Maybe a new continuing series? Let me know if you enjoy...
from Bloodstar, by Richard Corben
from March 2010, by Taylor McKimens
The more I think about it the more I figure that there are really only three genres of comics, or at least three "types". The first two are the boring ones. First, we've got hermetically sealed genre/superhero stuff that's too edited and focus-grouped and industrially produced for any element of art to come into it. Next, there's hermetically sealed underground/minicomics stuff that's too DIY and ragged-edge and handmade for any element of craft to come into it. Finally, there's the good kind of comics: everything in between. I imagine I must have said this before somewhere, but I'll say it again: comics is a dance between craft and art, something that requires a certain level of skill to do well and a certain level of vision to do convincingly. Unfortunately the majority of the comics that are made lack one or the other; hence the pitiable mainstream and the sad state of most zine racks. The stuff that sustains the form and moves it forward is the hybrid creature, word and image, discipline and freedom twinned together.
I just said something pretty similar to this, but let me restate it in much grander terms: in the long run, genre won't apply to what our medium has produced so far. Just as Steranko, Bode, Irons, Gulacy, and vintage Moebius look like the component parts of one big thing from our perspective, so will everything we have now lose the artificial separations of milieu and historical context once enough time has passed. What remains is always the work, and when the 1960s and 1930s and 2000s all sound like the same time period (like the 1320s and 1350s and 1390s kinda do now) people are going to notice how similar a Josh Simmons comic is to a Reed Crandall EC horror story, or a Schulz strip to a James Kochalka, or a Winsor McCay to a Quitely. There are good comics and bad, that's etched in stone forever. But within the good, distinction disappears eventually. It all becomes a solid core, the laser beam that points to what comes next. If you're asking "but will comics survive that long," get out of here.
How does the movement from the cubby holes of genre into one unified body happen? Well, plenty of ways. Maybe the reason I'm thinking about this kind of stuff is because I just got a bunch of old Heavy Metals at the same time as I'm rereading my old Raws and looking through the new Rand Holmes retrospective book (really good, by the way... review soon). Juxtaposition makes old works new again, no matter how little they have to do with each other. That's what the Golden Age of Reprints is giving us: an accessible history not just of the art but of the styles. The ability to grab a Frank King book in one hand and a Jerry Moriarty in the other and go damn...
But that's only where it begins. As much as it changes the way the medium's perceived for critics to be doing that, where it really starts hopping is with the artists doing the same thing. The real reason I'm equating Bode and Moebius? Guys like Brandon Graham and James Stokoe (plus Frank Santoro with his comics criticism) drawing the line for me, with comics that fit the two into one harmonious continuum. Not only does this work break down genre on the pages, it breaks it down in readers' minds. Cheech Wizard and The Horny Goof? Didn't used to be the same thing to me, but they sure are now I've read Orc Stain. That kind of historical remixing sticks when the comics are good, better than any critical thesis possibly could. Just like Flex Mentallo draws Eisner and Crumb so close I read both of them differently now, there are multiple books out there on the racks today making those connections for people, new ones, different ones, and it's only going to continue now that we've got so many different books for the artists to draw from. The real legacy of the Golden Age of Reprints? Only time will tell, but this is tangible, this is real, this is happening as we speak.
(It will also help if anyone can ever write a history of comics: not hero books, not art comics, not one decade or company, but the whole thing, all of it, which is what it's always been anyway.)
And yet there's more to it than that. Comics don't make their biggest steps forward with guys looking at books, or at least that's not the whole story. Whether it's Kirby with his battlefield memories or Crumb with his head full of acid fuzz, the real stuff comes out of inspired minds translating thoughts from shadows swirling inside to lines and colors on the page. And one of the most interesting things about comics is how its artists come to the same conclusions, the same styles, the same pictures, independently of one another. How these different milieus -- because they do exist, it's the reader's choice not to read them into the works, but the artists can't help living different lives -- produce such strikingly similar work. I doubt Nick Cardy had seen Blueberry when he first put pen to paper on Bat Lash, but something in the process of creating a Western comic book took over, put those two series side by side.
So at last we arrive at the two images above. Richard Corben, the post-EC airbrush master who satirized and glorified high barbarian fantasy in equal measure; and Taylor McKimens, the PictureBox-approved, gallery circuit crayon-wielder whose comics seem most intent on glorifying Tuesday's leftover food. McKimens has all but definitely seen Corben -- but the contents of their comics have basically no overlap. They are doing different things with different media for different purposes.
But look! Comics takes hold, and somewhere in two completely different artists' brains, the process of making them produces the same picture. Corben's high-saturation, psychedelic hues sluice into McKimens' fluorescent tone-trails. McKimens' obsession with gooey, slobbery texture for its own sake finds a kindred spirit in a Corben slime monster. The utter texture in both images seems to spring from the primal source of cartooning itself, with its cardinal rule that "everything should look like it's made from the same stuff". These pictures drip and drip and drip, doing nothing else, and pull the eye down the page with an iron grip. Both grab you and stick your hand in something moist and fetid for a second, jar you, let you go. It's all they have in common, and it's probably the closest the two artists will ever come -- but it's really there, it's really something. It's a tiny fragment of a new connection, and someday someone will make a Corben/McKimens fusion comic and it will stun everyone who's watching.
There are more of these, everywhere. All they need is for somebody to find them. Pick up a book.
A note: I wrote this yesterday. Went to put it up today, and Frank Santoro has mined the much of same ground (which is really his ground to begin with) more incisively than I could possibly have hoped to do. Apologies if they're wanting; go look at his article, it's better than this.)