no Archie. Both of you focus on female characters. Was that a conscious choice? Did you just like drawing girls or did you really think you had something to say about women?

JAIME: I think it all started when I was a budding teenager and Gilbert was a teenager, and he said, “Jaime, you should start drawing girls.” And I went, “No, I can’t do that–Mom will kill me!” And he just goes, ‘No, it’s cool,” because he was drawing girls left and right. I started and I thought, “Oh God, I can’t draw girls–[mine] are so terrible!” Then after a while you couldn’t stop me. It all started from wanting and liking to draw women. They are much more fun than drawing men. I thought, you can have your cake and eat it too if you do your comic starring the women instead of the men. You can have men, but you get a lot more done if you are drawing a character you like. At the same time, it’s something Gilbert talked about earlier: When I was young, I always felt that if I was going to put something in my comics, I had to back it up. I had to step to the plate and be responsible. So there was always talk about T&A–“You just like women as objects” and stuff. I was like, “No I don’t–look!” So I started making them characters. I thought, “That’s easy! Just do it! I don’t have to feel responsible to create 10-hundred male superheroes to 10 female superheroes–I can just concentrate on the female superheroes!” That’s how it started for me. Gilbert was well on his way before me, being the older guy. I just followed along.

GILBERT: A lot of Love and Rockets is just simply what we wanted to do, even superficially–if we feel like drawing a person wearing these clothes, doing this thing, just because we feel like drawing that. Most of the time it’s a woman doing it. Then we started giving the characters personalities, like Jaime said, having our cake and eating it too. There was a weird little rub there because we kept getting asked, “Why are you doing women?” Just the fact we were asked that all the time, it was like, “Something is wrong here if you have to ask us why. Why do anything? Do people ask Frank Miller why his stories are so violent?” People are fine with violence but they’re nervous about women for some reason. So we are always up to the challenge. We stick our elbows up and go, “Look, we’re gonna do this and we’re gonna do it as best we can.” We kept getting encouraged–the more we did it, the more good response we got. Then every once in a while, “Why do you do women?” and I thought, “It is really a boys’ club out there, isn’t it?”

JAIME: It was almost like the more they told us not to, the more we did it. It was like, “I don’t see anything I’m doing wrong here. What am I afraid of?”

Who do you consider your peers? What other comics out there interest you?

JAIME: It’s harder for me to say now, because I’ve gotten so locked in this Love and Rockets world of mine, creating my stories and not looking at anyone around me, so I don’t know. I guess it’s competition on the shelves: “Who’s taking up my shelf space?” That’s how it is [now]. When Gilbert and I started out, it was like we were welcomed by the mainstream when the comic first came out, but we didn’t have the heart to tell most of the mainstream, “We don’t want to do what you guys are doing.” I didn’t want to be an assh— about it or anything–we were getting all this support–but we thought, “Oh, so you’re gonna do Secret Wars? After we talked about how there’s a new comics world, you’re gonna go back and do that? Well, fine, you do that, but don’t ask me why I’m not.” It wasn’t till more alternatives and people with their own goofy comics like ours started popping out that we started to get these peers coming out of the woodwork. I would say when the Peter Bagges and the Dan Clowes started coming out too, we kind of formed this little… I don’t want to say club, because everyone lived in a different state. [Laughs] But we liked seeing each other at conventions and events like that.

GILBERT: Were you talking about peers now?

That would be the follow-up. Are you also “head-down,” like Jaime?

GILBERT: I am, pretty much. I’m just so focused on getting work out that I look for influences and for other things to inspire me, [and] rarely is that another comic book these days. One reason is that alternative comics, as far as series go, are barely there anymore. Love and Rockets is one of the few that comes out on a relatively regular basis that continues this old tradition that is pretty much gone now. It’s mostly graphic novels and online comics. It’s just different, and a different way to get ahold of comics. The alternative comics they call pamphlets now are simply not around like they were. I don’t look at comics on the Internet. I don’t really look at the Internet too much. I’m focused on writing the best comics I can, and that takes up most of our lives, really. I don’t want to dis anybody or ignore anyone–I’m just not really focused on things outside at this time.

JAIME: I find that when I go to a comic store I leave with an old Marvel or DC archive 99 percent of the time.

It is kind of a golden age for that stuff. The sheer volume of old stuff that is coming into print in really nice books is amazing.

JAIME: Gilbert told me recently that they did the complete [Steve] Ditko Amazing Spider-Man, and I’m just achin’ to go and get that.

GILBERT: Actually, that just came out, and here is a plug for Marvel. I think that now that that’s collected, the Ditko-[Stan] Lee Spider-Man, I think we finally have a book to show and put down and say, “This, for me, is the best superhero comic ever right here.” There has been stuff that has been pretty close, like [Will Eisner’s] The Spirit and [C.C. Beck’s] Captain Marvel and other things, but this, to me, is the grail of superheroes. It’s great to have it in a package like that. Which means I have to rebuy it. [Laughs] I’ve bought that stuff so many times now in different formats.

JAIME: So this is what we’re influenced by, see? [Laughs] We have nothing to show about the new stuff–this is all stuff we liked when we were kids.

What does Love and Rockets have that would appeal to the kinds of readers who haven’t said yet, “I used to read Batman, but now I read you guys?”

JAIME: It’s more difficult these days, because there are more ways of getting ahold of comics with the Internet and different things now. I think what hooked people, the mainstream readers, from reading Batman or Superman and went to Love and Rockets is that [we] were serialized at the time. New stories about Maggie and Hopey were continued from issue to issue, new stories about Palomar continued from issue to issue. The reader could identify with that, reading a serialized adventure that was similar, superficially, to reading a Batman comic. Now Love and Rockets is different, a little more fragmented, a little more experimental, a little more idiosyncratic, I think. It’s different from how mainstream comics are read now. I get a bunch of free [mainstream] comics every month, and I look at them, and you got to be really into them to know what’s going on. You have to be a fan of that particular book to know what is going on. It’s a different day now, a different way to look at comics now, so it’s probably not as easy to grab that audience these days.

