One More Thing About Kick-Ass...

Armond White of New York Press has a very interesting review of Kick-Ass that doubles as a review for Lady Gaga's "Telephone" video. White's more often than not, all over the place these days, but when he's on, he's on, and his review breaks down a lot of the issues with Kick-Ass but also comics, especially of the "gritty" and "cynical" sort, that we on this little blog often try to break down this cogently.

It's a good piece of Popular Culture criticism, taking Kick-Ass and Lady Gaga seriously, but ultimately, taking them more seriously than they're ready to be taken, and as a result, just kind of schooling both phenomenons as part of the same misreading Post-Modernism continuum. What I mean by that is this ability to bend this way and that without ever leaning properly on either side of any fucking equations, so it's just a big mess of back-patting irony and cynicism, wrapped in an ultimately pretty conventional little present. To mix metaphors: To have one's cake and eat it too, as old people like to say. And because White's essentially an outsider to Kick-Ass, he views Millar and Romita's simultaneous comic/movie writing as very cynical, it isn't just normal comics biz bullshit.

The duel writing/creation is an insult to the comics form because it's just using comics as a means to a bigger end (a big Hollywood movie, that they keep claiming is technically an "independent"), even as it hinged all its success on doing stuff in comics that you couldn't usually get away with in movies, precisely so that they could go to some financiers and show them how a super-violent comic with a little girl saying "Cunt" indeed has an big audience. That the comic book owes much of its style to Apatow and post-Apatow dirty-joke/heart-of-gold movies, just make this whole franchise disappear further up its own asshole.

The best part of White's review though is the way he's clearly disgusted by both Kick-Ass and Lady Gaga's "Telephone" video, but more disgusted by Kick-Ass because shit man, at least "Telephone" just goes for it! At least Gaga's mini-trashterpiece is weird and stupid and ugly and uncomfortable and insane. Kick-Ass, as Sammy pointed out, is just another superhero movies masquerading as "this ain't just another superhero movie" which is a special kind of loathsome.


Carl Macek, the Original Multimedia Mash-Up Genius.

Robotech guru Carl Macek's death has once again brought up the "debate" about Robotech. Eulogies gave Macek credit for basically invigorating the Anime medium in the United States, but also spent time on the "controversial" nature of his Robotech series. Namely, that in "creating" Robotech, Macek forged together three Japanese series (The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA), re-edited them, and added dialogue, reduced certain characters, and lots of other stuff.

The "controversy" stems from the comic/sci-fi/anime nerd concerns about "purity" or whatever--that Macek essentially bastardized a bunch of original Japanese shows to recreate his American phenomenon. Often, the "defense" of Macek's pillaging simply repeats Harmony Gold's explanation that they needed a show that could run every day--like Transformers did--and any of the three series that eventually made Robotech didn't have enough episodes and so, they had to be combined. This may have been the "business" decision behind the idea, but whether it was there from the start or a really awesome byproduct of a business decision, what Macek did to create Robotech was much more than a pragmatic television scheduling decision, Like so much popular art, there's a mix of art and commerce and a little bit of "smuggling" involved.

Macek grabbed from these shows, and then, tweaked the plots and characters however he saw fit and made something that was, yes, better than its parts. If you're aware of the weird, twisty-turny construction of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, what Macek did is similar: He retro-fitted a bunch of stuff to fit his own interests, obsessions, and dramatic expectations. I'm sure I'm not saying anything mind-blowing here, but because literary critics are smarter than comics critics, they find what Malory did really exciting and interesting and not offensive or just plain wrong or whatever. For chrissakes, Malory raped a nun and his reputation in his respected field gets discussed with fewer caveats than Macek's.

Perhaps, I've just got the tragic death of Gang Starr's Guru on my mind (take four minutes to listen to this please) but the weird view of Macek's legacy--he's at best responsible for opening the doors for anime but not really respected for Robotech, he's at worst a hack and an opportunist--and the objection to Macek's artistic compiling seems rooted in the out-dated anger with musical "sampling".

