May 21st, 2009
Interview with Cameron Stewart can be found here
And so we go at it again, better, stronger and much, much, much later than you could ever have imagined.
Onwards with the annocommentations, which, if you’re visiting us for the first time, you should understand as not being much like conventional annotations…
Zom: Somehow, despite Seaguy’s wildy variable tonal excesses “motherfucker” does feel entirely out of place here, in much the same way that swearing doesn’t suit the lips of well brought up, middle class tweens, which I imagine is something approaching the intention. The word is so over the top, in some way such an inappropriate, almost disproportionate, way of addressing the content of a Seaguy comic.
I never cunting swore as a child.
Amy: This first page is sheer comic book comedy gold: ‘…Mother-fuckers…’ You DON’T swear at Seaguy. Cameron just totally nails his childlike shock, worry and confusion perfectly. The joke wouldn’t work without a really competent artist to realise it and it’s another reminder that this book is very, very much a collaborative effort.
Of course, the other reason it works is because, in keeping with its clean and proper, gated community vibe, nobody swears in New Venice either. There’s been, if memory serves, zero for mature readers language in Seaguy up until this point, and the gag partly rests on the fact that we’re laughing at our own ability to be shocked along with the principle character. I caught myself thinking ‘this is simply wrong!‘. It certainly suggests that Vertigo – or maybe just Grant – is gearshifting away from the really obvious identifiers of *grown-up* comics: the F word, viscera, boobs and grimmygrimness. Seaguy is adult because it’s experimental, surreal, casually sophisticated, disturbing as opposed to bloodtastic and because it contains good jokes that kids wouldn’t get. It’s, literally, a book that’s suggested for over eighteens. There’s not a lot in it that children shouldn’t be allowed to see/read, it’s just that they probably wouldn’t enjoy it very much.
Or maybe they would. Who the fuck knows? Kids are freaks.
Pages 2 & 3
Zom: Andrew Hickey has already pointed out that there’s almost certainly some gesturing towards the work of Geoff “EEEEAYYYAARRGH!” Johns going on here what with the prismatic multicolour multiplication of Seaguy that’s in evidence, but it seems to me that Morrison could just as well be looking to encompass that entire strain of gory super-violence that’s so popular today. Certainly creators like Millar, Ennis and Ellis spring to mind in addition to Johns. But to go back to those tweenagers for a moment, the sadistic pleasure and exploding eyeballs on display here mainly strike me as intentionally juvenile, a kid’s idea of ‘mature content’.
Amy: The next two pages, with their outlandish hyperviolence coupled with Seaguy’s disbelieving ‘Stop! You’ll kill them!’ and soundtracked by bloodthirsty fanboy haw haw hawing, only serve to drive the point home. As Jog points out, this is post-Authority comics and it roundly pokes fun at all of us who clapped our hands with glee when the Doctor booted his shadow self into nirvana and then, when he was floored by the interconnectedness and perfect love of everything, proceeded to have Apollo boot his head off.
But, come on, that really was funny.
And didn’t Grant write that too?
The VEEP! is awesome, DUUUUUUDE (KICK HIS HEAD OFF!) too. Not just because, like the haw hawing, it’s pitch perfect, but because its cutesiness is so inappropriate under the circumstances.
Amy: I was trying to figure out why Three Guy’s power made me laugh so much, and I think I’ve got it sussed. Sure, yeah, it’s a surprise, but a surprise you can feel coming over the page, realisation dawning at exactly the same time he demonstrates his ability. So very well timed and executed then, but there’s another component to the gag, the sense of overkill. The now this, now this and NOW THIS!ness of it. It’s the superpower equivalent of the Brasseye credits: overblown, random and it goes on for just a few beats too long.
Yeah, that’s it.
Amy: When are the Seaguys action figures coming out? Seriously. Seaguy’s Rip Curl riffing, super wet-suit is actually just cool, isn’t it? It’s supposed to be lame, I know, only it’s not. And neither is Octo-Mariner’s vintage version. Back when I was small and I lived with my Nan, I inherited my Uncle’s Action Man toys from the sixties, and his diving-bell outfit was always my favourite. Bath time wouldn’t have been the same without Diving Bell Action Man and Wonder G.
