Friday, June 17, 2011
Service Interrupt: New York
(I drew that)
Thought I'd let everyone know that necessity's going to be making my blogging a little different for the next while. I moved to New York City for the summer, which means 1) I've got no scanner and 2) I don't have access to my "reference library" of comics. If I had to predict what this will mean, it's probably more theoretical, idea based criticism and more reviews for the Journal. So get used to those things. Affected will continue apace and then take a one-week hiatus after the first part concludes in a bit, but that's always been the plan. You might also want to look out for increased coverage of mainstream comics, but I'm not sure if that'll actually end up happening or not.
I'm having a good time here though, like you care. I keep on wanting to write a blog post about the difference between the comics sections in New York used bookshops versus the ones in LA, but that would require a level of bicoastal engagement I'm not really financially capable of. Basically, it boils down to a lot more animation-art, Fantagraphics, and Buenaventura books on the West Coast and a lot more Picturebox and D&Q stuff back east. It's weird how the smaller publishers, the ones who might not necessarily make the sale to Diamond distribution's nationwide network every time out (or at least not make it on a very big scale) are still noticeably regional enterprises. I got a copy of The Ganzfeld #4 for six bucks at The Strand. Six bucks! I've barely even seen that thing west of the Mississippi! And I've actually never seen a copy of #2 off Manhattan island. Kind of sad, because man that book is awesome. CF's "Blond Atchen & The Bumble Boys" is a youthful masterpiece on par with Crumb's first issue of Zap Comix, or Gary Panter's Rozz Tox strips -- an essential document from the early years in a truly great stylist's career. It's really good that Vice just "reprinted" it on their website, I think. It's the kind of thing that needs to be seen: the first fully formed work by a gargantuan talent that was still glorying in its virtuosity before bending to any purpose. Especially now that everyone is biting that style, it's incredibly refreshing to see how it looked when it had just been pulled from the ether.
That whole issue of The Ganzfeld is great, actually. The other night I showed somebody Frank Santoro's comics Chimera and Incanto and she was like "what else did he do?" So I showed her Storeyville and Cold Heat and his Kramers 7 strip, but to be honest I'd never really thought about how there isn't a whole lot else. The six pages of "Walking Distance" in here are great just because they're Santoro I hadn't seen before, but they're also just great comics period, poetic and wonderfully understated. They really create their own rhythm, unique from much else I've seen in comics. I'm always going on about how you can read a multi-paneled page or spread any way you want and you don't have to follow the typical left-to-right-and-down-the-tiers order that prose works insist upon, but let's be honest: most comic books afford far less enjoyment when you construct your own paths through them instead of following the one the author's set out. Santoro's are the exception to the rule, though. The looseness of the sequencing, the way it encourages the reader to think up reasons for the linkages between particular panels, is great for going "off the grid" and just comparing shapes or tones from anywhere on the page to one another. It's a really different reading experience from most comics, but that's pretty much the fun of it. There's also Gary Panter drawings in this issue, some awesome color Matthew Thurber stuff, which isn't something there's a great deal of, and a super entertaining Sugiura Shigeru comic. Good reading for a rainy afternoon in Union Square.
I also went to Desert Island and grabbed the new Smoke Signal, talked to Gabe Fowler for a little while. He told me about how CF's original pages have bloodstains on them and that people come in every day off the street in Williamsburg asking for Moebius comics. We also had a good laugh about the "DC relaunch," further confirming my theory that anyone in comics with half a brain can't even bother with a way to deny how dumb an idea it is. Instead of putting out all their new issues online, he said, they should just put a bunch of interns to work scanning their entire back catalogue in all its newsprint glory. I second that -- there's no way I'd download a copy of any Superman comic they can possibly dream up over there these days, but I'd pay through the nose for scans of everything Curt Swan ever did.
Maybe that sounds overly harsh? I dunno, lately it seems to me that the greatest value superhero comics have in these times is as a "historical" art form, one that's basically over and can be studied in depth by historians, psychologists, superfans, as a complete epoch with a beginning, middle, and end. I mean, if the end of Action Comics' 900 plus issue run doesn't signpost that end, then I don't know what does. Nobody can possibly think that genre's ever going to get back to the place of aesthetic supremacy it had when Kirby and Ditko and Steranko and Infantino and Swan and Adams and Sekowsky and Sprang were all doing a few books a month, do they? Better just to content ourselves with great works past and see them as something to evolve from rather than a sandbox that still has room to be played in. Those are the sands of the dead sea, people, just as much as surrealist painting or film noir or the gothic novel is. Like all those other dead forms that survive attempts at resuscitation, I think the best thing to happen is for the idiom to completely die for at least a generation, suffer the indignity of disparagement from the folks in the know, and then get revived by the bright young minds a few decades down the road, people with a perspective that's been informed by a culture where the form plays no part at all. People with a completely new perspective, informed equally by a world that's grown far away from the original inspiration and solid historical documentation of the important, classic works. That's why I try to distance myself from current superhero comics more and more these days -- cause I figure I might at some point want to make one, and if I do I want to come at it with a clean slate, not a mind full of things merely derived from powerful original sources.
The new Smoke Signal is real great. Apparently the James Jean cover is selling a lot more copies than usual, which is awesome news -- but the obvious highlight is the color center spread, a beautifully colorized version of Wally Wood's infamous "Disneyland Memorial Orgy" drawing, one I won't link to here because you should really just buy the comic to see it yourself in all its broadsheet-sized glory. Besides that though, there is a lot of great work by great cartoonists, which has totally become par for the course with Smoke Signal but still merits noting. The strips in this one are significantly more abstracted than usual -- Jason T. Miles bangs out a killer strip that melds post-Panter drawing with virtuoso use of zipatone and some hilarious gag cartooning, Conor Stechschulte's page has a completely pictorial logic that extends far beyond its panels, and Gerald Jablonski's spread places much more emphasis on the tentacular curls of the world balloons' tails than the actual words in them. Michael DeForge's strip is notable for a focus on mother-daughter relationship dynamics, especially striking after the father-son explorations of the latest Lose. With every new issue, Smoke Signal cements its place as the anthology to beat in the post-Mome landscape. It's also interesting to note how much more used to newspaper sized pages cartoonists seem to be getting: a few years ago, that format was a major novelty; now it's almost de rigeur, a truly reintroduced -- a new -- way of presenting comics. May they never stop coming at us.