I know when I started getting into you guys it was difficult because of the array of formats and editions that were out there: You had the ongoing series, the trades, the spinoffs…But I feel like now, with the digests, it’s nice and easy. In the same way that now a lot of the superhero comic book companies are collecting the complete Lee-Ditko Spider-Man and all these big giant historical runs of series in these easy-to-follow collections, it’s now a better time than ever to get in on the ground floor of Love and Rockets and start from the beginning pretty easily and affordably. I’ve seen it happen around the office–those digests spread like wildfire.

JAIME: I imagine that is what is going to happen with reprinting this old stuff. It’s sort of like seeing 11-year-old kids with Ramones shirts now–three of the main Ramones are dead. [Laughs] Their music is over 30 years old now, and 11-year-olds are into the Ramones! So you never know. There could be a Lee-Ditko Spider-Man comeback with kids. Who knows?

GILBERT: I met an 8-year-old kid a couple of years ago whose mom kept badgering him: “This guy draws comics! Tell him who your favorite Spider-Man artist is!” And the kid, under his breath, goes, “Ditko.” I was like, yes! [Laughs]

JAIME: Ditko quit in ’67, so it was a long time ago. It’s kind of cool, things being in perpetual print.

Any closing words of wisdom?

GILBERT [in mock-pretentious voice]: We’re not only mainstream geeks here– we’re actually progressive artists. [Laughs] I’m kidding. I don’t know about the progressive part and I don’t know about the artist part. [Laughs] We’re going to continue doing Love and Rockets projects that strike our fancy. And I have a couple of other books coming out. One will be a Dark Horse miniseries which will eventually become a graphic novel called Speak of the Devil–that’s in stores this July. I have another graphic novel coming out in June called Chance in Hell, and that’s my first actual graphic novel with Fantagraphics. It’s in the digest size–not quite as small as manga, but around that size. Hopefully, the casual reader will be like, “Hey, there’s a small book–it must be manga!” [Laughs] That could help!

Carnival of souls

June 28, 2008

* Guillermo Del Toro is kinda walking back the notion that there will be a second Hobbit film–in essence he says he’d like to do one but he’s not going to force it if it turns out that the material in the books for which the filmmakers have the rights (The Hobbit and the three Lord of the Rings books including the appendices in The Return of the King–all the other ancillary materials are off-limits) doesn’t readily yield a story. (Via Jason Adams.)

* For some reason, DC Comics prevented the inclusion of an excerpt from Paul Pope’s excellent Batman Year 100 in this year’s Best American Comics. What a country!

* Brian Ralph likes He-Man figures too!

* Finally, here’s something I’ve been putting off linking to for some time. Just when you thought you’d heard the worst story of incest and child abuse that could possibly surface this year, you see this story about a Czech woman who over a period of months partially skinned alive her son, who she kept chained in a basement naked in his own filth, and consumed the flesh along with her family, including a 34-year-old woman posing as the boy’s 13-year-old sister, all of whom were members of the Grail Movement cult; the crime was discovered when a neighbor installed a baby monitor that accidentally picked up live footage of the imprisoned boy that his mother would watch for pleasure.

Enjoy your weekend.

Michael Turner

June 28, 2008

This morning I woke up to the sad news that artist Michael Turner has died. (Via Tom Spurgeon.) Presumably this is as a result of the cancer that he’d struggled with for years and years. A few years ago, while I was working at Wizard, I helped put together a book about Mike and his art–I literally wrote the book on Michael Turner–and during the days I spent with him I was really struck by what a kind, friendly guy he was. It’d be pretty easy for a dude with Turner’s looks and superstar-artist-in-the-Image-mold status to be a conceited jerk, but he wasn’t, at all, and that was evident not just from my own interactions with him but with the obviously genuine love and devotion his friends, co-workers, and family displayed about him. I know his art comes in for abuse over its excesses, but I always thought it had a real glamour to it–indeed, the original idea for my David Bowie sketchbook arose from me wondering “If I get the chance to get a Michael Turner sketch, who should I ask him to draw.” I would love to have seen what he’d have drawn in that book, and now I won’t get the chance. He was really way, way too young for this to happen to him, and I’m terribly sad about it.

Comics Time: Worn Tuff Elbow #1

June 27, 2008


Worn Tuff Elbow #1

Marc Bell, writer/artist

Fantagraphics Books, 2004

40 pages


Buy it from the Beguiling

Originally written on January 3, 2005 for publication in The Comics Journal

Marc Bell is commonly associated with the deliberately lo-fi cartoonists centered around institutions like Sammy Harkham’s Kramers Ergot and Tom Devlin’s nigh-irreplaceable Highwater Books (of which the publication of Bell’s great graphic novel Shrimpy & Paul and Friends is arguably the crowning achievement). But like a pre–VH1 Fashion Awards Lenny Kravitz, Marc Bell is a man out of time, and I mean that in the best possible way. (Seriously, have you heard Mama Said?) With its maximalist energy, idiot-savant detail, and high-spirited insanity, Bell’s art is much more at home amid the 1960s undergrounds, right down to the Fleischeresque eyes of many of its characters and the ragtimey shuffles they frequently perform. But Bell’s comics have the added benefit (at least that’s what I think it is) of being largely gratuitous-obscenity-free, which basically means (like if Gary Panter’s Pee-Wee’s Playhouse sets had their own book) they’re the most enthusiastically, wondrously weird kids’ comics ever. You’re just unlikely to relinquish any copies you buy to an actual kid, is all.

