April 13th, 2009
Part 1 can be found here
Interview with Cameron Stewart can be found here
Amy: One question we didn’t ask Cameron was whether or not Grant actually asks to be inserted into the strip. I mean, Professor Niltoid! There’s the bald head, the nineties’ suit, the dodgy sunglasses… Okay, the brainbow was my second real LOL moment, but the black shirt and white tie? Get with it, Garananadad! It’s so Jonathan Ross. Even with the future-collar.
But hopefully Grant’s moved on from all that, and Cameron only included those things as signifiers. A cheeky wink for those in the know.
We still love you, Grant. X
Zom: Ah, the question of history explicitly raised. As Andrew Hickey points out in his review, the notion of the end of history nestles somewhere in the book’s subtext. I’m no expert but I suspect the concept was primarily enlivened by the modernists, however it clearly found its most ardent proponent in conservative thinker Francis Fukuyama, who in the early nineties wrote a very influential essay on the subject. Seaguy isn’t explicitly or even directly attacking Fukuyama’s thinking*, which posited that the ideological wars finished with the fall of communism, and that liberal democracy, supported by the mechanisms of free market capitalism, had won, and won for good. The end of the line had been reached and all that was left to do was expand the liberal democratic project and grow our markets. This was the best (not perfect) and ultimately the only way to run large scale societies/economies.
Seaguy seems to be engaging with this on a couple of levels: firstly the Mickey Eye gang clearly think that they have hit upon a similar sort of thing – the most functional way of running their society. Their system equals the best system. Secondly their system, like our system, appears to be built upon something approaching Straussian principles where-in (very roughly) human beings are conceived as being governed by wild emotions and impulses that can only be kept in check by subordinating their desires to consumerist impulses. Without consumerism both Seaguy’s society and ours would go to shit is the conclusion reached by the baddies/Strauss, and apparently rejected by Morrison.
So I suppose the reference to a world constructed from bubblegum, with all its consumerist connotations, makes a degree of sense. ‘Fire’ lends the explanation both religiosity and weight: consumerism made transcendent. Of course Seaguy’s counter proposal that the world is made of science and history isn’t allowed to stand either. When juxtaposed with Niltoid’s cryptosaurs, a distillation of all the (yes I’m going to say it) weird that this comic has to offer, those words reek of self importance of pomposity, of a rigidity that Morrison seems to be outright rejecting. Instead we are presented with the very embodiments of novelty, of invention, of synthesis (in the face of powerful dissonance), of playfulness. I’m not exactly sure what this adds up to, but it strikes me that there is something fortean going on a here. A mission to bring those elements of the world damned (damned being used in a specific sense here. Follow the link to find out exactly how) by history back into the light.
On a related note, it’s interesting just how much these things have in common with Morrison’s wild sentinels.
Amy: I have to say, I love the idea of ‘simulating arrest’. What does that even mean? This is one thing that really separates Seaguy out from the other Vertigo titles. New Venice isn’t just an alternative timeline, or world, or conventional fiction built around a universe that’s structurally identical to ours, it’s somewhere else entirely, where the laws of physics, biology, history – all of it – obey a Topsy Turvy cartoon logic (You can just imagine the camera pulling back on Niltoid’s arrest to reveal the cinema screen and the red curtains, behind which the real Niltoid is scurrying, one finger to his lips as he slips in and out of the audience’s view: ‘shhhhh!’) I imagine, for many readers, this kind of thing is another nail in Seaguy’s coffin. It just doesn’t operate the way fictions – even out and out fantasies – are expected to. The reader has to be prepared to be carried along by crazy zen logics and, as in Frank, cartoon poetics, otherwise it just. won’t. work.
