Archive for June, 2011

Music Time: Beyoncé – “I Care”

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Beyoncé – I Care

4 is the first Beyoncé album whose slow, serious songs I don’t automatically skip. Good thing, too, because it’s mostly slow-ish, serious-ish songs, as opposed to Dangerously in Love, which dumped them at the back end of album; I Am…Sasha Fierce, which gave them their own disc; and her best record, B’Day, which nearly excised them altogether. The up-tempo “Countdown” is getting a lot of attention right now, with its Franken-pop construction and inspired gibberish like “ME and my BOOF and my BOOF BOOF ridin’” (thus joining “Ra-ra ah-ah-ah, roma ro-ma-ma, gaga ooh-la-la” and “Mama say, mama sa, mama ma coo sa” in the annals of great pop nonsense), but the album’s undisputed highlights for me are the aforeblogged lovesexy scorcher of a ballad “1+1″ and this song, in which Beyoncé addresses a lover’s indifference by attacking it with the nearest weapon to hand, her voice. Listen to the way she shouts “IIIII CARE!” in the chorus, or just plain screams at the end of it — it’s like Chris Cornell wailing into the abyss of Andrew Wood’s heroin overdose in “Times of Trouble” by Temple of the Dog. Sonically the two songs aren’t even all that dissimilar: state-of-the-art production that creates a nice melancholy purple cushion of air around the instrumentation, in “I Care”‘s case the tumbling drums in particular. Hell, in a world where Bey’s mashing up Prince and Kings of Leon and having freaking Tricky do the Sean Paul part in “Baby Boy” at Glastonbury, I wouldn’t be surprised if I woke up tomorrow to find out she’d covered it. It’d be a fine outlet for the sort of skill and conviction she displays here (like the way her voice warbles when she says she’s been “deserted” or the way she sings along to the guitar solo like she can’t bear to stop pouring out the emotion she’s feeling), and for her ever-sharpening taste for interesting arrangements (“I Care” and “I Miss You” are mostly synth tones and spare percussion; the latter just sort of disappears rather than ends the way proper commercial pop songs do; even the Diane Warren-penned “I Was Here” has some weird spectral Interpol guitar stretching out from the end of the chorus). She’s taking the sort of stuff that usually made for turgid one-listen mom-radio bait and making it lively and engrossing. Frankly there’s not much she can’t do at this point.


Carnival of souls: Grant Morrison’s Watchmen sequel, Dave Kiersh, more Jim Woodring, more

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

* DC pitched Grant Morrison on writing a Watchmen sequel; he declined. That tidbit comes from the Mindless Ones’ very fun interview with Morrison.

* Rob Clough examines the oeuvre of Dave Kiersh, perhaps the most underappreciated cartoonist of the last decade-plus given how present his nostalgia-tinged tone poems about the teenage wasteland are in the zeitgeist. And what a dreamy picture of him, too!

* People are organizing protests of the DC relaunch at the San Diego Comic-Con and of Odd Future at the Pitchfork Festival. Why not, says I. As silly as that pairing makes it all seem, the comment thread at the link is a surprisingly thoughtful conversation about the uses and limits of protest.

* Matt Zoller Seitz has launched a new group blog called PressPlay, dedicated primarily to video essays. That’s something to get excited about.

* 300: Battle of Artemisia — wow, that really rolls off the tongue.

* J. Caleb Mozzocco joins Robot 6 with a post on Ralph Cosentino’s Wonder Woman children’s book. Cosentino has done similar books on Superman, which I haven’t seen, and Batman, which is one of the best Batman anythings I’ve ever read. If he can distill WW’s milieu and appeal as beautifully as he did Batman’s, his book should be issued to DC executives.

* Thrilled to see What Things Do posting more Abner Dean.

* Finally, a couple of quotes that have been resonating with me since I read them.

Clarence’s ability to enjoy Clarence was incredible.

–from Bruce Springsteen’s eulogy for Clarence Clemons (via Pitchfork)

RUDICK: Did the Surrealism exhibition that you saw in 1968 have a similar effect on you?

WOODRING: That hit me harder and lasted longer than anything else I’ve ever seen.

RUDICK: What was it about that body of work that had such an impact on you?

WOODRING: I was still in high school. I didn’t know Surrealism existed. I just went with some people I knew down to the L.A. County Museum of Art to see this huge Surrealism and dada retrospective. I had no expectations. The first thing that I saw when I walked in the door was The Song of Love by Giorgio de Chirico, with the plaster cast and the red rubber glove. I saw that and my mind just started racing, trying to understand it because it had such a mood of such intensity, and I was thinking, A red rubber glove? Why is that affecting me like this? What is going on here? It’s like magic.

It was really an all-star show, and they had the crème de la crème: Dalí’s best paintings, Max Ernst’s best paintings, Victor Brauner, Magritte, Hans Bellmer. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but I went back to see it a second time and realized, God, this stuff is just bristling with sex energy. These guys must’ve thought about sex all the time. Dalí’s Great Masturbator was there, and various libidinous Magrittes, Max Ernsts, and especially the Hans Bellmer stuff. It was just so heavily erotic that I, virgin that I was, thought, Sex is magic. It’s where all this hallucinatory power comes from.

