Powerful Panels: Pirates of Coney Island #1 by Vasilis Lolos

Pirates of Coney Island is a still-to-be-completed eight-issue series drawn by Vasilis Lolos and written by Rick Spears. Currently, it's stuck at issue six, although Mr. Spears assured myself and Karen (in separate conversations at SPX) that the final issues are indeed written and just need to be drawn and then you know, published.

The series is in part, an obvious homage to Walter Hill's The Warriors as it's about theme-based gangs in Coney Island, namely the uh, "Pirates" (dudes) and "The Cherries" (chicks), who like most gangs, are rivals and stuff. And like The Warriors, it's all happening in some strange, non-our world setting where everything's fun and unreal but not meaningless or disconnected from real-world emotions, even as it enthusiastically exists in a world where all of the Pirates sleep in hammocks right next to one another and the villain's a bad-ass caddy called "Cadillaculla".

One of the best aspects is the tension between Spears' fantasy Coney Island world and Lolos' angular, uglified art work. Everyone in Lolos' world is squat and wrinkled, with their eyes too far apart. Because the work's consistently "ugly", you forget about that aspect and get used to how strange everyone looks. It's hard to describe, but Lolos' work shares the weird but makes sense, iconic feeling of stuff like The Simpsons or something. You know, where you're like, "Okay, everyone's yellow and their eyes are stuck together, got it." This sends you further into the story and the just-outside-of-this-world feeling that Pirates has and maintains as the story gets more serious.

At the center of Pirates is the budding love affair between Pirate "Patch" and Cherry, "Trish". Again, playing with well-worn but effective sub-genre rules, their romance has to be kept secret, is sort of denied by Patch and Trish themselves, and could cause the dissolution of the rival gangs or at least, some serious shit's gonna go down. The romance is especially a surprise because in the first issue--which brilliantly, focus only on the Cherries, we never even see the Pirates--it's Trish and her fellow Cherries that find Patch wandering the beach and it's Trish that slices his eye out.

In the panels leading up to the removal of his eye, Trish and (soon-to-be) Patch talk shit to one another and are kind of doubled, with Patch putting up his fists ready to fight. The next panel is a close-up of Trish's stomach and crotch, and the panel after that, her flicking out her switchblade. In the stomach/crotch panel, Lolos makes the weird choice of sketching out some light pubic hair sticking out of the top of Trish's low shorts. It's just ten or so thin dashes of ink, but it's jarring because we don't expect it (and it's not necessary) and because in some ways, it's a funny way of it seems, showing Trish's bad-assness. Dunno if there's some actual precedent, but it just makes sense that in this 80s cult movie homage comic, the bad-ass chick would have her pubes sticking out, no?

There's also something just sort of voyeuristic and like, viscerally exciting about the image. At the risk of reading like some comics pervo, it's inexplicably erotic precisely because it's sort of fucked-up and realistic and not supposed to be attractive. Because it's drawn with the same uglification as the rest of the comic and Lolos' art has sort of lulled you into Spears' comic world, it has the same sort of exciting effect that seeing this in real-life might have. Unlike most comic books, especially Marvel/DC books, the vague sexuality of it isn't made a big deal or anything and that's exactly what makes it sort of is a big deal here. It's ugly and real and is more appealing because of it.

In Issue #4, there's a big fight scene between the Pirates and the Cherries and in the struggle, one of the Cherries' breasts falls out of her shirt. This is the Roger Corman 70s-era exploitation trick of sticking in some gratuitious nudity--fight scene=titties popping out--that's also made it's way into a lot of comics in less overtly sexual ways. So many of those X-books I read as a kid were full of fight scenes between busty girls or even a guy and girl fighting and rolling around, which was a corny and (I now see) obvious way to make the comics appeal to my third-grade, almost new-to-boners brain. Here again though, it's not made overtly sexual or idealized, it looks pretty much what a boob looks like when it's half-way out of a shirt.