Issues with "sampling" shoot from plenty of different angles, but they all funnel into I think, a fear of something, anything, everything, being unstable. From that Led Zeppelin song you love to all your precious fucking Japanese cartoons. Comics fans--like rock fans, the main opponents of sampling--are deeply traditionalist and so, there's a concern with origins and propriety. How does Macek's reconfiguration of these other series negatively affect the original series? This is made even more complicated when you realize Macek took the time to reissue, remaster, and translate all the series' he "stole" from.

I prefer to think of Macek as a master sampler and mash-up artist. That because he was this producer guy, he had access to the materials that now, twenty-five years later, every tween or grumbly old bored retired weirdo can also access. In short, he created a lasting, meaningful, "mash-up" called Robotech and it was this insane, generations-spanning, deeply-moving space opera, not say, some DragonballZ clips edited to Linkin Park--which you know, has a purpose too.



-Pretty good interview with Mike Mignola over at Newsarama. He talks about the "End Game" coming up for Hellboy which is just crazy to think about. For me, Hellboy is in with any other superhero that basically lives forever and for Mignola to be talking about the death of Hellboy is really weird for me to wrap my head around. -j

-Woah, check out this blog of old Jodorowsky comic strips! It's from a year or so ago, but I got hipped to it thanks to this tip on on THE FADER, who go it from this guy who even translates some of them!-b

-Brandon sent me a text that his store, which I think resides at the nexus point where all awesome media converges, got in a used copy of the Metabarons RPG today. That got me doing some research and I discovered this great review by Jeremy Buxman who has never read a Metabaron comic in his life. The game rates pretty favorably getting a 5 on style and 3 on substance. His big gripe is that you need to read the comics to get a fuller understanding of the universe. What Jeremy does not realize is that Jodorowsky does not give a fuck about universe-building and the comics have little to no clues about what goes on in the Metabaron/Incal universe. -j

-Forgot to add this to last week's post, but Tom Breihan, whose Tumblr happens to be named after that Rancid song about fighting with Wolverine, had a review of the Lennon/McCartney episode of American Idol in which he inexplicably, provides you a list of contestants and their "X-Men equivalents".-b

- Marvel announced Friday that Brian Clevinger (8-bit theatre, Atomic Robo) and Brian Churilla (The Anchor) are re-making/re-imagining the 1991 classic Infinity Gauntlet called Avengers & The Infinity Gauntlet. There's been a decent amount of Infinity Gauntlet talk at Marvel recently, the story being included in the Fantastic Four and Lockjaw & The Pet Avengers series. While I love as much Infinity Gauntlet I can get, and the creative team seems to be pretty solid, it seems like this might be a case of too much of a good thing. Marvel's announcement tries to make Avengers & The Infinity Gauntlet seem new on it's own right so it's not a simple re-hash of the Starlin/Perez/Lim classic, but "new" details like having Doctor Doom a member of the Avengers is still a swipe from the original. -j

-I just wanted to comment on MTV's "Splash Page" feature Adapt This! where some suggested comics adaptations are broken-down in a super-literal, way too obvious way. Though this week's Red Rocket 7 directed by Cameron Crowe is pretty spot-on, but only because like Mike Allred, Cameron Crowe is a sentimental, rock music obsessed tool.-b

-Pretty cool Wizard of Oz and celebrity zombie fighting miniatures over at Super Punch blog. Obvious Best: Terminator. Personal favorite: Snake Plisskin. WTF: John McClain.

-Also, Comics for Pervs was updated again: Some cool Sophie Crumb stuff.-b

-This Friday, if you're anywhere near Greensboro, NC, you should totally come to this Huntsville hip-hop showcase at Guilford college. Also, the next day, Future Islands and Miami thrash weirdos Acidosis are also playing. And it's fucking FREE!-b


Kick-Ass the Movie: "With no power comes no responsibility."