My parents were very conservative, and all their friends were conservative—it was a very unresponsive, unnurturing environment for me. I learned from that show for the first time that there were adults who worked hard at unraveling those mysteries and capturing and putting them down. I had no idea. I just thought that I was stuck off in a corner of the universe by myself, and I’d never find a tribe of people to relate to or people to confirm what I was believing. It was like being reborn, seeing that this world of possibilities existed, to say nothing of the work itself, which was so heavy and intense and enjoyable. The pleasure I felt from seeing that stuff lasted for weeks afterward—years, really. I still get a frisson thinking about it.

–from Nicole Rudick’s interview with Jim Woodring in The Comics Journal


“This is the girl.”

Thursday, June 30th, 2011


Comics Time: L.A. Diary

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

L.A. Diary
Gabrielle Bell, writer/artist
Uncivilized Books, October 2009
20 pages
$4
Buy it from Uncivilized Books

He doesn’t go quite this far himself, but it’s easy to interpret cartoonist and Uncivilized Books publisher Tom Kaczynski’s introduction to this minicomic collection of diary strips and sketchbook pages from Gabrielle Bell as a claim that her lack of transgression is itself transgressive. “Bell is not possessed by demons,” he writes by way of comparing Bell’s work to the autobiographical comics tradition established by Justin Green and Robert Crumb, going on to compare her work to the very root of the diaristic impulse in Western culture: maintaining a daily account of the world to better understand one’s place in it. And indeed, Bell’s understanding of her place in the world, as expressed through these comics, leaves little room for iconoclasm and taboo violation: The climactic strip in the collection focuses on her inability to hug people without dissociating. But Bell never translates her discomforts into reverse-exhibitionistic cris de coeur of loneliness, either — from the cover of the comic on down, she may be quietly separating herself from the friends with which she is constantly surrounded, but, well, she’s constantly surrounded by friends. Like the yoga poses she holds in a class designed to cultivate inner peace but which in Bell’s case simply give her one more opportunity for her mind to recursively burrow inside itself, her self-presentation in these comics is a painstakingly struck balance, neither woe-is-me nor look-at-me.

So no, we will never see a “Minnie’s 3rd Love” or “My Sex History” from Gabrielle Bell. But in this light, the smudgy swatches of black that dot her square panels seemingly at random and had me baffled for years could perhaps be seen as a deliberate act of obscurantism, breaking the plane of the art as if to interrupt our ability to take it in vérité-style, a way to say “No, this isn’t real, this is just a drawing.” Kaczynski suggests that that act of drawing is a “declaration of fidelity to the Great Work”; the diary form it takes, then, is simply a way for Bell to lash herself to the yoke of making art on a consistent basis. If he’s right, then Bell’s program has served her well, enabling her to produce a substantial body of work with nary a demon to drive her. Thus if there is a shocking revelation to be found in L.A. Diary, it’s the book’s final third, which reproduces the pages in her spiral-bound notebook where the preceding strips first took shape. Replete with spelling errors, cruder and at times almost childlike linework, broader and blunter story beats, and more direct navel-gazing (an abandoned storyline about starting a blog, a self-portrait in the locker-room shower that gets a bit toned-down and covered-up in the final version), it feels almost breathlessly unrefined compared to the finished product. It’s not Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, but in context, the exhibitionism is just as raw.


Music Time: WU LYF – “Heavy Pop”

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

WU LYF – “Heavy Pop”

Played from start to finish, WU LYF’s debut album Go Tell Fire to the Mountain comes across like a music-nerd Mark Millar Idea: “What if there was the most uplifting anthemic indie rock album ever…but the lyrics were GIBBERISH?” And like most Mark Millar Ideas, real and imagined, the joke gets old quickly. The formula is simple and adhered to with minimal variation: Cavernous production (the album was apparently recorded in a church; the ever-present pipe organ’s a tipoff too) plus chiming guitar plus glossolalia screamed at the top of lead singer Ellery Roberts’s lungs. Slow songs, fast songs, quiet songs, loud songs, every song on the album gets the same treatment. By the time you reach track nine or so, the initially bracing effect of the approach, this sense that you’re witnessing something that’s half-hymn, half-howl at the moon, is diluted through repetition and general lack of imagination. No amount of Captain Caveman hollering is going to distinguish the umpteenth life-is-beautiful, we’re-all-in-this-together Joshua Tree legacy-character record.

But everything that makes WU LYF a lousy place to live makes it a terrific place to visit for the five minute, thirty-five second duration of the album’s concluding track, “Heavy Pop.” An admirably lengthy, virtually ambient organ introduction sounds like the world is slowly waking up, and when those first guitar notes hit, it’s like rays of morning sun, and Roberts is like a man screaming right back into the sky, greeting the dawn with defiance. It’s another answer to a goofy unasked question, in this case “What if the problem with Bruce’s vocals at the end of ‘Jungleland’ was that they sounded insufficiently committed?” At album length this doesn’t work at all, but for a single song it’s epic, genuinely so — it’s huge, it sprawls, it conjures images of great vistas and lone heroes and everything. There’s no need to press your luck with the other nine tracks. Unless you’re an Arcade Fire fan, I suppose, in which case go with God.