The ‘bubblegum and flame’ line is cast in this mold too. It’s the essence of it really. The ur-stuff of this reality is a stretchy, bendy, chewy, poppable, gooey, infuriatingly-rock-hard-under-the-tabley, child’s sweet, and, once it’s unwrapped, with the simple application of divine fire, a world is glued into place and the stars gummed into the sky. What a gorgeous creation myth! Speaking of poetry, and fizzing tensions, I really enjoy the juxtaposition of these elements: the bubblegum, the apotheosis of artificiality, branding, packaging, modernity and, well, silliness, and the fire, fundamental, primal, natural, untameable, furrowed browed and Old Testamenty. Imprisoned within the alembic of that sentence, the two things rub up against, duke it out and shoot the shit with each other in wonderful ways.
But, anyway, it’s all rubbish. Science and History, that’s where it’s at.
Or is it?
*Fukuyama has actually moved on since writing the End of History. His book length essay Our Post-Human Futurepaints a picture of a world on the brink of profound existential and ontological change brought about by genetic tampering and neuro-pharmacology and our continuing mission to pathologise the human condition.
Pages 19, 20 & 21
Amy: I mean, Niltoid seems to take the idea a little literally, but that’s the point of this scene in a sense – that reality can always do with a little remixing. I don’t mean in a literal, creationist, flat earther sense, but that we are always able to employ our imaginations to renegotiate our world, that, like dem situationists say, we don’t have to remain imprisoned in dirgey, limiting narratives. That we can resist. And that’s why Niltoid’s a rebel in the end, because he offers alternatives. The Mad Scientist with his terrible, abominable creations, reclaiming the world.
The villains are naturally the heroes of this piece.
Although it could all be true.
Because this is Seaguy.
Archaeology takes on a very different flavour here – Truth is slippery, like the surfaces of this squishy, soapy, plasticine world. There is no ‘official history’, at least in the absolute sense. And there’s horror here too. The coherent, artful confusion of dinosaur and machine is, for me at least, slightly nauseating. I talked about the collapsing distinctions between subject and object within the toonverse earlier, and Niltoid’s creations make good on the entrance hall’s promise. Of course the skeleton with a TV for a head and candelabras for forearms is funny, but it’s also disturbing. The world isn’t supposed to be this way. There *must* be a clear dividing line between a smashed TV screen and a mouth, musn’t there? NO. Not here. Here everything misbehaves.
Amy: Questions, questions…. Why is Niltoid looking so fucked in the 4th panel? Is that what happens to him when his sunglasses get taken off? Has he been roughed up? Personally I prefer not to know. It’s like one of those freaky snapshots in one of the more deranged horror films – shame I can’t think of any examples right now. The camera flicks to his face, wailing like a child or one of those tarantulas in the urban myth about the pot plants, and then quickly back to the action. We just get a small taste of the terror. He’s just gone wrong.
Everything’s gone wrong.
Pages 23, 24 & 25
Amy: Lucky’s eventual heroism was a bit of a turn up for the books, largely because Grant went to great pains to portray him as a bad guy in the interviews, as did the comic in its first few pages.
I’m not going to harp on about the trailing viscera erupting from a cartoon body here- we all get how nasty that is now – but this is a very unpleasant scene, regardless. When Lotharius refers to Lucky as a ‘stupid thing’ he’s robbing the character of all selfhood, all agency, he’s relegating him, and all our dreamlives, to the attic with the rest of the toys. A cartoon parrot that talks!?! How ridiculous! There’s no room for that shit here, with its funny, funny accent and kerazy spanishisms. Sure, Lucky’s dodgy, yeah, he represents an outmoded, problematic stereotype, absolutely!, he’s weird and silly, but he’s better than the alternative; a perfect world with everything in its place, no conflict, no romance, no adventure.
Anyway, the violence of the scene is heightened by the addition of this thematic dimension.
It’s been used before in Seaguy, but I also think I should nod to the black panel Grant uses to describe the point at which Seaguy overloads. That part of the nightmare that’s too big, too vast, to crowbar into your head. It’s a nice device. Again, better than zombies.
Zom: What Amy has failed to mention is all those cogs and screws. Is this a suggestion that Niltoid was on the right track? Was Lucky a robot? Whatever, it’s all possessed of a horrid ambiguity: are those springs or guts, is that an artery or a rubber band? Yuck.
