Archive for July 31, 2008

UPDATED: Keep on Comic-Con

July 31, 2008

I have a couple more San Diego Comic-Con pieces up at CBR:

Here’s my coverage of J.G. Jones’s spotlight panel.

And here’s an interview with Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez, AKA “Mario Hernandez: Browncoat!”

And here’s my coverage of Ethan Van Sciver’s spotlight panel.

This was totally my idea!

July 30, 2008

Earlier this year I was a headline writer for the Onion News Network, their video shows, until other commitments forced me to drop the gig. One of the ideas I came up with in my very first batch of submissions was this:

Al Gore Places Infant Son In Rocket To Escape Dying Planet

I phrased it as “Al Gore constructs rocketship to help infant son escape our dying planet” and submitted it as an idea for the crawling text that scrolls across the bottom of the screen. It kept getting bounced back to me for reworking, and I kept tweaking the phrasing, and they kept telling me that wasn’t what they meant, so eventually I gave up, but anyway yeah, that was beginning of January, and now here it is. Neat, I guess.

Carnival of souls

July 30, 2008

* My San Diego Comic-Con articles for CBR are still rolling out. First of all I want to make extra-sure that everyone sees that I interviewed Matt Furie, creator of the hilarious Boy’s Club, which my wife and I are now quoting in every other conversation. (“That would be a yes.”) Second, here’s my report from Entertainment Weekly’s Comics Visionaries panel, featuring Grant Morrison, Colleen Doran, Robert Kirkman, Mike Mignola, Matt Fraction, John Cassaday, and Jim Lee.

* Everyone’s saying they’re sick of hearing about the San Diego Comic-Con, but for pete’s sake, why? Is reading a blog post really that arduous an ordeal? You can turn the computer off, you know. Have Bloglines mark your RSS feeds as read, I dunno. There are in fact a lot of interesting things to say about San Diego and what went on there and what was announced there, and Tom Spurgeon’s con report covers most of them.

* I’m still doing a little catching up with news that broke right before San Diego. One such announcement is that MTV is remaking The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Listen, I’m not sure how I feel about this. I met my wife because we were the only two people at a wedding reception who knew how to do “The Time Warp,” so I feel pretty strongly about this film. I played Brad twice and MC’d when Yale finally revived Devil’s Night showings of the movie. The two years me and the other people responsible for bringing it back it was in the top ten most well-attended campuswide events at the whole school I think, and it was also completely wild – they let people into the dining hall where we did it with booze and drugs, heck, they let us onto the stage with booze and drugs, everyone dressed up and/or stripped down, it was truly bacchanalian and awesome and in tune with the spirit of the movie. Moreover, after I discovered Bowie and glam, I’ve been listening to Richard O’Brien’s excellent soundtrack with fresh ears, and that music’s terrific. Finally, there’s really no way around it, Tim Curry Is God. So a big part of me is like “fuck MTV, they ruin life, and fuck remaking Rocky Horror no matter who you are.” At the same time, however, that movie was genuinely liberating for me and countless other nerds and freaks and outcasts, and maybe updating it for a new generation wouldn’t be so horrible if that message remains intact. Then again, with its increasingly horrifying reality shows, MTV has truly given hedonism a bad name–there’s nothing subversive about a bunch of drunk people making out in hot tubs, it’s actually maybe one of the squarest things you could possibly do at this point–and I don’t trust them to get this right, like, at all. If they must do it, however, I suggest they follow my wife’s casting ideas and have Zac Efron and Ashley Tisdale play Brad and Janet.

* Another pre-San Diego item: the trailer for Caprica. It looks pretty and emotional, and my hope is that starting a new series will help the Battlestar Galactica franchise refocus on ideas and emotions rather than continuity and mysteries.

* I like seeing big sites use their clout to do something other than talk about the newesthippestlatest releases, so I appreciate this interview with Frank Darabont by AICN’s Mr. Beaks, the topic of which is the simply the ending of The Mist. Because this is where we’re at as genre critics, potential political metaphors are discussed, but don’t let that stop you from reading it–there’s some stuff I had never thought of in there about how the ending was an obstacle for getting funding for the film.

*I’m kind of irritated by Rich Juzwiak’s ability to blog entertainingly about everything from R&B to America’s Next Top Model to Cannibal Holocaust. He’s done a few horror-related posts lately. First up, here’s a spoilery, animated-gif-heavy tribute to Neil Marshall’s wondrous post-apocalyptic hodgepodge Doomsday. And because I know you want it:


NOTE: This depiction of animal cruelty is okay because it’s obviously fake and stupid.

* Next, Rich did a round-up of some of the landmark films in the “POV horror” subgenreCannibal Holocaust, The Blair Witch Project, [REC], Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, and The Butcher. By the way, fuck Cannibal Holocaust. Torturing animals to death in real life? No, no, no, no, no, sir, fuck YOU.

* Finally, as a horror-centric sequel to his awe-inspiring “I’m not here to make friends” reality TV montage, Rich gives you “Put down the camera.”

* Finally, Curt Purcell takes an in-depth look at artist Jose Gonzalez’s really lovely Vampirella art. Seriously!

Jim Davis has a pretty terrific sense of humor

July 30, 2008

From the STC inbox:



Collection to be published simultaneously with Garfield 30th anniversary book

NEW YORK, NY – July 30, 2008 – Paws, Inc. and Ballantine Books, a division of the Random House Publishing Group, announced last week at Comic-Con International that Ballantine will publish a book inspired by the popular webcomic Garfield Minus Garfield.

Garfield Minus Garfield ( made its online debut in February 2008 and quickly became an online sensation based on a simple premise: What would Jim Davis’ Garfield comic strip be like without its lasagna-loving fat cat? Without the presence of Garfield and other characters such as Odie the dog and Nermal the kitten, the strips “create a new, even lonelier atmosphere for Jon Arbuckle…Jon’s observations seem to teeter between existential crisis and deep despair.” (New York Times)

The full-color book format will give readers the experience of having both the original and doctored Garfield strips together on the same page for comparison. Dublin, Ireland-based Garfield Minus Garfield creator Dan Walsh will provide the foreword to the book.

Garfield creator Jim Davis was intrigued by—and pleased with—the concept. “I think it’s an inspired thing to do,” Davis said. “I want to thank Dan for enabling me to see another side of Garfield. Some of the strips he chose were slappers: ‘Oh, I could have left that out.’ It would have been funnier.”

