The first time I read Preacher, I was 20 years old on the other side of the world.

My year abroad at Oxford was coming to an end – and about time, too, because for this socially awkward kid from Hawaii with extremely working-class parents, the Oxbridge milieu was confounding. Before coming to England I’d spent two years of undergrad in the midwestern US, so figured I could handle another cultural adjustment.

Ha ha.

The academic system was different from anything I’d ever experienced. The sociocultural codes bordered on the downright inscrutable. The tutors expected us to know all about subjects we’d barely even touched upon in our previous education (here’s a note for any Oxford lecturers reading this: American schools don’t use the English Civil War as a primary historical touchpoint).

And in the midst of the incomprehension and fear, I discovered Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.

The Borders bookstore near campus – I remember how surprising it was that Oxford had a Borders – stocked most of the trade paperbacks in their comics section. Luckily, its employees were either too oblivious or too apathetic to stop me from holing up and reading each volume cover to cover, which is what you do when you’re a broke student. That’s where I first met Jesse Custer, where the bottom of my heart fell out when I learned about Cassidy’s monstrous nature, where I weighed the benefit of continuing to read one hell of a comic against consuming 66 issues plus specials of raging blasphemy (I was raised in a speaking-in-tongues evangelical church), and where I learned the term “reach-around”.

I didn’t realize at the time how special Dillon’s art was, because it drew me in without even giving me time to blink. It all seemed real. More than that, it all seemed accurate. That’s exactly how it looks when someone machine-guns a report to bits in the office, I thought. That’s totally the pose you fall into when your friend’s ex-friend sends you into a voodoo trance.

Of course, these weren’t conscious thoughts; Dillon’s work invited you to react subconsciously first. It was a lot like reading comics as a kid, if you disregard all the sodomy references and profanity. My childhood comics reading experiences were immersive, or rather, I judged comics on their immersive capacity. Did I feel as though I were on that gargoyle-studded rooftop beside Batman, narrowing my eyes at the criminal scum/people failed by Gotham’s mental health care system on the streets below? If yes, then it was a good comic.

As I got older, I learned to spot badly proportioned bodies, static poses, overly photorealistic likenesses, and other artistic touches that push readers out of the action. Coming from a performing background, the best analogy I can think of is that it’s like watching an actor who’s clearly Doing A Character, or this piece of brilliance from Derek Jacobi’s guest star spot in Frasier.

Preacher was none of that. Preacher simply…was. Dillon wasn’t Doing A Comic. It felt like Jesse, Tulip, and Cassidy had allowed him to observe their exploits for the purpose of documentation, because that’s something real people can do, and under Dillon’s hand they were as real as the rustle of Batman’s cape once was in my child-ears.

It was a comfort, not only for the sharp wit cloaked in splashy vulgarity, but for the surety of those good old Dillon lines. Everything around me was unknown and scary, except this. Here, in Preacher, art by Steve Dillon, was a world where even the most outlandish could be familiar, like a welcome I didn’t know I needed.

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Maid of Nails: You can’t put the Punisher in everything. He’s a specific person for specific contexts, and this is part of why I love the Garth Ennis run so, so, so much. Basically, he’s made for a Garth Ennis context.

Botswana Beast: It’s American crime. I can see how it works in 1980s comics, to an extent — well, in the Daredevil series on Netflix, he is contrasted with Daredevil, and they do take scenes from Ennis’ Punisher, like in issue #3 of Marvel Knights. They fairly directly transpose them.

MoN: It was SO COOL. I was just sad that Maginty wasn’t in it. I love that dude.

BB: Maginty is in Punisher: War Zone.

MoN: With the Urban Freeflow Crew, doing parkour all over the place for no reason. That’s not in the comic.

BB: Nope.

MoN: I was sad to see him go. I mean, he was a really messed-up guy who did messed-up stuff, but I enjoyed him a lot, in a sort of weird way.

