Being: the second of two short posts building up to a third, slightly more impressive one.

It’s no secret that Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic zine has its faults – my fellow Mindless Ones have talked about them a bit here and here already – but it seems to me that the short comic strips by comedian Josie Long exemplify the magazine at its worst.

Well, I say they’re comics, but they provide none of the pleasures that one associates with the medium, so they only really exist as an example of the “I know comics when I see them” nature of the form (Scott McCloud, consider yrself warned!):

You can do anything with words and pictures, but maybe you should try a bit harder than this...

The above excerpt comes from ‘Love’, the Josie Long strip that graced the first issue.  In fairness, this is probably the worst comic Long has contributed to the magazine – her recent re-coloured, re-dialogued Ikea instruction diagrams reached the levels of mild amusement you’d find in the absent scribblings of a troubled friend.  Whereas this comic, well, it’s a fifty panel pile-up of squished text and ever squishier faces.  I almost feel like I should apologise for putting such horrible images and colours up on the Mindless Ones site, to be honest with you.

Anyway, leaving the horrible golden brown colour that dominates these pages aside for a moment, ‘Love’ is a straightforward rant comic with one extremely clumsy “interruption”.  This tangent concerns Long’s encounter with a man on a bus who gives her advice and valium, and it runs down the left hand side of the first page and along the top of the second one with absolutely no regard for the reading experience. I’m not one to get fussy about loose, messy comics art or odd panel layouts – I wrote about my love of Brian Chippendale‘s comics in the Mindless Ones’ Prism zine, after all – but Long’s comic almost reads like a parody of the DIY, punk rock ethos rather than an exciting example of it (you’ve totally got to hover over that last link there – I can’t let that bit of “hidden” text go unread!). The problem isn’t just that the pages are actively unpleasant to look at, but that this unpleasantness isn’t exciting and doesn’t seem to serve any purpose – what Long is saying in this strip is only memorable because it seems so flailingly WRONG, both in intent and in execution.  Like the images she draws here, Long’s words in this strip lack either punkish energy or puckish charm (compare and contrast with new addition to the Mindless Ones site Danny Noble, who’s A Year Without Cider has woozy beauty to spare!).

This is where The Problem With Dodgem Logic comes in.  You see, at its worst, it seems like the contributors to that magazine are so impressed with themselves for making something that’s honest (to their experiences!), and which seems true (to them!), that they don’t seem to have worried about how they’re saying these things, how they’re presenting them, or whether the things they are saying are really interesting, or true, or even worthwhile.

(NOTE: Dodgem Logic certainly isn’t all bad–they print Steve Aylett‘s work sometimes, the production values have generally got better issue by issue, and Alan Moore’s a hugely admirable character–but it’s still a qualified failure/success at best, depending on how you want to look at it.)

Enough of that waffle though, since we’ve already dismissed it aesthetically, what’s the argument of this particular Josie Long comic? Well, it’s that relationships that aren’t 100% perfect aren’t all the time aren’t worth the hassle, and that if you’re living with such a relationship you’re letting your idea of your wonderfully troubled romance get in the way of your actual happiness.

This might sound like a facile reduction of what Long’s saying, especially based on the above excerpt. Surely Long’s only claiming that it’s easy to get so caught up in the idea of your romance that you don’t notice when the reality’s gone sour?

Well, that’s part of it, but Long goes further:

A scholarly note: invoking Bob Dylan doesn't necessarily make you right.

Maths isn’t my strong suit, and I’m not about to become a relationship advice columnist or anything, but I’m pretty sure that 80% right is still 80% right and that most good relationships still have several bad seconds/minutes/hours/days/weeks/months. Hell, they might even have bad years if they last long enough!  Then again I secretly want to give a Steve Zissou style speech in which I apologise for not being at my best this past decade, so I have an obvious motive for saying this.

As ‘Love’ goes on it becomes obvious that what this breathless onslaught is actually all about Long’s new relationship, and the quiet, undramatic pleasure she has found with her current partner. Now if I wanted to be needlessly petty and cruel I could write a bit about how the rhetoric of this strip (“the very small seems very significant”) is the kind used by people who are trapped in boring relationship and want to pretend otherwise. If I wanted to be kind I could claim that the strip is actually a lot more artful than I’ve made it sound, that its naivety is intentional, and that we’re supposed to see past the “message” of the strip and understand that this is just another story in the end. Sadly, I think that to do either of these things would be to put more effort in than ‘Love’ deserves.

A crumpled zine, as handed out before the show.