Worn Tuff Elbow #1 is Bell’s latest sequential-art effort and the first issue of his new ongoing series at Fantagraphics (Bell being one of the House That RAW Built’s promising outreach efforts to the under-35 generation). The fact that it demonstrates Shrimpy & Paul was not a blow-your-wad burst of brilliance alone makes it notable, even if the comics weren’t so enjoyable on their own terms. Every page is packed with eyeball kicks both visual (a little fellow labeled “Just passin’ thru” appears in one panel, only (sure enough) to be gone by the next) and verbal (an inside-cover preview of book’s contents begins with the rib-ticklingly staccato intro “COMING SOON!!!” “(i.e.: in about 4 pages)” “TO THIS HERE COMIC BOOK” “(THAT IS IN YOUR MITTS RIGHT NOW!)”). Panels lengthen vertically to accentuate the larger-than-life owner of the titular elbow, and flatten out along the pages’ bottoms to depict the ground-level life of the little people whose oppression at the hands of a mad Frenchman (it’s that kinda book) form the core of the story. (Yes, there is a story!) Nonsensical, delightful, restorative comics.

Carnival of souls

June 26, 2008

* Hey, lookit this: In today’s Archive Spotlight at Top Shelf 2.0, you can relive the glory of me and Matt Wiegle’s action-adventure strip “Destructor Comes to Croc Town.” Watch one angry man in a suit of armor unmake a civilization!

* Discussion of Final Crisis #2 continues. Here’s Joe McCulloch wondering whether “good Grant Morrison superhero comic” and “good DC Comics event lynchpin thing” work at cross-purposes:

And then there’s that odd taste of self-awareness, even a little tiredness – Superman hoping the Martian Manhunter will be revived sometime in the future, Lex Luthor acting utterly bored at the death of some expendable superhero (in an Event comic! *yawn*). Like Didio implied, these characters have seen it all. Is it good for the health of DC comics, rather than the DC Universe? Hell, I don’t know. And while I’m aware that if things get so bad they board up the windows it’ll mean less chances for people like Grant Morrison to write comics, I still find it awfully tough to shift my focus onto what’s Good For the Industry when I’m trying to interface with a particular work – my problem, folks.


* And in the comments at thishyere blog, Sean B. of the late, lamented Strange Ink addresses the nature of the threat presented by this series’ big bad guy, a Darkseid in human skin, as opposed to the traditional event-comic villainy:

It’s about the superfolk of DC coming to see that evil is not just the flaming spear flying into your Martian chest – beneath all their day-to-day conflicts with the various baddies of the physical world, the real battle has been fought and lost already. A crisis of faith – that what you do makes no difference at all when Secret Gods are pulling the strings. It’s almost Kirby by way of Lovecraft in a way?

That is dead-on and brilliant.

* Tom Spurgeon explains at length why the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne-era X-Men worked. Tom’s tolerance for superhero stories is pretty low, so watching him unpack why these superhero stories clicked on any number of levels is pretty compelling.

* Jim Treacher recommends some genre novels by erstwhile comics writers Duane Swierczynski and Charlie Huston.

Carnival of souls

June 25, 2008

* Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis #2 came out today; Douglas Wolk has annotations, while Grame McMillan wonders if it’s too smart a book for its own good, or DC’s good at least.

* It’s a good day for reading Tom Spurgeon, as he spotlights 12 unjustly overlooked comics from the past 12 years (including works from Gilbert Hernandez and Michael Kupperman, as well as Chuck Austen’s wonderful, balls-out R-rated Marvel comic U.S. War Machine) and reviews Matt Furie’s brilliantly funny Boys Club, serving up your quote of the day:

Like some of the best comics out there, one can imagine the reading of Boy’s Club to be an act in the same vein as the way of life promoted in its pages.

* I like that I found out about the November release of a 28-DVD, 2-CD, 10-pound, $400 Complete Sopranos box set at The Soup‘s blog.

*And Now the Screaming Starts’ CRwM reflects on the sexlessness of torture porn.

* Brian Heiler salutes the 10 Greatest Playsets of All Time. I’m the proud former owner of three–the Terrordome, Castle Grayskull, and the Hall of Justice. Notable omissions: the USS Flagg, the Defiant, the Fright Zone, Snake Mountain, Ewok Village…

* Cryptomundo’s Loren Coleman examines the strange case of the Giant Alaskan Ocean Platypus. I have to say that a six-foot seafaring platypus would basically be the greatest water monster ever.

Comics Time: Olde Tales Vol. II

June 25, 2008


Olde Tales Vol. II

Lane Milburn, writer/artist

Closed Caption Comics, 2007

38 pages


Buy it from Atomic Books

This effective little minicomic draws strength from combining a satisfyingly crude pair of short, silly stories with a surprisingly sophisticated visual approach. There’s no doubt that the CCC collective is indebted to Fort Thunder and related artists, but like the best of that crew, Milburn isn’t just throwing marks on a page, he’s building something out of them, describing an inhabitable physical space. Loose figurework that suggests a rock-solid skeletal structure beneath the surface, deftly chosen camera angles–particularly in the second story, “Wasteland”–and a willingness to fill the panels with information from top to bottom, even if just with thick blacks or hatching (this is the kind of comic that makes you realize how frequently artists waste the top third of a panel) give the book the oomph it needs. The two stories play different gross-out notes, one just cute and goofy and the other sexualized and violent–and god help me, I just realized that the common link is, in a sense, sausage-eating. You can connect the dots, I’m sure. They’re unassuming little things to be sure, but the basic ideas–an old Yoda-like lady-creature telling the younglings about the time she won a competitive eating contest against a bunch of other monsters, and three fratboys whose drunken perambulations lead one into coitus with a hag-thing and the other to be literally skullfucked to death by a minotaur–are rolled out with minimal fuss or pretension and a great deal of self-evident enjoyment. Funny punchlines for both, too. Not for everyone, then, but certainly for me.

