Archive for November, 2007

Bizarrely Inappropriate Trailer Dept.

November 30, 2007

Not comics, as Mr Spurgeon would say.

So I start the disc for Guy Maddin’s avant-garde film The Saddest Music in the World. As is not unusual these days, the DVD plays a few trailers at the start.

The second trailer was for Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes; fair enough, it’s highly likely that anyone hiring this moving will also dig Jarmusch.

But what trailer do you think played first? Which film do you suppose that MGM thinks will interest viewers of a film that A.O. Scott called “a beguiling and hallucinatory black-and-white musical”, starring Isabella Rossellini and adapted from a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro?

Why, the remake of Walking Tall, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Johnny Knoxville. Of course!

***

As for the film itself, I couldn’t make it past half an hour. The conceit of the film is that it’s an old black-and-white film, made during the thirties. I could get into the concept, but the execution kept taking me out of it. The shots looked great in medium-frame, but showed themselves to be modern whenever the camera got any closer. And that sound was just terrible, sounding nothing like the thirties. A film like The Saddest Music depends on getting every detail just right, and too many just weren’t.

***

Now I’m off to watch Walking Tall.

Spleenage

November 27, 2007

Oh God.

Oh, God, I’m not even halfway through The Black Dossier and I don’t know if I’m going to make it if somebody finds this note please tell my family I love them oh God I don’t want to die I don’t want to

***

Even before I got the book, I knew I was in trouble when I read the second paragraph of Jog’s review:

“If you’re the type that finds Moore’s various approximations of period writing styles to be cloying, whether via adorned prose, or his scripts for the fake old comics that tend to dot his sequential works – please, do not read this book. You may well take your own life, and I’d hate to have your blood on my hands, True Believer.”

Alas, I am exactly that type.

Still, I’d made it through most of Moore’s extended self-indulgences before. I even made it through Promethea. Mostly. (I just skipped any sentence with the word “kabbala” or “quark”). Besides, I enjoy his faux old-timey comics scripts, as in Supreme; it’s his prose that drives me up the wall. So I could make it through The Black Dossier, right?

Right?

Yeah, maybe not.

Later in his review, Jog compares the text sequences that form the bulk of The Black Dossier to the bits in Cerebus where Dave Sim would dump page after overwritten page on the long-suffering reader. That’s a fair comparison, but you know what they both remind me of? Well, you know when you’re playing a video game, and you make it to the end of a level (or whatever)…and the big “reward” is that you get to stop playing the game for thirty seconds, or five minutes, or whatever, and watch a shitty cutscene with bad scripting and worse acting?

That’s exactly what it’s like reading The Black Dossier. Come on, can’t I just press “escape” and skip back to playing the game already? The reason I bought this video game is–amazingly–that I wanted to play a video game, not watch a shitty movie. If I wanted to watch a shitty movie, I would have hired Mulholland Drive.

And that’s what it’s like reading the text sequences: come on, man, get back to the comics. Oh man, can’t I just skip ahead–nah, I’d better read all this shit now or I’ll have to read it later. That’s not a good way to feel about what you’re reading: that it’s a burden.

Look, I’m no droog who only wants to read words if they’re in speech bubbles. I write and read dry academic prose for a living. I’ve made it through the books that break weaker readers, and I can throw down with the best of them when it comes to the literary canon. Life of Johnson? A la recherche…? Moby-Dick? War and Peace? The Faerie Queene? The Man Without Qualities? Motherfucker, I’ve done all those, and Finnegan’s motherfucking Wake.

I’ve even read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

And let me say, Alan Moore, you are no John Kennedy Toole.

We get it already. You’re well-read. Congratulations, but that’s no longer as impressive as it was in the nineteenth century now that any dickhead with a modem can access most of the same information.

The worst thing about The Black Dossier is that the same self-congratulatory spirit clogging the prose seeps into the comics sections too. Hey, you know what would be really fun? A five page sequence in which some fat guy clumsily name-drops various fictional characters just to give Jess Nevins something to do. A sampling of the sparkling bons mots that fall from fat-boy’s lips:

Francis Alexander Waverly. He runs some spy-ring for the United Nations these days.