I should also probably say, a little bit late, that I do like Josie Long’s stand-up, her podcasts and her mildly amusing panel show appearances.  Even when Long’s stand-up is overly tangential or didactic, her routines still work because her stage presence and persona are that of someone who is still figuring out what they’re doing.  So while the oddly aggressive introduction to Be Honourable–in which Long plays an astronaut who talks about having went “Up space”–might not seem particularly relevant to the extended musings on breakfast food and British politics that follow, Long is able to make this disconnect part of the story she’s telling. It’s all about working past easy amusement and trying be a better, more engaged citizen you see, and there’s something fascinating about watching Long trying to bend Fist of Fun-style silliness to such earnest ends.

You can still question a lot of the statements Long makes in the show though - her characterisation of Gordon Brown as a sad bear is amusing, for example, but I still felt that she was letting the fucker off way too easily there. Thankfully, Be Honourable provides an entertaining context in which to think about these questions, and hey – it turns out that Long’s zines (which she hands out at the door) and drawings (which she uses throughout her set) are part of this context, but they’re only the props, and perhaps they should never have been expected to work on their own.

It turns out that in aesthetics as with romance, 80% right really is 80% right after all. Then again, maybe this is just a story I’m telling myself to explain why I’ve spent most of this post ranting against a clumsy, two page comic strip. You could probably suggest that I didn’t like ‘Love’ because I didn’t see myself in it, or that the opposite is true and that I hated it because it reflected a part of my life that I can’t bear to look at.  To be honest though, I don’t think Long’s comics are capable of provoking either response on, and maybe that’s why they’re so frustrating.

Whether you’re talking about the relationship between an artist and their audience or between two people, you can only let yourself be undercut for so long.

Time for a new story?

Watch this space.

21 Responses to “Short and to the Pointless #2: Josie Long and Dodgem Logic”

  1. plok Says:

    Damn it, now I have to do my next one today too? But I was going to go into Toshi Station to get those power converters…!

  2. Andrew Hickey Says:

    The only things I have to say about this are that this is a great piece of writing, that the three issues of DL I read were among the most disappointing things I’ve ever read, and that that Josie Long strip in particular I found to be utterly, irredeemably *EVIL*.
    Long’s a patchy but occasionally great stand-up (I still quote a couple of her lines from when I saw her support Stewart Lee in 2005), but saying we should expect *perfection* from our relationships, and that we should give up on anything less than that, is a horrible, pernicious piece of advice that, if taken, would make everyone very, very lonely.

  3. Tweets that mention Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Short and to the Pointless #2: Josie Long and Dodgem Logic -- Topsy.com Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by David Al, Mindless Ones. Mindless Ones said: NU POST: Illogical Volume takes a look at Dodgem Logic through the lens of comedian Josie Long's autobiographical strip http://bit.ly/gMJu4H [...]

  4. Thrills Says:

    Yeah, the “80% right = 100% wrong” thing sounds like the sort of claim I’d make when I was a sad, lonely student, and my coupled-up friends were complaining at me about their relationships sometimes, and I had no fucking clue what I was talking about. Ocht well.

    Josie Long currently gets a ‘free pass’ from me for that time she took Frankie Boyle to task for making some lazy lesbian joke on that shite Charlie Brooker channel four thing: “is this the 70s?”, or something, she exclaimed, though no-one listened to her as she is a female comedian on a television show, and what do they know, eh lads?

  5. Linkblogging For 09/02/11 « Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! Says:

    [...] thought a rare blessing. With luck I’ll get back on track tomorrow, but for now, some links. Illogical Volume looks at the comics work of Josie Long in Dodgem Logic. Incidentally, if you don’t recognise some of the links, click on them – they add a [...]

  6. Illogical Volume Says:

    Plok – Heh, looking forward to reading your next one mate. As for me, well – I’m just tuning up!

    Andrew – Thanks. And yeah, if you were to take that notion seriously then it would be pretty fucking destructive. Thankfully, I think the idea is too badly expressed in Long’s comic to come across as anything but an unpleasant absurdity.

    I have enjoyed bits of Dodgem Logic, but for a magazine put together by a writer of Moore’s calibre, well… disappointing doesn’t quite cover it.

    Thrills – Ooh, I saw that episode of You Have Been Watching, and… the show as a whole was duff but that bit was great. I think I copied it at a barbecue a couple of weeks later, right down the incredulous high-pitched delivery, so – thanks Josie!

    When I saw Stewart Wee do If You Prefer a Milder Comedian Please Ask For One at the Fringe, he had this vicious bit about how women comics are treated on programmes like Mock the Week. The routine doesn’t seem to have made it into the longer version of the show that was released on DVD, but I remember Lee screaming “DROWN ‘EM OUT FRANKIE, DROWN ‘EM OUT!” while stamping the floor of the stage, and… it was dead good, basically. I was sad to watch the (excellent!) DVD and not see that routine in the set.

