Archive for November, 2010
* A very big thanks to Comic Book Resources, The Beat, The Cool Kids Table, Vito Delsante, Dustin Harbin, Curt Purcell, and pretty much all of my friends to a man for linking to DestructorComics.com over the past 48 hours. Extra very special thanks to my colleague Matt Wiegle for doing the yeoman’s work of keeping it up and running during the vast majority of those 48 hours, despite my best efforts to the contrary. I really can’t begin to describe how I feel about this site’s existence. As you can tell from this drawing, Destructor is one of my oldest friends.
* Today on Robot 6: Benjamin Marra reveals The Incredibly Fantastic Adventures of Maureen Dowd. I love Benjamin Marra almost as much as I hate Maureen Dowd, so this comic gets my full support.
* The book debuts at this weekend’s Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, which reminds me: Good Lord, there’s going to be a lot of amazing-looking books on sale at this weekend’s Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fesivalt. To wit:
* Johnny 23 by Charles Burns! (Hat tip: David Paggi.)
* and that is seriously just the tip of the iceberg.
* Jim Rugg notes some startling similarities between John Totleben’s Marvelman and Fletcher Hanks’s Stardust.(UPDATE: Although that’s a Barry Windsor Smith image right there.) The image below isn’t even the most striking of the set.
* Real Life Horror: My Representative, Peter King, wants WikiLeaks declared a terrorist organization. Note to Julian Assange: Start murdering children in Ireland and the U.K. — then Peter King will have your back!
* Finally, David Lynch sings!
* With Boardwalk Empire‘s season finale approaching, HBO is unleashing the kraken with regards to publicity for its next big thing, Game of Thrones. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the network released hi-res versions of all the photos from last week’s Entertainment Weekly spread on the show…
* a preview of a 15-minute making-of featurette they’ll be unveiling prior to the Boardwalk Empire finale next Sunday…
* and a new minute-long teaser.
And frankly? It all looks wonderful. In particular, starting that trailer with that particular scene appears to indicate that they know what the books are about, not just what they’re about, if you follow me. As always, they’re just trailers and promo stills and therefore completely unreliable, but. But but but! (Links via Winter Is Coming and Westeros, as usual.)
* Meanwhile, I plan on finding it really weird to watch mainstream pop-culture sites cover the show–even though I myself only discovered the series this year and am far from a GoT OG.
* The enormously engrossing, uncomfortably disconcerting online first-person horror film/ARG Marble Hornets has returned after a seven-month absence for its second season. When I say “uncomfortably disconcerting” I’m really not kidding. Even though I’ve just about exhausted all the information, commentary, and parody available on the project, I still find myself freaking out a little bit when I have to go out in the dark to take out the trash. They’ve hit on a really powerful set of images and techniques. If you’ve got about a movie’s length of time to kill, start here; the latest “entry” is embedded below.
* It’s official: The Hobbit movies will be filmed in 3D. Peter Jackson seems like a filmmaker who was made to make 3D movies. Certainly more so than James Cameron!
* Wow, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark had a rough opening night. Like, rough enough that I wonder if someone–the creators, the performers, the audience, the newspapers, Bono, someone–was just joking. Bitter experience and Avatar have taught me that I have no clue whether or not something will be a for-the-ages flop/demonstration of classical hubris; that said, the story of this show has been completely mesmerizing, and not for the reasons one imagines Julie Taymor, Bono, the Edge, and Sony or Marvel or whoever want it to be. On a qualitative level, my appreciation for Taymor’s glam weirdness is offset by my disgust with the leaden pretension of the U2 music I’ve heard from the show, so I don’t know how to feel about it in that regard either.
* Chris Mautner’s Comics College column tackles Hergé. Since all of his Tintin work is in the same format and working basically the same genre and tone, he’s one of the great “where to begin?” artists in comics. Well, here’s where to begin!
* Sean P. Belcher was a good deal more sympathetic to last night’s episode of The Walking Dead than I was. Basically we agree about its strengths, but differ in the weight we place on its weaknesses.
* Spurge is right: This Deborah Vankin profile of Joyce Farmer’s new memoir Special Exits makes the book look and sound great. I won’t spoil the really revealing quotes from and about R. Crumb, either.
* Trouble with Comics had a bit of an RSS spasm over the weekend, but it brought Christopher Allen’s thoughtful critique of Jack Kirby’s OMAC to my attention, so I’m glad it happened.
* Very much looking forward to Ryan Cecil Smith’s Two Eyes of the Beautiful II, on sale at the BCGF this weekend.
* I’m digging what I’m seeing from Alex Wiley’s Hugger-Mugger Comicx. I like the cute-brut linework and citrusy colors.
* Real Life Horror: Every time I think about it, I am freshly amazed that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still at large nine years after the 9/11 attacks they orchestrated. (And that we’ll probably never be able to try and convict Khalid Sheikh Mohammed because the Bush Administration tortured him, but that’s a different matter.) The AP has a fascinating, if somewhat depressing, report on the lucky breaks that have kept al-Zawahiri out of American clutches and/or crosshairs. Here’s hoping that once all the money we save by freezing federal employees’ salaries singlehandedly ends the recession and persuades Republicans to put aside their differences and become good-faith allies of the President, there’ll be enough left over help catch this murderous fuck.
* This is one of those days when I want to link to everything that Ta-Nehisi Coates writes. Money quotes:
I’d love to see someone make the argument that private sector managerial experience entitles you to run the NYPD.
What scares me is how this sort of crime-fighting, post-9/11, basically justifies itself. So we’re at war with terror. A war means we need to find and isolate the bad guys. So we send agents provocateurs to areas where bad guys might frequent and, essentially, employ a version of buy-bust theory to smoke them out.Then we announce their neutralization via arrest, thus proving that….we’re at war with terror. Rinse. Repeat.[…]Indeed, I suspect one could declare war against racism and just as easily employ provocateurs to cyclically “prove” the problem of violent white supremacists.
* Rest in peace, Irvin Kershner and Leslie Nielsen. The Empire Strikes Back and The Naked Gun are two of the movies I’ve absorbed completely enough to have a hard time imagining how I would think and speak about certain things without an array of quotes from them at my disposal.