(Buy the album from Amazon.com)


Comics Time: WunderKammer No. 1

Monday, June 27th, 2011

WunderKammer No. 1
Nicholas Di Genova, writer/artist
Koyama Press, 2009
24 pages
$8
Read about it at Koyama
Theoretically you can buy it at Nicholas Di Genova’s website but I can’t get it to load
Buy it from Atomic Books
Visit Nicholas Di Genova’s blog

In googling for images and purchase links for this compendium of animal drawings by Nicholas Di Genova (of whom I was previously aware as a fellow resident of Partyka‘s periphery), I came across a post on a New York City art blog that took a faint-praise approach to Di Genova’s art but was really impressed by this so-crazy-it-just-might-work innovation he’d had of printing his pieces in a cheap, floppy book. Imagine that! So god knows what the fine art world (I feel like that should be in scare caps — The Fine Art World) makes of this stuff, and this way of presenting it. To me it’s a comic book, and a stunner. Di Genova specializes in drawing braying, barking, growling, blank-pupiled animals of all shapes and sizes and species, including many that don’t actually exist, in a riot of accrued maximalist detail. Each of his dogs, bears, rams, wolves with ram horns, bears with bird heads, two-headed turtles, tyrannosaurus rexes with zebra coloration and manes, three-eyed gorilla/bat hybrids and so on appear to have been constructed by carefully gluing little rectangles and circles and lines together, the way chainmail is constructed one link at a time. Only here the construction doesn’t necessarily seem chained together, so you’re left half tempted to shake the book like a snowglobe to see if the constituent parts resettle in new shapes to create a new bestiary. Di Genova repeats this dizzying effect in macro via pages that consist of massive grids of animal heads, one breed/species after another, one head per borderless panel — dogs, birds, and frogs each get their own page here, but there are plenty of smaller grids featuring turtles, bears, bats, rodents, and god knows what else. I found my eye zipping back and forth from line to line in an S-shape a la Brian Chippendale, the better to take each incredibly detailed head in without missing a beat. The pages featuring the smaller grids often come across like some sort of alternate-universe Chris Ware suffering from Audubon-inspired monomania: A large portrait of an animal will be connected to a grid of tiny ones with a diagrammatic line, or encircled and radiating off smaller drawings like the spokes of a wheel. A relationship, even a narrative, is implied through these devices; the fun is figuring out what the hell they could be. And while we’re on the subject of the visual language of comics, Di Genova comes up with the best technique for depicting the non-verbal vocalizations of animals I’ve seen maybe ever: tiny word balloons completely colored black. Whether it’s a bark, a tweet, a ribbit, or…whatever sound turtles make, it works.

The book’s centerpiece, literally and metaphorically, is the spread where Di Genova’s project is at its most basic and blunt: 702 butterflies, each as unique as a snowflake, in a 27 x 26 butterfly grid bleeding right off the top and bottom of the centerfold spread. The effect is at once overwhelming and inviting: I was dazzled by the variety present in nature and intimidated, almost horrified, by the artificial reproduction of that natural variety. At the same time, I simultaneously resigned myself to never really being able to take in the whole of the image and diving right into the spread to soak up as much as I could…and I distrust pat “as above, so below” interpretations, but what the hey: There you have it.


Carnival of souls: Jim Woodring interviews, various creepy and lovely images, more

Monday, June 27th, 2011

* Nicole Rudick interviews Jim Woodring at glorious length for The Comics Journal:

RUDICK: Are [the apparitions you've seen] usually the same thing or similar things?

WOODRING: No, they’re always different. The last thing I saw was a guy standing upstairs in my hallway, standing bolt upright, with a leather harness on his face.

RUDICK: Does it frighten you to see those things?

WOODRING: That one was extremely frightening. At first, I thought it was my reflection in the mirror. Then I thought, There’s no mirror there. I saw this guy, just standing, wearing black pants and a white shirt, with his face in a leather harness with the number nine on leather tabs at every junction of the straps, and his mouth was open in a rictus. I could see his teeth, and his eyes were staring at me in this beseeching way. He left after a couple of seconds, but it was very vivid while it occurred.

Then a couple of years before that, I saw the Thompson Twins, Thomson and Thompson from Tintin. They were in black and white and were walking down the street with a full-color nine-foot streetwalker in fuchsia hot pants. That resolved into a woman and her two small children. Then the time before that, I was at the mall and my neighbor lady saw me and came up behind me and spoke my name, and when I turned around and looked at her, where her head should have been there was this eggshell of lint, which had the front pushed in, and there was a big gob of chewing gum or something sitting at the base of it. That was a frightening experience. I screamed when I saw that. That just scared the shit out of me.

