12/25/2009

It's Christmas!



Thanks for reading everyone, Happy Holidays.

12/22/2009

2009 Tweeter of the Year: Brian Michael Bendis

Brian Michael Bendis is the man who resurrected Power Man Luke Cage back into Marvel continuity, the mastermind behind almost all events of the current Marvel Universe and is one of the most shit-on creators in comics today. His deep involvement in storylines means that the whole Internets blames him for every bad choice or little thing they didn’t like.

Seriously though, dude is like 5’2’’ and bald, and people are merciless. I used to talk a lot of trash on him because I hated his portrayal of race--Black characters dialogue being defined by “yo”—and over use of thought balloons. Upon discovering his Twitter, however, I started to understand him as a person, and then kinda wanted to hang out with him.

So yeah, this thing called Twitter. Almost everyone has a Twitter these days, some people updating once a week with “ate at TGI Fridays”, while others update everything they do during their day, no matter how entertaining or tedious.

The popularity of Twitter caused a lot of “famous” people to get their own accounts, most of them abandoning them after a month or so, but a few really took advantage of the opportunity to communicate with their fans. Some musician you like tweeting about your favorite movie just makes you more interested in them. It’s these little things that can change our opinion of someone we don’t care about or know nothing about, it’s like mini real-time biographies. No one used Twitter better in 2009 than Bendis.

While his banter back and forth with Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman is funny, it’s the more intimate, personal things that grab you. Tweets like “I just rode the beatles rockband set home from the mall on the handlebars of my bike. I am a 42year old man.” followed a few days later by “comic book all star rock band beatles happening in my studio right now. and my six year old drummer is keeping up!” give you little insights into his life, show his love for his family and that he appreciates what he's got.

He never is tweeting for his fans, he’s just using fucking twitter. P Diddy almost exclusively tweets “inspirational” phrases like “Stay focused people! Today is your day, seize the moment and you can achieve whatever you want. FOCUS!”, not embracing his fans on a human level but keeping himself above them by trying to teach them. BMB is just honest and funny, commenting on Howard Stern and movies he watched with his kids. He's just a dude.

Outside of his contractual duty to keep his mouth shut about upcoming storylines and movie deals, Bendis does not hold back. When Michael Jackson died, he did not follow step behind most people praising and mourning the King of Pop.

“so we’re all going to pretend he wasn’t a mentally ill child molestor who should have been drinking his jesus juice in jail?” is an extremely bold statement for someone who works for one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world. This kind of thing could lose him a large piece of his fan-base, but he’s just being honest.

He's not above making Captain America blowjob jokes or talking trash on comics he doesn't like, it’s his twitter and he’s going to say what he wants. In a world full of so many phonies, it's awesome to know there are some real people still out there.

12/21/2009

2009 Sheister of the Year: Alan Moore



Poking around Amazon using their generally quite useful Customers-who-Bought-this-Item-also-Bought feature, I came across Alan Moore's 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom, which was apparently published to little fanfare back in October. The book is something of a weird hybrid of neo-Victorian cultural criticism and a 'history' of pornography. The following is taken from the book's description on Amazon:

With each new technological advance, pornography has proliferated and degraded in quality. Today, porn is everywhere, but where is it art? 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom surveys the history of pornography and argues that the success and vibrancy of a society relates to its permissiveness in sexual matters. This history of erotic art brings together some of the most provocative illustrations ever published, showcasing the evolution of pornography over diverse cultures from prehistoric to modern times. Beginning with the Venus of Willendorf, created between 24,000-22,000 bce, and book-ended by contemporary photography, it also contains a timeline covering major erotic works in several cultures. 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom ably captures the ancient and insuppressible creative drive of the sexual spirit, making this book a treatise on erotic art.

I don't really want to spend too much time parsing terms here, but it is noteworthy that this description uses the terms 'pornography' and 'erotic art' pretty much interchangeably, which strikes me as somewhat problematic. Just to satisfy my curiosity on the matter, I checked the OED's definition for pornography (a gesture I imagine Moore would malign as somehow perpetuating troublesome Anglo-Saxon establishment patriarchy) and it seems that the key determinant of pornography is that it is "intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic feelings." Erotic art, on the other hand, is generally not, in my experience, created expressly for the purposes of titillation, although some titillation can be part of it, but rather to engender other aesthetic, affective or even socio-political associations.

