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9/15/2010

Baltimore Comic Con 2010 (Late Edition): George Gordon Pope




 
I was not trying to troll Paul Pope at all. It was simply in the long tradition of my forgetting to find things for Paul Pope to sign that I realized I had forgotten my notebook. I had, before buying Life on Mars #2, only a copy of a short, racy biography titled Byron in Love, which I had been reading for class. I figured Pope could sign it. It was not a totally inappropriate thing for Paul Pope to sign as the two men have a few things in common: Paul Pope is a rock star – Byron is the original rock star; Paul Pope makes me want to rip off my shirt – Byron had lots of people ripping off their shirts for him, and frequently; Paul Pope is conscious of his public image – Byron played with his public image. It made sense.

After falling all over my giddy self with an explanation, Paul Pope signed my book while laughing at me, trolling me right back with a signature from Lord Byron.  I walked away lightheaded; how Byronic.

9/03/2010

Baltimore Comic Con 2010: Without A Plan

Going to a comic con is in some ways like a job. At least the people with their laptops and four page printed out lists seem to approach it that way. In the back of my mind I've always had the desire to go all-out, officially fill-in all the missing pieces to different series, and to remember all the things that I actually want to get.

So, to prepare for this year's Baltimore Comic Con, I went through my long boxes and piles of random comics, and I made an all-encompassing, page-long, handwritten list: An entire nights' work only to leave my list at home. I turned from perfectly-guided ballistic missile into some sort of misguided comic carpet bomb. Ultimately, it didn't matter because the best part about conventions is taking a chance on something new. Here's some highlights:

I'd been looking for this series for a while with no success. Reminded by this really good article from The Comics Reporter, I made this one of my priorities going into the convention. I paid 6$ for a couple of issues, but just looking through them, it looks worth it. This is Starlin at his peak as an illustrator. Each page is filled with interesting layouts and each panel oozes with Starlin's unique busy, brilliant style.

Every since reading Carl the Cat That Makes Peanut Butter Sandwiches, Jim Mahfood has been on my radar. I'm excited to read this issue which features both the Rhino and some guy in a bear suit both of whom are featured on the cover.

This is one of the things that I actually remembered from my list. I've been trying to collect all the grey Hulk issues because I read one a while back and it was really good. This run of Hulk is almost like an elseworlds story with the Hulk doing pretty much whatever the hell he wants. It seems to be inspiration on a way the Hulk is portrayed in a lot out of stuff these days like Ultimate Hulk vs. Wolverine and Old Man Logan.

An insane and bizarre issue written by Kevin Eastmen, drawn by Simon Beasley, and some incredible coloring by Steve Lavigne. This comic is 110% in your face. Each page is like a stand alone and things jump back and forth without a clear central story. The art is stunning and at times that's how you feel reading this comic.

An adaption of the movie from 1978 drawn by Howard Chaykin. It approaches Star Wars from the level of a hit movie and not a completely entrenched part of our culture, so everything looks weird and slightly off, but that's why I like it. Probably won't ever read it but I've looked through it a couple times already.

Loved Ellison/Corben A Boy and His Dog, so logic would dictate I like this. I got into Ken Steacy from his issues on Marvel Fanfare which are excellent. Steacy's art isn't as polished here as in Fanfare but still looks OK.

This was the find of the convention. I bought it on a whim and it turned out to be completely worth it. The text of the opening page sold it for me. After the heading "80,000,000 Years Ago" the panels are, "It was ending./ The last of the booby trapped suns had novaed./ ...They were near./It was time to go." The art is incredible in a sort of Judge Dredd inspired vein and the story is very good. Like a lot of random small press ventures this one folded, but ffantasy ffactory only produced this one issue. An interesting account of the series' downfall from artist Conner "Freff" Cochran can be read here in the comments section. It's a shame because it's rare for such a hard core space comic to be drawn so well and more importantly to have such interesting characters. The main characters are robots and aliens and the comic plows right through the traditional missteps of those archetypes as characters, and creates some real emotions from them.