His father named him Kim after the famous spy who worked in Afghanistan.

Spider-Man can bench press 40 tons.

Oh no, wait, that last sentence is from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Bravo, Mr Moore. You’ve proved that you can write as well as Peter Sanderson and Mark Gruenwald.

And don’t get me started on Moore’s treatment of other people’s fictional characters here. In interviews Moore now decries the way so many unimaginative writers followed his lead after Watchmen by turning fun, light-hearted escapist fare into depressing deconstructions. Fair enough, he’s entitled to change his mind about the validity of that sort of aesthetic move. And he has famously railed against the treatment of his creations in stupidized Hollywood films; again, fair enough. The films do suck.

It almost makes you wonder whether it really is aesthetically valid to grittify the characters of popular fiction set in a broader continuity, and whether there may be some moral value in respecting creators’ wishes.

So what do we get in The Black Dossier? A rapist James Bond and sad, old, fat Billy Bunter. Excellent! Oh, and Ulysses, it turns out, was “a shifty little swine”. Making Moore just as reactionary as Dante, who placed the hero of the greatest epic poem in the eighth circle of Hell because, like, he lied and stuff. Yes, that’s the point. That’s why they call him Odysseus of many wiles.

***

I could go on, but why bother? Beside, I’ve still got another 7,000 of Moore’s thrilling pages to slog through. I’ll just add one more thing: it would be a drastic exaggeration to call The Black Dossier underwhelming.

Truth is, it’s not even whelming.

***

If I don’t post for a while, it’ll be because Jog was right. I’ll have killed myself.

It’s Grant Morrison’s world, we just live in it

November 26, 2007

For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panthéon’s unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid “illegal restorers” set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building’s famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves.

Klausmann and his crew are connaisseurs [sic] of the Parisian underworld. Since the 1990s they have restored crypts, staged readings and plays in monuments at night, and organised rock concerts in quarries. The network was unknown to the authorities until 2004, when the police discovered an underground cinema, complete with bar and restaurant, under the Seine. They have tried to track them down ever since.

I repeat: the police discovered an underground cinema, complete with bar and restaurant under the Seine, run by guerrilla monument restorers.

Full story at the Guardian. Tell me this doesn’t read like something straight out of The Invisibles, only with less claptrap about futurism or the occult.

***

“Regular” readers of this blog will know that I’m fond of silly neologisms (and that I’m “also” as fond “of” misplaced “quotes” as “Geo. Herriman”). Well, I’ve just found my new favourite new phrase: “Shy Schlumpfs in Specs Comix” (h/t JK Parkin) It sort of overlaps with “Cancer Comics” and “boring, shitty art comics”, but has a more specific meaning. As defined by its coiner:

“The rough gist is this: comic book artist, who is (like most comic book artists) a shy schlumpf in specs, mooches around feeling sorry for himself, worries that he might be too self-obsessed, has a short and self-loathing infatuation with a girl, returns to drawing board, creates comic describing the aforegoing events.”

Yes.

Oh, yes.

Not that all SSS Comix are bad; the author mentions R Crumb, and Chris Ware is surely very similar. But it’s a great inflammatory and reductive put-down.

I must steal it and claim credit for it immediately.

The ten best “graphic novels” of 2007

November 24, 2007

It’s a bit early, I know. What if Countdown #19 turns out to be really, really good? But if Amazon and PW can make their lists already, so can I. Here, then, are my picks for the ten best “graphic novels” of 2007.

10. Countdown: Search for Ray Palmer: Gotham by Gaslight (#1)

9. Nymphet*

8. Southland Tales Books 1-3/The Fountain

7. Essential Werewolf By Night, Vol. 2

6. World War Hulk: Frontline #4

5. Y: The Last Man (every issue this year)

4. The Halo Graphic Novel

3. Amazing Spider-Man #545 (One More Day Part 2, aka “If you should read but one comic this decade…”)

2. Cowboys & Aliens

1. Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together

I came close to including either that one issue of Heroes for Hentai with the tentacles, or the issue of New Avengers where Tigra gets brutally assaulted in a way that is not at all sexually exploitative what are the crazy internet people talking about YOU ARE CRAZY INTERNET PEOPLE WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT. But C:SfRP:GbG was just that little bit better than either of those and so it beat them onto the list.