I only made it four issues into the comic Kick-Ass, it was a little too x-treme for my liking: The kind of ultra violence that children get excited about, but becomes old news once you’ve looked at spaceghetto a couple of times. It’s just a little too crazy with over-the-top blood and guts and snarky, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and it moves out of the "shocking" territory and steps into "this is silly but not in a good way" territory. John Romita Jr.’s art is an ill-fit, all the sprays of blood and the prostitutes and gangsters are too cartoony for a story that is supposed to be “real” and gritty.

The comic tries to comment on comics and vigilantism--it's but one more cynical superhero deconstruction--while also presenting a relatively interesting, at least initially, what if: What if the people of New York City got behind a guy in a green and yellow suit who walks down the street fighting crime and saving kittens? What if it inspired copycats and became a social networking phenomenon? Basically, a comic book world, so citizens believe in super heroes as an every day thing the way the population in Marvel and DC comics do, but tempered by reality. Or "reality". Specifically, Mark Millar's view of the world which is ugly, confused, and pretty boring really.

Kick-Ass the movie, at least, does a better job of selling you on a boy who could do this. He's a normal kid who's mom is dead and who jerks off a lot, he isn't popular but isn't unpopular--he just exists. He's the reality of most comics readers, they aren't fat losers or these annoying fucks who are loud and say "Huzzah", he's just an escapist of sorts who has found something to bond with friends over.

Becoming Kick-Ass is a decision less fueled by his getting mugged everyday, and more from a lack of anything better to do. "Why hasn't anyone ever tried to be a super hero before?" he asks--a valid question even in real life that can't really be answered. When you're under age with no ambition, anything you get excited about is worth at least giving a shot, so he becomes a hero. This is more organic than the comic which muddles Golden-Age comics tropes even as it tries to shit on them.

Where Romita Jr.’s art fails to make the violence--well--violent, the live action punches and gunshots pierce, they hit and are wet and brutal. This being a movie, with real people, not drawings, the reality of a skinny kid turned crimefighter is even more apparent. Every blow is felt and you get a little nauseous when Kick-Ass is left bloodied and dying. Kick-Ass goes to the E.R, living shit beat out of him, nerve-endings broken, gets steel plates inserted to save his life. Looking at his X-rayed body, he exclaims "I look like Wolverine!"...and this is where the story of the movie loses me.

Bullet dodging and roof jumping aside, Kick-Ass is supposed to be a movie about a regular dude who puts on a suit and plays super hero. He isn't supposed to have powers or abilities, he's a regular guy with billy clubs. Slowly Kick-Ass becomes a "super" hero, and the whole point of the "With no power comes no responsibility" quote is null. He can't feel pain, so therefore he can push himself, he ends up with a gattling guns and a jet-pack, "Hallelujah" playing in the background as he saves the day to fly off into the sunset.

Dave Lizewski, the boy who becomes Kick-Ass, is essentially not a character, he's just who Kick-Ass is when he isn't in the suit. I don't mean this in a Batman way where Batman is the man and Bruce Wayne is the mask, it's that you never care enough about Dave. This is especially strange because what made the first two issues of the comic work were those injections of teenage angst and sad, reality. That's all gone. You're just waiting for Kick-Ass to hit someone in the face. The love story is, as in almost every big blockbuster, just a requirement that essentially slows down the story line. The process of taking down the big baddies is put on hold while Kick-Ass gets the girl in not an awkward high school way, but as a confident man.

What really saves the movie is the lack of CG and great acting. Nicholas Cage steals your attention in his scenes, being the loving and psychotic father while out of the suit and spouting his lines in true 60's Adam West dialect while in it, and completely scary in this "Batman with a gun and no conscience" kind of way. Chloe Moretz's Hit-Girl cuts people in half and says "cunt" like she means it, you only know she's an 11 year old girl because you can see her. Although it doesn't have a message or a moral in the end, it's sorta like comics where you just accept it as pure entertainment, not really scared of all the people who are going to hate it, and only working for the people that will love it.

In the end, just like every other person who's seen it, I think Kick-Ass kicked ass (har har) but that's unfortunately, all it does.


