Words on the past few comic-things I've read, one of which is a new release; my favorite picture from each is included.
The Bulletproof Coffin #3, by Shaky Kane and David Hine. Image.
This issue actually came as a pretty big surprise, a grand guignol action blowup in the middle of what's been some very terse, suspenseful roaming through atmospherics and weirdo autocritique. That's not to say it isn't still incredible stuff: three issues of the same thing gets to feel familiar, and that word is not in Bulletproof Coffin's vocabulary. So instead of the haunting imagery and deep-impact what-is-reality scrabbling, we get a nasty violence comic that smears Shaky Kane's kool-aid colored, Kirby-on-PCP artwork across page after bludgeoning page. You know what happens in this comic? First a dude in an insect costume drives a spike-wheeled tank the size of a building across a landscape of ruined temples, hooks dragging behind it and digging up corpses and old comic books. Then a hot girl in an animal-skin bikini escapes from a pretty intense bondage scene to fight blue and pink dinosaurs before being zapped through time to witness the post-apocalyptic wasteland Earth has become. You think that part's only a comic book, but then the girl shows up in the real world and helps the insect-costume man fight more dinosaurs, plus a platoon of zombie Vietnam vets.
It's a total rush, Hine's narrative zipping in and out of the comic-within-the-comic without a moment's pause, Kane's art and colors finally going buck wild on some fantasy action after two issues wearing the shades of reality. This is still massively audacious, devil-may-care material -- there's the frenetic overkill of the fight scenes and the Burroughs cut-ups Hine screams into on the last splash page -- but just as brave is the utter joy in letting go this early in the series, the confidence that two issues is sufficient to get readers familiar enough with the comic's world and meta-levels that issue three can spread a noise-rock adrenaline burst across all of it. (It works perfectly, of course.) Much as Bulletproof Coffin's pastiche-ing of Silver Age comics is designed to evoke a simpler, better time for the superhero genre, its creators' confidence in the material and their total abandon in its execution is what really brings this book in line with the best of Kirby, Swan, Steranko, and the rest. This is hero comics the way they're always trying to be: classic but modern, universal but individual, dumb but smart, never for a second predictable. And much as Marvel and DC's commendable failures are interesting to read for all that trying, Bulletproof Coffin wades into the deep end, turns up the volume, and just does. Best panel:
(I also said stuff about this book on Newsarama.)
Wowee Zonk #2, by various. Self-published.
This is the second most recent issue of the Canadian art-comix anthology Wowee Zonk, which trades in clear, hyper-simplified cartooning, lowbrow humor, and disorienting psychedelia. As with all anthologies the quality of the contributions varies, leaving it to make or break on the overall tone it hits. In that respect it's pretty great, with the prevailing feeling being one of really talented people getting together to have some fun. The stories are all more or less insubstantial, with an emphasis on stretching formal boundaries over creating straightforward narratives, scenes kind of popping up out of nowhere rather than crafted into being. That's not a bad thing, though, when the art looks this good. There's plenty of fun to be had from squirming through the layout mazes and traps the contributors set for their unsuspecting readers, or just letting it happen and glorying in deep black lines on newsprint. Of note, as always, is Michael DeForge's story, which goes way deeper into formalism than his higher-profile stuff, raining a sea of muck down onto copies of the same page until it gags with the thick viscosity of his best work. But the showstopper here is Chris Kuzma, whose silent, haunting story of environmental exploration, hardcore sex, and impossible love beams in harder and harder on one visual motif until we're left with a sea of sensuous linework floating across the page, cut off from meaning, into the void. It's excellent stuff, worth the price of admission by itself. Best panel:
In The Studio: Visits With Contemporary Cartoonists, by Todd Hignite. Yale University Press.
A thick compendium of interviews with the leading lights of modern alt-comics (Clowes, Crumb, Ware, Panter, et al) In The Studio occupies a pretty unique space. It reads like it's trying to be the kind of boring, overly academic book that gets written about these creators with ever-increasing frequency, but it can't help turning into something way better, with every artist interviewed foregoing highfalutin' chatter in favor of rhapsodies on the theme of why they love comics. Compiler and interviewer Todd Hignite (editor of the late lamented Comic Art magazine, from which some of the book's interviews are drawn) opens each segment with a mind-numbingly eggheaded introduction to an artist and their work, but vindicates himself with the quality of the monologues he draws from his subjects. Gary Panter gets to the heart of his creative process while praising "the guy who drew Tarzan real chunky" (Jesse Marsh), while Dan Clowes shows off bits of the '60s pop-cultural detritus that spawned him, taking time out to present some killer Otto Soglow art. Massively entertaining and just as rewarding, this book is a weird object lesson: no matter how much the great ones are drawn elsewhere (film, fine art, music, academics), it always comes back to comics.
But "comics" is a broad thing, and the most fascinating part of this book is seeing the artists' shared influences popping up over and over again, for the most part totally independent of one another. It gets a little obvious once the book's younger creators start talking about the older ones (Ware on Crumb's work, for example), but the commonality of influence among the artists who were born before the undergrounds took off is striking to say the least. The obvious touchstones like Herriman and Schulz get praised up and down, of course -- but Chester Gould gets multiple mentions too, and so does the pre-reprint boom Marsh, and John Stanley. This book more than any other I've seen draws pointers to the genesis of alternative comics: the workings of brilliant minds who saw the little weirdnesses lurking in the corners of the mainstream and cobbled them together into one big weirdness, a whole new way of doing the thing. If you want to understand influence in the comics medium, I'd go with this book above anything else. And if you want to get inspired to draw something or write something or just read something, this is pretty good for that, too. As love letters to the medium go, In The Studio is rather odd, but top notch all the way. Best panel (OK, it's not a panel but a Gary Panter art piece, you wanna see it or not? NSFW):