The Comics Section from the Panorama
(aka The San Francisco Panorama Comics Section)
Keith Knight, Jon Adams, Michael Capozzola, Gabrielle Bell, Daniel Clowes, Ivan Brunetti, Alison Bechdel, Gene Luen Yang, Art Spiegelman, Ian Huebert, Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware, Kim Deitch, Seth, Erik Larsen, Jessica Abel, Heather Brinesh, Katrina Ortiz, Carson Ellis, Jon Klassen, Jon Scieszka, Adam Rex, Mac Barnett, Jenny Traig, Kevin Cornell, writers/artists
McSweeney’s, March 2010
Everything’s coming up newsprint! Originally included with McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern #33–the “McSWEENEY’S HEART NEWSPAPERS” project The San Francisco Panorama–and now conveniently sold separately because McSweeney’s knows its audience, The Comics Section hews pretty closely, intentionally or not, to its conception as a newspaper’s funny pages. There’s that same lack of a unifying aesthetic or visible editorial hand, that same variety in tone and quality, and that same presence a strip or two that leave you totally baffled. How does it work as an argument for the preservation of the newspaper as a format? Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care. I’m not here for the Wednesday Comics-style newsprint nostalgia, I’m here for the comics. And the strong ones are strong enough that I don’t mind having spent the necessary scratch.
Look, Ware and Clowes just tower over this thing, let’s get that established right away. Ware’s centerfold spread is a luscious thing, with those bright blue and pink colors he used for the cover of Acme #19 and an inviting assortment of strips about young-brainiac-turned-adult-divorcee Putty Gray and his enamorata Sandy Grains. You can start pretty much anywhere on the spread, flip the thing in pretty much any direction, just letting your eye go where it wants and reading accordingly, and it works. (Compare and contrast with Alison Bechdel’s tribute to the game of “Life,” which forces you to rotate the entire broadsheet with seemingly every panel to little discernible aesthetic effect and much upper-arm exhaustion.) As you might expect, several of the “punchline” panels here are real punches to the gut; I’ll never get enough of Ware’s sense of “humor,” the way he just puts despair where the jokes would go. Ditto Clowes, whose provides the section’s opening salvo, a nasty little science-fiction spoof called “The Christian Astronauts” with as funny and fuck-you of a final panel as anything in Wilson.
There are two other stand-out strips in the section. Kudos to Adrian Tomine for writing a strip about a superhero named Optic Nerve that’s just an out-and-out autobiographical satire of how badly comment threads comparing him to Daniel Clowes get to him and how all things considered he’d probably rather be hanging out with his wife than wasting his time in this thankless field. He doesn’t care if navel-gazing and superhero satire are the two things most likely to get your brand of alternative comics ridiculed on the Internet these days, you know? That’s what he wants to do, and dammit, that’s what he’s doing. And it’s funny! And kudos to the Editors for thinking to include Erik Larsen, of all people: He uses his Savage Dragon character for a light superhero satire at least as effective as Tomine’s, and it’s clear from inking, coloring, and choreography that he simply cares a lot about cartooning, which makes a two-page broadsheet spread arguably an even more effective showcase for what he does well than an ongoing series well into the 100s. And now that I think of it, I liked Seth’s page as well. The more I see of his stuff, the more the disconnect between his in-real-life look, his ruminative pacing, and his slick cartooning intrigues me rather than puts me off.
The rest? Eh, I can take it or leave it. Mostly leave it, I suppose–I don’t know why Kim Deitch laid out his story basically backwards, I don’t know why Jessica Abel’s adventure-strip pastiche selected a relatively inert portion of the adventure to depict, I didn’t think very many of the non-full-page strips (Knight, Adams, Yang, Brunetti) were funny at all. But then, for years, I only read The Far Side.