King City #7 - A New Story is Born

Since finally picking up the new-NEW issue of Brandon Graham's peerless King City late yesterday afternoon, I've been struggling to derive the best analogy for how this opening gambit in the series's second volume relates to what came before. The best I'm able to come up with, and it's imperfect, though it works, is Don Quixote. I don't mean to suggest that there is anything particularly quixotic about the doings of Joe and company. But, as with the second volume of Cervantes's novel, everything in issue 7 feels sadder and more serious than what came before.

Brandon touches upon this difference in his review. As he points out, you still have all the gags and puns and other funny moments that almost as much as anything else identify Graham's work. But once we come out of the blinding sun of Joe's flashback to The Farm, events, feelings and relationships are imbued with a darkness that exceeds anything we've seen so far. Joe's work is infinitely more serious, more real and he executes it with a level of cool nonchalance that suggests he's crossed a line. Pete, too, is so consumed with his role in the apparent white slavery of the fish-girl that he cannot interact with his friend in a normal way.

But there's something else going on in King City that complicates the dread seriousness of events. Sex has always burbled right at the surface of Graham's comics. But in issue 7 we're getting beyond the exaggerated tits and asses that adorn Graham's stories. Here we are inundated with images specifically associated with conception and birth.

This meditation on procreation begins in Joe's flashback to his time at The Farm. As Mudd leads Joe away from his exercises toward El Cat-Cienda, we see a woman identified as Miriam—the actual name of the virginal mother of Jesus—emerging from a decidedly vaginal opening, into the "Big Big World," bearing the barely post-natal Earthling in her hands, as if delivering him through some process of immaculate conception.

Then, as the narrative proper gets under way, we have a succession of seemingly whimsical images of conception and birth. This of course begins with Joe's sly, obstetrical entry into the No-Tell Killaforya through the inauspiciously identified "Garbage Shoot." Then, as Joe and Earthling pull off the "old none two" trick against the 4-eyed ninja, we are told that three blocks away a woman's egg has split into twin embryos, which, as the illustration indicates, happens precisely at the moment of conception.

Of course, all this could be typical Brandon Graham playfulness, but the preponderance of imagery relating to conception and birth adds particular significance to the sexual tryst between Joe and Beebay at the end of the issue. As Joe recognizes, there is something weird and potentially dangerous about this handsomely endowed woman. But while it is one thing to be paid in sex for killing 'bad guys,' it is another thing altogether to conceive a child with the woman pulling the strings. It's entirely possible, indeed, quite likely, that this has more to do with my own imagination than what is going to happen as Graham's opus progresses, but if so, it's no less diverting to consider. Oh the places this story can go.


King City #7 (the new-new one)

And so, King City #7, the first "new" issue for owners of the TOKYOPop digest volume, came out last week and it's a weird one. It basically "answers" a few questions I don't think readers were asking--what's the deal with the cats and the Catmasters? Who's that chick with the ass?--and casually avoids the obvious pressing ones--what about Joe and ex-gf Anna? How'd that play out?--which is kinda perverse but ultimately, a really cool way to kick the series back into gear for the nerdz that've been waiting a couple years now for the story to keep going.

Thing is, this is King City and Brandon Graham, so you're in good hands. I don't anticipate any bullshit or typical monthly comic book avoidance in revealing how it went down with Anna. It'll probably bubble out of the middle of an upcoming issue as a rainy, sad-sack flashback--like their last kiss ("why didn't you try harder?") did in issue #4-- and just be totally devastating. Even without any info on what transpired between that Lovecraftian beast by ways of KAWS battle at the end of issue #6 and the beginning of #7, it's clear something happened. As a whole, the issue's darker.

It starts with the battle with the 4-Eyed Ninja and Joe's retrieval of the four brains. Joe does the cat/Catmaster thing and viciously splits the Ninja in half--cartoony innards revealed--and slices the top of The Girl with Four Brains' head and then, promptly tosses the bodies out the window. There's something shockingly efficient about it all and it contrasts with the thieving goofball Joe that we've seen before. It's unsettling but really cool and necessary: Joe's no longer a bit separate from the crumby, scummy, awesome city he left a few years back. Now, he's part of the criminal element in a very real way.