9/01/2010

Baltimore Comic-Con 2010: Year Of The Whitebox

What makes Baltimore Comic-Con special is that it isn't a multimedia event like the San Diego or New York Comic-Cons have become. There aren't panels about movies or video games with lines that wrap around the convention center, it's about long boxes and making deals, talking to creators and busting out your list to complete a series. This year was the first I've gone without said list, instead deciding to buy weird shit or comics that I had been looking for for so long that I knew the numbers by heart. I found them all, in case you were wondering.

Every year the first hour is almost overwhelming, the sense of "fuck, where the hell am I going to start?", surrounded by long boxes, merchants peddling their goods and cosplayers pushing people who are shopping to be in a picture. I swept the convention floor from right to left, pillaging every booth of it's greatest wares. For past cons, I've given you a comprehensive list of everything I got, but this year there was really too much to list and explain. The dealer tables were more significant this year and it speaks loudly to Baltimore Comic Con's anti-San Diego approach, and just to the kind of comics reader attending the con. Here's some highlights of this year. Note that very few of these are all that "hard to find" or "rare" or whatever because that's just not the point anymore.

I've been looking for these issues for a long time but usually all you can find are the Marvel ones. This is the Japanese Godzilla comic where he doesn't even show up in the first issue, and instead of focusing on the army or Godzilla himself, it's about the people who were affected by the bomb and Godzilla's attacks.

I think Aragones is a genius, his parody work is some of the funniest stuff out there and I didn't even know this issue existed. Thank god for unsorted dollar bins.

As I said above, I went in this year without a list, dedicated to weird-ass stuff. Something about these ten old Duckman issues was irresistable. Also there's something beautiful and hilarious about old licensed comics like The Simpson's or Ren and Stimpy--they're always a little more grotesque and "mature."

Same applies here, this Bill and Ted series is done by Evan Dorkin of Milk and Cheese fame. I found the first issue and decided to buy it, but then later in the Con found the entire series for six bucks. The art is simple but expressive, the anatomy is hilarious and garish. It's incredible. Let me know if you want my extra first issue and I'll send it out.

I Saw It is an early work by Keiji Nakazawa of Barefoot Gen fame. Nakazawa is a survivor of the atomic bomb and has done numerous comics about the event and his experiences. This single issue is pretty hard to find and is another White Box Hero, found in a fifty cent bin. It's in color which so few manga that came to America are. The book is incredible.


Brandon bought this for me, marked "adult", it starts with a zombie fucking a cow from behind and then being shot. Oh yea, it's done by Frank Cho.

A big market at Comic Conventions are bootleg DVDs. Often they are of television shows that never came out on DVD due to licensing issues, like The Wonder Years or Doug. There's always a back section though with some weird porno, which is where I found Seinfeld: A XXX Parody. After trying to convince every one else how much they wanted it so I could watch it, I went in Sunday with Monique and bought it for myself. The similarites are hilarious, you guys don't even know about Newman and Soup Nazi.

This was the first Marvel Comic toy I ever owned, and it really defined "cool" to me in 1994. Ninja Turtles barely could raise their arms, and G.I. Joes did some serious posing but this mother fucker could do all of Spider-Man's poses. My original toy was murdered when I dropped him out of a tree onto an unsuspecting Punisher figure. He broke in two and wasn't really the "Multi-Jointed Action Posing" toy he was before the accident. I built him these lego legs/wheel chair sort of thing and he became a bad guy. Those are the breaks, Spidey.

8/19/2010

Frank Miller Week: Green Lantern-Superman: Legend of the Green Flame Cover

Everything that makes Frank Miller’s art iconic is featured on this cover: fat meaty paws in place of hands, awkward chunky anatomy and the over-use of negative space (or possibly a calculated under-use of color would be more accurate). With a style more recognizable than Jack Kirby’s, Miller knows he doesn’t need all the pieces of the puzzle to tell a story, with bare, trace facts he can build his narrative and make us believe whatever story he'd like.

Superman’s “S” logo, curl and cape are the three traits about him always used to identify the character, and that's all Miller needs--literally nothing else but a body frame is drawn. More time was spent detailing the giant bird claw that is piercing both heroes than on the heroes themselves. It’s about the curiosity of what could kill both of these men, not that they are even characters in the story. They're symbols.