Semantics aside, there seem to be two major threads suggested in this blurb: first, that as technology advances, porn quality suffers; and second, that there is a causal connection within societies or cultures between sexual permissiveness and cultural advancement or civilization. The first issue is little more than a standard permutation of technophobic arguments, insofar as they relate to creativity. Whether you are talking about music or literature or plastic arts, the notion that technology drives quality down is a canard generally resorted to by aging establishment figures who fear the dreaded slide to irrelevance. What technology does is put the tools of creativity in the hands of more people--it democratizes art. It also means that more content is generated and distributed and let's be real, most people's art sucks. So while it might appear that there is a direct link between computers and bad porn, what you really have is more porn more easily broadcast.

What really sort of set my critical machinery to work was the idea that Alan Moore, who can't write a narrative to save his life, is going to argue, in 90 pages, mind you, that a culture's success hinges on its attitudes to sexuality? It gets worse. In the spot that Amazon reserves for blurbs from reviews of the featured work, you'll find this:

Sexually progressive cultures gave us literature, philosophy, civilization and the rest, while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust. (Alan Moore)

There are so many problems here that it's difficult to decide where to begin, so I suppose I'll begin at the beginning. I am just going to go ahead and guess that by "sexually progressive cultures," he really means ancient Greece. Okay, so ancient Greece did give us literature and philosophy and civilization (I'm not really sure about "the rest," though), but they were also certainly far from an ideal civilization, at least according to the sort of quaint sixties-era morality that Moore tends to espouse in his books and interviews. They had slaves, they participated in all sorts of atrocities in war, they were certainly arrogant, nationalistic, racist xenophobes. They also seem to have thought very little of women.

On the other end of things, I can only guess that by "sexually restrictive cultures" he is referring in general to Christian societies and likely more specifically to the Anglophone West (read: US/UK). Again, I haven't read the book, but I'm really curious to know how Moore deals with the thesis destroying phenomenon of the incredible flowering of erotic literature and art in Victorian England--a society that has become synonymous with prudishness--or if he just avoids the topic altogether.



Besides, the sentence above is nothing more than a bad Orson Welles ripoff. Specifically, Moore is borrowing (I would argue stealing) and perverting perhaps the most famous line from The Third Man. Anyone who's seen the movie will know what I am talking about, but it's in the scene when Welles's Harry Lime and Joseph Cotten's Holly Martins are talking in that great ferris wheel and Martins is objecting to the sorts of black market activities that Lime is involved with on moral grounds. Lime poo-poos Martins's moralism and dramatizes his point, saying:

in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Of course, Welles's version works historically, literarily and rhetorically, while Moore's does not. But the real point here is that Moore is basically a sheister who takes advantage of the generally low cultural literacy of much of his audience by ripping off his predecessors and passing it off as original. Back in the spring when everybody was rediscovering what a boring book Watchmen is, the blog of our favorite local comics shop featured a post that was a general appreciation of Moore and his work. In the course of the piece, the author noted that he had read pretty much all of his comics and even owned a copy of his novel Voice of the Fire, which he admitted had "bested" him thus far.

Moore's novel involves a series of interconnected stories taking place over several thousand years, but always in the same place in England, and each with its own narrator, including one who is mentally challenged. Admirers of the book will often laud its 'experimental' narrative techniques. Yeah, maybe 20-80 years ago when these various techniques were first developed. The following is from Amazon's description of Edward Rutherfurd's Sarum, which was published in 1987: "Rutherfurd's sweeping saga of the area surrounding Stonehenge and Salisbury, England, covers 10,000 years." And a book that uses multiple narrators, including one who is mentally challenged? Really? Does Moore really think his readers haven't read The Sound and the Fury?