The thing these all have in common is that they’re not at all vague, they’re very crisp, and I retain memories of them with extraordinary vividness. I’ve drawn all these things out. They’re very sharp, almost more sharp than real life, in the same way that when people meditate and they see the white light—it’s obviously not light, it’s not photons, it’s something else, more vivid than light. Because you’re not seeing with your eyes, you’re seeing with your mind when these things happen, they have sharpness and an intensity that regular visual things don’t.

That’s the juiciest part, but there’s stuff in there about the Surrealists, and horror as the sacred, and symmetry, and struggling with the presence of evil in a world that also contains wonderful things, and all manner of other stuff that hit me right in the gut. You must read this.

* Hey, it’s a new Emily Carroll comic! This contains one of her creepiest images yet.

* Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls will be adapting the Nine Inch Nails dystopian-future concept album Year Zero for Trent Reznor’s long-gestating HBO/BBC miniseries. That sounds fine.

* Too Much Coffee Man‘s Shannon Wheeler, of all people, nails the problem with Chester Brown’s Paying For It, as succinctly as anyone I’ve seen make the attempt. I think calling for a heavier editorial hand is a nonstarter, though, and for good reason. A heavier editorial hand would likely have preempted Chester Brown’s entire career.

* Curt Purcell salutes the proud wearer of Comics’ Greatest Jacket, Death Note‘s Naomi Misora.

* Paging Frank Santoro: Marcos Martin is really approaching page layout differently than anyone else in superhero comics, if this preview page from his and Mark Waid’s Daredevil #1 is any indication.

* I’m really not sure what Darryl Ayo’s comics call to arms is about — the problems, and the people, he’s addressing are described in terms too general to be useful. Mostly I find my enjoyment of comics increasing the less I worry about the state of comics, or more specifically the less I expose myself to the daily scrum of jawjaw about same. That said, he put together a gallery of lovely images to support the post, including these pieces by Al Columbia and Frank Quitely that I’d never seen before.

* Aeron Alfrey of Monster Brains has posted a couple of killer galleries lately. First up is the cosmic horror of Anatoly Fomenko, with its wondrous and oppressive sense of scale:

* And next is the scabrous, texture-heavy creature portraiture of Hasama (warning: the image below is fine, but the rest are not for anyone who’s squeamish about facial disfiguration):

* Aled Lewis’s “Video Games vs. Real Life” is similar to a Star Wars-based photography project that made the rounds a while back, but even though I was familiar with the basic idea at play, I still found this Donkey Kong image kind of unnerving. Looking through the foliage and seeing something looking back at you is the great cryptozoological dream/nightmare image.

* If you can’t trust them to straighten their belts, how can you trust them to save us all from Despero???

* I’m pretty excited to discover a Broadway revival of Godspell is in the works for this October. Stephen Schwartz, the show’s creator, is involved, so that leaves me optimistic that they won’t just slap a coat of Rent paint on the thing. It’s my favorite show.


Comics Time: Night Animals

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Night Animals
Brecht Evens, writer/artist
Top Shelf, January 2011
48 pages
$7.95
Read a preview and buy it from Top Shelf

Dare I say that this is even better than The Wrong Place? I think I dare! Created before that book but published in English after it, Night Animals is a more traditionally drawn affair from author Brecht Evens in that it is, in fact, drawn. The Wrong Place‘s paint-only art was its distinctive selling point and, via clever coloring, its primary storytelling mechanism, but as it turns out this innovation meant Evens abandoned a really lovely line — thick, ropy, tactile, full of motion, fun. It gives the art more immediate pop, and gives Evens’s really vibrant colors (look at that cover; now imagine a whole book like that) the day off, as it were, freeing them from the burden of telling the story themselves and allowing them to comment on and enhance the action, and of course simply delight the eye.

Said action consists of two separate stories in which the protagonists’ sexuality is passed through a gauntlet of children’s-story-style creatures of the wild. The first, in which a balding businessman and apparent tyro furry goes down a literal rabbit hole and braves an increasingly terrifying series of beasts on his way to the “Blind Date” that gives the story its title, has a happy ending: A grinning, recumbent woman in rabbit ears, probably a little plain under normal circumstances with her hornrimmed glasses and mole and pointy schnoz but bomb-ass hot as she’s presented at the end of this journey, with a promising white arrow directing her bunny-suited suitor straight to her crotch. After the painstakingly delineated labyrinth we’ve followed to get here, including a pair of stunning spreads filled with seemingly every sea monster and forest creature Evens could think of, this punchline image elicited a good-natured “haw!” from me; if I’d been there, I’d have high-fived both the guy and the girl before leaving them to get it on. Indeed, the very last image, a Wrong Place-style painted silhouette of the two characters in floppy-eared flagrante delicto, gives the impression of the artist quietly backing away and closing the door behind himself, letting our hero and heroine do their stuff in peace. Evens really nails the simple satisfaction sex sometimes provides — life can be filled with storm and stress, but every now and then it’s nothing that a special someone’s smile and genitals can’t fix.