That Joe leaves the scene of his crime/theft to meet up with Pete, still reeling from giving up that weird mermaid chick, adds a weird dimension to Joe's all-business attitude and Pete's, after-the-fact concern. Graham's setting up some really cool character arcs, where Joe, Pete, and presumably others, mature or learn that the world's hard/weird/kinda fucked, but do it via mermaid girls handed over to some creeps and the death of four-brained chick and four-eyed ninja.

Strangely (and quite brilliantly too), Graham moves us closer to Joe and his emotions--it didn't hurt the series, but Joe could feel a bit 2-D compared to the others in early issues--when Joe seems his most distant. He's no longer a symbol with some problems and a confused past tacked-on, he's a real person and he sometimes does shitty stuff. The whole, just-starting sub-plot with Joe and Beebay (the mystery girl/ass girl) and their sexual relationship reveals a side of Joe we hadn't considered: He's a regular-ass dude.

Before this point, Joe's been a guy still totally in-love with his ex, Anna. He's probably still that guy, but Graham never allowed readers to see around the corner of his longing--how it was wrong or selfish or well, anything but longing--and you're almost disappointed in Joe for getting with Beebay because it's real. You also totally understand why he did. Just look at this panel:
Point is, Joe is doing something sketchy and dumb--and potentially dangerous--and we know he knows better. Worse--Joe knows he knows better. His interior monologue, floating around a medium close-up of Joe's confused face--love how he's looking to the left, too embarrassed by his actions to look the reader in the face--reveals a thinking, complex side of the character we've not previously seen: "Sometimes I feel I'm her employee that she pays in sex. That's bad. Makes me feel like I've got strings on my wrists..."And that's all we get from this issue. None of this seems even remotely close to figuring itself out, and in that sense, we're very much in it; too wrapped up in drama and emotions to make sense of it, just like Joe.

At the same time, it's perhaps the best "single issue" (or group of chapters) Graham's done yet. Though it's full of stuff that for the time being, is not quite tied together, #7 remains a deeply satisfying read. It's full of the usual little rewards and jokes you get in Graham's work, and look, I didn't count or anything, but it may actually have more of those, but it also has a strange sense of unease and "stuff's fucked" feeling to it. As I said, it's darker, more violent, more sexual, than previous issues. That final image, Joe placing mystery girl Beebay's card in his pocket is ambiguous, but something's urgent about it, some weird something or other's passed between them and we'll have to wait to see how it plays out. There'll be cute cats and puns and big-asses too though, don't worry.



-The Silver Age throwback trend continues with a new Barry Allen Flash series coming out this week. The preview looks good starting with a full page of Central City and calling it "the city always on the run". It's always a good look to start a comic, or entire series in this case, with a big beautiful establishing shot. I really like creative ways to reboot characters without having their entire origins retold. It reminds me of how Thor rebooted and how well that series turned out. -j

- If you're a comics fan chances are you've stared at a few maps in your day. Maps have all the essential ingredients of comics so, when comics and maps overlap it's a pretty glorious thing. I've personally spent more time staring at maps of Asgard or Old Man Logan's distopian USA imaging all the different events in each region than I have reading entire issues of comics. The Comic Book Cartography blog seems like an instant classic even though it just started up this month. Be sure to check out maps of Krypton, Kamandi's world, and Titan among many other great posts. (via)-j

-You ever wonder if you're not smart enough to get a joke?-s

-The Zombie's Hand is currently in the running over at Zuda, the story reads like an old Tales From the Crypt, scary but funny and weird but with visual narration that the original EC Comics lacked. The first eight pages are up but the next 8 only get published if it gets enough votes, so go vote! -s

- Mike Mignola has a new website selling some original art and limited edition art books. Dream purchases: Hellboy in Egypt, Wolverine & Cable, or any of these. Also, who knew he was on twitter? Only 147 followers, and 4 updates since Feb.(via) -j

-This July, Chris Claremont's X-Men: Ragazze In Fuga is coming out under retarded name "X-Women". Illustrated by legendary Italian "erotic" comics artist Milo Manara, the long awaited story is finally being released in America, hopefully it won't be like Captain America: White or a thousand other series that never actually reach shelves. -s