Back to wishing Grant would write Aquaman, but Seaguy is in all likelihood better than that would be.
Pages 6, 7, 8 & 9
Amy: There’s no point patting yourself – or myself for that matter – on the back for sussing out that Three Guy and Octo Mariner are baddies, it’s just fucking obvious. They appear right after Chubby starts making trouble in the mental home, they swear, they make blood happen and, the light in the Octo-marine’s totally eerie and, well, just look at Octo-Mariner! His helmet even looks like one of God’s early and aborted attempts at making an eye. Like the ocular version of the sixties’ Iron Man suit. Mickey gen 1. And when you add the fact that the plot twist is revealed almost as soon as it’s flagged, you might begin to wonder what point there is in telling the story in the first place. Well…just ’cause you know how it’s all going to play out, it doesn’t mean you can’t gleefully romp through it all anyway. It’s this breezy disregard for the sacred cows of narrative that makes Seaguy so joyous to me. There’s an irreverence there that I really dig. The comic just races along, less concerned with story than with colourful situations and weird conceits. Grant’s just trying it on, isn’t he? Seeing if you can condense things this much and still have them work. And I reckon it does because somehow you feel for the protagonist anyway.
Zom: And so about that mirroring I mentioned in our last annocommentations between the three psychiatrists and Seaguy’s prismatic rescuers, we’ve got our answer as to what that was all about and it’s the one we expected: they were mirrored because Treeguy, Peaguy and Threeguy are also bad guys, part of the system designed to trap and neutralize our hero.
Ah, but who’s this guy with the purple speech bubbles? Who does the Mickey Eye belong to? Could it be the Anti-Dad? But of course, if Seadog was busy “rounding people up” and “putting them out of their misery” during the Dad Age, then one is forced to wonder whether Anti-Dad wasn’t in actual fact a force for good. One thing’s for sure, all this talk about Dad Ages has to be a dig at the nostalgia crowd, and by the nostalgia crowd I don’t just mean the guys who were hungry to get Barry Allen back in the romper-suit, I mean all of those dumb fucks who get caught up in the idea that the world was better “back then”.
Also worth noting that it’s children that are mainly concerned by Dad’s.
Hmmm, starting to wonder whether this can’t be factored into my noodlings last time on the End of History. Seadog and Mickey Eye are attempting to hold the world in kind of distopian stasis: things are better now; Nostalgia for the past states that things were better then, and also demands a conception of past events and their value that is open to very little change. The adventures of Seaguy however have a protean quality, they’re whimsical, riddled with non sequiteurs, and consequently not entirely unlike spending an afternoon in the company of my three-year-old son.
Old Morrison tension at work here
Amy: I’m a bit torn here. Seadog’s being set up as the villain of the piece, but Mickey Eye’s so much more chilling. Did anyone else get the shivers reading his dialogue? It’s a kind, benevolent God via the King of all Tears is what it is. You can hear the grimy undersonics of his voice reverberate around your skull: ‘HAARWM NUN!’. Who knew peace and love could be so sinister?
But they are, viewed in a certain light. It’s the ultimate expression of New Venice’s sterility, the banning of real evil, real violence. Grant takes our pacifist pretensions and stretches them to breaking point here. Would we really want to live in a world where murder was impossible? Well, yeah, I’m fairly convinced I would, but what kind of world would that be? Violence is a key part of the human condition, like it or not, and if it went, what other casualties would there be? What happens to the heroes if no-one can get hurt?
In this sense, then, Mickey Eye’s worldview is much more sinister and problematic than Seadog’s, whose fight fire with fire philosophy is infinitely more human and relatable, and consequently considerably less scary. Yeah… Torn. I hope Mickey’s not down and out just yet. I hope he kicks the dawg’s butt, ’cause the real beef has to be between Seaguy and Mickey, surely? Yeah, his hubris’ll definitely be his undoing. I don’t know why I was worried. He’s just violent and nasty. A soldier. A supervillain. Mickey has no time for supervillains. They hurt people. They make things interesting.And that can’t bode well for Seadog.