Carnival of souls: special post-Deadwood edition

June 24, 2008

* Now that I’ve finally seen all three series in their entirety, it was my great pleasure to finally dive into Matt Zoller Seitz, Andrew Sepinwall, and Andrew Johnston’s debate over which TV drama is the greatest of all time: David Milch’s Deadwood (Seitz), David Simon’s The Wire (Sepinwall), or David Chase’s The Sopranos (Johnston). I still think they left out a David (Lynch and Twin Peaks); also, having followed a Netflix-enabled viewing of The Wire with one of Deadwood, I think I can say without fear of contradiction that Deadwood makes The Wire look like T.J. Hooker; but have you even doubted for a second that the debate (available in both podcast and text form) is a fascinating one?

* Since finishing Deadwood last night and thereafter immersing myself in whatever online commentary I could find (Seitz’s columns on the final season for the Newark Star-Ledger have tragically been disappeared), I’ve learned of the ignominious fate HBO relegated the show to and just gotten angrier and angrier with each passing hour. It’s to the point where I can check out this pretty bitchin’-lookin’ Deadwood: The Complete Series DVD set and merely be enraged that they have the gall to call it “the complete series.” Cocksuckers.

* Finally (for now; I’m guessing I’ll have more to say about this show in the future), here is a lengthy, must-read encomium to the fight between Dan Dority and Captain Turner, the most brutal and best fight scene I’ve ever seen.

* Is it just me, or does this USA Today article on the Avengers movie bury the lede? It quotes Jon Favreau as “revealing” the character line-up every nerd on earth already knew (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk) but sorta glosses over the fact that, according to the article at least, he’s actively working on the Iron Man sequel he supposedly hadn’t even been contacted about. I don’t know if it’s just an assumption by the reporter or what, but it seems like news. Anyway, I’m making this the fourth item in this post because I care about it a lot less than I care about Deadwood, but what’s up with the rest of the nerdosphere? Did I miss something? (Via SciFi Wire, who also whiff.)

* Clive Barker continues to actively protest the treatment of the upcoming CB adaptation The Midnight Meat Train. This time he’s publicly laying the blame for the film’s supposed burial at the feet of new Lionsgate honcho Joe Drake, who he says is deliberately scuppering projects shepherded by his predecessor Peter Block, Meat Train included. If you’d like to politely contact Mr. Drake and ask him to reconsider his studio’s plans for the film, you may do so by emailing or calling (310) 449-9200 and asking for Joe Drake’s office.

* Dread Central’s Johnny Butane has a post on an interesting-sounding showcase of the reality-horror films [REC], Butcher, and Home Movie at the upcoming Fantasia Festival.

* Speaking of [REC], quick question, horror fans: Why can’t I find this movie on Netflix? Am I doing something wrong?

* Shit the bed, it’s a Quintesson action figure! These suckers duke it out with Golobulus and Cobra-La for the title of “weirdest addition to a major ’80s action-figure/cartoon franchise.”

* Finally, Nigel Tufnel’s green skeleton shirt…Chris Knight’s “I HEART Toxic Waste” tee…bouncer shirts from the Double Deuce…”STEPHEN KING RULES” from The Monster is one “BULL SHIT” t-shirt from The Jerk away from being the greatest t-shirt retailer ever.

You’re my Santa Claus machine

June 23, 2008

That’s the video for the exuberantly sleazy “Pay for Me” by Whale. Even back when it first came out, when I was still in the throes of being very very very fucking serious about everything I listened to, I saw that hilarious first shot of them using a vinyl copy of Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy to scratch with and thought “GodDAMN that’s fucking VICIOUS.” That sort of blow against tedious authenticity brings a smile to my face I can only compare to the look on a supervillain’s face when something evil is about to go down.

And because I know you’re hankering for it now:

Carnival of souls

June 23, 2008

* Would you like to watch all four seasons of Lost online for free? Then go here and here, because ABC has recently signed a deal with Veoh to stream their series online

* B-Sol at the Vault of Horror concludes his series on the modern zombie movie, taking us from the mid-’90s video game Resident Evil through the 28 Days Later-inspired zombie renaissance to the present day. If anything, I think he undersells the degree to which this decade has seen George A. Romero’s zombie films, particularly Dawn of the Dead, enshrined as the apotheosis of contemporary horror, the template against which other horror movies are now judged by critics.

* I was pretty convinced I blogged about this when I saw it but apparently I didn’t: Quentin Tarantino says that his long-discussed World War II action epic Inglorious Bastards (which I didn’t realize was a remake, of a movie by Enzo Castellari) will be split into two parts, Kill Bill style.

* Kristin Thompson notes that the London Times has largely retracted an article that made it sound like Christopher Tolkien was trying to singlehandedly take down production of the Hobbit films in some sort of grudge match.

* Lara Flynn Boyle rounds out her week of blogging about Twin Peaks. As with past entries you wonder if she correctly remembers who any of her female castmembers were, but aside from that it’s a fun glimpse into just how green she was at the time.

* In referring to The Happening as a fun and original B-movie, I think Adam Balz has found another way to accurately describe the deliberately off-kilter tone I was trying to describe with my “satire with violence instead of comedy” formulation. Anyway, please see the comment thread in my post for interesting back-and-forth between Jason Adams, Jon Hastings, Shaggy, Rickey Purdin, and hopefully myself if I get a few minutes.