  7. bobsy Says:

    I find Wee’s association with ‘that lot’ through the toxic medium of CLuNT to be a little disappointing.

  8. Illogical Volume Says:

    Yeah, me too. I’m not a big fan of Dodgem Logic, but given the countercultural pretensions that are built into that project, it didn’t surprise me to see Lee writing an article there. CLuNGE’s blokey lads mag trappings seem like they should be anathema to Lee, so… I did a double take when I saw he was contributing to Marky “Mark” Millar’s magazine, yes.

    To be honest, I was glad that Lee’s contribution to CLuNGE was only “pretty good” in the end, given that his stand-up, TV shows, radio comedies, books and drama are all in the “pretty fucking excellent” category…

  9. Thrills Says:

    What form did the Stewart Lee contribution take, if you don’t mind me asking? I saw his name on the cover but I’ve been trained by the magazine itself into never actually picking up and looking inside another copy of it ever again.

  10. Illogical Volume Says:

    It was a done-in-one comic called ‘The Property’ or something similar. Art by Steve Yeowell, for that extra old school Brit comic feel.

    Like I said, it was pretty good – sort of like one of Grant Morrison’s more overtly metafictional superhero stories, but with a very different emphasis.

  11. Andrew Hickey Says:

    It’s entirely possible that Lee had never read CRaP before writing for it – he said in his most recent book that he’d given up comics a few years ago, when he had a kid. If so, then you can see why he’d do it – bloke who used to love Marvel comics asked by bloke who writes for Marvel to write for new comic. And to be honest if I had the opportunity to have Steve Yeowell illustrate a strip of mine I’d agree to have it printed in the Daily Star…

  12. bobsy Says:

    Yeowell only turns in an OK job on it though. Get the impression that fifteen years ago he woud have really brought out the creepy weirdness in the rather fecund locations and imagery that the script gave him, as it was the strip seemed too light and frothy (although witty and insightful), missing out on the dark underbelly that it could have done with for balance.

  13. Illogical Volume Says:

    Good point (Andrew/bobsy). Still, much as I enjoyed the strip, I can’t help but wish that (Lee/Yeowell) had put a little more thought in beforehand. ‘The Property’ was good, but it could have been (printed in a magazine that I wouldn’t have felt like a cock for buying/genuinely great!), you know?

  14. werdsmiffery Says:

    That Robin Ince/Josie Long podcast is good stuff. The Alan Moore interview in particular is a revelation – he’s totally not the old grouch that all those “fed up with comics” interviews paint him as.

  15. Illogical Volume Says:

    Definitely. Say what you will about Moore vs. Modern Comics, or Moore vs. Hollywood, but he still seems like he’d be good fun to grab a drink with.

    I’d certainly rather go to the pub with Moore than with, say, Geoff! Johns! – seriously, did you read that TCJ interview? I’ve talked to beer mats who gave a better account of themselves than that vapid bit of manflesh.

  16. werdsmiffery Says:

    Dear Lord, that interview is a train wreck. “But when he sees his father die in a plane crash, it’s the worst.”

    (Note: I’ve never read a Johns comic, but that interview didn’t inspire me to pick one up.)

  17. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Yeah, gotta say that the two times I’ve seen Moore speak live (once alongside fellow man-Gods Iain Sinclair and Michael Moorcock and once at Robin Ince’s rationalists Chritmas event) he came across as thorougly convival and very funny.

  18. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Looking Glass Hearts Forever Says:

    [...] the second post in this series, I had one of my customary digs at cartoonist/theorist Scott McCloud, but while there’s a lot [...]

  19. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Short and to the Pointless #3: The Playwright Says:

    [...] by The Playwright himself. Which is only fitting, really. You can try to move beyond your own severely distorted view of reality, but when you do, don’t be surprised if you find that the world’s made of stories all [...]

  20. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Looking Glass Hearts Says:

    [...] Short and to the Pointless #2: Josie Long and Dodgem Logic (about the deadly combination of bad comics and bad romantic advice) [...]

  21. David Golding Says:

    That is some pernicious shit. I mean, at the least, there are two common factors in all your relationship’s fights… But really, it’s the HAPPY and GOOD and EASY and NATURAL that I take issue with. What does it mean to be happy? How happy? For how long? Is anything ever always easy? What is natural? Everything or nothing? ‘Perfection’ is not just difficult to attain, it’s impossible, because it doesn’t exist except an all-too-casually-used word. ‘Perfection’ is a T rex (this is a call out to the end of Asterios Polyp). This strip strikes me as the kind of thing that you start saying when you hang out with a platonist too long, and I haven’t found myself agreeing with him since he realised that Jack the Ripper was *right about everything*. [sorry: rant; i'll get me coat]

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