August 25th, 2012
What a joy it is to dance and sing…
…or so I seem to remember anyway. This bloggy vessel has now entered the fourth decade of its journey towards oblivion, so you can look forward to it trying out its new “all whinging, all the time” persona as its mechanics starts to fail and its withered captain feels the need to overcompensate in a tragic bid for immortality.
From New X-Men: Riot at Xaviers, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
But before I lose myself to that delightful journey, there’s Ales Kot and Riley Rossmo‘s Wild Children, a comic book that couldn’t feel more like a jolt from the nineties if it had come wrapped in a pair of novelty Spice Girls underpants and been delivered by a reformed Lee and Herring. Except that it’s actually a lot more specific than that, because what Wild Chilren feels like is a a jolt from my nineties - if you can imagine a version of Grant Morrison and Philip Bond’s Kill Yr Boyfriend that tries to encompass all of The Invisibles, you’ll probably be imagining something quite like Wild Children. Like The Invisibles, Wild Children is clearly built to be read in a circle, and if the first line of dialogue – “I still don’t understand” – doesn’t get this point across, there’s another line on the third page to make the design even harder to ignore: “Some of you may think we’re evil, but I don’t think you’ll miss the point this time.”
From The Invisibles #1, ‘Dead Beatles’, by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell
All of which is typical of Wild Children’s approach. Part story, part lecture, Wild Children is a swaggering, talky comic that positions its readers as adult hostages, drugged and held at gunpoint by the titular teens. Weapons are brandished that may or may not be weapons, speeches about the nature of reality are given, tragedy ensues.
Some people might object to being positioned this way - former wild children with fluff-encrusted blank badges in their sock drawers might find themselves wanting to be the ones giving the lecture, for example – but while I would have probably have got more out of the comic if Riley Rossmo had been given more action to draw, the loose, unfinished quality of his line was enough to get me through a couple of reading cycles. And like I said, there’s plenty of swagger in Wild Children’s design. From its carefully combusted cover on in, this is clearly the work of a couple of people who want to start something.
The only question is, what is it that they want to start, exactly?
From New X-Men: Riot at Xaviers, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
As the acid kicks in andRossmo’s “unfinished” lines begin to smear into garish colour as they push against the fourth wall, Wild Children starts to throw out references both in the dialogue and in the spaces between the panels to everything from hauntology to The Wire via K-Punk, Lacan and our very own Amypoodle. In contrast to the nineties flashback form of the comic, these references largely feel very at home in the time and medium I’m sharing with you right now, but to what effect? “…we’ve learned something about this universe…” one of the kids says halfway through the comic. Turns out that they’ve learned that comics are like LSD blotter which is like existence (maaan) – a series of broken moments that form a big picture, of not just our life but all life.
Now, if you were feeling harsh you could reduce this down to something like “living in a comic is weird, if you/I/we do in fact live in a comic”, but I’m mostly too charmed by Wild Children’s energy to take that approach. So, if the comic hasn’t quite managed to shatter my perception of time and space it has at least remind me of a time when I felt like that was possible.
Also from New X-Men: Riot at Xaviers, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Reading the comic in this light, it can just about sustain the illusion that it’s a perpetual energy machine, all hopped up on its own tyger strength, totally convinced of its own self-sufficiency, built to be read and reread for all eternity. I struggle to convince myself that I can change the bedsheets these days, so I definitely have space in my heart for a comic that reminds me of a time when I felt like I was not just full of potential but actively dangerous.
Of course, contemplating this past version of myself also leads me to contemplate the versions of me that never were, BUT! If these potential versions of me have to haunt the conversation (and some of them are proper areseholes, by the way – one or two of them still think it’s the very height of wit to quote Bill Hicks routines in their entirity when trying to impress girls, for fuck’s sake!) then it only seems fair to invoke the other ghosts that hang around Wild Children like a cloud of mildly peeved goths.
WHAT IF… the rhetoric of youthful rebellion and transcendental psychedelia isn’t enough?
WHAT IF… with all its abundant energy, Wild Children is really just the literary equivalent of a little kid running round in circles?
WHAT IF… instead of being a gang of fearsome tygers its characters are really just a group of sacrificial lambs ready to fall?
It might seem like I’ve positioned myself with the authorities in the comic by deciding to gun down Kot and Rossmo’s baby here, but I actually think that these questions lead the reader back into another, seemingly incompatible reading of Wild Children.
So, for example:
WHAT IF… the arty rebellion the children perform here was always going to end badly? Is always going to end badly?
WHAT IF… the mix of fury and futility is a feature rather than a bug?
WHAT IF… this isn’t an endless source of energy but infinitely recurring nightmare?
Is this just another example of me trying to find my own stupid face in a comic, trying to make its catherine wheel theatrics into an expression of my own youthful burnout? Probably, but there’s nothing new there – for all that I want to be taken out of my own head by comics, it’s far more likely that they’ll end up reminding me of something I already know.
From, you guessed it, New X-Men: Riot at Xaviers, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Bearing in mind the fact that I’m a rotting hunk of meat, I think now’s as good a time as ever to announce that, like the characters in Wild Children, I “don’t have time to create false dichotomies”. And so it occurs to me that the two sets of questions I posed above don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and that the fact that Wild Children wasn’t enough to do anything big for me was in itself enough to do something big for me. As the bodies start to fall and the pages start to burn up in front of me, I find myself longing for a more drawn-out trajectory, for an escape from this cycle of adolescent drama and youthful burnout, for a suggestion of something beyond my own experience, however tragic or fragile that suggestion might be…