* Finally, as I mentioned earlier, DestructorComics.com is up and running. Matt Wiegle and I will be updating it on Mondays and Thursdays. I can’t wait to share these stories with you!
Matt Wiegle and I have launched DestructorComics.com, a new webcomic site for our Destructor stories. It would not be exaggerating to say that my whole life has led up to this. We hope you enjoy it!
* I feel like this episode had the highest percentage of good-to-strong material yet. Jim’s departure was well staged, right down to Daryl’s unexpected nod of the head. The approach to the CDC was good and creepy, and I appreciated how minimal actual zombie shots were in it — they were more menacing because they were treated as an inevitability, rather than a clear and present danger. Shane’s near-snap may have been played a bit heavily, but the way he got all huffy-puffy was weird enough for that not to matter. And I was particularly struck by Amy’s resurrection, which was, of all things, sensual and beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen zombie fiction treat coming back in that way and I’d love to see more curveballs of that sort.
* But this episode was also a clear illustration of why I probably shouldn’t expect them. Of course Daryl’s the guy who says “I say we kill him now and shoot the dead girl in the head while we’re at it.” Of course the abused wife can’t stop once she starts hitting her dead husband in the head with a pickaxe. Of course we have someone who can’t let go of their dead loved one (cf. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) and someone else whose inevitable death we have to deal with sooner or later while debating whether we do things like that or not (cf. Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead). Of course the CDC couldn’t stop it, there’s only one guy left there, he’s breaking down, and the grounds are littered with dead soldiers. I mean, I read The Stand too. And of course when the door finally opens up, everyone’s silhouetted in enough white light to recreate that Golden Girls episode where Sophia goes to Heaven but Sal tells her it’s not her time.
* Point is, if there’s a zombie/post-apocalyptic trope or cliché, they’ll hit it, as hard and as dead-center as they can. If they have time to do some stuff differently, great, but it’s not where their bread is buttered. I don’t know if this is due to a lack of imagination on their part, or one of ambition. That is, are the filmmakers just kind of pedestrian, or do they not trust the audience enough to get up the gumption zig where they’re expected to zag? I was glad to see that Curt Purcell used similar terms to talk about the show’s decision to address the pseudo-science behind the outbreak, something the comic has hardly ever done — in fact, Robert Kirkman has said he will never reveal the origin of the plague. The last thing The Walking Dead wants to do is risk alienating the audience with mystery like Lost or Battlestar Galactica did.
* Fortunately, I’m not too disappointed at this point. I said I was going to do this last week, and sure enough, I seem really to have recalibrated my expectations so that The Walking Dead is for me what The Vampire Diaries is for my wife, say. I went into tonight’s episode thinking “Oh boy, I can’t wait to see some good zombie attacks” — not much more or much less than that. I am at least enjoying the show on that level. When the “more” comes along, great! When the “less” comes along, oh well, it’s only The Walking Dead.
(Note: I originally posted this review on January 18, 2008. This was before I’d read much, if any, of Gilbert’s Fritz material from Love and Rockets. I think the review holds up, which is why I’m re-running it; but with all of Beto’s post-Palomar Palomar-verse work under my belt now, if anything I find Chance in Hell, both its content and its very existence, even more disturbing. On a story level, the “movie” from which the graphic novel is “adapted” turns out to be a “what-if” for its co-star Fritz (whose prostitute character in it doesn’t have a speaking role), featuring a protagonist whose life easily could have been Fritz’s if her mother Maria had been just a bit more heartless or her father Hector just a bit more awful. But that right there’s the thing: Gilbert basically takes the single worst thing ever done by anyone in any of his stories, turns up the volume on it, and builds a new, even more violent and hideous story around it. “Some carry the pit in them for the rest of their lives,” says the book. And later: “There’ve been people who’ve survived, but each has carried with him a distinct odor for the rest of his life. A unique smell that he could never remove. Like mine. Like the smell I carry and must mask with a special cologne of my own design. Is there something you must mask?”)
Rough, rough stuff from the creator of Palomar. Hernandez is in the midst of creating graphic novels based on the B-movies that his Palomar-verse character Fritz starred in, but “B-movie” might give you the wrong impression here. This isn’t one of those howlers the bots made fun of on MST3K–it’s the kind of disturbing, unpleasant film starring and shot by unknowns that you might rent on a whim from the horror or European section of your old neighborhood video store, watch, and spend the rest of the evening worried about the mental health of cast and crew. The story concerns Empress, an orphaned toddler abandoned in a sprawling, dog-eat-dog garbage dump and raped so frequently that she doesn’t even seem to notice anymore. A farcical string of bloodily violent incidents leads her to a life as the unofficially adopted daughter of a poetry editor who claims to have come from the same circumstances, and then eventually to a second life as the wife of a young district attorney, but in both cases violence and squalor cling to her like a stench, to use a frequently invoked metaphor.
This is the angriest I can ever recall Gilbert’s art looking. That’s saying something: My wife, for example, finds his books almost difficult to look at–”His characters just look so hard,” she says, and they’ve never been harder than here. Right from the get-go his figures seem dashed off as in a white heat, while several early landscapes and backgrounds in the hellish dump look like the whole world is on fire. His almost supernaturally confident pacing of scenes and the cuts between them evoke in their matter-of-factness the acceptance of everyday brutality by the characters themselves. At times the jumpcuts can be quite funny, as when a scene between Empress and her adopted father consists solely of a pair of panels where they argue over whether a glass is half empty or half full; both Hernandez and his characters know how reductive this exchange is, yet also know it’s quite true to who they are.
But when that metronomic editing slows down, the effect is powerful, particularly because it is often done to draw out scenes of gutwrenching violence or tragedy. (The centerpiece scene in the brothel is as disturbing as the death squad attack in Gilbert’s masterpiece Poison River; there as here a knowing glance is all-important, but here it causes murder rather than prevents it.) The end of the book changes the pacing again, revving up the jumpcuts to suggest unsolved crime and unglued minds, and to be honest I’ve revisited it three or four times today and I’m still not sure what’s going on. Maybe that’s a problem, maybe it’s not. Since I see myself revisiting this book, a gruesome, enraged commentary on just how shitty things can be, many, many times in the future, I’m leaning toward “not a problem at all.”
* Clive Barker is looking for a publisher. That amazes me.