The scarred side of the Night Animals coin is the second and concluding story, “Bad Friends.” (“So it’s not just a clever name.”—Wayne’s World) It starts, and indeed continues, innocuously enough, as a sort of distaff Where the Wild Things Are/Aesopian cover version of Stephen King’s Carrie, in which puberty rather than petulance is what enables our young protagonist to heed the call of the wild, and in which the rapid locker-room onset of menstruation leads not to a telekinetic killing spree but a visit from the Great God Pan, a trip on the back of a giant bird, and a rockin’ party with various critters in the woods. Our heroine whoops it up, enjoying the nakedness her newfound friends have reduced her to — complete with body-paint heart drawn around her pudenda — so much so that she doesn’t notice the darkness in their eyes as they close in to devour her. This story ends not with a clinch, but an empty bloodstained bed, worried parents, an ineffectual search of the now-empty forest, a single flower wilting on the ground. Evens’s trademark red goes from a spot-color stain on the girl’s underwear, to the alluring light of an illicit night out, to a symbol of sexual abandon, to the color of violence and death. It’s quite a performance, sexy and creepy at precisely the moments Evens wishes it to be one or the other, and a direct contrast with the earthy lightheartedness of the opening story. It’s awfully easy for sex comics to get didactic in their rah-rah positivity; Evens gives us the flipside, counting on us to be grown up enough to weigh the pros and cons ourselves. Good for him and good for this comic. It’s a blast.


Carnival of souls: Hobbit news, Dave Sim, Daniel Clowes, two remarkable short animated films, more

Friday, June 24th, 2011

* Maybe my deep and abiding satisfaction with The Lord of the Rings has given this subsequent project an air of anticlimax. Maybe the lingering stink of Guillermo Del Toro, genre filmmaking’s most overrated non-Christopher Nolan exemplar, has dampened my enthusiasm. Maybe the advent of everything from Lost to Battlestar Galactica to A Song of Ice and Fire has diffused my ability to obsessively interest myself in another serialized work of fantastic fiction. Maybe the constant budget and legal and personnel problems and the resulting stops and starts in production have afforded me a little too much of a confidence-sapping glimpse into how the sausage gets made. Regardless, I’ve found myself bizarrely (for me, a man who has the White Tree of Gondor tattooed on his person) indifferent to Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies. But if you were Peter Jackson and you wanted to rectify that state of affairs, you could do much, much worse than releasing a production still as note-perfect as the one below and casting Evangeline Lilly as a Wood Elf, I’ll tell you that goddamn much.

* Jeet Heer scans the length and breadth of Daniel Clowes’s recent works — lots to chew on in the books, lots to chew on in the piece, though Jeet fails to tackle the critical question of whether he can identify with Wilson or not.

* Also at the Journal: Tim Kreider’s piece on Cerebus explains both why you’d want to read Dave Sim’s landmark comic and why you wouldn’t better than any I’ve read. I commented on the piece at Robot 6.

* Gary Groth on the state of the comics industry. Be sure to check the comment thread to discover that the publisher of Love and Rockets, Eightball, Peanuts, and The Acme Novelty Library has failed to live up to superhero fans’ exacting standards.

* Hans Rickheit has launched his Cochlea & Eustachia feature as a webcomic. That’s a great strip every time it appears.

* Curt Purcell on the fashion of Death Note. I’ll tell you what — I don’t remember the name of that ill-fated FBI agent from the second volume, but I sure remember her jacket.

* Sheeeeesh, this picture of a speaker stack by Paul Pope.

* I need to write this down someplace before I forget: that supercut video of the 100 Greatest Movie Threats should have included the bit from The Three Amigos where Steve Martin tells El Guapo “Let her go or I’ll fill your guts so full of lead you’ll be using your dick for a pencil” and the part from Invasion U.S.A. where Chuck Norris tells a guy “I’ll hit you with so many rights you’re gonna beg for a left.”

* The 2D material in this half-hour animated Italian-language adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” is crude, yes. But the computer-rendered sequence in which the plane flies through the mountains and into the dead city beyond, starting around the 11:50 mark? Absolutely astonishing. The sense of scale is horrific, and the lighting…man, if a live-action horror film were lit this way today, we’d be celebrating in the streets. I had no idea gray could glow. (Via Bryan Alexander.)

* And from the makers of my beloved ELA, PepperMelon, comes a new short film called fIRST — four minutes of dayglo sci-fi splendor and emotional oomph.

“fIRST” – a short story by PepperMelon from PepperMelon on Vimeo.


Comics Time: Blammo #7

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Blammo #7
Noah Van Sciver, writer/artist
Kilgore Books & Comics, February 2011
40 pages
$5
Buy it from Kilgore