BB: That’s the one thing we’ve not talked about, and it’s kind of an absurd thing. Frank Castle, as a notional superhero…

Botswana Beast: So the central arc of Punisher MAX, which I think really begins in Mother Russia and ends in Valley Forge, Valley Forge, is all based on this plan, post-9/11, causing terror in order to provoke more foreign interventionism. It’s something to do with the Soviets — well, the Russians, not the Soviets, because it’s not 1989 –

Maid of Nails: But it is framed very much as “the Soviets,” because, you know, General Zakharov from Man of Stone is old-school.

BB: He’s a great character, but he also does horrible things like throwing a baby off a cliff.

MoN: Yeah, he herds a bunch of people off of a cliff and this one woman who’s about to go over gives him her baby to try and save it. And he lifts up the baby like it’s The Lion King or something, and then he throws the baby over the cliff.

BB: That’s literally one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen, certainly in a Marvel comic.

MoN: So it’s okay that the Punisher’s trying to kill him.

BB: I can’t actually remember the intricacies of this general’s plan, but it’s to provoke war. And of course these are not real soldiers like Frank Castle, like the other respectable Special Forces –

MoN: Or the SAS.

BB: Ennis has a fucking erection for Special Forces guys. In the story they’re just pen-pushing dirty motherfuckers that never saw a day’s combat in their lives. It’s just an ant farm; it’s a game to them, and they’re total shitlords. And they get killed as well.

MoN: That’s very satisfying, though, because they’re not cool like the SAS or Frank Castle.

BB: He doesn’t actually kill the SAS guys, does he?

MoN: No, because they’re too cool.

BB: Well, they’re not SAS guys in this story. They’re American Special Forces.

MoN: But Yorkie’s in there. He’s SAS. Anyway, Rawlins is the guy who’s going around stirring up shit on behalf of the American government, and he’s just the worst person in the entire world.

BB: He is a gigantic piece of shit.

MoN: If someone has completely no feeling for fellow human beings at all, then I can see how they might end up in something like human trafficking. But Rawlins — he has passions, at least, so it’s even worse. O’Brien, you know, the one who wants to bang the Punisher, is his ex-wife. There was some kind of attraction there. Then there’s the thing with Nicky Cavella, when Rawlins comes in to see him like, “Heyyyy, remember me?” and then goes down on him.

I really hate torture scenes, but when he got his, I was like, “YEAH! Fuck you, Rawlins! I hope they take your OTHER eye out!” This comic kind of makes you want horrible things to happen to people.

There’s a bit where he pays off a bunch of Middle Eastern guys to fly a plane into something and make a giant deal out of it –

BB: And the CIA do do things like that. He makes a fake jihadi cell, because that’s his job and there’s essentially profit in war. Frank Castle ultimately gets to the top of the fuckin’ tree and kills these bitches with the help of Good Soldiers, as opposed to the bad soldiers.

MoN: The bad soldiers, who are bureaucrats.

BB: Middle-class soldiers.

MoN: Rawlins is a really good contrast to the Punisher, though.

BB: A lot of characters are set up that way. Like the Russian general, Zakharov. They are all sort of counterpoints: men who have broken in different ways — well, broken to the civilized eye.

MoN: See, “civilized” — people like Rawlins are the ones who make civilization, and the implication is that it’s kind of always been like that. But Frank didn’t know that when he was in Vietnam, although he probably learned while he was there how bad it could get.

BB: I think there’s certainly an issue with his origin, that this bureaucracy isolates his encampment, which would be overrun but for –

MoN: His awesomeness?

BB: Essentially, although it does kind of delve into this slightly fantastical thing where he makes a deal with Death. Which is his totem, after all, with the skull.

MoN: How many of those shirts does he have, do you think? Is it like how cartoon characters have an entire closet filled with just the same outfit?

BB: 40 or 50, anyway. He’s got the T-shirt versions, he’s got the versions where you suspect there may be clubs held in the skull’s teeth.