I imagine we’ll even feel sorry for Lotharius in the end, when Mickey decides it’s time to clean up good and proper after the successful completion of Operation Happy Ever After.
When the butterfly (I can’t remember her bloody name) descibes the pair of them as ‘we who made babies blind! who brought whirlwinds, etc….’, I’m wondering if she’s talking about being a supervillain. I love the idea of supervillains being described in terms this mythic. It’s great. Like evil gods.
And talking of fun with words and ideas…
Quite apart from the fact that you’d never catch me handling that bloody toy (those creepy, cartoon *sleepy* eyes: urgh! Weird, unfinished dino-bug!), I’m also freaked out by the squishysquashy baby language it speaks (or its packaging does – same difference!). The words ‘New’, ‘Very’, ‘Want’ and ‘Him’/'Them’ are melted down and splatted together like pieces of watery alphabet-dough: 1/2 words on a stick. Nuvery Wantum! slurps its way into your brain like a severed, parasitic Odie’s tongue.
Zom: A femme fatale (kinda), effeminacy as humorous, and later Seaguy walking out on his pregnant girlfriend: are Morrison and Stewart indulging in a little misogyny? I’m thinking a big not. To begin with the schema of masculinity here, far from being privileged, is conspicuously framed as absurd. For a start the entire set-up, all of El-Cortez’s powerplays, all of Macho’s acts of… ….er… …bravery are in a fundamental sense false in that the entire scenario and all of its attendant rules and dynamics is a construction of Seadog’s. El Macho has earned his title by embodying these rules, but in a deep sense he is simply reinforcing the walls of his prison. Then there’s the fact that if Morrison is riffing on anything here then surely it has to be the Latin fixated romanticism of Hemmingway’s novels and essays and Bizet’s Carmen, where the bullfighter is presented as some kind of paragon of masculinity. I’m not sure what’s on display here could accurately be called a critique of that kind of view, but the broad sweep seems to suggest that Morrison finds it all a bit silly.
Peering further into the text, and bearing in mind my earlier comments about tweenage notions of adulthood, the idea presented here of the masculine being in need of protection from feminisation (made manifest in the battle between the bulldresser and the bull, in that the bull’s violent acts towards the bulldresser are a product of its attempts to resist said feminisation) could be read as an example of the value youngsters place on identity, and, in the case of young males, masculine identity. Seaguy’s bull is, afterall, in his natural state a caricature of a decidedly masculine identity – he’s a black muscle man in dark glasses, for fucksake. He’s a kid’s idea of what a Real Man looks like and he’s clearly someone who takes his masculine identity very seriously indeed. Here that seriousness is being openly mocked. Further, the idealised battle on these pages serves not to give weight to notions of fiercely self-protective masculine identity, but rather to accentuate its absurdity. The idea that the bull should submit in ultimate defeat when dressed in woman’s underwear can’t fail but be read as anything other than completely fucking barmy, particularly when understood as part of the broader absurdist vision that is Seaguy the comic.
Amy: Yeah, Carmen, Whatever.
I might be in a minority here, but I don’t feel the need to grumble about the incorporation of music into comics, especially if it’s done this well. Music and comics are two of my favourite things and I totally empathise with the desire to fuse them together (and, oddly enough, Seaguy arrives not only on the back of the League (Aaaah…. the League… Goooodnessss…..), but also at the same time Scott Pilgrim decides to show up in my life (Aaaah…. Scott Pilgrim… Goodnessss…..), so that’s three musically inspired comics exploding into my auditory cortex in just one week!). I think the Beast and Myself will have to agree to disagree on this one. I understand the arguments against it, comics being a silent medium and all that, but, look, this page really came alive when I *played” it to music a minute ago. Sure, it wasn’t opera, but it was all sunny and ecstatic and the page just got that much brighter. There was an enhancing that happened.