Once again, that's actually what makes the image appealing. It looks and is rendered in a realistic way and in effect, bypasses the idealized part of our brains and connects to real sexual memories we have. It's all real obvious, but in an air-brushed, photo-shopped, plasticine culture and blah blah blah, these little glimpses that resemble the reality we live become extra appealing. This is presumably, the reason for the increased popularity of "amateur" or faked to look amateur pornography and all that...

Lolos' casual use of sexuality reminded me of this rather overt image by Paul Pope from his book PulpHope. When pretty much everyone I know opens this book, they quickly end up on this image and it's often commented upon and discussed. Sure, there's the whole thing of it being a pretty explicit drawing of a vagina that moves eyes toward it, but I think it's the blase' way that Pope illustrates it--hyper realistic within the confines of his style--that grabs people too. What makes anything interesting, be it intellectually, emotionally, or sexually, is the details and well...Pope doesn't spare the details in this image.

The focus on these vague bits of "real" sexuality in Pirates is not to simply be kind of creepy, but to highlight the way these comic book-y images foreshadow and build-up to something meaningful in the comic. That too, makes them more appealing than another Marc Silvestri "Witchblade" pin-up. That first scene, where Trish cuts-out Patch's eye really is about sex, not only because you can see her pubes but because Patch sees it too. In Issue #5, Patch finds Trish in order to enact revenge and they essentially have an all-out knife-fight that ends with the two making out in a pool of blood! It's not some weird S & M thing or anything--it's supposed to be weirder and funnier than that--and it goes more along with Lolos' dirty but attractive aesthetic. Their fight-scene turned make-out has the same messiness and weird, inexplicable, un-idealized excitement as Trish's pubes sticking out.

This panel, from Issue #6, is Trish in the hospital, concerned about Patch and in her own, half-joking way, admitting she really fucking likes, maybe loves, the dude. This adds one more dimension to their relationship and makes all of the sort of vague sexuality and tension of the Trish/Patch sub-plot (turned main plot) mean something: they just might love each other! It's beyond glimpses of naked bodies and sexuality, but that's where it started (just like all relationships).

The point of these panels posts is generally to focus on the way the artists conveys something in a single panels or group of panels, but in this case, Rick Spears' name should be in the title of this entry because Spears and Lolos perfectly complement one another here. Spears crafts a typically outsider, "forbidden" love plot with just the right degree of fun and idiosyncrasy to make it feel new and Lolos illustrates it with the same degree of raw energy and familiarity. What begins as a kind of loosely "dirty" voyeuristic image of pubes is really the first hint of the weird, scrappy love affair that one Pirate and one Cherry experience.


Sandy said...

Great post. I like Lolos's work in Pixu, and plan on getting Last Call. I had forgotten about Pirates - hopefully it'll be collected when it is finished.

david e. ford, jr said...

okay, a few things . . . basically i think you have hit the thing right on the money, but there are a couple of details that make the panels even more luridly effective.

the pubes:

though you are dead on when you say that the notion of having this hard-ass chick' pubes peeking out in this sort of revamp of an eighties cult movie jaunt, it takes it a step further by supplanting an aughties ('00s) close-shaven pubic hair aesthetic onto an otherwise retro image. it somehow makes it more authentic, like this fucked up banger chick who also happens to dress like an extra from a siouxsie and the banshees video.

the breast:

this image, which is by and large totally unrealistic in the manner you describe in your set-up, has a couple of details of insane realism that set it off: that nipple is uncanny--between its shading and the acknowledgment of the inversion at the tip it could practically be an actual nipple photo-shopped in. also, note the suggestion of what is so vulgarly termed the "camel-toe" in the crotch directly beneath.

bloody sex:

that panel has sinkiewicz splattered all over it.


that image is so great for pope because the japanese engravings from which it is inspired are like that--basically this weird mash of stylization with hyperrealism. pope addresses this in his book, so it isn't like i am pointing out anything new, but still . . . it makes so much sense.