MoN: That seems like it would make it really hard to bend over, because they’re right up against his stomach. They’d be in the way. It’s one of the few things that is slightly unrealistic about the Punisher.

Maid of Nails: Before we get into the Punisher, I think we should let people know how XTREME his fans are.

Botswana Beast: Should I read the letter?

[To paraphrase Keats: beauty is truth, truth beauty, and this letter is both]

MoN: So that is what we’re dealing with.

BB: It doesn’t ever mention race, that letter, but it’s fairly indicative of what a lot of early Punisher comics were, which is shooting “street toughs” of undetermined race –

MoN: Were any of these “street toughs” ever named Tyrone or Leroy?

BB: They may have been. Or Hector. So yeah, the Punisher’s origins are as a Spider-Man villain-cum-antihero who is hired by — possibly the Chameleon, I can’t remember, to take out Spider-Man under some false pretext. I think that was 1973, and his debut series was actually a decade later. At that point he became a leading character, shooting largely mafiosi and, as I say, street toughs (that’s not entirely fair characterization; Mike Baron’s a good writer — well, he’s written some exciting action comics), until 1999/2000, when Garth Ennis, the infamous Irishman, took over and really redefined the character.

MoN: A lot more mafia and organized crime, and a lot fewer street toughs.

BB: He does still shoot quite a lot of black people, but –

MoN: There’s a lot fewer story arcs devoted to him shooting black people. Except for Barracuda and John James Toomey (RIP), who gets shot in a setup that the Punisher coerces one of Toomey’s crew into. And then the guy from his crew is yelling at John James Toomey like, “Who’s gonna get your fuckin’ fried chicken now?” DUDE. A lot of people like fried chicken, but I find it odd that Garth Ennis went there.

BB: What really came to define him — and I think they are among the best, if not the best comics ever published, then certainly the best researched — is the adult imprint stuff from Marvel MAX.

MoN: Stuff with more war.

BB: Another favourite topic of Garth Ennis. Anyway, it began in 2003 with the prelude miniseries Born.

MoN: Let’s tell the readers: what is Born about?

BB: It’s about the Vietnam War, of course — because that is the sort of defining thing about Frank Castle, although it’s kind of difficult now; I don’t think Marvel can really sell a character who fought in the Vietnam War, because he would be 65 or something. So Garth Ennis does enjoy a war story, and Frank Castle, prior to any of this, was a guest star in issue #7 of Marvel’s The ‘Nam comic, where he appears as a young man. And it sort of nicely counterpoints him against Captain America because you have someone who fought in a good war and was treated extremely well on returning, and then you have someone who returned from an unjust, shitty piece of American interventionism.

MoN: I’m curious to see how they’re going to handle this, because with Vietnam, it quite quickly started to occupy this symbolic space in the popular American imagination. It was, yes, American interventionism biting America in the ass — you know, you have all these movies about people going to Vietnam: manly men sticking together but, surprise, everything is terrible and everyone is cynical.

BB: And loads of the guys are strung out on dope.

The Joy of Dicks

December 2nd, 2015

A WEE TREAT FOR YOU HERE TODAY, AS MAID OF NAILS/KELLY KANAYAMA WRESTLES WITH… WELL, WE’LL LET HER TELL YOU!

A confession: I am a Strong Female Reader, and I can’t get enough Dicks.

To clarify, I adore Garth Ennis’ and John McCrea’s (if he’s reading this: hi, John!) two-volume series Dicks beyond all reason. It’s obsessed with the combination of male genitalia and violence, and isn’t ashamed of that obsession. It’s ostensibly puerile to the point of featuring an alien antagonist called Lord Bluevein, leader of the Dong. One of its main goals seems to be answering the question: how many cartoonish dicks can we cram into each page?

That’s why I love it so much.

I mean, there’s a building on my university campus called Bonar Hall, and every single time I walk past it I do a mental snicker. The day I learned that All-Star Superman was referred to as ASSMAN in official DC correspondence is a day I will treasure forever. When I picked up a black-and-white print collection of Vol. 1 of Dicks at London Super Comic Con and got McCrea and Ennis to sign it, I made a point of telling them that since it was in a bag, I had an actual bag of Dicks in my hand.