The multiple times Noah Van Sciver uses fake ads and author’s notes to remind us of this notwithstanding, Blammo‘s throwback status as a ’90s-style solo-anthology floppy-format black-and-white “alternative comic book that is introspective and drawn by a hopelessly poor twentysomething with seasonal affective disorder” is one of the least interesting things about Blammo #7. It doesn’t hold a candle to the way he draws the darkness of a Halloween night spent trick-or-treating with a sky full of simple horizontal lines in “Because I Have To,” or to his po-faced, actually rather creepy retellings of a couple of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark-style serial-killer urban legends in “Don’t Turn On the Light” and “This Is the Last One I’m Sending You Today.” It’s not as noteworthy as the way he tends to cheat his characters toward the viewer, the better to emphasize the big ears and big noses and worried brows and frowning mouths of his characters’ faces, or the way the whole of those faces is constructed so solidly that they remind me of a handwritten cursive letter more than a face. It doesn’t account for his slice-of-life fiction’s endearingly loose and rambling narratives — the way “Who Are You, Jesus?” piles up ironies in such a way as to emphasize its main character’s simultaneous shittiness and sympathetic nature with each turn, or the way the “Foreword/Because I Have To/Afterword” suite tells the story of a guy’s emotionally fraught Halloween evening in three sections wherein each thing that happens to him is weirdly disconnected from the others in precisely the way life tends to work. It doesn’t cover the way his broad funny-animal Chick tract parody complements his totally straightforward account of Joseph Smith and the origin of the Mormon faith, the way a biting fuck-you and a lingering respect tend to mingle in the lapsed. No, the mere fact that this is a defiantly anachronistic and un-hip alternative comic book doesn’t speak to the most important thing about it: It’s a very good one.


Music Time: Beyoncé – “1+1″

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

I admire how few concessions this song makes. I figured that after a few introductory measures they’d clean up and smooth out that guitar triplet, but nope, it stays fragile-sounding and rough around the edges the whole time. The expected “TICK two three TOCK two three” 6/8 slow-jam drum never really materializes, requiring you to lean into those rich-sounding chords, which are themselves constructed largely from a subtle interplay between piano and bass. Synth strings and a watery organ sound and a snippet of piano played backwards are sketched in here and there, but you really have to wait for them. Beyoncé’s vocals, to paraphrase her lyrics, pull you in close and won’t let you go — there’s simply no ignoring those big whooping “OO!” sounds at the end of each line, nor a chorus structured around the simple phrase “make love to me,” nor a final verse that sets this lovemaking up as an alternative to a world at war. And when the climax finally comes, all that pent-up energy isn’t diffused into a dully loud full-band finale with a full-fledged beat or whatever, but poured into a reach-for-the-sky guitar solo. Everything surrounding it stays relatively restrained; the guitar does the shouting. Then it all just kinda disappears. “1+1″ is, fittingly, more than the sum of its parts, all of which are astutely selected and intelligently, unapologetically deployed to transport you to a more beautiful place for four minutes and thirty-five seconds at a time.


Carnival of souls: Brian Chippendale on Marvel, Kim Thompson on Tardi/Manchette, the Big Man, more

Monday, June 20th, 2011

* My final Game of Thrones chat with Megan Morse is now up at The Cool Kids Table. I’d say this one’s most interesting for our talk of different approaches to season finales, and what was expected here versus what was delivered.

* Brian Chippendale is back writing about Marvel comics! Nobody does it better. He’s absolutely right that Uncanny X-Force is a really good book, by the way. Also, Brian Chippendale is on Twitter.

* Kim Thompson interviews himself about the new Jacques Tardi/Jean-Patrick Manchette book Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot. I really don’t like the sound of what he says about cat lovers beware.

* Over at Topless Robot, my pal Rob Bricken has some fun at Green Lantern‘s expense. As he and I have both said before, you can put up with almost any number of plot holes of whatever width provided the stuff those holes were poked in was worthwhile to begin with.

* John Porcellino’s King-Cat #69 is now up on What Things Do. I liked that issue.

* New Ben Katchor is always a delight.

* Uno Moralez is great update: Uno Moralez is great.

* I haven’t been following Hans Rickheit’s Ectopiary; this page tells me I ought to get on that toot sweet.

* And how about that Moebius?

* Finally, I will miss Clarence Clemons, who helped make this.


Comics Time: I Will Bite You! and Other Stories

Monday, June 20th, 2011

I Will Bite You! and Other Stories
Joseph Lambert, writer/artist
Secret Acres, April 2011
128 pages
$14
Buy it from Secret Acres
Buy it from Amazon.com

You want to see artists riding their personal visual vocabulary past the realm of utility and into Idiosyncracy Land. From Kirby crackle and Ditko hands to Jim Woodring’s fungoids and Al Columbia’s erasures, signature tropes are frequently a sign that something not so much practical as alchemical is going on in that artist’s brain when he puts lines on paper. Judging from this splash-making debut book from Joseph Lambert, a collection of work previously published in various anthologies and minicomics, Lambert has several such obsessions: Big grinning suns with devious intentions, fumingly angry and violent little children, and using the perspectivally flattening effect of two-dimensional line art to make people and things interact in unexpected ways — characters grabbing their word balloons to use as weapons, people in the foreground jumping onto objects that in “reality” are miles away or literally in outer space. The problem is that none of these visual tricks say much of anything to me. Watching an angry little kid leap into the air and assault the onlooking sun makes for a clever visual, but not a particularly communicative one. Children’s stories have used this kind of device to convey the naivete of their protagonists, and the matter-of-fact wonders of the world when seen through a child’s eyes; mythology uses it to bring a huge and frightening world down to our level, to grant us a degree of control. For Lambert, I think there’s an exploration of rage and frustration under here someplace, but it’s diluted from overuse. If that many characters are angry enough to threaten the sun, then how angry are any of them, really? It’s as though Lambert held his thumb out and blotted out the sun and thought “Wouldn’t it be neat to draw something that did that literally?” And yes, it’s neat, but after a while it’s not much more than that. Too many of the visuals presented here — word-balloon weapons, dancin’ on the ceiling perspective shifts, characters swallowing other characters whole and unharmed — have that feeling. “Why not?” is a terrific question for an artist to ask himself; “why?” is sometimes a better one.


