Another week, another Filthy pre-view. Last Friday I spent a bit of time thinking out loud about the different approaches I might take with the cover for the print edition of this book.  This week I mostly find myself thinking that I’m going to need to tweak this piece a little to account for the current debate about these (stupid) anti-porn laws.

I don’t have enough time to re-write the relevant parts of this post today, but rest assured that it’s on my mind and that it will be on the page come April.

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I should note at this stage, possibly far too late, that I do not write any of this in a state of horrified tabloid panic.  With regards to real world pornography, I am attempting to stay cognisant of Andrea Dworkin’s description of porn as “technologized prostitution” and I have written about pornography in the context of Michael Bay movies in an attempting to take onboard Dworkin’s comment that “The dirty little secret of the left-wing pornography industry is not sex but commerce”.  I do not propose here to make moral judgements about those who star in adult movies any more than I wish to tell any sex worker what their life and profession is all about – those who labour in both fields can give  undoubtedly give a better account of the varied and complex circumstances in and around their work than I could hope to.  Instead, I wish to focus on the conditions in which hardcore movies are created, and the effects of their reception.

I find myself entranced by an unfinished series of essays written  by UK politics blogger Tom Gann in which he proposed a left wing critique of pornography that re-framed the legal debate not in terms of the (laudable) liberal defence of whatever activities grown adults chose to take part in, but in terms of the means of production: 

Max Hardcore boasts of his innovations, “Positions like pile driver, where I would gape the girls asses wide open, and provide a clear view for the camera… I also created the technique of cumming in a girl’s ass, having her squeeze it out into a glass, and then chuck the load down…  A little later, I started pissing down their throats several times during a scene, often causing them to vomit uncontrollably while still reaming their throats.” It seems unclear whether the current legislation would necessarily cover any of this…

Against capitalism’s inversion, the point cannot made enough, all these things are being done to a real woman. Capital’s inversions and bashful concealments of production underpin the argument that the thing (the pornographic image, speech) must be protected even, or rather especially, against the existence destroyed to produce it…

These conditions did not exist as part of the production of The Filth, so their importance here is as a point of reference.  Tex Porneau does not exist as an unfathomable phantom that Morrison and Weston have dredged from the void.  His actions are an extrapolation of the processes by which entertainment is produced for our consumption, and the style in which it is processed for delivery.  If the ridiculousness of Porneau’s schemes strikes us as being over the top, perhaps we should reflect on the way that Michael Bay’s movies use real world violence and technology as a starting point for their own otherworldly fantasies.  

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Frank Quitely, Grant Morrison and Nathan Fairbairn – Multiversity: Pax Americana #1

It’s here that our story begins:  in pieces.  Many, many authors have shot at this target and missed, preferring not to recognize that in truth this is what we really know, and what we really believe, about the forces that create and shape our lives — preferring not to see that what science and philosophy describe is the branch from which our lives’ dramas depend, and not just convenient intellectual set-dressing for them.

We should remember that murder mysteries are always just local expressions, of a grander philosophical struggle — someone is killing capes, and who’s next?  Well, after the scientists the answer is, we are:  as the stunning profusion of interlinked symbols that fills Pax Americana’s pages ceaselessly intimates to us the unavoidability of that final, bitter realization of entropy.  War, and death, and chaos…

…Or, what is perhaps worse:  not chaos, at all, but order.

An implacable order, that we can’t resist.  A pattern we’re trapped in, that we can’t see.

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As was noted in the comments to the previous entry in this series, the analysis of sex provided in that section of  The Function of The Filth wasn’t particularly attentive to the mechanics of The Filth as a comic.

I’m working to take some of those criticisms on-board while redrafting this chapter for print, and I’m confident that the finished result will go baws deep on the question of quite how narcissistic Greg’s fantasy sex scene is, and how little he and Boy/Miami/Nil enjoy it.  As I explained at the time, the second preview was the weakest standalone section because it was most obviously written with the hope of getting elsewhere – this doesn’t excuse the weaknesses of the section as it stands, but it does put the weight of expectation on this preview!

This is where it becomes obvious where the first chapter of The Function of The Filth is going, so hopefully this chapter will strike you as having a somewhat… meatier taste and consistency to it.  If not, please send your complaints to the usual address!

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When we see Greg in his home, he tends to be either looking at porn (“Hear Caroline scream as Mike shoves his eleven inch dick… in her dad”), watching the news (“Thousands dead… mourning continues”), or pining after his cat (“You look after yourself and eat your special dinner up”).  In fact, in one scene in the first issue he combines these three activities into one page’s worth of fun, taking care of his needs on the couch before clearing up his cat’s shit, all to the soundtrack of distant tragedy.  This combination hints at the unkempt, exhausted, low level squalor in which Greg exists, but it also serves to carefully unite the crude, screaming brutality of modern news stories with that of hardcore pornography rather neatly.