* Bruce Baugh on The Shattering, the world-changing component of World of Warcraft’s big Cataclysm expansion/event — part one, part two, part three. I’m a sucker for Bruce’s writing on gaming, but I think this is of interest to fans of superhero comics as well because of how directly it speaks to the pleasure of a huge event-driven overhaul of a shared fictional universe, an overhaul that takes care of some housecleaning in addition to opening up story possibilities. Do click on part two at the very least; it’s the photo-driven one, and even I can see how different and much more vivid everything looks now.
* Curt Purcell responds to Tom Spurgeon’s call for good superhero fights. I nominate Superman vs. Batman in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Nixon vs. the grandma robot in Frank Miller and Geof Darrow’s Hard Boiled–honestly, Frank Miller is fight-scene magic and I could go on–the Immortal Weapons tournament fights in Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and David Aja’s Immortal Iron Fist, Daredevil and Elektra vs. Bullseye in Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil, pretty much any storyarc-ending fight in Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley’s Invincible (eg. Conquest)…lotsa stuff.
* Grant Morrison talks to CBR’s Jeffrey Renaud about Batman Incorporated. It sounds like he’s really made a tonal break with the rest of his run.
* Tom Breihan reviews the living shit out of the remastered reissue of Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine. There’s not a ton of writing on Nine Inch Nails that I…trust, I guess? But this is among it.
* It’s funny: The bit that sold Ben Morse on Paul Cornell’s Action Comics run was the bit that threw me a little. It felt written for the internet.
* Concrete‘s Paul Chadwick storyboarded Strange Brew??? Did I know this?
* Jason Adams catches that the release date for the Thing remake has been rescheduled for October 2011, which seems to indicate some confidence in its horror-audience money-making abilities on the part of the studio.
* I can’t imagine it makes sense to say “rest in peace, Peter Christopherson,” but I’m saying it anyway. Dave Simpson’s Guardian obit is lovely, as is artist John Coulhart’s verbal and visual tribute (via Dan Nadel).
* You should read Matt Zoller Seitz’s essay on his late wife Jennifer.
By the end of his post-Palomar Love and Rockets comics, Gilbert often draws his characters like they’re the only people on earth. Their acts are isolated against a blank background, or they parade themselves in front of us and address us directly like B-movie actresses at a convention panel or motivational speakers on an arena stage. They’re larger than life and spotlit as such.
New Tales of Old Palomar reminds us that life goes on around them, and the earth surrounds them. Beto’s contribution to the Igort-edited Ignatz line of international art-comic series, these three issues present a suite of stories from Palomar’s past. They fill in a few notable lacuane–where Tonantzin and Diana came from, what was up with the gang of kids we’d occasionally see who were a few years older than the Pipo/Heraclio group, how Chelo lost her eye. A lot of this turns out to be really fascinating, especially if you’ve spent a month immersing yourself in the Palomar-verse. But to me it’s not what’s told that matters, but how it’s told. Maybe it’s seeing Gilbert work at magazine size again, maybe it’s the creamy off-white paper stock, maybe it’s the thinner, finer line he’s using, but New Tales simply feels different than anything we’ve seen from Beto in years.
Once again characters are rooted in the streets of Palomar and the wilderness beyond, stretching off in all directions. Indeed the wilderness, as much as I hate to use this cliché, is as much a character in these stories as anyone or anything else: It’s vast, almost abstractly so at times, and it houses at least as many mysteries as Fritz’s backstory. Gilbert uses it to bring the strip’s mostly forgotten supernatural and science fiction elements back to the foreground–ghosts and spirits on one hand, and sinister “researchers” on the other. And these in turn tie in to long-abandoned plot threads: Tonantzin’s slow-burning madness, say, or the hinted-at Cold War experiments that seem to have quietly unleashed genuine danger in Palomar’s surroundings, or the way Palomar seems to exist as a spiritual entity quite aside from the people who happen to inhabit it. But these connections are mostly teased out, not hit with the sledgehammer emotional force of the post-Palomar comics’ equivalent sinister or macabre bits. The trick Gilbert pulls here is to persuade us, through visuals and pacing, to put aside our foreknowledge of all that comes later, all the tragedy and horror, all the manic escapades and blackness, and exchange it for a quiet, yellowed air of mystery and menace–and eventual safety, since all’s well that ends well here. The shadow is there, but it’s only that, a shadow of the crystalline moment at hand, hinting at a vast and unknowable world beyond. Beautiful stuff.
Love and Rockets Vol. 2 #20
featuring “Venus and You″
Gilbert Hernandez, writer/artist
Out of print at Fantagraphics
Buy it as featured in the Luba hardcover from Fantagraphics
Buy it as featured in the Luba hardcover from Amazon.com
(Programming note: As I did with Jaime, I’ll be reviewing Gilbert’s contributions to the final issue of Love and Rockets Vol. 2 and (when I get to them — still a ways to go!) the first three issues of Love and Rockets Vol. 3 on their own. Click here read about the Jaime half of this comic.)
In order to read this story, I had to turn to my massive Luba hardcover, which I believe collects all of the post-Palomar Palomar-verse stories in chronological order. I sorta wish I’d realized this going into my read-through of all Gilbert’s work, since it’s obviously how I prefer to read this stuff. But for the purposes of a review-a-thon like this it wouldn’t have made much sense to consume this material in one giant hardcover. I wouldn’t have been able to do the whole gigantic work justice in one go, especially compared to the more manageable chunks in which I read the rest of Los Bros’ work; besides, no way could I have maintained my schedule by reading the thing in two days.
But flipping through the book to get to the final post-Palomar story (to date, I believe), which remains otherwise uncollected, I discovered that the stories immediately leading up to this one are “Blackouting” and “Doralis.” If those titles don’t mean anything to you I won’t spoil it, but they were the two big audible-gasp, dropped-jaw, cover-gaping-mouth-with-hand moments from High Soft Lisp and Luba in America. “Devastating” just about covers it, though not quite–they’re the big black holes into which their respective storylines drop. Where could Beto possibly go from there?