Garfield Minus Garfield site creator Dan Walsh says, “When I looked at Jon and laughed at his crazy antics I thought ‘He’s just like me.’ As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one saw myself in him: millions of visitors from all over the world visit Garfield Minus Garfield and tell me they think the same thing. Now, thanks to the awesome generosity and humor of Jim Davis, Garfield Minus Garfield is going to become a book and I’m absolutely honored to be part of it.”

Ballantine Books has been publishing Garfield books since 1980, and thirty-three Garfield titles have made the New York Times bestseller list. Thirty Years of Laughs and Lasagna: The Life and Times of a Fat, Furry Legend, will be published by Ballantine Books in October 2008. This hardcover anniversary collection will include a foreword from Dean Young, Blondie cartoonist, and exclusive content from Jim Davis.


Paws, Incorporated was founded in 1981 by cartoonist Jim Davis as a creative house to support Garfield licensing. Today, the company, located in rural Indiana, handles not only the creative angle, but also the business concerns of the corpulent kitty worldwide. Paws boasts a staff of more than 50 artists, writers, and licensing professionals.

Paws, Inc. is a privately held company and the sole owner of the copyrights and trademarks for GARFIELD and GARFIELD Characters.


Ballantine Books was established in l952 by the legendary paperback pioneers Ian and Betty Ballantine. Today, Ballantine is one of America’s largest publishers of hardcover, trade paperback and mass market paperback books — spanning a remarkably wide variety of subjects. Publishing talented writers from every category and genre, its hardcover program is particularly strong in commercial fiction. Its impressive list of bestselling authors includes Suzanne Brockmann, Julie Garwood, Tess Gerritsen, Kristin Hannah, Linda Howard, Jonathan Kellerman, Lorna Landvik, Judith McNaught, Anne Perry, and Jeff Shaara. Visit the Ballantine website at


Garfield Minus Garfield is a site dedicated to removing Garfield from the Garfield comic strips in order to reveal the existential angst of a certain young Mr. Jon Arbuckle. Garfield Minus Garfield began in February 2008 and quickly gained a large following. It has been covered in such publications as Time magazine, Rolling Stone, the Washington Post and the New York Times. Garfield Minus Garfield is a journey deep into the mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb.

Comics Time: Pixu I

July 30, 2008


Pixu I

Gabriel Bá, Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos, Fåbio Moon, writers/artists

self-published, July 2008

48 pages


Buy it from

The second group effort from partners Becky Cloonan & Vasilis Lolos and brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá following their anthology with Rafael Grampa, 5, Pixu is more of a true collaboration. Though each artist is telling a separate story, they’re all telling interlocking horror stories about people living in an apartment house where, apparently, sinister forces are afoot. It’s kind of like Uzumaki with a scribble instead of a spiral, crossed with Four Rooms, only not crappy.

Good, in fact. While I think the inkier half of the group, Lolos and Cloonan, will ultimately produce more disconcerting images – Cloonan already served up shots of vomit, the eating of human hair, and a Stephen Gammell-esque screaming skull that have me on edge – all four seem on track to yield solid, creepy short horror stories, effective work in a genre Western comics touch all too infrequently and ineffectively.

San Diego Comic-Con 2008

July 28, 2008

I am back from San Diego!

And here are my thoughts.

* I had a wonderful time at the San Diego Comic-Con this year and I’m happy to say so up front.

* It had been four years since I last attended, which, Jesus, that was as long as I spent in high school or college, huh? In that time I feel as though the show got bigger (duh), but also better organized, since they’ve now had several years of total pandemonium under their belts. The aisles are wider, the attendance was capped, the air conditioning was cooler yet not glacially so, there’s a FedEx in the building now, I was able to purchase at least one good veggie sandwich through an in-house vendor, and I didn’t have any significant trouble getting where I needed to go or attending the things I needed to attend. (Granted the only truly massive panel I tried to get in was Watchmen, but I got by with a little help from my friends on that one, and I knew I was gambling by not camping out anyway.) It seems to me that the Comic-Con people are, as they say, the best they are at what they do.

* I was a little overwhelmed at first in terms of my responsibilities–this was the first time I was properly working the show, for Jonah Weiland and the good folks at Comic Book Resources, and finding the balance between TCB and R&R took Wednesday evening through around Thursday lunchtime. Once I found that balance, though, it was a real blast.

* That being said, between going to panels, hunting down creators, conducting interviews, transcribing and writing pieces for CBR, saying hi to friends, shopping, getting Bowie sketches, wandering around, and occasionally bathing, something had to give, and that something turned out to be eating. I ate one and a half to two meals each day, and didn’t sit down in a chair in front of a table to do so until Saturday afternoon.

* I do want to give major props to Jonah and the rest of the CBR crew for being terrific workmates and bunkmates. Jonah in particular, besides simply paying for me to be there, gave me pretty free reign to roam around the floor and cover whatever I found worth covering, leading to a pretty eclectic mix of Collinsy articles. Any website that allows me to interview both Bryan Hitch and Matt Furie is okay by me.You can find a running list of my con reports here, and there’ll be more coming all week I’d wager, but for now, here’s what’s up there:

* Matt Furie/Boy’s Club 2

* Geoff Johns

* Watchmen and the other buzz books of the show

* Becky Cloonan, Fabio Moon, and Gabriel Bá

* Brian Azzarello

* Ethan Van Sciver

* Bryan Hitch

* Comic-Con’s David Glanzer, Thursday evening

* Comic-Con’s David Glanzer, Saturday evening

* I also spoke with The Stand‘s Roberto Aguire-Sacasa for

* I know I wrote a report on this, but it bears repeating: Watchmen dominated this show. The Owlship and swag bags at the Warner Bros. booth, the big panel and its excellent footage, the complete lack of any remaining copies of the book in the whole building by Friday afternoon, the giveaway t-shirts and limited-edition t-shirts, multiple Dave Gibbons panels, residual Dark Knight trailer vibes…that book was everywhere. Which was nice, actually, because of all the comics for people to get excited about, that would be in my top ten, and is without question the superhero book I’d hand to someone who’d never read one and wanted to try it.

* A while ago I noted that while goodthinkful critics everywhere hate Zack Snyder because 300 is supposed to be a parable of neocon adventurism and the Dawn of the Dead remake lacked the Romero original’s ever so subtle satire of consumerism, they’d probably have to work at it to find a reason to dislike Watchmen on political grounds given its roots in Thatcher-era British Leftism and Snyder’s stated intent, backed up by his work on 300, to stay as true to the comic as possible–not that they wouldn’t try, of course. During the Watchmen panel I realized what the line of attack will be–that the gory footage of Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian running amok in Vietnam is glorifying American war atrocities. I bet you I’m right.

