Illogical Volume S.M.A.S.H.

February 5th, 2016

If you’re in or around London tomorrow, I’ll be speaking about comics art and community intelligence at this event.  I’ll be on a panel with Katriona Chapman, Hannah K Chapman, Maggie Chapman and Mark Stafford, so even if I’m reduced to shouting the words “ART PARAGRAPH!” over and over again, the other speakers should ensure that it’s not a total disaster.

As you can see from the poster above, I’ll be in good company, with friend-of-the-site Kieron Gillen, artist extraordinaire Alison Sampson and free-roaming Mindless element Kelly Kanayama/Maid of Nails also speaking words at the event.  The SILENCE! boys will be attendance, and the whole thing will almost inevitably end in drunken tears, so please – JOIN US!

 

LIFE TURDS have prevented me from finishing my long promised post on Julia Scheele‘s comics, so here’s a quick ramble about the dick-slap aesthetics of Nemesis the Warlock and Marshal Law that I stole from my own twitter account…

Matt Maxwell once asked me if I had any thoughts on NEMESIS THE WARLOCK.  I do, and they’re all blurred by time & distance but here we go!

In Alec – how to be an artist, Eddie Campbell described Mills & O’Neilll’s NEMESIS as “the wicked satire of a rejected Catholic upbringing”. I wouldn’t presume to be able to improve on that description, but it does point towards what’s so good about *O’Neill’s* NEMESIS.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of good artists have drawn NEMESIS (including Bryan Talbot, for fuck’s sake!) but O’Neill made it look *naughty*. This is what separates his baroque atrocities from similar dystopias (Warhammer 40K, etc): the heavy metal fanfare never obscures the man.

Less is not more – MORE IS MORE!

In the spirit of The Beast Must Die’s (excellent) contribution to that S.M.A.S.H. event, here are nine statements on movie adaptations:

1.       The only good adaptations are the ones that take maximum liberty with the details of their source material. Think of the way Blade Runner strips Philip K. Dick’s novel down to its bare bones then builds a damp, wheezing engine on top.

2.       Adaptations that are painstakingly faithful to the surface details of their sources provide a unique opportunity to see the original clearly. Dave Gibbons’ contributions to Watchmen have never been more obvious than they were in the light of that movie, which mimicked the composition of so many of his panels while conveying the weight of none of them.

3.       The only good adaptations are the ones that overlap with their source text in a way that creates a separate, overlapping narrative – see, for example, the mix of hyper-fidelity and brutal compression in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

4.       Different mediums have different strengths and affordances so it makes sense to identify the things that, say, a book does that a movie can’t before trying to turn one into the other.  The delicate waltz between Charlie Kaufman and Susan Orlean in Adaptation is proof that this approach can pay off.

5.       Becoming overly fixated on the process of adaptation can easily become an excuse not to solve the underlying problems, hence why the “delicate waltz” of Adaptation ends with one dance partner farting a hole clean through his trousers.

6.       A memorable performance in an adaptation of a favorite work is a gift to the source material.  The wobbly PG camera work might neuter The Hunger Games movies as movies, but Jennifer Lawrence’s performance brings something extra to the Katniss of the books.

7.        A memorable performance in an adaptation of a favourite work is a curse to the source material.  There are lines in the Scott Pilgrim comics that I cannot read without hearing Michael Cera’s voice now, and this is not always appropriate for the rhythms of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s work.

8.       The best thing an adaptation can do is to provide financial security to a working artist. Eddie Campbell and Alan Moore both live in the house that Jack built now, and this alone is enough to justify the Hughes brothers version of From Hell.

9.       All adaptations are equally useless.

None of the above should be taken as anything other than an endorsement of our rolling Omni-brand, Lego be praised and all hail The Virgin Money Street of Light™!

You can read more on movie adaptations and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World at the London Graphic Novel Network site, including a very sexy poem about your inevitable doom by the Kraken podcast‘s very own Martin Mazin!

Flashback to… Deadpool?

November 25th, 2015

As previously established, middling superhero comics are so much better when you read them for free from the library, but what about mediocre comics you valued at an earlier age?

What about ones that feature characters whose longevity seems baffling?  Characters who you had assumed would have died with your dreams of a better life but who will soon be starring in their own movie at a cinema near you?  What about bloody Deadpool?

Deadpool, #2-11, by Ed McGuinnes, Joe Kelly and various

I have teenage X-Men damage and I enjoyed these stories a lot the first time round, but this material is as dated now as a ’60s Marvel comic and with a lot less dynamic force behind it…

I might have come away from the Thought Bubble comics convention with a terrible hangover and an overwhelming desire to have a proper rummage through the back issue bins, but I can’t say that I came back short of good zines, great comics and better memories.

