Material #1-4: Breaking Free

October 28th, 2015

A few thoughts on Material, a prematurely cancelled comic by Will Tempest, Tom Muller, Ales Kot and Clayton Cowles that feels like it’s worth not just reading but talking about – and maybe even continuing?


Like so much contemporary mass media, Material  seemed aware of its readers’ ability to act as biocapitalist broadcasting stations, trusting that they would work harder and smarter than Image comics’ marketing department – that its readers would talk about it on podcasts, write essays, send enthusiastic tweets, anything to try and share the experience of it. Its methods of going about this was somewhat obvious but effective: the comic lectured you, provided prompts for further reading, tried to link scenes in the comic to other texts, be they topical text pieces in the back of the comic or the names and references scattered in the margins.

Even while it was still being published, then, Material seemed to revel in its status as an incomplete text. The art echoed this approach, with with Will Tempest’s none-more-loose linework held together almost entirely by the carefully coded block colouring.  It looked and felt like work-in-progress, and with the action currently suspended, its characters’ lives have that feeling too.

Everything in this book is material for the reader; the question is, how much work do you want to put in?  How much do you want to let Material work with you?

As I’ve already said, by publicly engaging with the comic we become part of the marketing scheme, “self-facilitating media nodes” or some such Barley-bollocks.  Is that all there is to it though?  Value is fundamental to the idea of currency of course, and when you’re offering up cash on the promise of receiving a worthwhile experience it’s doubly hard to disentangle financial motives from your response, but that doesn’t mean that we should give in to the tautological worldview that says since everything can be sold it is best judged by its commercial worth.

Material‘s current status gives us pause to consider this question, temporarily free from questions of cash money and how to spend it.  It brings the other questions of trust – is this going anywhere?  is it just wearing the raw tragedy of the moment like a shiny new suit? – into the foreground.

All you need to spend right now is a little bit of time.


So, this is a serious item. Material is, what’s it coming out fortnightly? I could look, sometimes it’s fun to have a conversation like you’re not a robot, too. It doesn’t look like something that belongs in comic shops, it just doesn’t.

It’s frill-less, raw, politically engaged, arch, brash, ripped from the headlines, you know?

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.