The answer is “a happy ending,” of course. At long last he returns to Venus, Petra’s daughter and one of the least damaged, most well-adjusted, most self-assured characters in the whole post-Palomar oeuvre. Now a teenager, she’s virtually everything her mother and aunts never got to be. She has a healthy, fun-sounding sex life with her boyfriend, who also happens to be her best friend of many years’ standing. She gets along great with her mother and both her aunts despite their estrangement. Her personal segment of the extended family seems quite secure — Petra has remarried to a guy who sounds swell, Petra herself put on a bunch of marriage-security weight and sounds happy herself, Venus and her kid sister get along. Venus is smart, funny, quick-witted, kind-hearted, a pretty unabashed nerd, beautiful…just a real kick-ass kid. It’s an uplifting note to end on after all this darkness.
Most uplifting at all is Venus’s power to process and contextualize her family’s story healthily. In her interactions with her mother and aunts, we see she’s able to admire their admirable qualities — and for all the horror we’ve been shown, all three sisters have plenty to admire about them, their simple survival not being the least of it — while not letting their bad sides taint her. (If that takes a bit of denial on her part, so be it.) For example, she’s revealed in this final strip to be her Tia Fritz’s number-one fan. She’s seen all of her aunt’s movies–with the possible exception of the surreal faux-porn flick from her pre-movie-star days that’s currently causing a lot of buzz. Venus dismisses it as basically unimportant compared to Fritz’s latest release, which Fritz herself wrote and directed. We the reader can see the symbolic resonance of the clip from the strange pseudo-porn movie — a man emerges from a mist-enshrouded forest to have sex with a nude Fritz, her breasts swollen by pregnancy, only to transform into some sort of beast in the middle of the act, then disappear into the background, leaving Fritz naked, disoriented, and alone. It’s her life as a sexual being, basically…and Venus doesn’t give a fuck, because she prefers the movie where Fritz is the writer-director-star. I get the feeling that Venus is equipped to be a multi-hyphenate for her own life in a way that few of the characters we’ve met have been.
Indeed, in our final glimpse of her, she asks her late family and friends — Grandma Maria, Gato, Sergio, Dolaris — to watch over the three sisters, and then provides these guardian angels’ answers to her prayers herself, same font, same caption style. Writer, director, star. I wish her all the luck in the world.
* Joe McCulloch reviews Jacques Tardi’s masterful loogie in the face of World War I, It Was the War of the Trenches, which I liked a lot myself. Between this and Boardwalk Empire, which I probably should be writing about weekly instead of The Walking Dead, it’s been a great year for examining the horror of war through the lens of the War to End All Wars.
* Ooh look, Pood #2! (I’m acting surprised, but I got a copy in the mail the other day. Just one of the perks of being a glamorous comics blogger.)
* Off the beaten path: Chris Allen reviews Gerry Alanguilan’s animal-rights parable Elmer. I need to get a copy of that book and read it back to back with Duncan the Wonder Dog.
* Things are not going well for John Porcellino, apparently. Ars gratia artis, I fucking guess.
* Halfway between Chris Cunningham’s clip for Björk’s “All Is Full of Love” and a Tool video, you’ll find this creepy-lovely video for School of Seven Bells’ practically perfect certain-slant-of-light dreampop ballad “I L U.” (Via Pitchfork.)
* Ooh, look, Jeet Heer uncovered the cover for Paying for It, Chester Brown’s prostitution memoir! Check the comments to watch noted comics aesthetes recoil.
* The way this excellent Dan Nadel essay on Jack Kirby’s California years for Vice magazine is spread across six hitcount-whoring pages is irritating, to be sure, but don’t let that stop you from reading it. It’s a beautifully written appreciation of Kirby’s art and anti-war humanism. One thing I come back to a lot when thinking about Kirby and about Grant Morrison is Tom Spurgeon’s contention that Kirby’s idea of Anti-Life (essentially, war) is a lot more challenging than Morrison’s (essentially, being a fascist creep). No reasonable person can think up reasons to support Morrisonian Anti-Life. Kirbyan Anti-Life, on the other hand–well, you know.
* More Vice: Nick Gazin interviews Chip Kidd on his new book of superhero pop-culture ephemera, Shazam!, as a part of his latest comics review round-up. I like how he pretty much openly sticks it to Jon Vermilyea and Koren Shadmi, as if that really were the role of the critic after all. (Maybe he’s kidding, I dunno, it’s Vice and the dude says he hates cats so there’s obviously something wrong with him. Also, add the damn comics-only RSS feed already.)
* This is a pretty terrific interview of Charles Burns by the Onion A.V. Club’s Sam Adams. The bits on color and William S. Burroughs’s Interzone were especially interesting. (Via Tom Spurgeon.)
* Jeremy Renner really has no idea what his role as Hawkeye in Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie will be like. What an odd experience it must be to sign on to one of these big movies-by-committee without knowing much more than your character’s name.
* Here’s a trailer for Moon director Duncan Jones’s new movie Source Code. Two thoughts: 1) Wow, he sure knows what he likes, huh? 2) Inception sure opened some doors, huh? 3) The quality of this film notwithstanding, I wonder how much longer “watching major forms of transportation blow up in trailers” will last as a thing.
* Matthew Perpetua assembles a mix that shows the softer side of the Smashing Pumpkins. Well, it includes “Drown” and “Rhinoceros” and such, so “softer” is relative, but you get the idea.
* Lots to chew on in this Tom Ewing piece on Kanye West’s new album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Some of it’s even about the music!
* Today on Robot 6: Box Brown on the COEXIST bumper stickers.
I’ve never seen a cartoonist so thoroughly dismantle–discredit–his own artistic preoccupations.
In High Soft Lisp, Gilbert traces the relationship history of Fritz Martinez, the ultimate sex goddess in a career full of them, and in so doing reveals that her every fetish outfit and sexual free-for-all is fruit from the poisoned tree. Lots of characters in this book enjoy the living shit out of Fritz’s sexuality, not least Fritz herself, but to a man and woman they’re revealed to be creepily predatory about it, embracing the worst in themselves and encouraging the worst in Fritz. And here’s the thing: What have we been doing over the hundreds of pages we’ve spent watching Fritz adorably and kinkily fuck her way through the post-Palomar cast of Beto’s comics? What has Beto been doing? What does that say about all of us?