This is crucially important to The Filth, because while – as we have seen – traditionally commercialised violence and sexual fantasy are surrealised and made unstable by Morrison and Weston throughout The Filth, their combination in the form of  hardcore pornography receives a different treatment altogether.  The theme of sexual brutalisation is present from that first image onwards, even in its Weston-diluted form, but it becomes increasingly inescapable for all the artist’s self-censorship.  The fleshy peak of this aspect of the series pokes up through the binding in the two-part storyline that fills the fifth and six issues of the comic, ‘pornomancer’ and ‘the world of anders klimakks’.  If The Filth is a desperate fantasy, then this is the point where the dream takes on a life of its own; if it’s all ‘real’, then this is where we get a glimpse of the bigger, grubbier picture.

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There comes a point in every Mindless gathering where the correct amount of alcohol has finally been consumed for the conversation to turn to Final Crisis, with a special focus on the hastily squandered horror of the fifth issue.  Thankfully, we’ve started to bring friends along to help identify the reason for this boozy recurrence:

Yes, that’s right – the crushing banality of the morning aftermath is rank rotten enough to haunt its own bacchanalian origins, and when it does so it wears Darkseid’s face.  Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The spirit of this wretched, queasy moment inevitably seeps into the comics I buy at Thought Bubble when I try to read them on the train home.  This petty, remorse-tinged meanness tried to curdle my appreciation of the Decadence comics I brought home with me last year, but it struggled to find shelter in their sparsely populated mindscapes. The darkness found a more suitable hiding place in Spandex, Martin Eden’s LGBT-friendly, Brighton based superhero strip.

Like his previous serial adventure The O-Men, Spandex mixes everyday drama and garish unreality with ease. Brother Bobsy mentioned Paul Grist as an obvious reference point when he discussed the collected Spandex on SILENCE! and there’s definitely something to that: like Jack Staff or Mud Man, Spandex is humorous without ever seeming parodic, and it manages to generate a sense of low-budget romance from its seaside drama.  The debt to the X-Men is also undeniable, both in Eden’s commitment to chronicling the adventures of a group of emotionally combustible super-friends, and in his clean, brightly coloured artwork:

I’ve done a pretty decent job of burying my teenage X-Men fandom underneath piles of Eddie Campbell comics…

In last week’s instalment of THE FUNCTION OF THE FILTH, we skipped straight to the “violence” part of the equation.  This time round, we’re dealing with sex, because sex is always important in this sort of story.

This sort of story?  Well, try not to stop me if you’ve heard this one before!

There’s this guy who wakes up from his mundane life to discover he’s really a disturbingly important human being – maybe the most disturbingly important human being – rather than just another boring arsehole with bad hair. Inevitably, he’s a little incredulous about the whole thing to begin with, but as one world crumbles away he soon starts to find himself more at home in his new reality – and it’s almost always his new reality, whatever complications may arise further down the line. 

This detail tends to narrow down the rest of the possibilities of the story so that at least one attractive woman will usually be involved – the idea of “normal” being what it is, can you think of a better way to ensure that the transition from the “real” world to another, more overdetermined world goes well?  Cosmic purpose on its own isn’t enough: if the switch over is to be successful then the deal must be sealed with flesh.  For this price, plus teleological extras, our hero finds it within himself to be all that he can be.

This story is called The Matrix, or maybe Star Wars, or maybe even Wanted. For all their differences, these stories are all equally at home in the pages of comics and on cinema screens, in visual media where they can best present the  dreams of their audience back to them as a dressing up kit, a series of moves or tools or attitudes that can be easily copped and used to remake the world. These stories represent the transformation of dreams into merchandising, and as such their tropes are as easy to critique as they are hard to resist .

But did I say we would be talking about sex instead of violence this time?  Yeah… let’s do that!

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Fresh from Thought Bubble 2014, it’s the one chapter preview of THE FUNCTION OF THE FILTH, my forever delayed book on Grant Morrison and Chris Weston’s best comic, The Filth, to be serialised in five posts corresponding to the five positions of The Hand!

CLICK HERE TO PEEL BACK THE MONITOR SCREEN AND PLAY WITH THE GOOPY MONSTER UNDERNEATH

“Have you guys got The Best of Milligan and McCarthy in?”

“…”

“You know, the big hardback collection of Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy comics?”

“…”

“Peter Milligan?  Guy who wrote Enigma and X-Statix and who totally didn’t touch winkies with Grant Morrison back in the 90s?  Properly does that po-mo literary thing of trying to live on both sides of the limit of an idea, except when he’s writing rubbish X-Men stories.   And he made loads of comics Brendan McCarthy, as in Solo #12, Zaucer of Zilk, that Dark Horse thing… Ditko figurework, tells the whole story with colours, he gave those Coneheads their cone heads – you know who I’m talking about, right?”

“…”

“I mean it’s a bit lazy to ask, sure, but I’ve had a look on the shelves but I’m just asking in case I’d overlooked it somehow.”

“…”

“You’re staring at me like the words I’m saying don’t make any sense right now.”

“Yeah, we don’t have it.”

“Okay.  Cool.  So could you order it then?”

“No.”

“Could you maybe check for me at least?”

“It must have been a Forbidden Planet London exclusive.”

“Nah man, it was a proper release – you had it in this time last year, I remember seeing it on the shelves.”