* Speaking of back and forth, I enjoyed a little comment-thread debate I had with my favorite music writer, Matthew Perpetua, about the new album from renowned sample-pirate Girl Talk–go here and here. I also recommend you listen to him offer a pretty even-handed assessment of GT’s ouevre generally and new album Feed the Animals specifically on NPR. I think I finally grok his objection to the aspects of GT’s work he doesn’t like: the result of its juxtapositions are sometimes merely additive (eg. cocky rap vocals plus cock-rock metal anthem equals cocky cock-rap) or non sequitur (eg. big hip-hop beat plus Dawson’s Creek theme song equals “haha that’s hilarious!”) rather than “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (eg. Young Jeezy’s “Soul Survivor” plus “Scentless Apprentice” plus “Passin’ Me By” plus “Juicy” plus “Tiny Dancer” equals a song about the horror of being trapped in a seemingly inescapable sociopolitical/mental environment and the euphoria of transcending it).

* In labeling The Incredible Hulk a failure with interesting visuals, Reverse Shot’s Matt Connolly serves up a couple of great lines about facial hair and your quote of the day:

As if in response to Lee’s intellectualized (which is not to say intelligent) infusion of convoluted psychological underpinnings into comic book mythology, director Louis Leterrier and screenwriter Zak Penn have streamlined their film’s focus to the body itself, specifically the male specimen: how it flexes, morphs, and bulges in frightening and entrancing ways.

This makes a lot of sense. After all, what else is Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky looking for but gamma-Viagra, and what else is the purpose of the scene where Bruce refrains from bedding Betty due to his uncontrollable prowess than proof that his Jade Giant is bigger than Blonsky’s?

* The next best thing to being there: Tom Spurgeon reviews Heroes Con 2008, to which I was invited but regrettably could not make it.

* Evil on Two Legs looks at Camp Crystal Lake fashion. It’s, um, not hot.


* Check it out: Monster Brains’ Aeron Alfrey has a creature gallery of his own–1,000 beasts strong!

* Long ago, when reviewing Children of Men, I wondered if the film’s depiction of anti-immigrant hysteria amid economic privation of the sort that could be alleviated by immigrants made sense given what one would think would be the native people’s self-interest. This post from Matthew Yglesias points to a real-world analogue that shows it makes all too much sense, unfortunately.

Comics Time: Kramers Ergot 5

June 23, 2008


Kramers Ergot 5

Sammy Harkham, Ron Rege Jr., Mat Brinkman & Neil Burke, Souther Salazar, David Heatley, Chris Ware, Elvis Studio, Gabrielle Bell, Kevin Huizenga, Anders Nilsen, Gary Panter, Jordan Crane, Leif Goldberg, Paper Rad, Fabio Viscogliosi, J. Bradley Johnson, C.F., Marc Bell, Dan Zettwoch, Tom Gault, writers/artists

Sammy Harkham, editor

Gingko Press, 2004

320 pages


Buy it from Gingko Press

Buy it from

Can anyone here tell a story? You bet your ass. Unlike the preceding, breakout volume of Kramers, where narrative and non-narrative work were on more or less equal footing, the conventional comics hold pride of place in this installment. I mean, that’s a judgment call, obviously. Maybe it’s just me not liking the way a lot of the fine-art-inflected work here–the humor-strip-via-collage by Souther Salazar, Leif Goldberg’s paintings–look on a two-dimensional printed page. Or maybe it’s just me thinking that the more far-out sequential art–J. Bradley Johnson’s non sequitur-laden gag (?) strips, Fabio Viscogliosi’s T. Rex-quoting series of epigrammatic illustrations, even work from the usually reliable and hilarious Paper Rad and Marc Bell–is sort of unfocused and not quite up to snuff. Heck, Gary Panter’s contribution is just thirty seemingly random pages from thirty years’ worth of his sketchbooks–an impressive achievement, to be sure, but the sort of thing that would be just as interesting as a blog post as it is in an avant-garde anthology.

So the spotlight is stolen by the storytellers. Two contributions in particular are real world-beaters, strips that leapt right out at me during my first flip-thru of this book years ago and continue to set a standard for my appreciation of short-story comics. The first is David Heatley’s apocalyptically revealing “My Sexual History,” a complete rundown of every embarrassing/erotic/both detail of Heatley’s sex life from his childhood through his marriage (excepting some stuff with his wife he chose to keep private). I’ve seen this dismissed, by Johnny Ryan’s parody strip for example, as mere exhibitionism, but that ignores the sophistication of Heatley’s approach to designing the strip: the uncomfortable avalanche of intimate details is conveyed through an eye-oppressing 48-panel grid (!) on each page.

The second hall-of-famer here is Kevin Huizenga’s “Jeepers Jacobs,” the story of a preacher grappling with both the concept of Hell–which he’s defending the literal truth of against less orthodox theologians–and how to deal with his new golf buddy, non-believer (and Huizenga’s trademark everyman) Glenn Ganges. Huizenga handles the sort of suburban-fundie character that 99% percent of his audience presumably loathes on sight not just with sympathy, but with intelligence, setting up his arguments and weaving his faith throughout his daily routine in a fashion we’d recognize from our own political or aesthetic pursuits. The ending’s a killer too; I know others had a different experience, but I didn’t see it coming at all.