As mentioned in Monique’s post, Miller draws the clawed leg coming from the left side of the image, the beast largely unseen, pulling our eyes slowly to the right. While he uses this trick again to direct us along the picture, his intentions are different, it tells a story in itself, forcing us to ask what the beast is, where it came from, and how did Superman and Green Lantern come to be in it's possession?

Less bad-ass than the majority of his work, Miller's ability to instill fear is showcased here: the horror of the blackened, presumed dead Justice Leaguers close to the center of the page, while the actual events are taking place elsewhere. The best and maybe the most affecting aspect of the image though, is Superman's cape ripped to shreds with and the Green Lantern's ring still glowing from the fight. Even in a single-image, Frank Miller can make the action intense and very real and maintain his balance of the mythic and gritty.

Frank Miller Week: Bone #38 Cover

Bone is Jeff Smith’s fantasy epic about armies and destiny, but at it’s very center is the story of Thorn and how she goes from being a girl to a woman. Issue #38 has Thorn at the crux of her transition, and Miller’s cover obviously shows her in complete woman-warrior mode.He shadows her face and makes her dark nature central to what’s going on; in the Bone universe that same darkness is there, but significantly pushed into the background. There’s also, an enhanced sexuality to Miller interpretation, in the insanely skinny waste, the prominent breasts, and huge red lips. The cover draws some strong parallels to one of the panels Brandon talked about earlier this week.

What’s especially interesting is looking at this cover in comparison to all three covers that came out for the same issue. Alex Ross draws the complete opposite version of Thorn: a little girl, in harsh lighting, cowering behind basically a stuffed animal. Smith's cover lands somewhere in the middle, showing the Bones as comic relief, but also Thorn hurtling over a branch--as both warrior and woman. Contained in the three covers is Smith’s balancing act of Bone, and it’s this combination of seriousness, comedy, and complex deeper meanings that make the series worth reading.

It’s Miller’s cover though that really stands out of the three. Next to Miller’s cover, Ross’ looks washed-out and his photo-realistic style just makes Bone look like something weird that shouldn’t exist. Like a CGI character or something. Ross’ cover is also focused on the most boring early aspect of the story: Thorn as a little girl with a crush on Bone. Miller takes the subtle themes from Smith’s story, particularly the ones that he'd find most appealing and forces them to the forefront. The absence of the titular characters is important because it gives Thorn a really powerful spotlight and cuts out the comedic relief, which is important sometimes. It shows Thorn struggling with her loss of innocence and finding her spot in the world, but at the same time, it makes her the center of attention and a powerful, Frank Miller-esque bad-ass.

8/18/2010

Frank Miller Week: "Lance Blastoff" Panel-By-Panel

Here's the thing about Frank Miller's politics. If my rambling, non-commital piece from Monday didn't already say it without saying it, the dude's worldview is pretty nuanced and complicated. And really, the best way to parse it out is through um you know, actually reading the work. This "Lance Blastoff" story from the very strange Dark Horse-released one-shot Tales To Offend is a good place to start figuring out what the deal is with Frank Miller.

Thankfully, The 4th Letter did the scanning for me and did some of their own reading of the story already. Author of the piece, David Brothers notes that "Lance Blastoff" is "one of the relatively few times he’s done an out and out humor book," and indeed, it's basically broad satire, but it's appropriately Miller-like in that it's multi-directional in its satirical targets. It's not quite the sledgehammer-subtle parody of the American action hero that it may at first seem. I mean, it is that, but it's also an attack on P.C sensitivity and liberal hypocrisy...or something? Let's take a look at this twisty turny, brilliant, retarded comics short...

While this title-sequence-like panel is a parody of Golden-Age superhero comics, it isn't that far from Miller's usual stylistics. That's to say, this is ironic but it isn't a total corrective or anything. Miller loves this style and next to Richard Corben, I can't think of another comics artist as in love with basic, visceral comics grammar. But yes, this still introduces "Lance Blastoff" as something absurd. Even the dialogue, "Here's a beefy little yarn--with an important message for you kids!" reads a bit like yeah, a parody of old comics, but a parody of Miller's stunted, noir-tinged writing style too.