That’s one way of looking at High Soft Lisp. Another way is to expand Beto’s list of targets to include his critics. “Ooh ooh, the criticth are going to dithapprove becauthe I’m naked again!” Fritz says at one point after drunkenly stripping after an apocalyptically awful confrontation with her lifelong misery’s author. “I’m too often naked in my filmth. Criticth write with the finger of God!” “Fuck them,” her girlfriend Pipo responds, and it’s clear this is as much an internal authorial conversation as it is one between two characters. But then! Pipo…ugh, just ugh. Just another victimizer, no matter how complicit Fritz is in her own victimization. Shouldn’t someone be expected to know better? Dammit, where is Gorgo when you need him? And then you realize Beto wonders if maybe the critics have a point.
Certain story developments in this book made me return to Human Diastrophism and Beyond Palomar to review certain characters’ backstories, and in so doing I discovered just how different Gilbert’s art has become–much less dense, much less rooted in three-dimensional space, much more prone to techniques akin to those he uses in his non-narrative work. At this point characters routinely break the fourth wall against vast white spaces, or do their dirty deeds isolated against a blank background as though they’re the only objects on earth. And yet it’s still a single, well-observed bit of portraiture that impressed and crushed me the most here: the shaky half-smile half-grimace of pain on Fritz’s face as her father tells her off once and for all. It’s the most intensely human moment in the whole book, at the moment when Fritz’s humanity receives perhaps the most vicious wound it possibly could. I care about this human being, still a human being underneath all the sex bomb trappings, even as author and audience and characters conspire to keep that trap shut.
* Prophetic dream, tough guys with hearts of gold, character doesn’t live to receive birthday gift from other character, least sympathetic and most sympathetic characters bite it first, racists are always vocally racist even in extreme danger when they’re relying on someone of another race, et cetera. No one’s reinventing the wheel here, is what I’m saying.
* That said, fun episode. The CGI blood remains really lackluster, given what Tom Savini did with a wing and a prayer three and a half decades ago, but it’s still always fun to see people get eaten and blown to smithereens in an emotionally resonant fashion. I actually think Jim’s stint as a captive was well-written, well-acted, and well-shot, maybe the first time since the pilot that the show hit the hat trick. And to the show’s credit I didn’t see Amy’s death coming, despite all the birthday rigamarole (and despite having read the comic!).
* I guess what I’m going to do is watch the show like I would a much more self-serious, less sexy Vampire Diaries. It hits some genre buttons I like having hit, and maybe once in a while I’ll get lucky and it’ll do more than that, but that’ll just have to be a pleasant surprise. The Walking Dead: good enough!
* I wonder what the Vegas oddsmakers are laying on “Merle is the Governor” now, god help us all.
* A new Marc Bell comic called Pure Pajamas is coming from Drawn & Quarterly in 2011! Marc Bell’s comics are great. So excited about this. Suck it, fine art world!
* Strange Tales II #3 are popping up everywhere. Robot 6 has James Stokoe and Michael DeForge, the Beat has Toby Cypress and Harvey Pekar/Ty Templeton, and Comics Alliance has Benjamin Marra, Eduardo Medeiros, and Nick Gurewitch/Kate Beaton.
* John Allison pops up in the Robot 6 comment thread to clarify some of the ideas expressed about artcomics in his Indie Comics Manifesto.
* Still no permalinks, but please do read Gabe Bridwell’s third report on the ACA residencies of Paul Pope, Craig Thompson, and Svetlana Chmakova. My favorite tidbits from this one: Paul invited his mother and girlfriend to work with his students, as well as Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, who Bridwell says gave the best critiques of anyone he’s ever known.
* Music video of note #1: Watch Grant Morrison murder his way through My Chemical Romance in “Sing,” the second clip from their new concept album Danger Days.
* Music video of note #2: The Klaxons have a Cronenbergian orgy (really no other way to put it) in “Twin Flames,” the second video (I think) for their new album Surving the Void. (Via Pitchfork and the Quietus.)
Gilbert tips his hand with the title. Not three sisters, even though that’s the relationship by which Luba, Petra, and Fritz can be defined without referencing anyone else, and even though that’s what they call each other all the time (well, that or “thithter,” depending). No, they have something — someone — else in common. She’s present in the very first panel of the very first story, in which she’s posited as the source of Luba’s misery. She’s present in the pivotal, never-shown blowout that sunders the three daughters’ relationship. And she’s present in the sudden, shocking, utterly depressing turn of events that happens in the book’s final story as well — a lethal legacy hinted at here and there throughout the book (a strip called “Genetically Predisposed,” Guadalupe’s fond memories of the way her daughter’s dad Hector would insist upon their medical monitoring) but which finally blossoms as vibrant, larger than life character is reduced to skin and bones and eventually nothing. If this were another series altogether I would describe this everywhere-and-nowhere character as “the hole in things, the piece that can never fit, there since the beginning.” Instead, we have another description: “I stayed to find the…the person inside that glorious frame, that…and of course the more I searched, the closer I got…?”
The inescapable ripples of long-ago events over which the characters we love had no control, and the ripples their own shitty actions send out, ensnaring others: That’s what hit me so hard about Three Daughters. Luba, Fritz, and Petra can have all the wacky sex adventures they can stand — they’re still paying for someone else’s sins in a way that can just clear the decks of their lives at a moment’s notice. Hundreds of pages of material about their zany complex romantic misadventures together brought to an end by an argument we never even see, a character we’ve known for literally decades healthy on one page, revealed to be deathly ill with stunning portraiture on the next page, gone the page after that. People two generations removed are still riding the Gorgo Wheel.
In The Book of Ofelia there was a knockout line about how God makes our lives so miserable so much of the time so that we won’t feel too bad about dying. As I’ve read Gilbert’s Palomar-verse material I’ve come to think this is basically the case. Once I talked about how unlike Jaime’s stage-like intra-panel layouts, Gilbert’s characters were placed unassumingly against backgrounds that went off in all directions. But by this point they’re stagey almost to an abstract degree, sometimes fourth-wall-breakingly so. It’s in these strips you can see the hand of these characters’ creators more than any others. The background, more often than not, is blank. It’s them and the void.