- A.W.K. interview with Marvel! He reveals he is a big Spider-man fan which makes perfect sense to me. I really wish this was unedited and more about comics. -j


Kick-Ass the Movie: "I'm going to make you a comics reader right now"

The Kick-Ass movie is very different from its comic book predecessor. While both film and comic deal with comics' emerging place in culture, they take severely different routes and end up in totally separate places. The comic portrays nearly every character as pathetic, denouncing fanboys as losers with no life (as if it were tailor-made for hip, comics reading Complex magazine readers).

Strangely, the movie's the opposite: It's excited by comics and presents a more, well-rounded vision of comics fandom, grabbing in equal parts, the fan-boy stupidity and genuine wonder of comics. The character of Big Daddy is the perfect example of how Kick-Ass the comic and movie diverge. The comic has Big Daddy as a comics collector and accountant gone off the deep end, due to his humdrum suburban life with his wife and kid. Big Daddy tells everyone he is an ex-cop and keeps a secret briefcase of expensive comics that fund his vigilante operation. Look, I get it, collectors are sort of this dark side of comics, but they're also an increasingly marginalized subculture. He's as simple and one-sided as every other character in the comic: An irresponsible loser and failure.
The film's Big Daddy, Nicholas Cage, is all those things the comics version wishes he was, but not really any less pathetic. He's a cop out for revenge, but the movie changes his connection to comics from collector to a fan and amateur participant. He draws sketches of the crime family he is hunting--his origin is told via self drawn comic--and his suit is just Batman. Big Daddy's instantly a hero because of his crime fighting efficiency and humor, but the movie doesn't quite make it that simple.

Cage's voice while in his super suit is an incredible Adam West impression that makes the character even more weird and pathetic while, adding a really relatable and loving Dad-like quality. He's not entirely loathsome or rather, he's pathetic in a more regular, work-a-day way.

One scene shows Big Daddy putting on eye makeup and fake mustache extensions getting ready for battle. It might not sound like much of a scene, but as Big Daddy looks at himself in the mirror it's less like getting ready for battle and more like putting on the makeup of a costume. Like he's "playing", which of course he is, but Cage pulls the scene and character out of a big pit of Mark Millar snark. The scene is a comment on LARPing or cosplay, with Cage nailing the sad-weird nobility of it all. Think of the mix of mockery and reverence a documentary like Darkon provided its subjects--it's like that.

Kick-Ass the comic conveniently ignores the wonder and imagination of comics, boiling them down to reptile-brain ultra-violence and sad-sack wish fulfillment. Sure, Kick-Ass the movie has plenty of violence and something or other to say about escapism, but it balances it all out with an understanding that comics are awesome.

The high-schoolers of the film are actually excited and energized by comics. Their local comic shop is a hangout that serves coffee, and proudly displays giant posters of Hellboy. At one point, in a scene that maybe best sums up the movie's wonder-filled position on comics, Kick-Ass' buddy, played by Clark Duke, eagerly says to a girl "I'm going to make you a comics reader right now," and as she begins to read, looks over her shoulder reading it with her. It's genuinely moving and presents comics as a unifier, not a thing losers do in their rooms all alone.



-I finally got around to reading Girl Comics and it's--not really surprisingly--good. Haters is gunna hate though, and no matter how good this series is, there are going to continue to be people who are mad that it's not "Women Comics" or that She Hulk has big boobs or that there's an energy drink on "her side" of the table. This is something you can give to your daughters and sisters and say "THESE WERE ALL DONE BY GIRLS" and that kind of shit goes a long way. TRUTH: girls sometimes don't know that they can be in a band until they see or hear an all girl band. This book is important, let's all just get on that. -s


-Whatever is going on with the Inkstuds website is really frustrating. It seems to work for some people fine and others it doesn't load at all. Oh well, it just means my apartment doesn't get cleaned and work doesn't get done because I spend way too long trying to find something other than Inkstuds to stream.-b