Here are five of the most exciting books I picked up last weekend…

1. Jonathan Chandler – Another Blue World (Breakdown Press, 2015)

At last Saturday’s SILENCE! x Breakdown Press interview panel, Jonathan Chandler was discussed as an artist who had staked out territory similar to that which Brian Chippendale had occupied but who had got there before it became a trendy holiday destination for art house cartoonists.

I’m not familiar enough with the man’s work to debate these claims, but reading Another Blue World what struck me was how important Chandler’s elusive sense of space is to communicating this particular set of hostile environments:

It’s not so much that Chandler is limiting what the reader can see to a few tufts of grass or a short stretch of water around his characters that makes his work stand out, more that he seemingly feels no pressure to fill up blank space on the page.

In a Brian Chippendale comic we might find ourselves feeling overwhelmed by the amount of detail, struggling to distinguish signal from noise whether we’re faced with the tiny cramped panels of Maggots or the wider canvases of If’n Oof or Ninja. In Prison Pit we are confronted blocky horror after blocky horror, but we know that this grim escalation will follow proceed through the sort of absurd escalations that are Johnny Ryan’s speciality.

Reading Chandler’s work, meanwhile, we are confronted with an eerie silence. All around us, we find unreadable white space, all of it primed with danger. Forms approach, assaults are perpetrated, sex is weaponised, but we can never be sure whether things are going to get worse or just sort of hang there:

I might crave for something beyond this harsh replication of animalistic imperatives, but there’s no denying that Another Blue World makes them painfully vivid.

Speaking of moving beyond, here’s Lando, back with another bleak, arid and yet undeniably stylish science fiction story!

JLA Classified: New Maps of Hell

Written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Butch Guice, inked by Mike Stribling, coloured by Dave Baron, covers by the unforgotten nightmares of the 1980s

I struggled to get past the first few pages of this, felt totally scunnered by the pissy, huffy Clark Kent of the story’s opening.  I mean seriously, just take a look at this dick:

As someone who disdained the guy who ran our local comics/toy corridor for his enthusiastic blather about how Clark Kent/Superman represented a perfect combination of action and humility, patience and wit, even I can’t get behind this version of the character now.  The opening of this story, in which Clark throws a hissy fit when he gets fobbed off during a murder investigation, is one of those moments where you can feel the comics’ authors looking up you from the page, so sure of their superior intellectual position, of their mastery of facets of the adult world beyond the ken of your average comics reader that they want to look you right in the eye and teach you how to be a grown up.

The fact that this ascended mastery is demonstrated through the (metaphorical) detailing of Superman’s ironing arrangements is not supposed to concern us – somewhat remarkably, we are simply supposed to marvel at the fact that someone has actually thought about this shit!

So: don’t get me wrong, there’s much in this world to get angry at, I just expect this character to be a little more witty and subtle in his machinations. But no. Clark Kent, he’s a journalist right?  He’s a hard-ass, he’ll keep on pushing the point until something breaks, he probably drinks too much coffee and complains about being an old man with all the other technogoths down the pub at night, he’s… just another hack prick, basically.  Acht, it “makes sense” I guess, but not in a way I’m particularly interested in. Guice needs to take as much of the blame as Ellis for this, given that his Kent expresses his frustrations with the honking venom of a man who’s not shat right in weeks.

I was relieved when the plot started to happen, but alas, I can’t work up the enthusiasm of a Comic Book Resources reviewer…

Living legend David Wynne has commissioned me to write 500 words on this topic. Last night in the pub he teased me with the idea that I was going to be tasked to write 500 words on Frank Miller: Feminist Icon.

Having worked out my pitch for that one in the shower this morning (it’s actually really easy to read his work as an extended deconstruction of chauvinist tropes… so long as you just DON’T LOOK AT THE WOMEN IN HIS COMICS and only pay attention to the men – not an approach that’s conducive to feminist values, hence why this reading of Frank Miller is unlikely to catch on anytime soon) I now find myself face with a far more daunting task.

Five hundred words on “Hard Men with Big Truncheons: The Sexual Politics of Mega-City One”. I mean seriously: what can you say about this subject? What can’t you say?

Casting about for a place to start that wasn’t the bathroom, I asked Douglas Wolk…

Sleeping Dogs – Cabal Press 2015 – written by Fraser Campbell, drawn by Lautaro Capristo, coloured by David B. Cooper and lettered by Colin Bell.

“One reads so few comics that are truly juvenile, knowingly juvenile and proud of it” - is that true? If not, why did it hit me with the force of a thousand failed understandings when my pal Plok said it, in relation to Millar/Hitch’s work on The Ultimates?