* I really, really didn’t like when Jane Wiedlin and a platoon of stormtroopers presented at the Eisners. First of all, they caused a delay to the show and turned out not to be worth waiting for. Second, when they finally showed up, they entered aaaaaaaallllll the way in the back of the hall and we spent pretty much the entire Imperial March waiting for them to make it to the stage. Third–and I say this as someone who has the Rebel Alliance insignia tattooed on my arm and entered my wedding reception with my wife to that selfsame Imperial March–we were supposed to be celebrating the absolute best that comics has to offer. For that matter, Brad Meltzer and that horrible “Speedy and Halle Berry vs. rubble” issue of Justice League of America notwithstanding, a lot of the winners in their categories–Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Taiyo Matsumoto, Dave Stewart, Ed Brubaker, Fletcher Hanks, etc.–really were the best that comics has to offer. And this is how we honor them? It was like the Rob Lowe/Snow White number from the Oscars. Tom Kenny was funny and Barry Windsor-Smith wrecking shop via a written statement read by Gary Groth was too, though.

* I don’t want the show to move to Las Vegas. As you know I am an all-purpose nerd and have no problem with the Hollywood panels and presentations. I do kind of have a problem with the horrible, moneyed people who come with those panels and presentations. Watching people who view all of this as a paycheck descend into my beloved realm of nerds makes me feel like William S. Burroughs in that documentary about him where he comes across as a gruff old grandpa until there’s this one scene where he starts getting really angry and saying that gays should literally arm themselves, take over an island, force the straights out, and establish their own kingdom which they should defend with lethal force, like gay terrorists. I can only imagine that the sort of people who make me want to turn into a nerd terrorist will thrive in Las Vegas.

* I don’t know if I’ve ever sweated so much in my life. I’m including running the mile in high school gym class, the pit at Ozzfest ’98, and marathon, borderline-uncomfortably-long bouts of sexual intercourse during college. It’s lugging around about 90 pounds of electronic equipment and con guides and Bowie photo ref that does it. I apologize to anyone who had to look at or stand near me.

* Friend-wise, I wonder if that by virtue of being around comics for seven years I just know too many people to be able to see everyone I want to see. (It’s just that I’ve been around for a while, not that I’m so damn irresistable.) I had decent-length conversations with a lot of people and actually hung out with a handful–including both Tom Spurgeon and Chris Butcher, for really the first time ever in both cases, which was great–but there were at least as many people I saw for a split second or not at all, including some I fully intended to seek out and completely whiffed on doing so (Tom Neely, Rick Marshall, Batton Lash, the people at First Second–my bad!!!). Eating aside, I think maybe it was here that I made the most sacrifices in order to get my work done. (I would have chased more Bowie sketches too, actually.)

* Still, I was surprised how easy it was to bump into people I knew in a gathering at least twice as populous at any given moment as my hometown. I even met up with four different old classmates of mine I hadn’t seen in at least five or six or seven years.

* The con is in an awkward position with press passes. On the one hand they’re admirably egalitarian: Anyone with a printout of a website or a bylined article can get in, and SDCC’s spokesman told me that they consider websites and comics publications their mainstream press because we cover them 12 months a year instead of four days a year. But he also told me they issued 3,000 press passes this year, out of a total attendance of 125,000. This results in the passes being a devalued currency–they’re not even color-coded and they don’t get you in anyplace, except I think you can stand in the convention center lobby before the opening rather than standing around on the sidewalk. As a result, press are more likely than almost anyone to complain (to me and to anyone who’ll listen) about how hard it is to get into the events they’re there to cover. Part of this is the narcissism of the fourth estate but part of it is also a legitimate gripe. I have no idea how they solve this, though, short of doing a press day like E3 which would add a lot of expense for exhibitors and retailers without much direct benefit.

* Favorite celebrity sighting: I sat next to Garbage’s Shirley Manson in the Marriott lobby, which made 19-year-old Sean T. Collins the happiest boy on earth. She was gorgeous, pale, big-eyed, red-headed, stylish, and Scottish.

* Second favorite:

Guy on escalator: Nice bag!

Me, walking past with my giant Watchmen swag bag: Pardon?

Guy on escalator: Nice bag!

Me: Oh, thanks. [brief pause as I realize that guy on escalator is Patrick “Nite Owl” Wilson] Ohhh my gosh! [I then cover my mouth with my hand, because apparently I am a startled girl from the 1950s]

* Third favorite: Lou Ferrigno being denied access to the exhibit hall prior to opening because he didn’t have an exhibitor badge.

Here are some projects I heard about at the show that I’m looking forward to.

* Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver’s The Flash: Rebirth. Beyond the basic appreciation for that beautiful costume and wonderful power set that most superhero buffs have, I have no attachment to this character(s) or franchise whatsoever. But the same thing was true of Green Lantern before Johns and Van Sciver did Green Lantern: Rebirth and The Sinestro Corps War. I’m looking forward to liking this character, and my hope is that they can do something as expansive and fun for his mythos as this whole rainbow of Lantern Corps has been for GL.

* Darwyn Cooke’s graphic-novel adaptations of Richard Stark/Donald Westlake’s Parker novels. I feel like Cooke has spent his whole career waiting to get to do a project exactly the way he wants to do it, and it sounds like this is his chance. Throw in an amoral protagonist that will mitigate against Cooke’s more nostalgic side and this series of OGNs should be pretty tight.

* Darren Aronofsky’s RoboCop remake. Just think how much worse this project could have gone!

* Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen. I think Snyder has made two fantastic genre films so far, Watchmen is one of my favorite comics of all time, the cast all seem to be compensating for their earlier ignorance of the book by working overtime to pick it apart in terms of how it sees their characters, and the footage that was screened looked beautiful.

* Neil Gaiman on Batman. Every high-profile writer who works on this character earns a trial read of an issue or two from me since he’s the one character I feel an affinity for independent of who’s working on him. I seem to remember a Comics Journal interview in which Gaiman echoed Alan Moore’s retrospective dismissal of The Killing Joke as utterly irrelevant to the human experience, and since I don’t agree with either of them on that score I’m curious to see where this goes.

* Damon Lindelof’s Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk. Those two issues or three issues or whatever it was were fun, right? Are they gonna get Leinil Francis Yu off of whatever he’s doing to finish it? Will it be awkward to have this book come out while serial franchise-ruiner Jeph Loeb is doing whatever he’s doing to Ultimate Universe continuity in Ultimatum? Stay tuned!

* Mario Hernandez’s original graphic novel. The more full-time cartooning Hernandezes the better, I say.

