The recourse of the scanner-less comics blogger: random notes posting! Here's some Joe Kubert Hawkman just to get you started:
- THE ONE comic I bought today was, of course, Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne #1. It was okay... no, it was actually quite good, a hero comic that manages to give you the same old type of mainstream "Ziff! Pow!" action while using a milieu (stone age savagery) that makes it all seem rather fresh. Chris Sprouse's art was superb in that good-superhero-comics way of never taking you out of the story and throwing a little extra oomph into every beat. And it's great to see a Morrison Batman comic not colored by Alex Sinclair, especially with Guy Major outdoing himself here, striking an ideal contrast between the Bruce Timm/Batman Adventures TV animation style and a kind of Jamie Grant high contrast super-realism. Here's hoping he'll be working on the rest of the series, and that Sinclair isn't allowed to get anywhere near Quitely's pencils on the upcoming Batman #700. Final note: I really dig the way that Morrison has been using the Final Crisis references a little more aggressively in recent months, like he finally realized that everyone at DC was just ignoring that series and if it was ever going to become continuity canon, he was the only one who was going to make it happen. Good comic, not a must-read or anything, but another nice stitch in Morrison's bat-tapestry.
- MAYBE I'LL change my mind as soon as this post goes up, but as of right now I think my second favorite book about comics (the top spot will always belong to Graphis) is Seth's "Forty Cartoon Books of Interest". I might be wrong in even calling it a "book" -- it's a little pocket-sized insert that came bagged with issue #8 of Comic Art, Buenaventura Press's excellent experiment in comics-crit-as-art-mag (you know, rather than as analytical "Journal"). It is exactly what it says it is: Seth fills up a tiny, beautifully designed little booklet with a paragraph or two each on forty comic-type books he has that the average reader probably hasn't heard of. Since we're talking about the average reader of Comic Art, it's all damn esoteric -- most of the books date from the first half of the 20th century, one from 1854 even -- but a few of them are easily available or have been reprinted in some form or another since 2006. Every book seems legitimately excellent, even just to hear about, but what's really fun about this little curator's guide is how passionate about them all Seth is. It's not really comics criticism, it's a talented, awesomely snobby artist showing you around his bookcases, waxing poetic about form and book design, utterly enthused with everything he pulls out for you to look at. "Forty Cartoon Books of Interest" is like a tiny, cute, purposely low-key Art Out Of Time -- a selection of little pinholes into works that are no less interesting for having been passed by until now.
...Annnnd, I just realized that Arlen Schumer's The Silver Age of Comic Book Art is actually my second favorite book about comics, so this'll have to be third. See, I told you! (It's still really neat, though.)
- AW MAN, do we have to talk about Watchmen? And I had gone like five months on this blog without even mentioning it! Well, just a fast thought, because I've always kind of wondered about this. OK, at the end, just before New York City gets sat on by that big monster (oh shit, SPOILER!), there's a bit where Bernie, the newsvendor, asks the other Bernie, the kid who's always sitting at his stall reading the same issue of the EC-style pirate comic that runs through the series, always striking these kind of heavy-handed, cliche contrasts with the main plot -- anyway, he asks him something like "Why do you always read that same comic over and over again every time you come down here?" And the kid says, like: "Cause it doesn't make any sense, man! I gotta read it over and over cause it doesn't make any sense!"
Then they both die, but it's OK because they get in a really really strong bear hug before they go. I've always wondered, though: is that line from the uncomprehending kid Moore's autocritique? In the world of Watchmen, are comics really not for kids? I'd imagine the average ten year old would have much the same reaction to this work as Bernie does to the pirate comic -- is Moore acknowledging that? And: is it an autocritique of the whole "comic within a comic" device itself? Like, of course it wouldn't make sense to some kid sitting on one of this world's street corners -- it can only really make sense to the reader, who not only has a knowledge of the events the comic's playing out against, but who actually gets to see its panels chopped up and inserted exactly where they'll strike a pithy harmonic note with a main narrative that Bernie has no part in! Yeah, that would baffle me too!
I prefer to read it as an autocritique whether it is or not, for two reasons: First, it gives that whole cold, unenergetic book some self-deprecating humor, some humanity, right where the Wagnerian action is cresting and we need it the most. And second, I love the idea that this kid (whose role in the book is really nothing more than a slightly sympathetic acceptable casualty) spends his last moments of life trying to unravel -- questioning! -- the entire story that his life is just a tiny part of, the entire nature of his existence. "It doesn't make sense." That shit's mobb deep.