-Zelda has never looked so fucking awesome.-k

-Maybe you read this ridiculous Nicolas Sparks interview where he compares himself to the Greek tragedians and disses Cormac McCarthy? If you didn't, do so. Here's the dumb stuff in one big quote:
"There's a difference between drama and melodrama; evoking genuine emotion, or manipulating emotion. It's a very fine eye-of-the-needle to thread. And it's very rare that it works. That's why I tend to dominate this particular genre. There is this fine line. And I do not verge into melodrama. It's all drama. I try to generate authentic emotional power...I write in a genre that was not defined by me. The examples were not set out by me. They were set out 2,000 years ago by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. They were called the Greek tragedies. A thriller is supposed to thrill. A horror novel is supposed to scare you. A mystery is supposed to keep you turning the pages, guessing 'whodunit?...A romance novel is supposed to make you escape into a fantasy of romance. What is the purpose of what I do? These are love stories. They went from (Greek tragedies), to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, then Jane Austen did it, put a new human twist on it. Hemingway did it with A Farewell to Arms."
I live in North Carolina--Sparks' home-state--and never tire of tales of how big of a prick this guy is, but I also think what Sparks is babbling about has a lot to do with comics. Namely, that Sparks' work isn't mythic or universal and has nothing to do with the stuff he references, but many comics writers have said what Sparks is trying to say, without being douches about it. Comics are often mythic, especially superhero comics, mythic by default even. Sparks' understanding of the mythic, the universal is "this character I created is like lots of people in the real world in the 2000s" which is insanely myopic. But you know, if you're a dopey-ass white guy from North Carolina, that's your universe.

This is especially funny because the Village Voice this week posted "The Eight Tired Themes of Nicolas Sparks Love Stories". Best point from that essay: "Sparks movies are almost completely devoid of classic drama. Conflicts between individuals—or between individuals and society—are nominal and easily resolved. Sparks plots are instead dependent upon circumstance. Characters grapple with external forces (nor'easters, cancer, 9/11), not inner demons or desires."-b

-It may have only moved across the street and a couple of store fronts over, but the new Collectors Corner is everything a comic store should be. It's clean, organized, well stocked and actually enjoyable to be in. The owner Randy will take the time to talk to all of his customers and give them deals, cover price is sorta never what you'll be paying. The new issue wall is always packed with big titles and weird indie stuff and tons of local books, it's like he orders at least 5 of everything. He always has sales going on and purchases so much there's always something new. It's really awesome to see this dude's store evolving, if you're in Baltimore or even Maryland for that matter, you have to check out his store. -s


"You Can't Call this Manga": Yoshihiro Tatsumi's Black Blizzard

If Yoshihiro Tatsumi had been born at another time and place I think it likely he would have become a filmmaker. It's become sort of a cliché to talk about comics in cinematic terms but Tatsumi's work has more in common with the works of a whole run of filmmakers than they do with any other comics creators. I've long favored a theory in which Tatsumi's most obvious cinematic counterpart is the late, great Shohei Imamura, but this assessment hinges upon being exposed only to the three collections of the manga-ka's short works published by Drawn & Quarterly. Black Blizzard, as they say, changes everything—well, sorta.

Tatsumi's experimental long-form crime comic has a lot in common with the early genre experiments of the French New Wave filmmakers. Films such as Godard's Breathless and especially Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player originate out of a similar admiration for the crime cinema of Hollywood's golden age as well as their respective creators' refusal to blindly accept formal conventions.

Shoot the Piano Player

Black Blizzard

Tatsumi's story of a down-at-the-heels pianist wrongly accused of murder is as much about how narrative is constructed in comics, that peculiar tension between image and text, as it is about the lives of the characters depicted. As he explains in A Drifting Life, Tatsumi in this period was heavily influenced by movies, particularly in the ways in which characters' emotional or psychological states were communicated by formal means: manipulation of light and shadow, the use of visual elements such as fog and even "camera angles" and framing.