* Mike Mignola, Fábio Moon, and Gabriel Bá’s B.P.R.D.: 1947. This is the first time since Guy Davis (and Richard Corben, now that I think of it) that artists were selected to work in the Hellboy-verse because they don’t look like Mignola, and I think that on the surface they’re the most aesthetically alien to the established sensibility of the franchise of all the artists who’ve been tapped to take on the various miniseries thus far, so it should be an interesting series to see.

* Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe. Perfect title for a sequel to the movie, which is named Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, by the way.

* A prequel to I Am Legend involving both Francis Lawrence and Will Smith. A better ending and better creature effects are surely in the works given how universal the cries were for same, right? Because such a movie would be really good.

*Seaguy 2 and Seaguy 3. Volume One was the best of Morrison’s creator-owned works of that period, I think. (Well, We3 was also pretty tremendous and not incidental to my decision to become a vegetarian to boot.)

Here is what I got at the show.



* Baobab #3, by Igort (Fantagraphics)

* Boy’s Club 2, by Matt Furie (Fantagraphics)

* Love and Rockets: New Stories #1, by Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez (Fantagraphics)

* Mesmo Delivery, by Rafael Grampa (AdHouse)

* Pixu I, by Gabriel Bá, Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos, and Fábio Moon (self-published)

* Scott Pilgrim Full-Colour Odds & Ends 2008, by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Oni)

* Tales Designed to Thrizzle #4, by Michael Kupperman (Fantagraphics)


* Parker (freebie!)

* Scott Pilgrim

* Sinestro Corps

* Watchmen (freebie)

And that giant Watchmen bag. I had hoped to pick up Against Pain by Ron Rege Jr. from Drawn & Quarterly and Tom Neely’s strip-collection mini, but again, whiff! Anyway, look for reviews of all those comics in the coming weeks.

* Thank you very much to Alvin Buenaventura at Buenaventura Press, Mike Baehr at Fantagraphics, Alex Segura, Pamela Mullin, and David Hyde at DC, and everyone I interviewed for your invaluable assistance. Thank you very very much to Dave Paggi at Wizard, Tom “The Comics Reporter” Spurgeon, Patrick Carone at Maxim, Chris Butcher at the Beguiling, Jason “Shaggy” Ervin, and especially Jonah Weiland, Seth Jones, and Lincoln Morrison at CBR for your hospitality and companionship. You guys made the con for me.


July 28, 2008

I did a lot of writing at San Diego over at Comic Book Resources, but I suppose the newsiest things are this piece on the sell-out of the buzz book of the show, Watchmen, and other popular books at the con, and a pair of interviews with Comic-Con International spokesperson David Glanzer about the state of the show, its potential move out of San Diego, crowd issues and so forth. I hope you like them.

Comics Time: Cold Heat Special #5

July 28, 2008


Cold Heat Special #5

Frank Santoro and Ryan Cecil Smith, writers/artists

PictureBox Inc., 2008

20 pages


Buy it from PictureBox

As if in response to my questioning if there’s steak beneath Cold Heat‘s sizzle, along comes CHS #5, which reads like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road as filtered through Dave Kiersh’s after-school special aesthetic. Set after some unspecified “bomb” has made refugees of regular CH heroine Castle and her aging father, it concerns Castle’s search for food for her starving dad, and how far she and others are willing to go for it. The centerpiece sequences are harrowing depictions of the killing and attempted killing of dogs for sustenance; the horror and heartbreak of gaining an animal’s trust for the express purpose of betraying it, the core of all human carnivorousness, is laid bare in unflinching detail. As always when I come across depictions of animal cruelty in altcomix I have to wonder if the point is shock value or a genuine consideration of the issues at stake, but the mournful tone Smith lends to his figurework coupled with the comparatively simple and straightforward layouts provided by Santoro give me the sense that we may well be dealing with the latter rather than the former here. That’s kind of a hefty price point, though, so make sure you’re up for it.

Comics Time: Cold Heat Special #3

July 25, 2008


Cold Heat Special #3

Frank Santoro & Dash Shaw, writers/artists

PictureBox Inc., 2008

16 pages


Buy it from PictureBox, maybe

I was an enthusiastic early supporter of Cold Heat–you may know me as the guy who wrote about it for Wizard, which is certainly how its creators know me. Perhaps it’s the associations raised by that experience that make me think there’s something fitting about co-creator Frank Santoro spinning off a Cold Heat-verse, complete with guest artists, kinda like what Mike Mignola is doing with Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. This particular one-shot guest stars rising star Dash Shaw, who seems to do handsomer work every time I look at a new thing from him. In this case, though, he surely owes a lot to the layouts provided by Frank Santoro, who makes excellent use of the pages’ landscape format by providing plenty of images that lend themselves to that type of framing–protagonist Castle sneering out a bus window at a cop passing by on horseback in the foreground, a cavalry of knights galloping through a forest or charging directly at the reader, Dark Knight Returns-style. For his part, Shaw draws faces like no one else in comics (as usual), effectively conveys the cacophony of mass-transit public address systems, and crafts an striking fold-out cover.

Until we see the conclusion of Cold Heat it’s difficult to tell whether this alt-genre romp will amount to more than the sum of its parts or less, and I could see that being a point in the minus column for potential buyers of such books as these, but for now I’m enjoying the ride.

Comics Time: Core of Caligula

July 23, 2008


Core of Caligula

C.F., writer/artist

PictureBox Inc., June 2008

8 pages


Buy it from PictureBox

I gather this short but effective minicomic is compiled from even shorter minis, each of which contained one two-page chapter. Removed from their usual overt sci-fi/fantasy setting, C.F.’s slight line and dreamlike narrative can here be seen as either a straightforward story of a man adrift amid forces that seek to monitor, control, and disorient him, or the delusions of a mentally ill man who believes this to be true. It’s funny how simply removing the fancy costumes and creatures from a C.F. comic yields this subtle and troubling a (potential) depiction of schizophrenia, yet there you have it. The protagonist’s zoned-out facial expression, the graphic nudity, the temporal lacunae all yield the sense that there’s something a little terrible about what’s going on even though there’s nothing overtly so. I may like this better than Powr Mastrs, though it’s easy to see why even if blown up into that project’s size and scope it might not garner the same level of attention and acclaim.

Postscript: I’m going to choose to believe that the main character getting thrown from a helicopter naked and surviving is an Ultimates homage.

I’m going to the San Diego Comic Con tomorrow morning

July 22, 2008

I’m not sure what you can expect from me post-wise beyond the usual thrice-weekly reviews, but you know, keep your eyes peeled. I’ll be working for CBR at the show, so look around there, too.