Game of Thrones thoughts index

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Here are links to all of my Game of Thrones reviews. I’ve added the special features I’ve written for Rolling Stone to the list chronologically, so that once you’ve read the preceding review post, it’s safe to read that feature as well. I hope you enjoy them!

SEASON ONE
Episode 01: Winter Is Coming
Episode 02: The Kingsroad
Episode 03: Lord Snow
Episode 04: Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things
Episode 05: The Wolf and the Lion
Episode 06: A Golden Crown
Episode 07: You Win or You Die
Episode 08: The Pointy End
Episode 09: Baelor
Episode 10: Fire and Blood
List: The Seven Most Awful Things People Did on Game of Thrones Season One

SEASON TWO
Episode 11: The North Remembers
Episode 12: The Night Lands
Episode 13: What Is Dead May Never Die
Episode 14: Garden of Bones
Episode 15: The Ghost of Harrenhal
Episode 16: The Old Gods and the New
Episode 17: A Man Without Honor
List: The 10 Biggest Differences Between Game of Thrones and the Books
Episode 18: The Prince of Winterfell
Episode 19: Blackwater
Episode 20: Valar Morghulis
* Follow-up 01
* Follow-up 02
List: The Best and Worst New Characters in Game of Thrones Season Two
List: Final Standings in the Game of Thrones After Season Two

SEASON THREE
Q&A: Bryan Cogman (Executive Story Editor)
Season Three Cheat Sheet
Season Three New Character Guide
Episode 21: “Valar Dohaeris”
Q&A: Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell)
Episode 22: “Dark Wings, Dark Words”
Q&A: Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark)
Episode 23: “Walk of Punishment”
Q&A: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister)
Episode 24: “And Now His Watch Is Ended”
Q&A: Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy)
Episode 25: “Kissed by Fire”
Q&A: Maisie Williams (Arya Stark)
Episode 26: “The Climb”
Q&A: Aiden Gillen (Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish)
Episode 27: “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”
Episode 28: “Second Sons”
Q&A: Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth)
Episode 29: “The Rains of Castamere”
Q&A: Richard Madden (Robb Stark)
Taking stock of Season Three: Bloggingheads.tv discussion with Alyssa Rosenberg
Episode 30: “Mhysa”


Game of Thrones thoughts: Season One, Episode Ten – NON-SPOILERY EDITION

Monday, June 20th, 2011
SPOILERS FOR THE SHOW, NO SPOILERS FOR THE BOOKS – if you haven’t read the books, you can still read this. Crossposted from the spoilery edition at All Leather Must Be Boiled.

* Talk about sticking the landing!

* I don’t know if it’s director Alan Taylor, who helmed these last two episodes, or simply an overall crew that’s more experienced now than they were at the beginning of the season, but the show is succeeding more as filmmaking now. Robb’s grief-ridden assault on that old tree was beautifully lit, a visually rewarding end to that whole sequence with Catelyn’s approach through the camp and the trees. The brief, inaudible, occasionally out of focus snippets of the chaos on the steps of Baelor’s Sept as the execution’s aftermath played itself out echoed Arya’s shock and disorientation perfectly, driving home that things continue happening irrespective of our ability to influence them or our desire to stop them. When a show’s choices aren’t strictly functional, when they communicate something other than raw story data, that’s when a show comes alive.

* And the final scene really couldn’t have been better done. Once again the filmmakers’ choice to shift a nighttime scene to the daytime paid off, even if we lose “the night came alive with the music of dragons,” strictly speaking. That image of a young naked woman, covered in ash but unburned, her body crawling with tiny dragons, is primally powerful. I’m not sure I understood just how much so until I actually saw it with my eyes instead of my mind’s eye. And it’s really not the sort of thing you’ve seen in a live-action epic fantasy before. Quite a final image for a TV show, too, even an HBO one.

* Speaking of which, I’ve seen some newbie viewers complain that this episode was a bit anticlimactic. But that’s certainly by design, and par for the course for an HBO drama. The best HBO shows have always been novelistic to begin with, and just as a book rarely ends with its single biggest beat, so too have The Sopranos, Deadwood, and The Wire reserved the fireworks for the penultimate episode, leaving the finale for aftermath and placesetting. It’s definitely a different model even from strong network and basic cable genre shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica, where it’s the final episode’s job to knock you on your ass. I think the dragon scene gave this enough clout to accomplish that anyway, but if you went into the finale expecting an invasion of King’s Landing by the Starks or Westeros by Dany and the Dothraki, no joy.