And there’s more. Jordan Crane starts down the road of violent morality plays he’s still fruitfully pursuing today; Chris Ware’s segment from Building Stories feels a bit too much like a chapter from an ongoing serial but it’s still, you know, Chris Ware’s Building Stories; comparatively linear work from Elvis Studio and Mat Brinkman alternately tickles and horrifies; Tom Gauld has a series of knee-slapper vignettes involving the writing habits of famous authors; Dan Zettwoch’s lengthy story about a church-group field trip that may or may not end in disaster doesn’t hold interest for its duration, but I kind of appreciate its ambition. Overall, the avant garde tag means less for this volume than the more apt description of “very good.”

You Deserve This!

June 21, 2008

SPOILERS FOR THE HAPPENING AHOY. Sorry, I tried, but I just couldn’t do without.

Before you read anything I write about M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening you should stop and read everything Jon Hastings has to say on the subject. He does yeoman’s work as a Shyamalan apologist, trying to defend what were (to him and to me) obviously conscious choices made by Shyamalan in this movie against critics whose (to him and to me) increasingly comical and depressing conservatism led them to believe Shyamalan was trying to make a completely different movie and just screwed it up.* A movie that knows its place, basically. For god’s sake, do these people not understand there’s more than one way to skin a cat?

As you can gather I liked it. I’m not over the moon for it–in Shyamalan’s oeuvre I prefer The Village (haven’t seen The Lady in the Water but I sure am gonna now, and while Jon is quite right to point out that it’s doing something entirely different than Spielberg’s thematically and structurally** similar War of the Worlds, I find I prefer what War of the Worlds did. But the vituperative response to it is really completely unjustified. And while I know it’s a mug’s game to dismiss critics on an ad hominem basis, it’s tough for me to see the hostile reaction as anything but its own ad hominem rejection of Shyamalan for being too serious and too big for his britches, refusing to deliver the crowd-pleasers he’s apparently supposed to be delivering. That, and as I alluded to above, I’m literally sitting here shaking my head that people could watch (say) Mark Wahlberg’s performance in this movie, or John Leguizamo’s, and it doesn’t occur to them that they weren’t gunning for The Departed in terms of acting style. It’s like people complaining that Nicholson was over the top in The Shining.

I think the way to look at The Happening is as a satire with violence instead of comedy. (I’m a big fan of this kind of substitution, hence my theory that Eyes Wide Shut is a horror movie with sex instead of violence.) What you have here is a film in which the Earth basically decides to take a small corner of itself and murder all the people on it that it can. Then it stops, and then at the end of the film it picks another corner and starts again. Throughout, the horror imagery is of people calmly methodically killing themselves–in essence, reducing everyone’s personal stories and goals and ethics to a bloody punchline.

The death that struck me hardest is that of John Leguizamo’s grumpy, sort of unlikeable math teacher. Here’s a guy who despite the possibility of losing his own wife still finds the time to make his buddy’s wife, who he’s never liked, feel like a piece of shit; who also has the presence of mind to help keep a fellow survivor calm by getting her to work through a math puzzle in lieu of freaking out; then BOOM, he wanders out of a car wreck that killed his fellow passengers, plops himself down in the middle of the road, grabs a piece of glass and goes to work on his wrist. And when you think about it, what are the final two scenes–life goes on with Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, while life ends in Paris–but that same sick joke writ large?

So yeah, what I like about The Happening is that it’s the anti-Signs Not that I didn’t like Signs, because I do, it’s just that this movie is nihilistic where that one was optimistic perhaps to a fault. Is Shyamalan really this angry about climate change? Did the critics just break him down? Who knows, but I’ll eat it. As Wahlberg sing-songily deduces his way through the catastrophe, people keep dying and dying, and as he and his wife (and the poor little girl they’re supposed to be keeping safe) decide to make one last grand gesture of love, the dying stops, and ultimately it’s all sort of meaningless. Meanwhile a billboard outside a model-home McMansion poised to turn the middle of nowhere into an exurb proclaims, in the familiar and infuriating language of American advertising, “You Deserve This!” Indeed.

* Surely the Betty Buckley sequence illustrates that Shyamalan knows how to be really, really scary and could do so throughout the film if he felt like it. He didn’t!

** Very similar, in fact: initial urban outbreak, flight through the highways and byways, commandeered cars, the shattering of ad hoc groups, savagery among survivors, offerer of refuge becomes immediate threat and also happens to be nuts, last horrible moments, threat peters out, kinda happy ending. Shyamalan just adds an extra scene that shifts the balance, which is just one reason why, as Jon says, it’s incorrect to view him as a Spielberg manqué.

Just for one day weekend

June 21, 2008

Because I fail at self-promotion I’ve neglected to mention that my comic book Murder is on sale at the Partyka table at Heroes Con right this very moment. If you’re there you might consider buying it. If you’re not, you still might consider buying it.

Comics Time: Cartoon Dialectics Vol. 1

June 20, 2008


Cartoon Dialectics Vol. 1

Tom Kaczynski, writer/artist

Uncivilized Books, 2007

26 pages


Buy it from

This minicomic collection of strips culled mostly from magazines by MOME contributor Tom Kaczynski is a showcase for both his humanistic critiques of techno-capitalist society and his almost horrifyingly proficient use of color. Seriously, has he done any color work in MOME before? Because this stuff knocked my socks off. Give this man an Eisner for his fruity red-oranges alone!

The comics themselves are a strong selection, packing a lot of variety and value into a five-buck mini. Cartoony cover character Ransom Strange kicks things off by exorcising a corporate Cthulhu knockoff that had been plaguing some poor modern man with credit card debt and body image issues. (If only it were that easy!) It’s a funny, fun little metaphor, one I actually think could be expanded upon.