So this panel is just beautiful. What's with Miller and dinosaurs? He has some weird ability to draw them as kinda awe-inspiring but also massive and horrifying. And that's the tension going through this panel and the source of its satire. We have the female character talking about the dinosaurs from an "enlightened" environmentalist perspective: "My friends witness nature in perfect balance." The joke of the panel is they're neither scary as expected (yet) or all that elegant. They're more like overgrown cows or something, just munching on grass. Already here though, Miller's satire is shifting its focus or at the least, kinda corralling in an opposite point of view to also take a big shit on. This female character is an idiot too.

Here, we're closer to revealing that this character is indeed, a woman. And you know, she's in good company in terms of strong, wise female characters in Miller's work: Elektra, Martha Washington, many of the females in Sin City. Really though, the main point here is the ratcheting-up of the female character's rhetoric. Her all-too-common liberal condescension: "Unsullied by fast-food restaurants spewing forth burnt animal flesh to fill the bloated bellies of sweaty, obese people." Sounds like a lot of people I know after they read Fast-Food Nation.

The female character's revealed. Giving a weird, didactic tour to a bunch of like Cro-Magnon alien freaks or something. Now, Miller's really got her going though. Lots of "nature's perfect and peaceful", dime-store Rousseau going on here. This kind of idealized, loving sense of the world isn't just a point of contention with pseudo-tough guys like Miller though, it's precisely the kind of self-important, self-deluded, vanity that all your classic satire's based upon. Just this silly, satisfied sense that the world would or could be a better place if not for us awful humans and our damned civilization.

Lolz! What the comic's so clearly setting-up: The ideal, gentle, untainted dinosaur goes for the humans. This is the punchline panel. Since it's pretty obvious, let's focus on Miller's world-building here. So, we've got a future where we can visit the dinosaurs somehow, and spaceships look like bad-ass fifties cars. Going along with what I said about the first panel of this story, this is Miller mocking the signs and signifiers of old-timey comics and being totally in-love with him. The strange combination here (dinosaurs, nice cars, post-feminist space tour-guide) is exactly the kind of weirdness you'd see in some cheapo 1950's space pirate tale.

The unfortunate realism after the punchline. Bodies are flailing, limbs are floating through the air. That "CHOMP" will be important later.

Miller gives you a close-up of the horror. The female character is kinda making eye-contact with the reader here, like she's realized how goofy and just plain wrong her idealized view of the dinosaurs is and she's reaching out to someone, anyone, to give her some comfort in what'll obviously be here final moments of life. More "CHOMP"s.

Some artful, McCloud Understanding Comics type time-between-the-panels shit. Now, the female character has landed on the ground, having escaped the T-rex's "CHOMP"s. She's also totally shifted her view on the creature at a very convenient time. Faced with death, she respects and is seemingly taken by the raw brute desires of the dinosaur. It's a comment on the shifting values of the liberal idealist.

Notice Miller's visual economy here. Lance Blastoff shows up, but because everything in this story's cut to the bare essentials, he doesn't get a build-up or an extended introduction or anything, he's just there all of a sudden. The byproduct of this is perhaps something a bit mock-heroic or anti-climactic about his arrival. He's also delivering a kind of mealy-mouthed action hero "one-liner" that's stretched into two panels because it's so complex and rambling, which is pretty funny.

The satire shifts here to Lance. The female character is speaking reason or perhaps I should say, "reason". She's basically pointing out that a basic trope of comics heroes is pretty silly: That it isn't enough to simply save the person, the villain or aggressor must be decimated. Miller mocks Lance Blastoff's excess.

Lance is just an unaware, macho douche here. His reasons for killing the T-rex are to eat it apparently. Perhaps something of a joke on the justification many hunters make for killing animals ("I'm going to eat it"), which is respectable but also pretty dopey because like dude, it isn't the caveman days, you're just feeding your ego playing hunter/gatherer. The really funny stuff in this panel though is the bizarro sound effect ("Spam"?!) and the fact that Lance is like, shooting a mini-WMD into the dinosaur's mouth. The female character's attitude is once again shifting to hystericism: "You fiend! You monster! Stop!"

The T-rex exploding in a very awesome comic book way. But again, there's a sense of reality to it, as the T-rex is contorting in pain. Miller's playing the classic comics grammar game but he's twisting it subtly, hedging the ra-ra blow-em-up stuff a bit.