* Magnificently played scene with the heads on sticks. Boy oh boy, if ever there was a scene that summarized Martin’s view of how power works…Jack Gleeson and Sophie Turner are absolutely the show’s sleeper agents, and if Gleeson’s finest moment was his speech ordering Ned’s execution last week, this was certainly Turner’s. She looked so haggard and ruined that when she started toward Joffrey I was hoping she’d take the plunge with him and end her misery.

* I wondered how the Wall would go over in this episode. After all, there’s not much to Jon’s storyline here compared to Dany’s or Rob’s or Arya’s or even Sansa’s. He decides to leave, his friends track him down, he decides to come back. Tying that choice to the Old Bear’s to ride beyond the Wall so directly and visually was a smart move. It wasn’t Jon choosing between a war alongside his brother or the world’s coldest sleepaway camp, it was him choosing between one war and another. If I recall correctly, the book deferred the actual march into the wild till Volume 2; I’m glad they showed it here.

* Jaime has one of the best lines in the whole series here. “There are no men like me. There is only me.” In the book it comes across like braggadocio, and it is, but the way they shot this scene shows that it’s also self-condemnation and self-pity. There’s only one kingslaying sisterfucking would-be child murderer. He may be handsome and rich and famous and a god with a sword in his hand, but he carries a lot on his back. Maybe removing the “there is” helped?

* I feel like the actors really, I dunno, “make it count” when they’re onscreen, don’t you think? Shae, Ros, Pycelle, and Varys aren’t opening-credits characters, but each of them went for the gusto in their limited screentime. I particularly liked how Shae instinctively mocked Tyrion’s smirk, such a believable detail of how someone unthinkingly reacts in an argument with someone they’re close to but pissed off at that I wonder if it wasn’t improvised in the moment.

* A smart detail: Cutting away from the Lords of the North chanting their proclamation of Robb’s kingship to the grunts in the camp, staring in the direction of the noise and wondering what the hell they’ve gotten themselves into. It reminded me of the shot of the rapers on the Wall, excluded and glowering as Jon and his friends geek out over his new sword. Lots and lots and lots of people don’t get to be the heroes in this story. Even some of the heroes.

* Iain Glen is handsome and lovable! Loved the peacock feathers on his scabbard, btw. Fierce!

* Turns out this was an excellent first season and an excellent adaptation.


Comics Time: ALT COMICS

Friday, June 17th, 2011

ALT COMICS
Editor unknown, to me at least, but it sure seems like a Comets Comets production
May 2010-present
Read it at altcomics.tumblr.com

“Comics is any art you can read.”—Sean T. Collins

Seen through an RSS reader, the Tumblr dashboard, or the crisply laid out collection of thumbnails that is its Tumblr archive, ALT COMICS is like any other image-based tumblelog. Viewed at its own address? It’s a black hole. Hold down the spacebar and you’ll rapidly scroll through literally thousands of images, frequently but by no means entirely of the “alt comics” persuasion, with the many many images that aren’t sort of averaging out in that direction. But they’re not meant to be sampled as eye candy, or as proof of the blogger’s excellent taste. Each one is blown up to the same massive screen-spanning size regardless of its original size, scale, or resolution. The result digitally distorts many of the images, makes most of them far too big to take in all at once, and erases any of the tumblr artifacts — permalinks, note counts, tags, sources — that tell you where one post ends and the other begins. The result? Pure images, pure juxtaposition, stripped of almost any context other than what’s immediately visible on the screen at the moment, and the cumulative effect of the accumulation of those moments. Taking that endless scroll to the blog’s all but unreachable bottom is a journey into the sheer pleasure of seeing lines on paper (or “paper”), seeing words mixed up with art, seeing styles collide and fracture and explode and detourne and corrode. It also invites you to deduce a method to the madness. Are the giant photos of James Kochalka, Jeffrey Brown, Matt Madden & Jessica Abel, and the Harkham/Crane/Ryan/Hernandez/Regé/Santoro L.A. comics crew intended as the equivalent of Johnny Rotten’s “I HATE PINK FLOYD” shirt? Which does the author of the blog like more: Jonny Negron or Goodnight Moon, Chris Ware or some poorly photoshopped internet-age visual noise, Scott Pilgrim or Harold Gray, a Devo album cover or the cast of Daria, Scott McCloud or Dr. Manhattan or Olivier Schrauwen or page after page of Blaise Larmee or or or or or…? Pure images isn’t even the right term for it — presented without comment or context, one size fits all, a digital haze rendering craft more or less moot as a reference point, you’re looking at the idea of images more than images themselves. That’s telling. It’s also telling that this project of re-presenting other people’s image-ideas is perhaps the strongest work I’ve seen from the Co-Mix crew so far.


FRANK MILLER HOLY TERROR SEPTEMBER 2011

Friday, June 17th, 2011

OHHHHHH SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT

Just in time for the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and everything!

(I really don’t understand this trend of announcing major projects after East Coast close of business on summer Fridays, but whatevs, HOLY TERROR)