Carnival of souls

July 21, 2008

* Curt Purcell liked The Dark Knight less than I did, it turns out, but I still think his is the most cogent explanation of why the ending felt out-of-balance, and what could have been done to fix it, that I’ve seen so far.

* Matthew Yglesias points out that there’s almost no conceivable reason this movie was rated PG-13 rather than R aside from the MPAA simply rolling over for a great big studio’s great big blockbuster. Seriously, children, even older children, have no business being at this movie. Not only would it scare them, I think it’ll be tough for them to appreciate the themes. And the length–there have been 2 1/2 hour movies that kids have loved in the past, sure, but those have tended to have Ewoks or Orcs in nearly every frame, not serious men in neckties debating ethics.

* While I enjoyed the film a good deal, if you take this quote from Heidi MacDonald and swap out Batman Begins for The Dark Knight

we didn’t think BATMAN BEGINS was the Dostoyevsky-level masterpiece most fellows think it was.

…you’ll get how I feel about it. It was a good movie and it’s growing on me as we speak, but No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood it wasn’t, and as you see an increasing number of statements like “Take away the Batsuit and the clown make-up and you’ve got an all-time-great crime movie” you’d be well advised to compare it to actual all-time-great crime movies and keep this in mind. Heidi groks this, which I appreciate.

* The part of David Edelstein’s now-infamous-in-fandom pan of TDK that struck me the most was when he specifically lambasted its action choreography, which I thought was quite strong, by unfavorably comparing it to BB‘s, which i thought was horrendous no matter if that was what they were deliberately going for.

* Similarly, I still remember when Jim Henley called my review of Batman Begins picayune and wrongheaded–I used it as a tagline for the whole blog for a while–so it’s funny to watch the tables turn and see him be harder on The Dark Knight than I was on specific points where I really gave BB the business–the dialogue, the costume, and the Bat-voice, for example. Still, he mostly liked it and gives his usual smartly reasoned reasons for doing so.

* Which reminds me, SFF publisher Tor has launched a new web presence centered on pretty terrific thinkblog anchored by Jim (their superhero correspondent) and his fellow ADDTF fave Bruce Baugh (who’s working the RPG beat). Notable posts thus far include Jim’s common-sense note that mainstream audiences do, in fact, like superheroes, duh, and that the comparative obscurity of superhero comic books has more to do with the format than the genre. If you said this kind of thing back in 2003, which I did (warning: like all my posts from that era, this one goes to 11), Dirk Deppey, Chris Butcher, and Tim O’Neil would kick you out of the art club. (J/K, guys! LYLAB!)

* Back on Bruce B.’s home blog, he’s put up a twofold post I really appreciated regarding Zach Snyder. First, in light of recent, somewhat vapid interviews he’s given regarding Watchmen, Bruce suggests that the director is better at making movies than talking about them, and that that’s fine. Second, he has a brief but detailed and full-throated defense of Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake as far more thoughtful filmmaking than even many of its defenders give it credit for.

* Meanwhile, Matthew Perpetua says that Watchmen trailer’s use of a Smashing Pumpkins song from the Batman & Robin soundtrack and overall ’90s/early-’00s-ness in terms of its superhero imagery is a deliberate bait and switch on Snyder’s part, in the same way that the original comic used contemporary superheroisms in order to subvert them. How about that?

* Also on the Watchmen beat: At AICN, Matthew “Ozymandias” Goode speaks to Capone about his character and the film, revealing that he concocted a backstory for the character that involves Nazi Germany, which isn’t so hot, and that he looks a lot like David Bowie, which is.

* Grant Morrison discusses Final Crisis and Superman Beyond at length in an interview with Newsarama’s Matt Brady that will also hopefully continue to increase Geoff Johns’s hipness quotient, since as usual Morrison goes on and on about how good his stuff has been lately.

* I’m not sure if I ever blogged it, but Morrison also relaunched his website recently, putting a “blog” section behind a registration wall that’s really worth climbing. The most recent entry practically bursts with enthusiasm for The Dark Knight, which it compares to the book version of Watchmen in terms of the impact he thinks it will have on superheroes in its medium. He then gushes about the movie version of Watchmen, and indulges in yet another of his periodic, richly entertaining insults of Alan Moore, whom he derides as a grumpy old fundamentalist operating on counterculture-approved lines for wanting nothing to do with Hollywood in general and this movie in particular.

* Some SciFi Channel exec says Battlestar Galactica will return for its final episodes beginning January 2009, and that its prequel Caprica may go straight to series instead of being aired first as a backdoor-pilot TV movie. (Via Whitney Matheson.)

* Speaking during ABC’s fall season press tour, Lost mastermind Damon Lindelof compares the upcoming season of Lost to The Two Towers in that it serves as a bridge to the final act yet has to be satisfying in its own right. (Via The Tail Section.) Sadly, this is as close to Lindelof as I’m going to get for the time being, since I have other commitments during the San Diego Lost panel.

* Hubba hubba: Very talented comics artist Cliff Chiang is posting pinup-style portraits of great women from nerd entertainments. (Via J.K. Parkin.) My personal favorite is his Teela from He-Man (I know it’s technically called Masters of the Universe, but I never asked my brother if he wanted to play Masters of the Universe with me):


* Finally, Jesus!


Comics Time: Ganges #2

July 21, 2008


Ganges #2

Kevin Huizenga, writer/artist

Fantagraphics/Coconino, 2008

32 pages


Buy it from Fantagraphics

I seem to remember not being as impressed by Ganges #1 as everyone else was. Mostly this was because I really, really, really loved Huizenga’s other ongoing (?) series Or Else, and thought the best material there set a standard for depicting transcendent moments in everyday life that this new stuff, keenly observed and gutsily drawn though it was, failed to live up to. No such quibbles about Ganges #2. Huizenga makes it look easy in this tale of dot-com-boom-era follies. Along with “Jeepers Jacobs” it’s one of his most straightforward stories, yet it still employs the techniques of elision and conflation that make his more abstract stuff so powerful.

It actually does start out abstract, with a pair of dueling creatures (boasting almost Marc Bell-ish designs) expanding and colliding in baroquely geometrical ways. No sooner do you realize that their conflict is working almost like a video game would, complete with life meters at the bottom of each image, than you discover it is a video game being played by Huizenga’s everyman Glenn Ganges. This sets him off in a reverie about his old job at an overcapitalized dot-com start-up, one where his actual job consists almost solely of utterly meaningless business jargon and a set of company goals so nebulous as to be nonexistent, but where his co-workers’ marathon after-hours first person shooter sessions provide both their most genuine and heartfelt human interaction and, as the company’s spirit heads south with its finances, becomes almost a point of pride.