My thoughts on this subject are confused and strange and I don’t quite know what they are yet, but what’s Mindless Ones for if not for figuring shit out?
Anyway, back to the people singing and dancing on the page. You want to join them don’t you? Cameron Stewart, you OWN this! You can just feel everyone jigging about and see Maria skipping and swirling around that market stall, smiling winsomely out at the audience. The page really moves: The flowers spilling out behind her. Those blokes, arm in arm, circling each other. The girl kicking her heels together. Blimey, this is good stuff. Nothing clever to say about it, just sheer admiration. This art has wit, intelligence, skill and draughtsmanship in spades; why can’t all comic artists display this level of accomplishment, maturity and sympathy for their subject matter?
And I absolutely want to dive into the page and join everyone – apart from the old bee dude; that’s just dark (as well as being very, very funny) – and get sucked into the spell too. Poor Seaguy. It’s clearly all a set, all make-believe - it’s a musical for fuck’s sake – but it’s seductive as hell.
Amy: Again, I want to draw attention to the art here. It’s a subtle trick and it really works, and like so many things in Seaguy I’m left wondering whether it was specified in the script or if it was Cameron’s idea.
Hey, it could’ve been an accident. Who knows?
But, yeah, have you noticed the way, as Maria starts her flowery little speech about the River of Forgetfulness, the camera closes in on the sky at the expense of all the other elements in the room? It’s as though Seaguy and Maria are suddenly enveloped in those purple clouds, reality floating away, all billowy and dreamy. It’s a very nice touch.
Maria’s as much a Sterotype as Lucky. She’s not just Carmen, she’s a latina witchy woman too, full of bonkers folk tales about creepy fish and casting spells of forgetfulness to keep her man.This is interesting, because the characters in Seaguy are split down the middle, aren’t they? There’s the individualists like Seaguy, Lotharius and Professor Niltoid, even Doc Hero who still harbours his dreams of flight and escape, and then there’s Mickey’s Minions who’ve traded their souls for paradise – hollowed out husks, their personalities scooped out and replaced with cliche.
Amy: I’d like to harp on a bit about food in Seaguy. It’s a tricky question when you think about it, what do cartoon people eat?
A few weeks ago I watched a documentary about Japan’s love affair with fish, and let’s just say, on a national level anyway, the relationship’s a bit on the abusive side. One highlight included the film maker sat in a restaurant, wrestling with the idea of chowing down on a speared fish that was still blinking and wriggling when it arrived at his table. ‘Urrgh!’ you say, or YUM! , but whatever your tastes run to, this is exactly the kind of thing Elmer Fudd sits down to at dinner time. As we have observed, Bugs Bunny and co. don’t go quietly into the gullet. In a cartoon universe, confusion between what constitutes a living and a dead body is a very real concern (see the Hall of Monsters or whatever it was last time. See the Infesticons!). Over here in our world it’s fairly easy to figure out, but not so for Seaguy! We’ve met Xoo, he seemed like a sweet guy, except for when he got angry, but one thing I suspect is that he’s totally deathproof. Forget red meat, parts of that squishy body’ll be wriggling around in your gut for the rest of your life. So, yes, Grant’s talking about homogenized, pappified culture and consumerism, but he’s also talking about horror. Chowing down on Bugs, an apple in his mouth and a lemon stuffed up his arse, and winking.
And with this in mind, what are we to make of the Plumpkin, invoking fleshiness, goo-goo talk and, well, relatives? Children? Some kind of ghastly cherub-fruit? The poly-flower is a stranger beast. What weird geometry does this breed of brassica possess? Picture it, it’s fractal curd spiralling away into infinity… Things are composed of very different stuff over there in New Venice and its environs, and I’m not sure we’d be into sticking any of it in our mouths.