Clearly he does and while perhaps there are large numbers of Moore's fans who aren't up on their Faulkner, there are also plenty who are and apparently they don't give a shit. Granted, the novel is not Moore's primary medium, so one can hardly expect a masterpiece. But his readers also seem to employ a similarly myopic approach to his comics. There is no better example of this than Moore's bafflingly popular 80s-era comics deconstruction Watchmen. Whenever I'm put in the uncomfortable position of adumbrating Watchmen's numerous problems with a 'sophisticated' comics reader, they invariably resort to the "but it was so new and groundbreaking for its time" defense. In the first place, even if that were true, that alone wouldn't make the book worth reading today. And besides, it isn't really true in the first place. As Brandon pointed out in the piece he wrote on Milligan and Fegredo's Enigma as part of our "Um, I Don't Really Like Watchmen Week," Watchmen wasn't the first major superhero deconstruction, it was just the first shamelessly self-promoting superhero deconstruction.

And that's just it, Alan Moore is a shameless self-promoter, which helps to explain the latest of his productions to surface in this, his annus mirabilis, the self-proclaimed "First Underground Magazine of the 21st Century," Dodgem Logic. I have to believe that this tagline cannot be serious--does he not realize that we are about to enter the tenth year of this century? Does he honestly think that all of the thousands upon thousands of crackpot geniuses armed with MacBooks and the latest self-publishing software have just been sitting on their hands, waiting for him to ring in the new century ten years late? Besides, the idea that something published under the name "Alan Moore" can be considered 'underground' strikes me as unbearably cynical and disingenuous. This is a guy who priggishly removes his name when his mega-blockbuster comics are adapted into mega-blockbuster movies and who fancies himself as somehow anti-establishment when comics shops around the world order his books by the score. Alan Moore is the bloody establishment.


It occurred to me, though, as I was thumbing through a copy of Dodgem Logic at my local comics shop, that Alan Moore is just a late-20th/early-21st century version of Fyodor Dostoevsky, but without the occasional flashes of stunning brilliance. Dostoevsky, with his grotesque beard and paranoid politics, was afflicted with graphomania--he was literally compelled to write, sometimes covering his hands and arms with illegible scrawls when he ran out of paper. Aside from his famed novels and short stories, Dostoevsky founded a literary journal with his brother and also published the astoundingly prolix Diary of a Writer in order to give his compulsion an outlet. Despite the great power of many of his books, nearly all of them contain some level of the bizarre, nativist, anti-semitic and xenophobic political views that he developed after serving time in Siberia. There is unquestionably a similar paranoid streak in Moore's work, the sort of contradictory pining for the years of Nixon and Reagan that one often notes in the rantings of particularly batty liberals. There is a wistfulness in books like V for Vendetta, Watchmen or even the promotional copy for Dodgem Logic that gives one the sense that the guy really wants society to implode into a dystopic morass.

Whatever his wishes on the matter, it's clear that the economic meltdown has been good for business. As we bravely head into the next decade, one can only hope that people will start heading back to work and Americans can go back to caring more about who's gonna win on American Idol than the next election, if only because that's a general indication that things are well in the world. Alan Moore isn't going away any time soon, but his peculiar blend of paranoid pessimism and literary larceny isn't helping anyone. I'll take Grant Morrison's loony optimism over Moore any day.

12/17/2009

The Negative Zone: What If... & Continuity


Something that (most) of us lose as we get older are those “What If?” conversations, born waiting for the bus before school or in the cafeteria: “Dude, what if MODOK killed the Avengers?” or “What if Batman just used guns and killed the Joker?”. Every serious fan has had these conversations at one point or another, some of them lead to more serious conversations (What would you do if there was a real zombie outbreak?) and some not so much (Do you think Plastic Man can just make his dick look like a truck and drive it?), but no matter the case, it’s a big part of the culture because it's both fun and escapist and in a roundabout way, dead serious and connects all kinds of ways to the real world.

Marvel’s What If series has been putting those thoughts into print since 1977, before many of today’s readers were even alive. Stories like What If Spider-Man Joined The Fantastic Four and What If The Beast and The Thing Had Continued To Mutate? give us a look at what could have happened, maybe if a different writer had been behind the wheel or the company was in a different place. It's officially-sanctioned fan-fic and it's awesome.