Kind of like those rare movie comedies that are actually shot well in addition to being funny–your Annie Halls and your Big Lebowskis–what you’re getting here is something that didn’t need to be as beautifully done as it ended up. So while you’re enjoying the astute Office Space-style corporate-culture takedown, you’re also noticing Huizenga’s choice to only ever show Glenn’s wife Wendy, who was largely ignored by Glenn during his time with the company, facing away from us. Or you’re seeing how Glenn and his white-collar information-industries coworkers’ subtle idealization and thus dehumanization of the company’s long-time pink-collar secretary, Fritz, is conveyed simply by giving her the broadest caricature in the book. Or you’re realizing the extra effort Huizenga put into really capturing the appeal of the video games Glenn plays–the beauty and specificity of the environments in the ostensibly stupid shoot-’em-up, say (one is a perpetual winter morning in a mountain monastery), or the crazy dream logic of the all-ages video game he used to be into, which is described in this brilliantly dead-on passage:

He had always preferred games like, say “Yipper Yap World,” controlling science adventurer Grandma Lagrand as she gathers Fruitclumpz in Death Forest (you need the monkey rocket suit), avoiding the roller skating spiders (by double rocket jumping) in order to throw the fruit at a giant caterpillar who had spun a coccoon in the only satellite dish on the Island of Special Thanks, which had messed up cable TV for the native tribe of Rasta-Ostriches, in exchange for which they give you the moon salsa you need to bribe the Volcano Witch Triplets.”

Maybe Huizenga overwrites the ending, where Glenn and his coworkers all assign their in-game avatars the handle of a fired colleague. I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way to have shown that without explaining it. Maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s better with the captions to explain it and thus take the air out of the moment a bit, lest it get too grandiose. However transcendent that moment might have been for the players, there were still pink slips with each of their names on them waiting in the wings. They could be heroes, but just for one game.


July 20, 2008

(Now there’s a play-on-words you’re not gonna see a lot of!)


The Dark Knight, I’m legitimately happy to say, is superior to Batman Begins in nearly every conceivable way, but the most important one is definitely the script. I’ll tell you, watching this thing makes it even easier than it was before to blame superhero-hack David S. Goyer for the gaping plot holes, leaden dialogue, and wild internal inconsistencies that had me ready to storm out of the theater watching this film’s predecessor. In fact, since the entire moral lynchpin of this film–whether or not Batman could or should kill the Joker, and what it means for him and for Gotham City if he won’t–is completely invalidated by Batman’s murder of Ra’s al Ghul (and that’s exactly what it was, folks) at the end of the first film, this makes ignoring Begins not just fun but practically necessary.

I feel like this movie got what Batman’s about much better than Batman Begins, too. The first film portrayed him as a neurotic, driven to distraction by crime, obsessed with fear, and repeating those two words over and over again like Rain Man. This movie drops those leitmotifs almost entirely, giving us a character it makes sense for the public to refer to as the Caped Crusader–a guy who, when a Chinese mob financier skips town, flies to Hong Kong, cuts off the electricity to his goddamn skyscraper, glides in on his Bat-cape, beats the snot out of his guards, grabs him, leaps out of a building on a hot-air balloon that a jet then snags to whisk them away, and brings the dude back to Gotham, dropping him unconscious on the steps of police HQ with a note to deliver him to Jim Gordon. Gone are the days when his primary on-screen crimefighting sequence involved running over police cars for some reason. Even Christian Bale’s growly Bat-voice seems to work better here, perhaps because his actions better match the superhuman conviction his monster voice implies. (And on a purely nerd level, they find an excuse to give him all-white eyes behind his mask, which pretty much made my evening.) Overall, I feel like I understand why he’s doing what he’s doing–that it’s more than an anti-littering campaign on steroids, it’s truly a drive to put a dent in crime in the city–and why people might choose to support him in this endeavor rather than run away screaming.

And the movie also gets the Joker. Now, I insist that Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson also got the Joker, mind you. All camp is not created equal, and too many people have this reactionary attitude to it (post-traumatic Adam West disorder) as though camp begins and ends with Schumacher rather than Sontag. But camp can be serious business in a world (even in a fandom, sadly) where rigidly patriarchal concepts of what constitutes seriousness hold sway, and Nicholson’s larger than life gay-vaudeville-pimp-comedian-dandy-performance-artist was compelling in his refusal to be normal. This is by no means mutually exclusive with being frightening, by the way. “And now…comes the part…where I relieve you, the little people…of the burden…of your failed…and useless lives,” says the Joker without blinking an eye just before gassing downtown Gotham City. He’s killing the squares. That’s subversive and that’s horrifying.

Ledger’s Joker is a creature in that vein, but instead of being larger than life, he’s smaller than life. I know that seems counterintuitive given the for-the-ages performance he turned in–surely this will be the most-referenced portrayal of a Villain since Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter–but what the Joker is is a human being reduced to only cruelty and glee. Earlier in the day I watched a documentary about Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, who in the ’80s terrorized Los Angeles and San Francisco by breaking into people’s houses at random and killing and raping with no pattern. Once Ramirez was caught, his affect throughout his trial was of someone having the time of his life–shouting “Hail Satan!” at the cameras, sneering at the victims’ families, growing his hair long and wearing sunglasses and flirting with his groupies, proclaiming that he is beyond good and evil, reacting to his sentencing to death by saying “Big deal. Death always came with the territory. I’ll see you at Disneyland!”

That, I think, is the Joker in this movie: A guy who loves hurting people the way you or I love our favorite meals or television shows, just loves it to pieces. The film’s plot and set pieces make it quite explicit that his goal is to see our worst suspicions about human nature confirmed, and reinforce it with how it introduces him to us: No big entrance, no “origin,” he’s just standing there on the corner waiting for his ride. Just by existing he stands as a reproach to the trifecta of Batman, Gordon, and Harvey Dent: They believe in the better angels of our nature, and the Joker is just havin’ a blast showing us that there’s no such thing.