And I’ve finally figured out what’s so disturbing about Pablo! It’s not just the laughing, buzzing radio interference straitjacketing his heroic self, but those bees too. Yeah, they’re attracted to him because they recognize a brother, but they feel like flies. Pablo’s a zombie superhero, and that honeypot is the festering, sticky, gaping wound in his soul, feasted on by his once insect-friends
Amy: Maria’s true to form here. The oh-so Mediterranean concerns of childrearing and family are trotted out in a last ditch attempt to keep Seaguy from packing his bags. Maria’s cameo wouldn’t be complete without a bulging belly showing up sometime.
I really don’t know if I should be offended by this or not.
Zom: We come to another act of dressing up, this time in a superhero costume. As we’ve seen it sure as shit isn’t “customary for The Macho to wear such a thing”, but of course that would only be important if one were concerned with remaining The Macho, which Seaguy isn’t as, as we’ve discussed, The Macho is a prison.
Amy: That eye-crown! The horror! To return to Detourning the Dream Factory again (and, hey, why not? It’s the Coda to Seaguy afterall), and that business about cartoon environments infested with life, it’s almost as though Hero’s had some terrifying monster attached to his head. Eye victorious: Rex Mundi!
Zom: Annnd finally some undressing. And some respect. There must always be respect amongst manly men. Guys like El Monstro understand respect. So yeah, Seaguy sheds the El Macho costume, and rejects/passes on that identity.
Zom: A man walking out on the wife and kids in an effort to find out who he is: it’s a dramatisation of the teenage existential experience, and a feature of a 1001 fictions about manhood, sadly many of them deeply sympathetic. And that’s why it feels like such an appropriate way to end this little sojourn, a final nod to the rules of the place, whilst simultaneously adding dramatic and thematic weight to the arrival of the next phase of Seaguy’s story. It’s a childish and immature rejection of responsibility, perhaps an example of childish prioritising of self over others, but it’s also a necessary step along the path and a genuine bid for freedom.
Zom: Regarding the whole dressing up in costumes as trying on identities trope pushed in this issue, it strikes me that the symbolism at work here, as it relates to Seaguy’s superhero costume, is less about adopting a specific superheroic identity and more about a adopting a strategy for successful living. Seaguy’s costume is an environmental survival suit, afterall, necessary equipment for plumbing and exploring the murky depths. Seen within the context of the series as a whole, Morrison, in common with many an existential philosopher, appears to be suggesting that life is a process and an activity and that self-actualization (finalised identities such as El Macho) is at best a diversionary myth and at worst a real obstacle to an authentic existence.
There’s also something here about the protean nature of the teenage experience.
And you know what? That’s got to be one of the most beautiful panels in comicbook history. Just so still, but so heavily shot through by the looming presence of Things About to Happen and the Passage of Time. The setting sun, the upward motion of the dive about to give way to the plunge into the depths. The fizz of the dirt kicked up by Seaguy’s leap. Imagery all dominated by the perfectly still, flat sea.
Amy: I don’t have much to add here – Zom’s nailed it all – but I want to second the air punching. That last panel’s wonderful. Yeah, diving into the candyfloss horizon…. Morrison’s such a romantic. I am too, so I don’t mind.
One thing about these annocommentations – even if my contribution’s a bit scrappy this time – is that it means we have to pore over the comic in so much detail, meditating on each page. I’ve been sitting in front of some of these images for hours at a time and I’m absorbing the energy of them in a totally different way from your usual 10 minute read through. And it’s bloody worth it, because, you know what?, the jokes stand out more clearly and the themes and pictures resonate more strongly as a result. Slowly really is the way to read comics, especially when they’re this good, and when they enjoy an atmosphere this unique. Seriously, Seaguy is such an alien beast, its energy so idiosyncratic, that jetting through it in the park on the way home from Dave the Shop just won’t do. Cameron’s art insists on rereads, as does Morrison’s wonky story. This is a comic to be curious about, to figure out, to feel your way around – alien emotions and atmospheres resound from every page. You need to get to know them a bit. They’re not easily reduced.
It’s a been a real pleasure.