Miller as Douglas Sirk here. Look at those expressionistic colors and crazy shadows as she cries into her arm. Then, there's Lance, off of the page, unfazed by the woman's emotional outburst or really anything, telling her once she tastes dinosaur meat, she'll change her mood. Lance is the obnoxious dad at the 4th of July BBQ mocking his newly-vegetarian goth girl daughter.

Notice that Miller's economy stops when it comes to more sensory type stuff. The dinosaur biting the car, the dinosaur blowing up, and now, the woman smelling the cooking dinosaur meat takes up multiple panels.

More Sirk. She perks up, her tears and worry and supposed values are slowly floating away and the smell of fresh meat takes over.

The red and black color scheme, the attention to her breasts, her hands near her crotch, it seems like Miller's adding some like, weirdo sexual attraction to this bizarre turn of events. This is basically confirmed in the story's climax, with groan-inducing references to "real meat."

With that "CHOMP" a parallel's drawn between the dinosaur's base desires and the female character's here. This is the conceit of the comic really, that the female character's denying the universe's immutable thirst for violence and will-to-power.

More "CHOMP"s. Lance standing proudly as the female character's is head inside of the T-rex's leg (which is like a chicken leg) and she lets out some orgasmic moans of "yes...Yes!" Despite Miller creating a fairly complex or atypical female character here, he's shifting into pretty basic, painfully obvious parodies of feminism and feminists: That they deny their desires, that they've asexualized themselves, that they just need a good man to change them. Miller's aware he's doing this and parodying that attitude, but he's not exactly deconstructing it. I think Miller knows why that's problematic, but think it's true or closer to true than the wimpy counter perspective.

Look at how Miller changes her whole look in this panel. She's kinda stoned-looking and evil. She's turned into a femme-fatale (Miller's favorite image of a woman it seems) and she's rejecting all the ideals she spouted in the previous panels. It's at this point that Miller's satire sorta goes off-the-rails or rather, it enters pure Frank Miller territory where it stops making sense or loses all of its nuance and is just sorta malicious and dumb. The strength I think of the story is the satire of the female character's blindness towards reality (seeing the dinosaurs and nature as pure and untainted, even when it attacks her), but Miller turns it into like, worldview-confirming, dream-fulfilling weirdness by having the female character not only be dead wrong about how the world works, but ultimately, on the same page as Lance. She isn't just incorrect, her core being is in-tune with Lance Blastoff.

More kinda sexual imagery. The romance comics-esque embrace, the red and black, the anti-feminist declaration, "a real man."

Miller kinda saves himself with this final panel because it's just so goofy and hilarious and once more, shifts the satire to Lance Blastoff's moronic moralizing and over-simplication. This was hardly a comic about why kids should eat lots of meat, right? It's kinda tacked on which is really funny. Also, it did nothing to confirm the benefits of meat or whatever, it just takes them as a given and spends most of its time mocking a wimpy, tree-hugging-ass bitch who eventually comes to her sense and loves um, "real meat". Miller's aware of this and he's kinda having it both ways, mocking Lance's sloganeering and over-the-top macho, but finding just as much, and maybe a bit more wrong with the character that's the antithesis of Lance.

Frank Miller Week: Miller and Gravity's Rainbow



If I had been involved in the decision making which resulted in Frank Miller's commission to illustrate the cover for a new edition of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, Miller's would likely not have been the first name to come to my mind. Rick Veitch, whose Maximortal, like Gravity's Rainbow, considers some of the dangers inherent in the use of comic book heroes as propaganda, seems an obvious choice. Robert Crumb is another. But sometimes the obvious is not the best, particularly when dealing with a writer as intentionally diversionary as Pynchon.

But leaving aside for the moment Miller's suitability for the job, it is important to point out that comics are really central to what Pynchon does in Gravity's Rainbow. The book is too damned long and complicated to get into an extended discussion of what happens, but it is enough to know that it largely takes place in Western Europe during the final months of the Second World War and is concerned in varying degrees with the German V-2 rocket program, race and imperialism, with a healthy dose of scatology and buggery mixed in.