While these issues are “alternate” story lines or character developments, there are also the stories that are just for fun, like What If Captain America Had Lived In The Civil War? and the classic What If Sgt. Fury had Fought World War Two in Space? which have no real basis in anything, even if they stem from an original issue or story line. These are the gems of the series, what makes What If exciting.

Although outside of 616-Universe continuity, there have been a few issues that have spawned their own series, such as Spider-Girl, a fan favorite that always manages to get cancelled, and the many steps into Marvel’s New Universe and other alternate realities.

While Marvel still does What If stories, they remain alternate paths to mainly event comics, the two most recent being What If? Secret Invasion and What If? World War Hulk. These books give two or three different endings to what could have been, like what if the Skrulls had won?

While these are still interesting, they honestly aren’t worth the print, simply not as entertaining as older issues like What if Wolverine Was Lord of the Vampires?, or even What If The Gamma Bomb Spawned A Thousand Hulks. In their own way, these "What If" stories are in continuity even as they're set-up to be out of continuity. It's weird. They're contained in their craziness so they just don't really work. Like, how do you make something like What If? boring?

DC Comic’s Elseworlds stories, like Superman: Red Son, deliver here where Marvel doesn’t, and it’s pretty rare you see me praising the “other” company. Something we need, all comics fans--hardcore and novice--are issues we can pick up without strings attached. Something that's both a breather from all the super-involved week-to-week, month-to-month event and sub-event craziness and just kinda hits you as a pure, awesome comic. And you get that when a What If? is done right and by "done right" I mean, "done like the old ones".

What If issues of the past were either self contained or at most one or two issues, current character continuity was never important to the story within. We, as readers, want these stories. Non-continuity, original, although sometimes strange, really works. It’s why Jesse loves Marvel Fanfare and why we all tried to love Wednesday Comics and Strange Tales.

Our new way of finding these stories are through comics like Mark Waid's Superman-like Irredeemable, where one day the strongest hero in the world decides to kill everyone. While the series is good, possibly great, it would be better if it were actually about Superman, and not a newly created character. At this point, there shouldn't be anything Superman--iconic hero for decades or not--can't do in a comic book. It's almost as if he should be part of public domain or something, so Mark Waid could use the caves of history and context Superman has behind him for something like Irredeemable or so your favorite indie weirdo could draw him all weird, doing stuff Siegel and Schuster never imagined. What If? comics of today should follow the thirty year old formula, it's changes like these that make you think "What If they listened to their fans once in a while?"

12/14/2009

Cliffhanger Endings & Ba & Moon's Daytripper

Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of the comic book storytelling form is the cliffhanger ending. While it was once comics' bread and butter and indeed, still packs a fun wallop when you read Golden, Silver, and even Bronze Age comics, even in collected form--meaning, even when the cliffhanger is immediately resolved--it's simply schtick when dropped into the deeply knowing, all-encompassing irony of the contemporary comics world. Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth would be one recent example, where each and every issue ends on a "Oh man, what will come from this?" revelation. It's grown tired. Once the deer girl showed up, I wasn't even interested in where it was going to go.

And so, it's all the more impressive that Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon's new mini-series Daytripper ends with the ultimate cliffhanger--the murder of the main character--and doesn't leave you cold and annoyed by the calculation of the guys behind the comic. We'll see how this all turns out, but it seems that what Daytripper's gonna do in the next nine issues, is bounce around to bits and pieces of the main character's life in some attempt to have us understand and empathize with Bras de Olivia Domingos, obituary writer, aspiring "real" writer, and yeah, on the final page of the comic, victim of a gunshot during a robbery.