He’s also got a great, great music cue, a neverending crescendo of discordant strings, which reminds me again how much better this movie was than the first one, which had no memorable music to speak of despite boasting two separate composers. In addition, The Dark Knight had better fight choreography that takes advantage of its environment and is easy to parse from beat to beat, making the consequences of each maneuver easy to grasp. It had a better car chase sequence, one with stakes and with genuine antagonists. It had better performances from all its recurring players, perhaps because they weren’t hamstrung by one of the dumbest scripts of all time, but in general they all (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and especially Gary Oldman) seemed more comfortable in their skins and with their role in the story. It had a much better performance from the love interest, now played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who unlike Katie Holmes made the bold choice of imbuing Rachel Dawes with, get this, recognizable human emotions. It had genuine shocks–I was totally convinced that Gordon was dead, for example, and stunned that the news hadn’t leaked. It was visually much more sophisticated–the staging of Batman and the Joker’s final conversation, little touches like the Joker’s Harvey Dent campaign sticker, the bravura opening sequence, the snuff-film hostage tapes, and on and on. There was no dopey doomsday device. The one time it danced up to the ridiculous moral inconsistencies of the first film, Lucius Fox’s sudden objection to Batman’s methods when he discovers he’s spying on the entire city, it actually had Fox make his objection on specific grounds that made sense–too much power concentrated in the hands of one man–rather than asserting that a guy who spends his days helping a masked vigilante run around breaking people’s legs to get them to talk is suddenly in high dudgeon over warrantless wiretapping.

It wasn’t perfect, though. It felt long, it sagged when the Joker wasn’t involved, and even though the film did yeoman’s work in making us understand just why Batman and Gordon were so high on Harvey Dent’s transformative potential for the city, it still overestimated the degree to which we (or at least I) were invested in his saga, so that when it saved the big ending for a resolution of his plotline rather than the Joker’s, it felt miscalculated and anticlimactic. And perhaps ironically, leaving the Joker alive at film’s end was more of a fourth-wall-breaking reminder of Heath Ledger’s truly tragic death, though I don’t know if there was any way around that. I also wish there were some way for Batman to talk about his crusade without sounding ridiculously overblown and pretentious, but there may not be any way around that either.

Overall, though, I feel like here’s a movie that conveyed what the Joker and Batman mean to me: the most gleefully pessimistic take on human nature imaginable, and a rageful insistence that it need not be so. Good job!

Destructor is for the people

July 19, 2008

Via Top Shelf 2.0 webmeister Leigh Walton I discovered this rave review of me and Matt Wiegle’s “Destructor in: Prison Break” from The Crooked Man at Rare Maiden:

It’s got everything you could ever want in an adventure comic: a forbidding prison island, robots, a cast of monsters, dragons, a huge fight, a heart-felt ending, a diagram… It’s that impossible-to-ever-actually-create strip that you always wanted to draw when you were a kid. But it works, and all in only 12 pages.

He’s got a lot more to say about the strip, including an appreciation of its lack of context that really makes me feel good about doing the strip that way, and an evocation of both Moebius and the Cocteau Twins, which I can always get behind. If you like, you can read the review, read the comic, and buy the collection.

Carnival of souls

July 18, 2008

* The Dark Knight came out and I’ll probably go see it this weekend, god help us all. If I blow another gasket I’m blaming all of you personally.

* With The Dark Knight came a Watchmen trailer. I liked it, other people really liked it, while I’ve heard some skeptics too. (It could do with a smidge less slo-mo, but that was the case for 300 as well.)

* Meanwhile the movie’s on the cover of Entertainment Weekly (it’s good to own the magazine, eh Warner Bros?) and they have an extensive look at the film’s road to production, featuring mildly disconcerting quotes from director Zack Snyder about how much ass he’s gonna kick, as well as a sizable interview with writer Alan Moore, featuring mildly disconcerting quotes lambasting films he’s never seen.

* Jim Treacher has a pretty extensive Watchmen-news roundup that I recommend browsing, though Jason Adams is the one asking the hard questions. So to speak.

* EW has also posted a preview image gallery of things that we’ll be seeing at San Diego Comic Con, including shots from Frank Miller’s The Spirit, a page from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 3, and other nerdy things.

* George A. Romero is officially making a sequel to Diary of the Dead, which I still haven’t seen, starting this September. So I guess he liked it, then.

* Someone could have told me that credit-design god Saul Bass directed a movie about killer ants.

* Don’t forget my article on Dumb Doomsday Devices in Superhero Movies or me and Matt Wiegle’s new Destructor comic.

* Finally, The Beef comes through.

Comics Time: Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga

July 18, 2008


Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga

Paul Levitz, writer

Keith Giffen, Larry Mahlstedt, Richard Bruning, artists

DC Comics, 1991

192 pages


Buy it used for an exorbitant amount via

I don’t know how much you’d get out of this book if you weren’t already a superhero comics devotee. It doesn’t have the revisionist sophistication of Alan Moore or Frank Miller, the high-level craft of the modern-day big-name creators whose work you see praised on blogs like this, the easily recognizable wild imagination of Lee/Kirby/Ditko or even Claremont/Byrne. But for someone like me, who can derive pleasure from variations on familiar themes, this was an engaging read and, I’m betting, a pretty important touchstone for today’s superhero mainstream.

Though the cover gives the game away, what’s interesting about this story is that while it relies on the now-traditional–indeed, almost de rigeur these days–“mystery villain” device whereby our heroes are plagued by sinister, shadowy forces whose true nature and intent are learned only after extensive confrontations with his minions and much fretting and wild-goose-chasing by the heroes (and, just as importantly, the readers), this mystery villain doesn’t just lurk in the background, popping up in a panel or two every other issue to remind us that he exists before he finally reveals himself. Instead, he’s the good guys’ main antagonist throughout–his presence is constantly touted by his minions, he directly addressing both them and our heroes, he even physically confronts them from time to time, all while his identity remains hidden from heroes and readers alike. This strikes me as a far more daring narrative strategy than that used in such ’00s-era arcs as Kevin Smith’s Daredevil: Guardian Devil, Jeph Loeb’s Batman: Hush, Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, Brad Meltzer’s Justice League of America and so on: It practically dares the reader to figure it out, get tired of it, or call bullshit, hoping that if it calls their bluff and they stay involved, they’ll be even more excited by the eventual reveal than if it was just a tease here and there. (In terms of current comics it seems like Morrison’s ongoing Black Glove storyline in Batman comes closest.)

I don’t know enough about the historical circumstances regarding the status of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World New Gods within DC fandom at the time these issues were originally published to know if the identity of the villain was as obvious to readers then as it is to readers in this Kirby-worshipping, Final Crisis-reading era. For me it would have all clicked when that “servant of darkness” who rides that recognizably weird little pipe-lattice started talking about the Astro-Force and getting called “my son” by his master. But I enjoyed the mystery element even so as I was slowly shown exactly how Darkseid was putting his plot into action because, in a fashion reminiscent to me of how Geoff Johns has been working with the Green Lantern franchise, Levitz cleverly drew strength for the arc from a hodgepodge of DCU components. What kind of villain has the power to create evil clones of Superman and a Guardian of the Universe, then brainwash the Krypton-like planet of Daxam into a genocidal army of 3 billion Supermen? When you hear a question like that, you either give a shit about the answer or you don’t. I did.