Next up is a lengthy, luddite comics essay pitting the Web-based post-print world against Kaczynski’s preferred realm of “meatspace,” which here comprises everything from printed books to taking a dump. While I agree with Kaczynski that anti-print evangelism gets tedious, anyone who’s blogged as much (and enjoyed it as much!) as I have should be able to tell you that you can get a lot out of not being an ink-stained wretch and not idealizing the pre-Internet age. (Would something like MOME be as successful as its been without the Internet to pass the word around?) The strip kind of confuses its case by lumping advertorial in print magazines in with the evils of the digital age, as though a) that’s new and b) one has anything to do with the other. If you’re going to create a good-evil dichotomy between analog and digital, you can’t have it both ways. Still, though not quite successful on a philosophical level, it’s a lovely-looking strip, with judiciously chosen images representing the various ideas and idea-spouters and Kaczynski’s precise use of thicker blacks creating a memorable Easter Island sequence.

The collection is rounded out by five one-page strips that really showcase Kaczynski’s color palette to a range of affect. There’s a pair almost Julius Knipl-style anecdotes about a just-shy-of-believable quirks of our commoditized ideas and emotions–a resort community designed to provoke existential ennui called Taedium Plains, and “Boris Lecture, the famous architecture critic,” who can’t quite bring himself to completely purge his book collection Zizek-style every couple of months. A third strip preserves Kaczynski’s trademark linkage of phsyical and mental artchitecture in depicting how the male member of a couple compartmentalizes his memories according to the bedrooms in which they took place. A fourth recounts the domestication of the cat with adorable clarity, and the fifth and final strip is a tale of excessive consumption of gross junk food on a road trip familiar to anyone who’s ever grabbed a bag of Combos in a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. Lovely, enjoyable, occasionally provocative stuff, all in color for five bucks.

Carnival of souls

June 19, 2008

* Reviews of things I haven’t seen part one: Tom Spurgeon reviews Jason’s new collection of old material, Pocket Full of Rain.

* Reviews of things I haven’t seen part two: my pal TJ Dietsch reviews Jack Kirby’s OMAC.

* Reviews of things I haven’t seen part three: Jon Hastings keeps on talkin’ up M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. This time he’s asking potential audience members to go in with the assumption that Shyamalan, for want of a better phrase, meant to do that.

* Review of thing I have seen: Jim Treacher talks about The Incredible Hulk.

* Crisis at DC Comics: Dick Hyacinth offers a wide-ranging musing on the failure of Final Crisis to ignite the audience, while Douglas Wolk focuses on its implications for New Gods/Fourth World continuity.

* Lara Flynn Boyle is continuing to blog about Twin Peaks.

* Jason Adams spotlights his five favorite monsters from the films of the ’00s.

Comics Time: Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer

June 18, 2008


Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer

Ben Katchor, writer/artist

Little, Brown & Company, 1996

106 pages


Buy it from

Glimpses of lost New York City are both thrilling and sad. The times I’ve encountered them–the absurdly ornate urinals in the Marvel Comics lobby a few office buildings ago, an elaborate and unused pneumatic tube system in an office I once visited while working as a production assistant on a short-lived David Milch cop show, tiny mom and pop repair shops with Eastern European names on small streets buried beneath bridges or behind the entrances of tunnels–have left me wondering how wonderful these things must have seemed in their heyday, and how futile the enterprises must seem now.

What a stroke of genius, then, to create an entire comic strip about lost New York–the lost past of anyplace really; no need to be chauvinistic about it. Double-genius to make it about an imaginary lost New York–eerily, surreally plausible business that never existed but might have. Licensed expectorators with the proper permits to spit in the faces of whoever those who hired them designate. A tripwire system running from the graveyard to the apartments of the bereaved, to alert them if their loved ones have risen from the dead. A bus line-slash-roving theater that strategically places actors along its route for the viewing enjoyment of its riders. A system of cattle ranch-style marks on the collars of laundered work uniforms to stake out the turf of rival commercial laundries. The niche businesses that Katchor’s everyman protagonist Julius Knipl encounters on his perambulations (that’s really the best word for his long-strided journeys through the city) fit neatly in the cracks of our waking life amid the uncountable multitude of sights and sounds in the city, to the point where it’s easy to convince ourselves we really have seen the brand of the Mansoyl Towel and Apron Supply Co. on the sleeve of the busboy at the restaurant where we spent our lunchbreak.

What I’m trying to get at is how well Katchor conjures up the repleteness of the city. In a town conjured from the accrued history of millions of people over decades of time, there is, almost literally, something for everyone. A big part of this is the way he frames his panels, using odd angles halfway between a normal stage view and the cantered frames of Expressionist film, disorienting us, showing us not just businessmen and their stock in trade but suggesting their showrooms’ dusty corners and the chipped paint of their ceilings, the airshafts of their tenements and the shadows cast by their radiators as the afternoon light strikes them through a lead-painted windowframe. It’s a tactile environment, one you can dive right into with no sense that beyond the panel border, there’s a calm cool nothingness.

But the best way to get across what I’m saying, I think, is by pointing out one of the strip’s recurring devices: Experts who can interpret minute variations of everyday human behavior to further their business ends. There’s one who can predict the turns of the economy based on the frequency and severity of brassiere-strap slippage. Another has set up a rooftop observatory to pinpoint the degree to which everyone limps. In the collection’s climactic, longer piece, “The Evening Combinator,” a newspaper publishes accounts of people’s dreams, the details of which are gleaned from studying the grooves in their mattresses, the cadence of their snoring, how their eyes look as they wake up.

What comes across from these strips is the sort of dizzying impression that the city is big enough and full enough for someone to have devoted a lifetime to the refined research of this sort of arcana, and that there’s enough demand for it to make a living. For me it triggers memories of the first time I realized that everything that gets done on planet Earth gets done because someone does it–a trip to Disney World, when it occurred to me that it’s someone’s job to clean one specific bathroom at one specific ride in one specific section of one specific park…and so on and so on and so on…To conceive of a world, an environment large enough to accommodate the minutiae we see in Julius Knipl is exhilarating, and a little frightening, like looking at an ocean made of rumpled men in shirtsleeves, men offering a handshake, men you can do business with.