Pages 26 & 27
Amy: I woke up in a friend’s house the other week to the sound of screaming and a weird squawking noise.
Obviously this was enormously annoying because I had a bastard of a hangover, this is the real world, and my friend was definitely not in the process of being forcibly abducted by alien birdmen or anything great like that. No, in all likelihood she was enjoying herself, and those were screams of pleasure not of pain. In all likelihood IT WAS THE PEACOCK!
The house we were staying in receives frequent visits from a lonely bird who once enjoyed the highlife as a pampered, privileged tenant of a rich man’s nearby estate but was abandoned when the man moved on a few years or so ago, and is now combing the countryside, searching for a mate who will never materialise, hissing and cawing vainly into the empty air.
And popping round to Di’s to scab a bit of food.
We had a good laugh at that peacock I can tell you.
There’s something inherently ridiculous about peacocks. The first adjective that springs to mind is *overdressed*, but they go even further than that – they look preposterous. Utterly ridiculous. And that morning the weird combination of pathos and absurdity was too much and it saw us both falling about the kitchen while the beast flapped about outside, snarfing down breadcrumbs, wailing at the dog and strutting around like a Vivien Westwood model with no mates.
Sometimes it would get a breadcrumb stuck in its throat and start to cough.
That was fucking funny too.
It’s difficult to say how that Peacock in Seaguy got hold of the Doctor’s pocket watch, but having seen one in action I wouldn’t imagine it was beyond the bird’s capabilities. That morning Rachel explained to me how the peacock had ambushed her. It snuck up behind her while she was putting the washing out and demanded FOOD! One minute she was fishing around in her pocket for one last clothes peg, the next she was charging across the garden, screaming, with a dwarf veloceraptor in drag at her heels. So there you are. Do you need any more proof than that? Peacocks are sneaky. It also makes a kind of poetic sense that the peacock in the comic would attempt to eat a pocket watch: the machine’s ornateness would naturally appeal to the creature. Recognising something of itself in it, a likeness, it might assume that pocket watches were an essential but hitherto missing element of the ideal peacock diet, and take what would seem to be, from its point of view, the only appropriate course of action….
But the peacock’s point of view is very limited because it has a brain the size of a pea and it is very, very stupid, even though it looks important.
Rachel looked as though she might cry afterwards. She talked a bit about the hopelessness of the bird’s quest for love and demanded her Mum, whose house it is, call the RSPB. Then we got in the car and forgot all about it over beans on toast at the local tearooms. Until now that is. Until SEAGUY!
Those Doctors are straight out of Twelve Monkeys aren’t they? I can hear the ringleader’s voice in my head right now, a cross between a laconic William F Buckley style drawl and the supercilious whine of Alex’s social worker in Clockwork Orange. It’s a difficult thing to convey, the sense that they’re all talking over each other, the demented doctorly rhythms and cadences of their shared analyses, but I think Grant, Cameron and Klein are fairly succesful in their attempt. The one with the tash and the freaked out pebble-eyes is my favourite, just randomly spouting insane doctorly shit in the background. It’s a familiar trope, the doctor who’s as batshit crazy as his patients, but even though the scene veers towards cliche it seems right that Seaguy should invoke Gilliam, to whom its main protagonist, a holy fool in a hostile, restrictive world, owes a huge debt.
Zom: Let’s not forget Don Quixote here, eh? *Both* Seaguy and Gilliam owe Don Quixote a huge debt.
Amy: The first time around I failed to notice that the nurse is feeding Seaguy TUNA! Obviously the bad guys are keen for him to think of Chubby as a tasty meat as opposed to a best pal. Actually, is this aversion therapy? Are they trying to make him sick of tuna, literally nauseated by it? Regardless, that picture of Seaguy where he looks like a ‘silly, helpless baby’ is amazing. Grant managed to sneak a dig at hospital care in there and it’s only now I’m beginning to realize I should maybe find it offensive.