* Today on Robot 6:
* Very nice programming line-up at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival–Anders Nilsen, Jordan Crane, Brian Chippendale, Sammy Harkham vs. Françoise Mouly, Charles Burns vs. Lynda Barry…
* John Allison’s Indie Comics Manifesto. Allison conflates being a crowd-pleaser with artistic merit in a way that makes me pretty uncomfortable, and there’s some crawl-into-your-grave-and-die-old-man rhetoric that doesn’t really help either. That said, he’s also got some common-sense financial advice in there.
* Comment-thread bonus: Here’s a list I came up with of a dozen great “art-damaged visual tone-poem[s] about the inside of [the artists'] psyche[s],” the kind of comic Allison would like to avoid but without which I wouldn’t really want to read comics anymore.
* Comment-thread bonus: links to every issue of David Tischmann, Darko Macan, and Igor Kordey’s Cable/Soldier X run, available to be read on Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited.
* Tom Adams of Bergen Street Comics on the onslaught of Thor comics. Is that what killed Thor: The Mighty Avenger?
* No permalinks unfortunately, and the least user-friendly scrolling interface I’ve ever experienced double-unfortunately, but artist Gabe Bridwell has in-depth reports on the Atlantic Center for the Arts residencies of Craig Thompson, Paul Pope, and Svetlana Chemakova. I found the stuff on Craig and Paul (admittedly two of my favorite people in comics) really revealing–Craig’s group did the most physical playing-around, Paul basically dances around and attacks the bristol board like a painter dancing around and attacking the canvas. Also, looks like the great Dave Kiersh was in Craig’s group. (Via Paul Pope.)
* Ron Regé Jr. talks about his Cartoon Utopia concept/project with the international altcomix publication Gazeta.
* Burn of the Day #1, via Tom Spurgeon: “There isn’t a lot in 2011 that compels from a ‘Battle Of Conventions’ standpoint, and neither one has anything to do with Wizard’s Big Apple show Vs. New York Comic-Con, which wouldn’t be a fight held at the same time in the same building.” It really is the case that Wizard’s Con War battle plan inflicted a massive friendly-fire wound on the company, which couldn’t have damaged its own reputation worse than it did by trying to force the industry to take sides during a major economic downturn if one of the Shamuses had strolled through the con hotel lobby with a prostitute on his arm.
* This bit in the Mindless Ones’ annotations for Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6 set off a lightbulb over my head with the word “DUH” written on it in magic marker: “‘Did Darkseid release something… from any kind of box?’ Diana, with her origins in greek myth, would be all too familiar with the kind of nastiness that crawls from evil boxes.” Well done, Amy.
* Burn of the Day #2, via Rich Juzwiak: “[Rihanna's] voice is not very interesting either, although on her fifth album Loud, she does interesting things with it. Not Diamanda Galás-interesting, but interesting in the way zombies are interesting — when something that once lay flat gets up and starts doing stuff, it’s remarkable.”
* Bruce Baugh walks you through the status of World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm event circa now–where it’s at, where it’s headed, what he’s up to, and what he’s planning.
* Real Life Horror: Embassy bomber largely acquitted because evidence derived through Bush Administration torture is inadmissible; conservatives demand trial by jury be replaced by telephone poll of Bristol Palin’s Dancing with the Stars supporters.
* Finally, Entertainment Weekly has a photo gallery and set report from Game of Thrones. (Via Winter Is Coming and Westeros.) Looks pretty good! I mean, so what — the Dark Is Rising adaptation looked good when it had cast Christopher Eccleston and Ian McShane and released that first photo of the Rider — but hey, I’ll take it. I sent the link to a coworker who I hooked on the books and she popped out of her cubicle to tell me she was now in love with Jaime Lannister, so there’s that.
* Here’s the trailer for the Green Lantern movie. I think it looks good as far as the notoriously unreliable medium of trailers goes. Iron Man In Space strikes me as the right tone to establish for civilian audiences.
* This is just a great interview with Lisa Hanawalt by Ken Parille. I had no idea she’d done a Boy’s Club tribute strip! One thing I’ve always wondered, and it’s one of the few questions Parille doesn’t ask, is why she publishes mainly in print vs. online. I feel like an I Want You weekly webcomic would get a lot of attention.
* Grant Morrison updates my pal Rick Marshall at MTV Splash Page on several of his film projects, including We3, Joe the Barbarian, and the BBC series he’s working on with Stephen Fry.
* Benjamin Marra draws ROM Spaceknight! Draws the shit out of him, too.
* Michael DeForge’s new comic Spotting Deer made me a bit nauseous just now.
* The shirt Simon Pegg is wearing in the poster for his new movie Paul features the Death Ray from Daniel Clowes’s Eightball #23, which leads me to ask the question, why doesn’t Fantagraphics make t-shirts? Is it a hassle to get the individual creators to go along with it? Did they used to do it in the ’90s and got burned when their t-shirt distributor went under? Because seriously, wouldn’t a line of Maggie and Hopey shirts basically be like backing up the money truck to the Fanta front door?
* If Bruce Baugh keeps WoWblogging, I’ll keep linking to it. Right now I’m digging the way the game’s makers are doing a lot of prelude-to-Cataclysm stuff, like it’s a big comic-book event or something.
* Finally, am I the only person who was at times genuinely disturbed by this gallery of children’s drawings of the monsters of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos? They look like something the police ask a victimized child to draw to describe their attacker or work through their feelings, or like the automatic drawing a child in a horror movie might do of the entity only she can see, so far anyway. (Via Chris Sims.)
It makes my job as a critic a lot harder when I’ve spent nearly an entire book composing its review in my head only for the final few pages to smash it to smithereens. In that sense, reviewing Luba: The Book of Ofelia is hard work.
Like, I really thought I’d figured out what Gilbert was after in his post-Palomar Palomar-verse work, you know? Take the story out of a small living-in-the-past Latin-American village and transport it to shiny, wealthy California; whittle the cast down from a whole town full of people to a group that’s still large but is essentially two families, Luba’s and Pipo’s; remove the Cold War/yanqui-go-home politics and replace it with a still biting but lower-stakes critique of capitalism and showbiz; tone down the magic realism to the kind of stuff you can explain with “that’s the kind of thing that happens in comics”; crank up the sex scenes. The end result? The funnybook-Marquez days are over, and now Beto’s free to do the crazily complicated soap-opera sex-farce sitcom of his demented dreams.