It’s not exactly the most feminine behaviour. But why isn’t it?

SILENCE! #100

April 21st, 2014

 

BLANK FRANK IS THE MESSENGER OF YOUR DOOM AND YOUR DESTRUCTION

Happy Birthday to SILENCE!

Happy Birthday to SILENCE!

You look like  a monkey

and you smell like…Brian Blessed’s beard…?

I think that’s how the song goes anyway. It is the return of original and best of the Narratorbots, Disembodied Narratorbot X-15735! No fractal distillations of self, or parallell versions, just the real motherboard-flipping deal. Back to celebrate 100, 000, 000 episodes of reality’s most beloved poddlecaste, SILENCE! What once was a mewling, quivering babe, is now a stooped and saggy old man, with low slung testicles and a shuffling gait. And it’s all because of you enabling those two Radio Hams Gary Lactus & The Beast Must Die in continuing to fool themselves into thinking the world wants to hear their unwelcome opinions. So congratulations dear listeners. this is all your fault.

What we need is an intervention.

<ITEM> As a special 100th birthday reward, The Dear Listeners have provided the twosome with a list of questions. You can guarantee that the important issues of the day will be cogitated over, digested and thoroughly dissected… there are so many quizzlers that we JUST HAD to call this Step Into The Quizzlertron, part 1! Comics Dialogue – John Ostrander, Del Close, Garth Ennis, Chris Ware, John Wagner, Wolverine deathcamp, Danny Beastman & Gary Lactenberg – where are we now?, Alex Ross, American Horror Story, Superhero movies, Jeff Goldblum, Gary eating eggs, Dr Strange movie – Burt Reynolds, Sam Elliott, Widescreen comics, Samuel L Jackson, Beano, Dennis The Menace, Early comics memories – missing Knight Rider tied to a tree, 2000AD, Ro-Busters, Secret Wars, Dredd mug, Flaming Carrot action figure, Comics day breakfast, Bob-Z, Ronin, Fantastic Four, Stan The Man Lee making breakfast, James from Twin Peaks made of plastic, Digital comics v analogue comics, Copra, indy vs superhero, Flaming Carrot, the rules of writing questions, Synth pop, Nu-Rom Antics, Lemmy, Keif Llam and so much more…

<ITEM> A sideways crab-like slide into the Reviewniverse to uncover the contemporary delights of Doop, Batman Eternal, weekly comics, Avengers Undercover, Stray Bullets, Auteur, Starlight

And this is just part 1! Aren’t you EXCITED? Couldn’t you just SCREAM?

Well go on then.

No-one’s listening.

Click to download SILENCE!#100

Contact us:

[email protected]
@silencepod
@frasergeesin
@thebeastmustdie

This edition of SILENCE! is proudly sponsored by the greatest comics shop on the planet, DAVE’S COMICS of Brighton.
It’s also sponsored the greatest comics shop on the planet GOSH! Comics of London.

Not a very shopbound week this week, so mostly library fodder. Go to the library: as we’ll see, they have some amazing free comics there.

On the shopfront though, there was…

NIX48The Phoenix #48 by Various, David Fickling Comics

There was the mighty ‘Nix, highlight being a particularly dynamic Troy Trailblazer episode.

TT‘s masterfulmind Robert Deas is ploughing quite a unique furrow among the burning feathery pages of the galaxy’s finest, with a heavy emphasis on pure visual dynamism, a pure propellant narrative language that contrasts beautifully with the sight gags and wordplay that it shares paper with. Some episodes are over in seconds but you never feel like you’ve been short-changed. Jessica Jetrider (not Jennie, as I mistakenly had it last week) kicks ass, and when I say that, I mean she really does kick someone’s ass.