This ending is also less cheap, less schticky than most because it's a comic book about causality and random-ness and so, there's nothing contrived about the odd shift the comic takes on its last page. The reader has been following Bras since the morning and well, this is how his evening played-out. It's "unexpected", it's odd, it's abnormal, but that's the whole point! Ba and Moon tease readers not with "How will Bras get out of this one?" or wow, "my understanding of [insert wonky comics universe here] has been totally flipped upside down" but with, "what new deeply personal pieces of information and experience will I glean from the next issue of Daytripper?" It's about mortality and the whole "one day you're here and then you're gone" contingencies that we just try to ignore most of the time because if we didn't ignore them, we'd go insane or just off ourselves.

And so, all the stuff slyly crammed in between the casual, rolling narrative of Daytripper--his relationship with his father and mother, his father's fame, is rather thinly-sketched out girlfriend--will slowly poke out here and there, in each issue. The cliffhanger still hangs on our desire for "facts" and "closure" and all that and it additionally hangs-on our natural desire for dirt/gossip on people, but all for the noble purpose of explaining a person as best one can and exercising our empathy/sympathy muscles...a noble goal for comic books.

12/08/2009

Marvel Fanfare vs. Wednesday Comics & Strange Tales

Variety's the spice of life, but it's the enemy of comics. At least until recently, with both Marvel and DC visiting a creator-driven variety magazine format with Strange Tales and Wednesday Comics. Although vastly different in content, they both share the same intent: to give readers more bang for their buck with multiple, high quality stories wrapped into one package.

The problem with both series' is in part, that with raising the quality and number of creators, up goes the cost of the comic. In addition, they take creators out of their element and provide maybe a little too much variety. Strange Tales features traditionally independent creators and challenges them to make short funny super hero comics, and the first issue--from a quality standpoint--was a success. The next two issues provided inconsistencies in quality and a difficult choice for readers who may have just wanted to read a couple of their favorite creators buried within.

Wednesday comics successes and failures have been pretty well documented. It has far too wide a variety of creators lumped together so no matter how eclectic your tastes, there was guaranteed to be some things you disliked. The format of one, full-page to work with released weekly worked for a couple contributors but the majority seemed lost. You can only get so far with a cool idea before it turns into a gimmick, and unfortunately, that’s what happened to Wednesday Comics .

Marvel Fanfare had a similar approach to giving comics’ top talent free reign over premiere characters, telling high quality stories, and at an increased cost, but it worked a whole lot better. During Fanfare's ten year run (1982-1992) it featured a wide variety of characters and creators but focused on one at a time. It gave control to the reader by presenting a solid main story, so whatever your preference on the character or creative team that month. you could choose. Whether good, bad, or in between you knew exactly what you were getting with each issue.

Fanfare knows that it’s a comic book and doesn’t try to pretend to be anything different. Creators told stories mostly within the confines of a single issue. This restricted the contributors just enough so that they could be creative within the boundaries of the comic while still playing to their strength as artists.

Part of the justification of the price ($1.25 in 1982 when most titles were $.60) was the added bonus of pinup art pages. These are full-page spreads from an artists' portfolios depicting classic Marvel characters. It’s complete eye candy but it forces the reader to slow down and observe--and that’s something that’s lost in most comics today. Usually when I’m reading through a regular comic, I breeze right through it and come back to re-read later, but when I hit the pin-ups, I always head back and check out the rest of the issue in a similar fashion.

Like anything else, some issues are better than others, but here are some of the best. The ones that work within the confines of Marvel Fanfare's editorial stance and stretch that stance to its limits:

Issues #22 and #23 “Night of the Octopus” by Robert McKenzie and Ken Steacy

Tony Stark is showing off his new impregnable super villain prison when Doctor Octopus summons his adamantium arms and breaks out. Of course, Iron Man shows up but he is completely outmatched by Octopus’ second pair of autonomous indestructible arms. His armor is scrapped and stock in his company plummets as investors lose faith in his expensive prison. The story is solid but Steacy’s art is just incredible. He shows Doctor Octopus as a completely disgusting human being without over doing it. Octopus’ adamantium arms are legitimately scary when seen ripping Iron Man’s armor to pieces, all simply communicated by the the tension in Steacy’s art: Combining bright primary colors and an odd air-brushed effect with heavy shadows that highlights hero and villain at the same time.