And not in a dumbed-down way, either! Beto chronicles one of the book’s most titillating storylines, Pipo’s crush-turned-affair with Fritz, with genuine insight. I actually recognize the singleminded way Pipo pursues Fritz despite neither of them having ever identified as lesbians, the way the idea got into her head and heart and crotch and simply grew and grew, never taking no for an answer. I also recognize the way the intensity of their feelings sort of seeps into increasingly intense sexual experiences with all sorts of other people, too.
The comedy’s never been sharper or funnier than it is here, either, nor as tied to Beto’s great strength, the depiction of the human form. Cases in point: Boots and Fortunato. (Excuse me–FORTUNATO..!) Boots’s teardrop-shaped body and architectural hairdo framing her preposterously perpetual scowl and giant Muppet mouth as she stares directly at the reader like Chester Gould’s Influence and screams “MY APPEAL IS INFINITE!” while having an orgasm? Classic shit, man. And FORTUNATO..!? Basically the Sergio sketch in comic form and minus the Lost Boys reference. His taciturn expression and the fact that he’s actually considerably less attractive then most of the other young men in the book only made it funnier. The last time we see his powers in action he’s actually got Kirby Krackle surrounding him for god’s sake. For all that creepy and sinister and violent stuff would bubble up from time to time–from the anti-Catholic rioting in Europe to Petra’s serial assaults on anyone she feels is a threat to the people she cares about to the god-knows-what that was going on with Khamo’s drug contacts–I got within the final ten or so pages of the book thinking that my two big takeaways were going to be these two characters cracking me up.
Then the last few pages happened, and wham, I’m just punched in the face with the fact that we’re not on Birdland‘s higher plane, we’re in Poison River‘s fallen world. In this world some people will stop at nothing to get what they think they want–money, sex, love, payback. In this world there’s a price to be paid for all the hijinx and sexual slapstick, one that no one involved really deserves to pay but one that gets paid nonetheless. It’s easy to forget given how happily extreme so many characters’ behavior has been, but in this world you can push people too far. I thought I had a handle on The Book of Ofelia, but of course it turns out there was no such thing all along.
* As you no doubt heard, the Beatles are on iTunes now. Good! They should be everywhere.
* Anders Nilsen has finished Big Questions #15. Comic of the decade candidate.
* Whoa, look at the cover and title for Sammy Harkham’s long-awaited Crickets #3! “Sex Morons,” people.
* Today in superhero event comics I’m interested in reading: War of the Green Lanterns is on the way from Geoff Johns and company.
* Guillermo Del Toro and David Eick are the creative team for the new Incredible Hulk TV series? I’m listening. And I say that as a major Del Toro detractor–I just feel like the constraints of the format will reign him in.
* This may be the first time I’ve ever felt a tinge of guilt for trade-waiting: Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee’s Thor: The Mighty Avenger is cancelled with January’s issue #8.
* Very glad to see that Grant Morrison’s extremely toyetic Batman run is being properly exploited.
* Here’s a great bit from Adam Serwer’s review of The Walking Dead episode 3: “Robert Kirkman’s original source material reminds us of an essential truth about violence, which is that its effectiveness has less to do with physical strength than an ability to break through the psychological barriers to inflicting pain on another human being.” As Serwer’s overall review indicates, it really is weird the way gender has come to the forefront of the show in ways it never did in the comic, usually to the show’s detriment.
* This is the strangest comics interview I’ve ever seen. Charles Burns is a good sport! (Via Matt Maxwell.)
* This really is a magnificently sexy-sleazy drawing of Boom Boom from New Mutants. Do Los Bros Hernandez have an alibi?
* Here are a couple of reports from recent George R.R. Martin speaking events at which he talked about Game of Thrones. Interesting stuff, albeit EXTREMELY SPOILERY toward the end.
* That story I linked to yesterday about the guy who refused an x-ray and pat-down at the airport and was threatened with a $10K fine if he simply declined to fly and left the airport–after they escorted him from the security area for that very purpose? Now the TSA is planning to prosecute him. In the immortal words of Brendan Filone, “It’s like not only does he shit on our heads, we’re supposed to say ‘Thanks for the hat.’”
* Oh, Richard. (Via Matt Maxwell.)
* Finally, if there were a comics version of the Netflix Watch Instantly queue, what would you put on it? Click the link for my queue. I feel so vulnerable.
* Much, much better this time around! I mean, seriously, that opening scene with Michael Rooker was almost like it was crafted as a way to say to that terrible character’s many many detractors “On the other hand…” (Yikes, no pun intended!) It put you right there with someone buckling and breaking under the weight of what zombies hath wrought, which is where you want your zombie fiction to put you.
* Similarly, while I understand Sean B.’s reservations about Ed the Wife Beater, I feel like he too was a case study in how to do things done wrong in Episode 2 better here. Sure, his stampede toward misogynistic epithets at the drop of a hat was a bit much, but at least he didn’t do it three or four sentences into his introduction, which is about how long Merle lasted last week before dropping the n-bomb. Instead, we meet him in the throes of a sullen little you’re-not-the-boss-of-me bout of passive aggression around the campfire the night before. Al Swearengen he ain’t, but nor is he Episode 2′s Merle Dixon.
* And I’m with Curt on how much more effective the zombies themselves were in this episode.
* There was also some welcome zagging where I expected things to zig. Lori’s brutally abrupt cut-off of Shane from her and Carl, and the apparent revelation that Shane told her Rick was dead in no uncertain terms–I didn’t see either coming, whereas turning what was (if I recall correctly) an ill-advised one-time thing in the comic into a full blown love affair in the show was more or less where you’d expect the adaptation to deviate if deviate it must. It helped that actor Jon Bernthal gave his all this week, believably portraying an equilibrium-upending emotional swirl of relief that his best friend and partner survived, joy that the woman and child he’s come to care about are reunited with the husband and father they love, guilt over what he’d said and done in Rick’s absence, jealousy of his relationship with Lori, fear that he’ll get found out, regret that he’s lost his ersatz “son,” and on and on.
* The “Hattie McDaniel work” bit was nice, and again, welcome. A smart show could return to the reestablishment of traditional gender roles often and weightily. We’ll see if that’s what we’ve got.