“Nope. Must have been a Forbidden Planet London exclusive.”

“Look, I’m not trying to be a dick but it seriously wasn’t.  You can get it in [REDACTED], or from Amazon, and…  you’re really not even going to search for it on your system?”

“…”

“…”

“I can’t search for it because I don’t have a title.”

The Best of Milligan and McCarthy.”

“That’s not a title.”

“The title of the comics is “The Best of Milligan and McCarthy” – look it up and you’ll see!”

“Can’t. It must have been a Forbidden Planet London exclusive.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“Yeah, but like… I had it on order from [REDACTED] because my girlfriend worked there at the time, and then she got caught up in this big, stupid disciplinary with the company because they thought they had the right to read her dreams or whatever, so I never picked it up, then Brendan McCarthy said some stupid shit about race on the internet and I wrote a piece about it and then he pretended like people had taken the huff with his Spider-Man for like no reason whatsoever so I never bothered ordering it elsewhere but then I remembered that I actually really fucking want this collection because it’s got some of my favourite comics ever in it and I’m already weak and compromised, certainly feeble enough to read Brendan McCarthy comics again, I mean it’s not like this phone isn’t practically oozing blood and global sadness out into my hand right now, so… “

“…”

“…”

“We don’t have it and I can’t search for it without a real title.”

“Okay, so I guess I’ll just have to get it from Amazon?”

“…”

“Okay.”

OMAC, What Is Best In Life?

August 28th, 2014

Do you think that he’d even know? I’m not sure. He’s always so busy, isn’t he? The character and the book he starred in are a perfect match that way.

I’ve been spending a lot of time round at Kirby’s recently, and my favourite Kirby is the chatty, energetic old guy who’s perpetually setting up a big picture with the intention of hinting at an even bigger one. I’m talking about the Kirby who’s always happy to sit you down, offer you a drink and ask how you’re doing before the trip so nighttown begins. You’ll find this Kirby in The Eternals, of course, as well as in his Fourth World stories, and it’s hard not to love the guy.

The Jack Kirby you meet in OMAC is every bit as sharp as that other Jack, but he’s forever on the move. You head round to his place only to find him halfway out the door. This situation poses no problem for Kirby: ‘Of course you can come along!’ he barks. ‘I’m about to grab a taxi down to the “Brother” Eye if you’re willing to take a detour?’

Before you even have a chance to say yes you’re jumping out of the taxi and into the “Brother” Eye, a dingy old man’s pub untouched by the smoking ban, the sort of place that’s packed full of cigar smoke and shifty characters. And talking about characters, did Kirby really just tell you that that girl over there is a robot? And what’s that he’s saying about a man so rich he can afford to rent out whole cities for his private parties? You’re sure that he just said that the most recent party had a more sinister purpose, but somehow Kirby’s over at the other side of the bar now, stopping a nasty brawl before it can properly get going. One minute he’s holding a man ten years his junior by the throat, the next they’re heading towards you, talking quite intently with each other about the “Sickies”.

Kirby slaps you on the arm, buys you a drink and introduces you to his new friend Bucky… no, wait, it’s Buck, sorry. Kirby starts to settle down; he stretches his back out, and it looks like he’s about to chat to you when he suddenly decides to throw a nearby chair through the closest window. You’re about to tell the old guy to chill the fuck out, but then he leaps clean through the window and chases a mugger off down the street.

A brief ‘Good to see ya kid!’ and a hastily written check to the bar owner later and Kirby’s off into the night, shouting ‘OMAC lives so that man may live!!’ as he goes. Shit, that was exhausting, you think. But hell, when was the last time you had that much fun with a comic book superhero?

Does OMAC know what’s best in life? I’m not sure, but the man who created him certainly did! Happy birthday, then, to Jack Kirby – still missed, still the only king I will ever bow to.

Artifice and Intelligence

August 24th, 2014

Secret Avengers #7, by Ales Kot, Michael Walsh, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles

They’re re-writing the TV show again, remaking their little models fit to play the parts occupied by [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] on the screen, picking up tips and characters from [REDACTED], letting the characters get all cute cute cute on the black ops beat, all limber on the page, unbothered by caption chatter, the disconcerting mix of [REDACTED] and [REDACTED], the whole functioning in defiance of the fact that it’s been divined like Frankenstein, realizing Borgesian phantoms. Is the whole thing ectoplasmic, even the brand management, even the [REDACTED] approved implication that we secretly (Secret Avengers) need/crave dangerous spooks like these? This is subversion but the question of who or what is being subverted is as hard to grasp as the figures on the page, sleek in the shadows, smooth like cartoons – is the mechanism being made more likeable here, or more ridiculous? Are these positions necessarily opposed? Or are we on the third path, Dark Starring the bomb to light another day? You will of course interject that here be monsters, but is that not always the case when one is pre-writing history?

Regardless, this is the most effective use of an affected guest star in a [REDACTED] comic since [REDACTED], a triumph of affect over the constant cries of “THIS IS AFFECT!” There are too few contemporary comics that make intrigue feel this easy.