Issue #29 “A Terrible Thing to Waste…” by John Byrne

John Byrne tells a Hulk story in all full-page spreads. A Native American sitting in the desert stops the Hulk rampage with one word, “Friend.” Byrne subtly shows the Hulk shrinking in size as he is won over by this mysterious stranger. The Hulk is more than just a mindless brute, but not in the sappy clich├ęd way we're used to in "sensitive" Hulk stories. He’s just slightly more in control of his actions than normal and that’s enough to illustrate that there's a mind inside that green noggin. The man eventually betrays Hulk and there's a particularly devastating death scene of two psychically-linked super villains. The loss of friendship is the main thrust here and the idea that Hulk's anger ultimately stems from some genuine sense of loss is the kind of emotional investment that makes a superhero story a stand-out.

Issue #41 “…Perchance to Dream” by Walt Simonson and Dave Gibbons

It’s a dark and stormy night and Dr. Strange is dreaming. He ends up in the city of dreams, which are ruled by giant creatures that try to trick him into staying in their universe. Simonson’s story is essentially a dream sequence but has Dr. Strange questioning and exploring his magical abilities. The triumph is the panel work and the imagination of Gibbons, giving a palpable feeling of a creepy dream that somehow feels all too real. Gibbons gives his giant creatures a strange, sci-fi scientific texture that helps make them memorable--they seem like something that would lurk in a dream world.

Honorable Mentions: #18 featuring Captain America by Roger Stern, Frank Miller, and Joe Rubinstein, #19 featuring Cloak and Dagger by Bill Mantlo, Tony Salmons, et al., #30 featuring Moon Knight by Ann Nocenti and Brent Eric Anderson, and #34 Mike Mignola portfolio.

12/03/2009

Beast Week Coda: Wailing for her Demon Lover



"He's um . . . I don't know, kind of inscrutable." These words, spoken by Colette at the opening of Part Two of Marian Churchland's Beast in an abortive attempt to describe the book's eponymous anti-hero to her friend Jane, could just as easily be used to describe Churchland's book itself. Beast is that rare example of a comic--though we could easily apply this to novels or movies--that, by borrowing elements from other works, artists, movements, forms and genres, becomes something utterly new and unclassifiable and still somehow manages to be beautiful, meaningful and affecting. Originating from a dream that is not a little reminiscent of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Churchland borrows the structure of her favorite fairy tale, using it to construct an ambivalently Freudian, post-feminist pleasure dome, populated by Italian Renaissance artists, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and even a little bit of Byron, by way of Paul Pope.


Though Churchland's book ultimately deviates from its original in many fundamental ways, it is useful to remember that "Beauty and the Beast" is a tale that begins with a father's prostitution of his daughter. Beast's opening, in which Colette is taken by her father to a mysterious sculpting commission that he arranged, imposes a sense of ambiguity, the feeling that something is being withheld from the reader, that we don't have all the information, which propels the whole of the narrative. The relationship between Colette and her father is clearly transactional; she relies on her him to divvy out whatever "bottom-feeder" art commissions he is able to, but the revelation that he is unaware that she is no longer with her boyfriend (whose name he struggles to remember) reveals that they have long since retreated from any traditional notions of familial intimacy. The scene is a perfect, exceptionally economical opening to the book, introducing each of the book's major themes--gender politics, creative integrity, menacing and complex sexuality--in a scant few pages.

One of the fascinating things about Beast, and perhaps that aspect of the book that makes you want to keep going back to it, looking at it more closely, is that Churchland resists taking any of its elements to its logical conclusion and therefore pigeonholing the narrative. Thus, while the story has some very definite things to say about women and creativity and power, these statements are problematized by some of the book's imagery and the ambiguous sexual position of Colette vis a vis Beast. A great subtle example is the the juxtaposition of panels which show the upper portion of the Carrera marble slab atop Colette's body from the waist down. At first glance, this appears a relatively straight-forward association of the artist with her medium. But a closer look--perhaps a dirtier mind--reveals the great white phallus of the marble towering over Colette's crotch.