* Merle’s brother name is Daryl? Does he have another brother named Daryl too? Good gravy. Norman Reedus did a pretty good job, though–not unnecessarily belligerent, which is what I was worried about.
* I love Bear McCreary, but the music cues hit things a little hard, I thought. And knocked off 28…Later a bit too heavily too toward the end.
* If, goddess forbid, Christopher Lee dies before he can finish his role as Saruman in The Hobbit, have Jeffrey DeMunn grow his beard out and drop his voice a few octaves and blammo, instant White Wizard.
* I’d been dismissive of the idea that Merle would end up being the TV show’s version of the Governor at some point, but him losing his hand makes me worry, given all that easy eye-for-an-eye (so to speak) potential.
* In a way, I think that this series is a mug’s game. No no, bear with me, I’m not writing it off. It’s just that–well, okay, before it aired the show had three things going for it. 1) It’s based on the most successful, widely acclaimed, and influential horror comic of the past decade, and probably of a few decades before that; 2) It’s on the network that airs Mad Men and Breaking Bad, the two of most widely acclaimed television dramas currently on the air; 3) Less directly but still importantly, it bore the promise of being to its genre what The Sopranos was to post-Coppola/Scorsese mafia dramas, what The Wire was to police procedurals, and what Deadwood was to the Western–an incisive take on a shopworn drama that succeeds partially through genre revisionism, partially through intelligent application of genre, partially through a singular creative vision on the part of its creators, and partially through its ability to use the serial mechanisms of television drama to tell its story and explore its characters in themes at ruminative length.
But here’s the thing about point #3: Length and serialization aside, isn’t that stuff basically true of all the great zombie movies? I mean, the very first canonical zombie movie was itself an act of genre revisionism. George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead stripped zombies of their voodoo/hypnosis origin, added the cannibalism, made them an apocalyptic event, used them to light a fire under pressure-cooker human drama, and injected a healthy dose of social commentary into the proceedings. Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, the Dawn of the Dead remake, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, even Shaun of the Dead–these all already basically do what you’d want “The Sopranos of zombies” to do. I can think of very very few potentially canonical zombie movies that are simply “zombies run amok amongst basically flat characters, and you like it anyway because the zombie shit is so rad”–Zombi 2, perhaps? Return of the Living Dead, which I haven’t seen and which is probably not a good example because it’s a comedy? So anyway, barring some truly spectacular filmmaking, The Walking Dead suffers from a duplication of services problem with all the zombie material its audience is likely to have seen. After tonight’s episode I’m reasonably sure I’ll see it through to the end of its very short first season, because after all I feel warmly disposed toward zombie stuff, and this seems to be reasonably to quite well done zombie stuff. But it’s probably never going to be an hour of peak-level Romero- or Boyle-type material every week.
* Woo hoo, a new Girl Talk album! Unabashedly excited about this. I feel like as enthusiasm wanes for him in indie-rock-crit circles, we can better appreciate him for what he is: the best mash-up DJ, no more and no less.
* Frank Santoro presents his favorite comics of 2010. He counts 2010 as lasting from SPX 2009 to SPX 2010, which may be the single best year-ender list cheat I’ve ever heard of. He also has a special category reserved for the old lions of alternative comics, who between Sacco, Crumb, Clowes, Woodring, Ware, and Burns have had an astonishing 12 months. The post gets bonus points for illustrating how a strict no-nonsense, no-aliases commenting policy should be adopted Internet-wide when it comes to discussing the work of Blaise Larmee and his Comets Comets crew–including, if Sam Gaskin’s exasperation is any indication, at Comets Comets itself.
* More depressing news out of the Direct Market as its monopoly distributor declines to handle a project of obvious artistic worth. When you’re the only game in town, I think you have an obligation to include as many people in that game as possible, especially when you’ve made plenty of room for people playing another game entirely.
* Today on Robot 6:
* I think I might…love these Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark images?;
* and by all means, bring Doomsday back and let him cut a swathe of destruction through the DC Universe. Seriously, I’m really happy about this! For one thing, The Death of Superman was a great time at the comics. For another, Doomsday is a great visual and a memorably relentless antagonist. And finally, I’ve long been of the opinion that it’d be great to tie tie-ins revolving around villains to dropping a real daisy cutter on your book’s status quo. Like, for example, back in the “Countdown to Infinite Crisis” days, I was always disappointed by how little the seemingly indestructible OMACs did when they showed up in all these books. They were programmed only to kill superhuman, but they did precious little of it when it mattered. I always thought a great way to drive home the threat and make readers feel like the crossovers were more than just a device to goose sales would have been to insist “Okay, Creative Team X, you can use Crossover Villain Y, but only if you kill off one of your major characters or otherwise totally upend business as usual.” Having Doomsday slaughter his way through the mildlist strikes me as a terrific way to clear out some dead wood and pave the way for a new direction. Y’know, like Cataclysm in World of Warcraft. (However, let me join the commenters in hoping that this doesn’t mean they’re gonna kill Steel, one of the great undervalued superheroes on a visual and conceptual level, to say nothing of the need for good non-white characters.)
* Speaking of which: Yep, still digging Bruce Baugh’s extensive pre-Cataclysm WoWblogging.
* Very excited that my new blogging platform allows me to place the proper accent mark when linking to Ron Regé Jr.’s Yeast Hoist #6 on What Things Do. Longer and more diaristic than previous installments.
* Somewhere between Ben Katchor, Jeffrey Brown, and Brian Chippendale lurks Victor Kerlow’s “Black Shit Monster.” (Via Floating World and Arthur.)
* Speaking of Chippendale, today’s Puke Force installment is a black-comedy kick in the face.
* And speaking of Brown, Aviv Itzcovitz repanels Bighead.
* Real Life Horror: Two stories about the increasingly invasive and pointlessly humiliating security theater at America’s airports; two stories about the Obama administration’s lawless imperial free-for-all approach to dealing with accused terrorists. 2 + 2 = ? (NOTE: Fuck Anwar al-Awlaki and Go Team Comics, but still.)
* Sheila O’Malley writes in praise of Jeremy Renner. I’ve said this for literally years now, but ever since I saw him in Dahmer I knew he was something special. One day I’ll finally review that damn film. (Via Matt Zoller Seitz.)
* Tom Spurgeon against poptimism, more or less.