Carnival of souls

June 17, 2008

* Looks like Clive Barker is getting behind a fan campaign to persuade Lionsgate to give Midnight Meat Train a wider release. Here’s a brief statement from Clive to that effect (via STYD), and here’s a longer, more formal letter from Barker on behalf of an email drive. Hey, why not? Polite but firm pleas to expand the film’s release beyond the rumored 100-theater limited run may be directed to Lionsgate investor relations at, or Lionsgate as a whole at or (310) 449-9200.

* In the interest of accuracy, here’s the SciFi Channel’s response to earlier reports of an extended back-half ofBattlestar Galactica‘s final season. They’re only confirming that the finale “extends beyond the time allotted for the episode.”

* Carlos Pacheco will be joining (read: subbing in for) J.G. Jones on the art chores for Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis. Pacheco is actually a terrific superhero artist, better than Jones in some respects in fact, but this just doesn’t bode well for the management of the series, particularly given how its writer has been publicly saying he wrote the scripts long enough ago for other recent series to not yet have been a twinkle in their editors’ eyes.

* Lara Flynn Boyle is blogging about Twin Peaks. Man, what an awesome sentence that was to write. Sample quote:

A lot of kids went to college and they talk about their college years as so great. I never went to college; for me, college was Twin Peaks. I was able to have David Lynch direct me beautifully and slowly into a scene. That was my kegger.

(Via Whitney Matheson.)

* This video for the Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s “Get Money” constructed from edited footage of Destro (in the role of the Notorious B.I.G.) and the Baroness (Li’l Kim) from G.I. Joe is very very funny, but it also has the effect of all great Biggie tracks, which is to flabbergast me that Puffy was ever responsible for something this good. (Via Topless Robot.)

* Jon Hastings expands his defense of The Happening and the work of M. Night Shyamalan generally, and I continue not to read it until I’ve actually seen the film.

* Curt Purcell continues his critique of Sigmund Freud’s “The Uncanny” by poking holes in the way Freud addresses primitive/superstitious beliefs.

* Finally, no one defies Golobulus and lives. No one!

No, Eric the Half-Finale. (He had an accident.)

June 17, 2008

Two of the better responses I’ve read to the mid-season finale or whatever the hell they want us to call it of Battlestar Galactica this past Friday are Todd VanDerWeff’s and Alan Sepinwall’s (the latter via Whitney Matheson). The title of Sepinwall’s review is really sheer genius, by the way.

As I think I’ve said around here before, while I’m not of the opinion that the show j***ed the s***k this season (or at any time in the past), I haven’t been thrilled with the way its emphasis has shifted from examining the human conscience through the prism of war and atrocity to an ourobouros-like fixation on its own mythology. (It’s kinda cute how, in keeping with the final episode’s title “Revelations,” Comix Experience honco Brian Hibbs is recounting his realization of this fact like it’s a genuine revelation; be warned that he doesn’t bleep out the Dreaded Phrase like I just did.) So in keeping with that, I was at first disappointed with the way that the ep had to rush through, gloss over, or ignore entirely the major character beats that one would think should accompany the astonishing events that transpired. Some great reaction shots from Michael Hogan and Katee Sackhoff and a mourning montage from Edward James Olmos doesn’t really cut it, given the enormity of what they’re all learning and doing.

But then it occurred to me that perhaps I’m simply being less charitable toward the show than I used to be. Back in the day I used to praise the show for the liberties it took with conventional episodic drama pacing, how it would change the emotional status quo for individual characters at a breakneck rate and have confidence in the audience to follow along and construct the through-line on our own. The example that comes to mind, and I know it’s not the best one, is the rapidity of Lee and Dualla’s relationship from first flirtation to full-on thing goin’ on, but hopefully you get the drift. I think getting grumpy with the show becoming a show about itself–coupled, not incidentally, with my first-ever viewings of Deadwood, a show that is about nothing but the characters’ reactions to adversity and tragedy–has made me look askance at this particular episode in ways it might not deserve.

At any rate, the penultimate, celebratory montage and the final, grim tracking shot were quite magnificent, among the strongest visuals in the show’s history and on a par with the best visual moments from rival genre exemplar Lost (a show that pays a lot more attention to the memorable image than BSG, historically). I rewatched them with my wife, who doesn’t watch the show at all, and with minimal set-up from me even she was able to appreciate their impact. If push had come to shove during the strike, it’d have made a wonderful series finale too.

But in taking us to Earth in all its burned-out glory, the final minutes of the episode enable us to make sense of the preceding demi-season in ways that were impossible to do before. I said last week that I was no longer sure what the show was “about,” but that was because I was seeing the sudden monomania about Finding Earth through the prism of the belief that we wouldn’t actually reach it until we only had a couple-three episodes left in the entire series. If that were the case, I figured we were in for an ever more regressive examination of continuity minutiae, the onset of which felt completely arbitrary. But by taking us to Earth now–a move probably necessitated, as an astute friend of mine pointed out, by the possibility that the show wouldn’t make it through the strike, and Ron Moore’s desire to see his promise to the fans fulfilled come what may–that makes this half-season “about” the desperation of these characters to find their new home, and the crazy, erratic, illogical, life-upending moves they’re willing to make to get there. It makes sense as a whole. And of course it will be exciting as hell to see what happens now that these two formerly warring societies, still pursued by the more extreme Cylon faction, have had all their dreams turn to shit.