In Pilotwatch this week, he’s forced to have a shower: the sheer mortification across every strand of fur is a treat. The next panel has him all bedraggled and stripped of dignity like cats get when they’re caught in the rain or fall in the toilet. And that’s it for Pilotwatch this week. Come back for more next week – if he hasn’t been turned into a flan by the Nano-Chefs in the interim.

FRAAAFury MAX My War Gone By #7 by Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov, Marvel Comics

Frank!

Frank!

FRANK!

FRAAANK!

FRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

 

Reading Fury MAX this week was handy because it minded me of the previous issue – that would be #6. Its depiction of the sexy evil Cuban baddie forms an I think quite necessary supplement absent from this, one of the ones what I got from the library:

VIVA

Che: A Graphic Biography by Spain Rodriguez, Verso Books

It’s pretty wonderful in its own way of course – calmly historical, with no more romance and bias than you should have in a biography of one of the Twentieth Century’s genuine secular saints, but with a definite and surprising libidinal lack. Its subject’s subjectivity, the internal pressures that turned the comfortable medical student into the world’s most potent avatar of revolutionary justice, go unexplained.

Enter Ennis and Parlov’s proud revolutionary soldier: vanity, triumphalism, the military addiction to violence and self-erasure – as essential to the revolutionary firebrand as Fury’s imperialist pig.

Presumably to Rodriguez – quite the righteous dude himself by all accounts – the imperative of resistance didn’t need explaining. His pencil softens the leonine warrior, the world-famous Korda portrait Guevara (and its post-mortem proliferation, surely a perfect topic for a book like this, is relegated to a dry afterword) into a soulful, rounded cherub.  The noise and the fire are gone – we get just the facts, not the legend, when in this, as in so few genuine cases, the legend is the reality. I was hoping more for Trashman in a beret.

NIX48Lint by Chris Ware, Drawn & Quarterly

Where everything in the universe entire is dots in circles, and dots in circles are horrorfying because…?

‘Lint’ is an American wording meaning, roughly, ‘fluff’. As in, ‘there was nothing in his pockets but knives and fluff’. As a title for a clothbound hardback study (gots to milk that commodity fetish) in the vanishing banality of Evil, it immediately embeds itself in such a pit of irony that it indicates all too clearly how unfair it’s going to play with the reader: just what kind of hoopsa boyaboys it’s going to ask you to jump through. In brief, Mister Lint is a shudderingly loathsome individual, as thorough a rendering – cradle to grave – of such as the medium (running at approx 50% villainy at the best of times) has yet to achieve. This is effectively the sole point (within a circle) the book makes. It does so with as many a literary and theoretical a nod as you would need to be convinced that Evil is real and it teased you at school, and if it makes you feel any better (no to that, btw)  Evil is unhappy too, and such a coward it has probably repressed the memory of all those children it raped. It won’t even admit how Evil it is.

But fluff is easily blown away,  and was too inconsequential a thing to begin with – it didn’t even care that it was killing you, and itself, from the inside. It was just traveling on currents too big and chaotic and very, very terrifying to even know what kind of damage it could do. Except, these currents aren’t potty training related, or abuse-abandonment linked, or coherent in any of the ways them thinker mans have tried to establish. The only currents at work here are those invented, arbitrarily, reasonlessly, as vengeance against the bully perhaps, by the author of the piece.*  He picks and chooses the Evil at work as befits his meticulous scheme. Gestures towards reality remain exactly that – gestures, intricate and dazzling and formalistic to the WOW, to be sure: but shapes drawn on the air all the same. It’s not a description of Evil – it’s just a fiction: There’s nothing about the world to be learnt here, though it’s trying really hard to make you think otherwise.

(*This is a good lesson for life, that this book won’t give you: man made things are man made, and can be unmade. Anyone who tells you ‘it’s too big and chaotic to work out’, or ‘that’s unrealistic’, or ‘that’s not how things are’, just doesn’t want you to try. Lint cops out with ‘Evil’s just Evil, don’t trouble with the why – analysis is fraud…’. I can’t afford to live like that.)