From the story's opening pages, Tatsumi's unorthodox choices concerning panel arrangement, which functions more like montage than simple visual narrative, establish the sense of claustrophobia and menace that will dominate the story. It is interesting to consider the visual narrative of Black Blizzard in terms of its claustrophobia because it's a sort of claustrophobia that comes not from confined spaces—indeed, much of the story takes place outdoors, up in the mountains—but rather from enforced intimacy and imminent peril.

Shoot the Piano Player

Black Blizzard

The pianist and aspiring band-leader Susumu Yamaji has been arrested for a murder that he thinks he has committed, though he is unable to recall the details of the crime due to his intoxication at the time it occurred. As he is being transported by train, presumably to stand trial for the crime, he is handcuffed to a hardened criminal, Shinpei Konta, who is also suspected of murder. When their train is derailed by an avalanche, the imposing and intimidating Shinpei decides he would rather run into the raging blizzard than risk going back to prison, leaving Susumu the choice of going along with him or losing one of his precious hands.

This is just the sort of near-cliché conceit that is common to stories of this type, but Tatsumi doesn't just rely on the artificial suspense and sympathy generated by Susumu's unfortunate circumstances. Instead, he exploits the enforced intimacy between the two characters in visual terms, highlighting the claustrophobia of their situation as well as the sense of confusion that comes from the blurring of the physical boundaries between the two characters.

Tatsumi's superb visual expression of this confused claustrophobia is illustrated in a panel early in the story. After the train derails and Shinpei decides he is going to make a run for it into the mountains, he is forced to drag a reluctant Susumu along with him. As the two trudge up the mountain in the pounding blizzard, Susumu falls in the snow, begging Shinpei to allow him to rest for a moment before continuing their escape. Just to make sure that Susumu grasps the urgency of their situation, Shinpei kicks his chain-mate square in the face. Tatsumi's framing of this moment is superb, giving us the scene roughly from Shinpei's point-of-view. But all that we see is Shinpei's massive shoe crowding out half the frame, with Susumu's foreshortened face reeling from the blow in the other half.

In a diary entry dated 23 September 1912, Franz Kafka writes of the composition of his masterful story "The Judgment" over the course of the evening of 22-23 September:

I wrote . . . from ten o'clock at night to six o'clock in the morning. I was hardly able to pull my legs out from under the desk . . . The fearful strain and joy, how the story developed before me, as if I were advancing over water . . . How everything can be said, how for everything, for the strangest fancies, there waits a great fire in which they perish and rise up again . . . Only in this way can writing be done, only with such coherence, with such a complete opening out of the body and the soul.

There is more than a passing similarity between Kafka's description here and Tatsumi's account of the creation of Black Blizzard over 20 days in 1956 from A Drifting Life. As Tatsumi narrates the scene, "While working on the scenes of extreme cold, Hiroshi felt so involved that he actually shivered. He'd never felt this way before." The experience unsettles the young artist, "So this is the thrill of creation . . . I had no idea." Tatsumi is also similar to Kafka in the nagging feelings of uncertainty he continued to have about his own work, feelings that were only exacerbated in the case of Black Blizzard as a result of the unorthodox techniques used in the story and the equivocal response of his more traditional-minded brother.

Shoot the Piano Player

Black Blizzard

For all that is great about Black Blizzard, particularly when read in the context of the author's mature works from the late-sixties and early-seventies, it is without question an apprentice work. As Tatsumi himself observes to his brother in A Drifting Life, the draftsmanship is at points so sophomoric as to seem almost comical. This is most apparent in the almost laughably idealized Saeko-chan. If the sequence of events portrayed in the author's memoir is to be trusted, Black Blizzard was created by an extremely sexually naïve young man. We are some years yet from the sexually sophisticated women from Tatsumi's later stories.

All the same, Black Blizzard opens up a new facet in the gradually expanding view that American readers have of this still wildly underappreciated artist. To his much lauded mastery of such lurid, social-realist short form works as "Good-Bye," Tatsumi has added a moving and informative autobiographical work of impressive scale and now a formally experimental genre piece that demonstrates the considerable visual acuity that he already possessed at a very young age. One can only hope that there is a lot more where these came from.