Meanwhile, the book did a solid job of conveying the appeal of the Legion concept, which had been largely elusive to me up until now: It’s its own superhero universe within the larger DCU. Besides the fact that there are, like, forty thousand Legionnaires, each with their own cute code name and baroque power, they live in an era and environment connected enough to the things we recognize from more popular DC franchises to be familiar, yet it has the freedom to take them in weird new directions. (I suppose having a heroic Brainiac with a crush on Supergirl is the most fundamental example of that.) It’s kind of like the way Star Trek: The Next Generation opened up, expanded, and riffed on the original series in the service of a different aesthetic. Moreover, as a friend of mine recently pointed out to me, the team is so big and so stuffed with conflicting personalities that writers need not indulge in either the hoary old “team of best friends” or “reluctant team that comes together in the clutch” cliches–I’m pretty sure some of these people never even set foot in the same room or exchange a single word, and there are obvious cliques and couples and enemies and exes and so on, yet in the end the all kind of do their thing and get the job done, like a particularly big extracurricular activity in high school–the glee club, say. And that’s appropriate enough considering that they all seem to be about college-age by this point in the series. Finally, there are just so goddamn many Legionnaires that figuring out who’s who and starting to recognize and appreciate their names, costumes, powers and so on feels like an achievement, god help me.

Now, is this a great comic book? No. It’s too rooted in house-style artistic aesthetics, expository dialogue, self-referential continuity, corny jokes, and everything else you’d expect from a basic superhero comic of the early ’80s. As in so many comics of the period I have to wonder if the creators ever listened to human speech. But it’s an effective comic of its type, at times quite so–you’ve got to imagine that there’s an endless ocean of inferior junk above which this floats. It certainly goes to great pains to convey the menace of one of Jack Kirby’s great creations as well as any other comic I’ve read. On a personal note, as a superhero fan, I wish today’s writers and editors would display similar care when dealing with the real cream of the villain crop, from Darkseid himself to Lex Luthor and the Joker to Doctor Doom and Magneto and Galactus and the Green Goblin–like, oh crap, when that dude shows up, we’re in trouble. We nerds would be better off for it.

Sean makes comics, makes fun of comic movies online

July 17, 2008

Check out me and Matt Wiegle’s action-adventure comic strip spectacular “Destructor in: Prison Break” over at Top Shelf 2.0.

Then read my piece on The 6 Dumbest Doomsday Devices from Superhero Movies over at Topless Robot.

Carnival of souls: special “help me interview Brian K. Vaughan” edition

July 16, 2008

* In a few days I will be interviewing Brian K. Vaughan, writer of Lost, Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Runaways, Pride of Baghdad, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Doctor Strange: The Oath, The Escapists, and so on, for a cover story in The Comics Journal. Is there anything you’d like me to ask him? Please post your questions in the comments to this post.

* Bad people ruining comics for the rest of us part one: Chris Butcher calls out the owner of the San Diego Hyatt for donating $125K to support an anti-gay ballot initiative. He suggests that you don’t patronize their facilities any more than you can help it during Comic Con.

* Bad people ruining comics for the rest of us part two: Tom Spurgeon examines the catastrophic (pending) failure of Platinum Studios, a “comics” “publisher” run by obvious grifters. He suggests that we as an industry and art form should be able to agree that this is a morally bad way to run a business.

* Good people making comics better for the rest of us: Christ Jesus look at Fantagraphics’ SDCC signing schedule.

* Not Coming to a Theater Near You’s Katherine Follet takes a look at Alex Proyas’s The Crow, “the quintessential Goth Movie.”

Comics Time: Wormdye

July 16, 2008



Eamon Espey, writer/artist

Secret Acres, June 2008

128 pages


Buy it from Secret Acres

Buy it from

Starting your comic by cooking a live cat in a microwave is a pretty good way to make me say “fuck you, I’m not reading your stupid fucking comic.” I don’t think it’s funny, I don’t think it’s provocative, I don’t think it’s daring, I don’t think it says anything about humankind’s endless reservoir of unthinking cruelty to animals that I haven’t already heard. Mostly it makes me think of the guy on MSNBC’s Lockup who bragged about cooking his murder victim’s cat in the microwave because he didn’t like that it was nibbling on the corpse, or how my high-school biology teacher used to brag about catching stray cats, sticking them in burlap bags, lighting the bags on fire and throwing them off rooftops, and any number of other real, live human beings who think torturing cats to death is really no more unacceptable a misdemeanor than keying someone’s car. I hate them.

I also realize that this is my kryptonite as a critic. Sure, cruelty to animals is an unbelievably easy way to shock–“any idiot can get sympathy from an audience,” George Lucas was once known to say, “just grab a kitten and wring its neck”–and I’d very much like to see cartoonists who deal in the rough stuff try harder, but there’s beyond that there’s probably no principled objection I could make here that I wouldn’t also have to apply to depictions of humankind’s endless reservoir of unthinking cruelty to humans as well. I’m certainly not going to argue that we have to stop doing this because people might imitate it, because those sorts of people are going to be sociopathic monsters anyway and we can’t live our lives that way. I’m simply a vegetarian cat owner who stopped eating meat on cruelty grounds and gets very, very upset about glib depictions of animal cruelty. And I do think it’s pretty glib here, simply playing into the dead-baby joke punchline that closes the opening chapter of Espey’s loosely connected collection of nightmarish short stories and Bosch-like diptychs.

But the book does get better from there, smarter, sharper, more intelligently savage. Espey’s vocabulary as a cartoonist is indeed that one-two punch of cruelty to children and animals coupled with sexualized violence that we’ve seen from Josh Simmons, and to a certain extent Hans Rickheit or even Al Columbia at times. As with Simmons and Rickheit, Espey’s line is a thick thing, deliberately ugly, all hyperthyroidal eyes and short, squat, grotesque figures, occasionally flourishing into what can only be described as bad-acid-trip vistas of depravity. He broadly lampoons every sacred cow in the herd–the Pope, the family farm, childhood, science. He undermines collective-unconscious root storytelling–fairy tales, mythology, primitive religion. to quote The Exorcist, he wants us to see ourselves as animal and ugly, shitting, killing, fucking, torturing, raping, lying, screaming, crying, cowering. His work is effective. Whether it’s an effect you care to experience is perhaps another question.