Of course, Colette is only able to complete her sculpture when she abandons the gradual chipping away of the chisel for the power drill's penetration. In effect, Colette denatures the marble's monotonous masculinity by drilling it full of holes. The image, then, is one in which the masculine and feminine are present together--the marble embodies both qualities.


This sort of fluidity of imagery and representation is consistent with Churchland's illustration strategies. Colette, though undeniably gorgeous and feminine, has a boy's long arms and narrow hips. The aggressively Byronic Beast, who owes perhaps just a small debt to Paul Pope's Batman, occupies a similarly ambiguous position with respect to gender, with his long delicate fingers and narrow shoulders.


I don't mean for any of this to suggest that this is what Beast is about. Indeed, as I mentioned above, it is the book's ambiguity, its consistent refusal to lend itself to one particular reading or interpretation that makes it so interesting. There are lots of other curious questions planted throughout the book, such as the hinted at association of Roz with Cecilia or Colette's highly unstable hair-length, but they aren't questions which beg resolution, they just present interesting and variable readings.

The point, of course, is that Churchland has created an admirably, no, remarkably complex and rewarding narrative that augments her already apparent (to me, anyway) illustration skills. This bodes well for those of us who like to read smart comics that aren't smarty-pants comics, comics which are personal but not sappy-autobiographical. Marian Churchland officially enters that growing pantheon of interesting and talented creators who are bucking the typical categorizations of high and low comics and in doing so pointing toward a rich possible future for the medium.

12/01/2009

Beanworld: Remember Here When You Are There!


Of all the comics I've read, few are as flawless as Larry Marder’s magnum opus, Beanworld. Dark Horse Books republished the hard to find classic earlier this year, splitting up the original twenty-one issues into two hardcover books. After fifteen years on hold, Marder returns to the Beanworld and brings us new stories, not in issue form, but as a new hardcover book, trade, "graphic novel" called Beanworld: Remember Here When You Are There!.

We here at comicsforserious.com are obviously obsessed with the series, but unfortunately for some comics readers it’s a hard sell. People work too hard at trying to “get” Beanworld and not simply observe the Beanworld. To enjoy what is truly the most immersive comics experience ever, you must begin like the still growing characters: Clueless, overwhelmed by the world around you.

The one caution offered in each book (“Please do not search for scientific or magical explanations; you won’t find any. Beanworld is a separate reality. It’s not just a place, it’s a process. It is what it is—and th-that’s all folks”") is the perfect, and only, way to introduce someone to the series. Beanworld only works when you allow yourself to be an observer, not a reader. You have to let it work out in front of you.

Although all us comics and science fiction readers avoid the idea that our little “hobby” is escapism, it’s the reality of comics. But the less discussed reality of comics is how that escapism actually allows us to consider and reflect on the "real world" in new ways. Most comics are based in the world we live in, New York City being the framework for almost every comic that takes place in a city, current political issues portrayed via space wars or superheroes . Non-sci-fi books like Lemire’s Essex County trilogy hit home because we can put ourselves into the work on an emotional level. That foundation in every day life is enhanced by the art and it's strange exaggerations or simplifications.

But the complete separation between Beanworld and our world allows you to "understand" the Beanworld much the same way we "understand" this world: In tiny, ever-evolving pieces of information and experience. You can’t make guesses as to what’s going to happen because the Beanworld isn’t even complete. Pieces of information about the sociological and biological structures and even about the physical structure of the world itself slowly reveal themselves. Think about it: These first three books have only been the “Spring” cycle of the Beanworld epic, presumably allowing for three more seasons to complete the journey of the beans. We as readers are as much in the dark as Mr. Spook and the rest of the beans, and because of this, each new piece of information benefits them as much as us.

A lot of the “black and white comics boom” classics and almost classics have in effect, been lost for some time now. The issues are harder to find, no one's talking about them, and there's not even a trade available. Stuff from well-known, oft-discussed legends and those white box heroes too. For awhile now, Beanworld was one of these, but it's been saved from this limbo and given a second life, first by Dark Horse reissues and now, by brand new work from the creator Larry Marder.