The novel's ostensible hero, Lt. Tyrone Slothrop, discovers that a map that he keeps of his sexual conquests in and about London matches precisely with a map of sites targeted by German rockets—Slothrop always comes before the bombs. This leads him to discover that he may have been programmed at birth by a secret cabal of Fascist occultists, known as PISCES, to play some part in the creation of the Raketestadt (Rocket State). Along the way he temporarily assumes the identity of Rocketman, instrument of Raketestadt propaganda, then joins the quixotic quest of the Floundering Four, heroes of the preterite, and is eventually deconstructed and left to languish in a sort of postmodern version of the Negative Zone.

Miller's decision to rely on minimalistic, negative imagery nestled in a wildly entropic background is pretty much dead on. Pynchon employs images of sexual violence and scatology in order to convey Nazi propagandists' version of the threat posed by inferior races. Moreover, he does not shy away from the phallic association of rockets—they are more or less the massive steel penises with which the Raketestadt buggers the degenerates of the world. Thus, Miller's stark rocket stenciled into a background of Pollock-y drips and smears conveys pretty succinctly Gravity's Rainbow's barrage of great white dicks smearing about in shit, semen and the ashes of bombed-out cities.


What is doubly interesting about this illustration is that it turns out that Miller returned to the image of a rocket, nosecone down and foregrounded by Superman, on the variant cover of All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder #4, thus implicitly associating that maligned series with Pynchon's almost universally praised novel. Bizarre though that may sound, when considered in this context, it goes a lot to explain Miller's conception of Superman and the relationship between Superman and Batman in this and his other Batman books. Superman, though ostensibly subjecting himself to the rules and norms of his adoptive planet, is not of our world and is in a position of superiority over humans in pretty much every sense that matters. He thus aligns quite neatly with the propagandistic hero of the elect as envisioned by the psychopaths at PISCES. Batman, on the other hand, is the hero of the preterite. He spends his time in Gotham's slums, wrestling with pimps and defending prostitutes. His day job as billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne is nothing more than a distasteful cover, which allows him to live his real life, wallowing about in the city's piss and shit, unmolested.

But while Gravity's Rainbow is perhaps the incredibly cumbersome key to this portion of Miller's oeuvre, this is still the guy who is ostensibly going to launch Holy Terror! on the world. Though, as with much of Miller's more controversial work, this is perhaps not as contradictory as it might seem. While Pynchon was clearly aware of the potential dangers of comic book propaganda, he was also demonstrably anti-Fascist and it would be difficult to argue that he would have opposed the propagandistic aims of many World War II-era comics.

8/17/2010

Frank Miller Week: Jurassic Park Cover


"To the left, to the left" is where Beyonce is going to move all your shit when you do wrong. Why left? Most human left hands are non-dominant and religions often revere the right hand/side of the body. So, I guess the left is the less significant side. But we read from LEFT to right. This Frank Miller cover for Jurassic Park plays on our reading from left to right, but because this is such a minimal cover, I feel it's also using the left side to increase the scare-factor. When you first look at the cover, your eyes impulsively go left and follow the dinosaur body down to the human body in its mouth. Your eye hits the body last, as its not even the center point of the image. The right always gets the last word when we're reading, it's where our eyes stop or pause and this cover suggests: Dinosaurs: 1. Human Race: 0.

To texturize the skin of the dinosaur and to shade the human, Miller employs chunky, sharp-edged sections of black. This kind of sectioning-off reminds me of Miller disciple Mike Mignola's work more than Miller's own work, but it's a clever trick to the eye, as the same blocky shading/texturizing is present on the back of the dinosaur and the human (the wrinkles in his clothes are especially well-done and strange). The background is a little cheap, using a muted contrast with variations of orange and green in the dinosaur (rather than red), while also looking like a wall your mom decided to sponge-paint back in 1994. Perhaps it's the result of an old veteran like Miller having to confront digital art and computer coloring.

But the most annoying aspect of this cover is the blocking lines around the edges of the picture. These would work to better balance and improve composition of the image if they were on the right rather than on the same side as beginnings of the T-rex body. I guess the lines may be there for a textual reason on the completed cover. Like most work from Frank Miller. it's complex and conflicted, nearly schizophrenic and despite its flaws, the cover remains a success because it doesn't look traditional (which is eye grabbing) and it serves its purpose: to make the dinosaur the focus and not the humans--which is what Jurassic Park is all about.