NIX48The Hive, by Charles Burns, Jonathan Cape

Much better than the last issue. That one was an autopilot greatest hits set, or one of those meticulous live replays of the classic album beginning to end, even the shit tracks you skipped, where you realise all the influences that made them what they were, that you tracked down in the interim, 80s Cronenburroughs  plus Herge for that Nazi frisson in this case, were yep a lot better actually than the pasticheur. Except for Tintin, fucking always, always boring.

While Lint and Ware mine Freudism for an effective touch of authenticity and sheer screaming development horror, early on before abandoning the conclusions you might be forced to reach if you were brave enough to take these things seriously, with The Hive Burns hips himself up a bit by taking that psychoanalysis schtick on a generation or two, adopting Jock Lacan’s Real-Imaginary-Symbolic triad. On Tuesday night, in the midnight time, much addled after watching Japan’s premier doomgaze band, Troll#1 and I couldn’t for the life of us work out what level lined up with what… Doug and Sarah, they’re Real, right? But comics, comics, though Imaginoid, are more real than the people in them, god knows, so the comics, (still not clear whether that means The Hive I hold in my hand or those insanely wonderful, naughty, lush Swan-looking romance things Doug and Sarah like reading) maybe they’re The Real? And the lizard affect-factory that they toil in, that’s kind of everything right there too, but that’s got to be Symbolic right?

It’s a crazy mixed up world. We well couldn’t work it out. Help in the comments section please, even if it’s help of the ‘I hate you because you’re idiot’ variety.

NIX48Bardin The Superrealist by Max, Fantagraphics

This was rather wonderful too in its way, warm as cognac and the Catalan summer, thick clear lines a reassuring sense of structure and boundary on the journey inwards… Charming and smooth then, but somehow altogether too elegant and poised to convince as dream gnosis.

It looks real good in those off-the-peg Dali-worship rags, and cosily codifies the baroque Tibetan iconography so beloved of the Andalusian dog-botherers into pocket-sized impieties that you’d be happy to carry around, but it doesn’t ever threaten to go far or wild enough beyond the hand me down cultural structures already available to reach a state of divine madness itself.

It’s not the kind of book you want to criticise, but the sweetly sozzled states it describes just aren’t quite paranoid enough, so maybe doing so would help.

 

NIX48Glitz-2-Go by Diane Noomin, Fantagraphics

The word I keep wanting to use is ‘retchro’. This is stuffed with – or, sort wants to give you the impression that it is stuffed with, when in fact much more of its strength comes from simple touches like the way the characters talk to each other in such casually abrasive, finely heard cadences, and kind of open up so the barrier between the reader, the character on the page, and the life behind the inky figures there collapses so you feel as if you are part of the family, long and wearily acquainted with those friends of Noomin who she’s granted through the sharp magic of her line this extra dimension of on-page existence… You already know them, know what they’re going to say before they do. It’s a rich and soft book, for such a sharp and sassy purple little package.

Where was I yes stuffed with that spikey gogo exotica beach blanket early 60s through a mid-seventies filter, draggy, druggy, bad girl bad taste John Waters surf vibe, like a Cramps song or something…

It’s not like that at all, but if that helps cool it up a little, then fine.

I haven’t finished this one yet, so can’t reasonably write much more about it, in fact I’ve probably already said far too much, and wrong at that. I think I’m going to review a book I haven’t read Every! Week!

Come back!

So Glenn “AMAZING!” Fabry came to Cartoon County back in April. It was almost literally like this:

LISTEN TO IT, FOOL!

 

Click here to download our Glenn Fabry interview

 

Cartoon County is an association of over 100 cartoonists and comic artists in the Sussex area. Our regular meetings are usually on the last Monday of every month at The Cricketers, Black Lion St, Brighton, from 6 til late. If you’re a cartoonist or a comic artist, or use those particular styles of drawing in your work as an illustrator, animator or storyboard artist, you are very welcome to join us.