- ANOTHER SHOT in the dark about another popular work: in Grant Morrison's "Riot At Xavier's" arc on New X-Men, where students who don't believe in the X-Men's philosophy of peaceful coexistence take over the school, is the general idea Morrison's response to these shitty Matt Fraction/Mark Millar writers who wear his influence on the sleeves of bad comics? I'm thinking particularly of the part where they're in the mansion getting high and misquoting Xavier's rhetoric and going "this is gonna be awesome!" to each other -- they're mindless monkeys, addled by a vapid pop culture plus a secondhand experience of something great. I can't help but think of the "kicksplode" generation of lo-calorie superhero scipters, who took Morrison's considered, idea-driven aesthetic and turned it into a neverending parade of brain-dead violence and genre-cliche mashups, with whom anything goes into the comic as long as it's "awesome". Morrison is held up by these guys as the influence, but if I was him I'd resent being put on the flag of such a dumb movement a lot. It's almost like "Riot At Xavier's" is a prescient warning against letting the superhero-nerd inmates take over the asylum, a push toward thought over action, consideration over chaos. Again, I really enjoy reading it that way whether it's there or not.
- EVEN THOUGH it's quite sad that we'll probably never see another full-length, self-created comic from him again, I really enjoy Bill Sienkiewicz as a work-for-hire inker of crappy Marvel and DC comics. What makes him so great in that capacity is that he's the exact opposite of the typical "production men" you see doing the same work on all the other mid-level mainstream titles. Sienkiewicz is a consummate artist, and he has more than tracing skills and an eye for cleanup: he has a line, one of the best in comics, and it's a perverse, trash-art thrill to see him blasting some awful hero book's pages with it -- and they always come out looking a million times better than anything else on the stands.
- YOU KNOW what character makes it so Marvel will always be dumber than DC? "Hulk".
- A WHILE ago I made a joke to somebody that Krazy Kat is the Comics Journal/art comics world's best comic of all time because it's the first one in which you can't figure out what the ass is going on. Of course I didn't mean it seriously, but I think there is something to that: it took me the better part of my first decade as a comics reader, of absorbing everything I could from contemporary, then classic, then art comics, of working full-time in a store for five years, of trying, to be able to approach that comic on what I see as its own level. Krazy Kat isn't impenetrable, like I said in the joke, but there's just so much going on from page to page, panel to panel. It's kind of like the anti-Nancy that way; while one kind of great comics is the kind that you can read instantaneously and without any effort at all, the other great comics are the ones you need a true literacy in the medium to get everything out of, the ones whose tiny figures and formal-rollercoaster layouts and yes, changing backgrounds say just as much to the scholarly participant as what's in the word balloons.
- LAST THOUGHT: a few years ago I was studying a lot of fine art, Dada in particular, and I stumbled upon the work of Tristan Tzara, the movement's founding poet. In my opinion he's the best writer ever to have lived, a creator of works with a beautiful humanity that's only matched by their consuming hunger for new frontiers, whether they be physical or ideological. (Tzara is one of Grant Morrison's biggest influences.) Anyway, he wrote a lot about language, both written and spoken, as a divider of men and an arbitrary legislator of the creative spirit. For a while there that line of thought really consumed me, and one afternoon in a Paris art museum I ended up putting together a few notes under the heading "To Destroy Language's Hold On Literal Thought". This is the list:
* "It" [the work] must be in a language other than that which is spoken by its audience.
* "It" must have a visual component so that the audience can instantly understand what is being presented.
* "It" must provoke interpretive, intellectual thought in the audience that is separate from any words.
* "It" must tell a clearly decipherable story.
* "It" must make use of enough visual archetypes so that the interpretation of it, while open-ended, will still produce agreed-upon conclusions.
* "It" must clearly present concepts that are new to the audience without using language to convey them.
God, I was trying so hard, you know? Pushing at the borders of the thing, beating my head against a wall that had a door in it the whole time. I have seen "it", and I have lived in the middle of "it" for years. "It" is comics, guys, -- comics the uniter, comics the free. And we are here.