If it’s not true, why does it feel that way? Is it because I’m disconnected from my more juvenile instincts now that I’m a high-faluting comics critic on the internet, or is it just that I don’t encounter comics that play to my own juvenile tastes that often these days? Having read Sleeping Dogs, I’m starting to think that the latter might be the case.

It knows that it’s a bit crude, Sleeping Dogs, which isn’t to say that it’s particularly gross or shlocky in comparison to fairly mainstream things like, say, Takeshi Miike movies or Mark Millar’s creator owned comics and their Hollywood adaptations. You don’t get the feeling that Campbell, Capristo and co are trying too hard to shock you or that they’re fundamentally damaged in some way when you’re reading Sleeping Dogs, but it has a rude energy to it. It reminds me of Philip Bond comics, of Garth Ennis when he’s almost-but-not-quite being too much of a piss-taking arsehole, of a million silly alternative roads for British comics that could have been well-stomped post-2000AD and post-Deadline but which are perhaps a little more neglected than they could be.

It’s tempting for me to overdo this UK comics connection, so strong is the appeal of this book’s big faced hardmen to me…

…but for all that the shabby locale (a run-down tower block) and the clipped, action movie patter put me in mind of those comics, it’s worth remembering that Capristo is Argentinian. I know little of the man or his work, let alone of his living environment, but I think I know what he likes in his comics and I like it too.

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For London <-|-> From Hell

November 12th, 2015

The following post was written as a response to The London Graphic Novel Network’s discussion of From Hell

Here’s Graphic Novel Network/Kraken bod Joel‘s final flourish, just so you have some idea what I’m arguing against:

when I read [Moore's] stuff I get the feeling is that nothing has been lead to chance and everything is designed for very definite and exact reasons you know? If other comics are a little jelly and playful and “make your own mind up!” – Alan Moore in a labyrinth of cold hard steel: arranged in such a way that the only possible stance you’ll allowed is that of a mouse – desperately trying to find its way to the piece of cheese at the end.

And here’s my response:

Joel, the way you describe Alan Moore’s work there makes it sound hugely unappealing. I don’t think your account of how his art works is fundamentally untrue, mind, but it makes his work sound awful, tyrannical even – “Imagine being held in the iron grip of The World’s Mightiest Beard… FOREVER!”

*shudders* 

And yet… the sense of total control is undeniably part of Moore’s appeal, always has been. It’s there in the famous grids of repeating imagery in Watchmen, in From Hell’s attempts to draw together an occult history of murder, in Promethea’s attempt to overlay scientific theories on Judeo-Christian creation myths. It’s even in the carefully synthesised pulp that fuels relatively Thrill Powered works like V for Vendetta and Halo Jones and (why not?!) Crossed 100
 
It’s also the aspect that can curdle his attempts at humour, the thing that sometimes makes his self-consciously light and playful comics feel like anything but, the… oh shit, is this why he always crams those bloody songs into his comics? Is it the final test of his mastery, the compunction to try and make you hear music in a comic? Will he manage it one day?

Maybe. Or maybe he just read too much Pynchon and smoked a little too much Tolkien before going to bed last night.

“Modern life is rubbish, here’s an 8,000 page novel about my garden.”

Fresh from his appearance at the debate on comics criticism at S.M.A.S.H. in London this Saturday (pictured above), here are 21 statements on comics criticism from The Beast Must Die:

1. Comics as an art form has the critics it deserves.

2. Comics critics are not as good as critics in other art forms.

3. Comics critics enlighten people about an art form that they might not know about.

4. Comics criticism lacks notable or significant figures in its canon; there are no Pauline Kaels, Harold Blooms or Roland Barthes [‘Bartheses’, surely?].

5. Comics critics are the best critics of all, because comics is an art form free of decades of critical debate and point-scoring and endless spiralling discussion.

6. Comics criticism is a place for juvenile people to snipe at each other pointlessly whilst keeping out strangers from their precious domain.

7. Comic critics who can’t talk about the art in a comic are no good as comics critics.

8. Comics podcasts are a popular avenue for criticism. They are the most ill-informed, badly thought out most lazy form of criticism.

9. Comics podcasts are a popular avenue for criticism. Comics podcasts allow for free-flowing conversation which generates genuinely interesting critical ideas.

10. Most comic criticism is on the internet, and as such often has little or no editorial input, meaning it is littered with mistakes, weak ideas and groundless opinions.

11. A lack of editorial input means that comics critics are free to think in original and interesting ways.

Click here to read the rest of the list at Broken Frontier!