Zom: Following on from my comment on Lucky’s insides, is the fact that the peacock is spitting out a clockwork mechanism somehow building on the clockwork revelations of Lucky’s interior? I have no idea.
Oh, and ‘Nod Cholmondeley’? Well… I know that the Land of Nod is where Cain went after he killed Abel, and that sleeping people are said to be visiting the Land of Nod, so you’ve got stuff riffing on the idea of the unconscious and idea of the outcast, which kinda fits with the sanitarium set-up, but fucked if I know what cholmondeley is supposed to be about. Maybe nothing. Nod certainly doesn’t bring anything particularly interesting to the party, and right there you have the reason why we don’t do conventional annotations.
Half the time they’re just fucking boring.
Pages 28 & 29
Amy: Seaguy is all in the details, it rewards close reading, but not necessarily in the beardy sense. Rather, it puts me in mind of films like the Big Lebowski or Withnail and I – texts whose comedic value intensifies with repeated viewing. I’ve obviously pored over the book quite a few times given the fact that I’ve had to write about it here, and, as with the peacock, I didn’t register the super-mittens the bed-ridden heroes wear in this scene until this morning, except as a sort of background noise gently contributing to the air of playground anarchy that defines it. Those aren’t costumes, they’re romper suits! Facemasks as bearhoods!
And what about that soft *thupping* noise when the heroes are clapping? How it must have been very consciously arrived at? Did you get that? Or the way they won’t stop smiling, and what all of this added together might imply? Clue: we touched on it before and it’s a bit, errr, *wrong* (and the most cynical readings – tho’ I’m not sure Seaguy is ever supposed to be read cynically – reveal a fairly pointed jab at superherodom’s fanbase). Yeah, yeah, I mentioned the playground above, but, go on, admit it to yourself – you’re not quite as right on as you thought, are you? Okay, I’m sure lots of you out there picked up on all this the first time around, but I’m convinced most of you will understand what I’m talking about here, and you’ll have your own examples of stuff that, because it’s not screaming in your face, you failed to notice until your third reading or whatever.
In my opinion, these two pages are the funniest the comic has to offer. Quite apart from the chimpanzee’s teaparty-lite antics nodded to above, there’s the sane, educated man who’s seen THE FISH! and Chubby himself, who appears just as freaked by all the excitement as the doctors and the orderlies: ‘Da fug?’
Pages 30, 31 & 32
Amy: And now we swerve back to the Village, but via Brasseye. Chris Morris and co.’s eye-opening pisstake of the pomposity lurking behind the News’s opening credits, with its overblown, pointless graphics and visually po-faced tone, is echoed here, only this time it’s surveillance culture and sc-fi computer readouts in the line of fire. Because, in the end, what does any of that display mean – Seaguy looking serious, shot from every angle, complete with retinal scans, a grinning idiot in close up, heat readings of the asylum’s front door, colorful graphs and lots and lots of zeroes and ones? Nothing. That’s what. Absolutely nothing. And I bet I wasn’t the only one to probe all that bullshit text for something meaningful either. I’m sure some of you did too. I wonder how Grant described the scene to Cameron. In all likelihood the script simply read: A LOAD OF OLD BOLLOCKS. Speaking of bollocks, I’ve been toying with the idea that the three seaguys, 3-guy, Peaguy and T-guy are in actuality bad guys and that the adventure our heroes about to embark on with them is just a smokescreen intended to distract him from those pesky memories that keep on threatening to resurface and capsize his already roundly perforated reality.
We’ll see, won’t we?
Just as we’ll BE SEEING YOU!
Zom: Three doctors, three Seaguys. It’s too early to say what this mirroring means but I suspect it means something. Oh, and if Seaguy was conceived as the most ridiculous hero concept going, he’s just been trumped and then some. Teaguy, Peeguy (he’s yellow), and Threeguy (’cause, you know, he’s guy number three).
Anyway, that’s it for Seaguy. Check back later in the month for our League of Extraordinary Gentlemen annocommentations.