Still, I’ve probably missed or forgotten some other excellent “graphic novels” this year. What else should be on the list?

[*if that is the name of the manga I mean. It’s the one about the prepubescent schoolgirl who tries to get her teacher to fuck her and comic hi-jinks ensue. For obvious reasons, I’m not inclined to check the name through Google]

Happy holidays!

November 21, 2007

I would just die if they had a Peel/Fuschia team-up

November 13, 2007

Currently, all the “cool” kids are speculating over who’s a skrull, or who’s going to beat down on whom in Contest of Champio Arena. But, here at LY&HF, we are dying to find out which iconic characters from 20C British fiction made it into the new League of Extraordinary Gentleman (released today in the US; boo sucks to the rest of the world).

We know Orlando’s in, and Bond, and bits of 1984. Tolkienia are presumably out, since they’re in a different world, or a ye olde version of ours. The book seems to be set in 1958, so that probably rules out references to too many later creations (like Miracleman or 2000AD). Who else will make it? Let the fannish speculation begin!

My guesses/wishlist:

Anyone from Gormenghast–most likely Titus, given the third book in the series.

There’s got to be a Narnia shout-out, at least to the wardrobe.

Bulldog Drummond/Nayland Smith

Modesty Blaise (or is she too late?)

Poirot/Marple/Father Brown

Harry Lime

T. E. Lawrence (not exactly fictional, but the film is)

The Man in the White Suit/characters from The Ladykillers or Kind Hearts and Coronets

Members of the Famous Five/Secret Seven

Probably at least an oblique reference to the Lost Girls

The Drones club or, more likely, a certain “spineless invertebrate” and his personal gentleman (hi, Bully!)

And, man, it better have a cameo by John Steed and a young Emma Peel. If it doesn’t, I’m coming for you, Moore and O’Neill. That’s all I’m saying.

Who else?

Link-posts are the last refuge of the scoundrel

November 11, 2007

For anyone coming from the latest critical roundtable at Blog@Newsarama, here is what I meant by my “contributions” to the vocabulary of comics criticism.

(And thanks for inviting me, Chris!)

You may also enjoy my responses to Comics Should Be Good‘s poll of the top 100 Marvel and DC characters. I tell you who their best characters really are, here and here.

And, to the surfer who got here through the search term “are there stupid batman stories?”, the answer is yes.

Yes, there are.

***

Signs of the apocalypse #3,541: an editor from one of the “Big Two” being honest about his company’s product. Tom Brevoort tells it like it is (h/t: Graeme McMillan):

for every real classic run, stories of undeniable merit, there also seems to be a compilation of journeyman quality, or even just out-and out hackwork. This is especially true on the ESSENTIAL collections … a lot of these books really aren’t all that objectively goodmost of the run of MARVEL TEAM-UP is unspectacular

No, no, no, that’s not how you shill. They’re unparalleled masterpieces of sequential narrative that blazed new artistic territory. Sheesh, it’s almost as if you’re suggesting people shouldn’t buy Essential Marvel Two-in-One or whatever.

***

While I’m on the topic of the Essential volumes, I’ve seen various people online give the imprint shit for being a misnomer (including Brevoort himself, in that link). After all, there’s really nothing essential about the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update 89 or Dazzler, right? Or, let’s face it, about most of Marvel’s output in the 70s and 80s.

What this misses is that “essential” here is what philosophers call an attributive adjective, like “big” or “good”. That is to say, it qualifies entities as having the relevant property only by comparison with other entities of the same kind. A big ant is big for an ant, not big in some absolute sense. Ted Bundy was good at being a serial killer, not good full stop. Similarly, pretty much all of the Essential volumes, once you move outside the Kirby/Ditko axis, are the essential stories for that title, not essential comics per se.

So the stories in, say, Essential Spider-Woman really are the essential Spider-Woman stories. That doesn’t mean they’re not still dogshit.

[NB, for any real wonks reading: as far as I can tell, this philosophical usage of “attributive adjective” is rather different from standard usage in grammar, where it refers solely to an adjective’s position in word-order. The philosophical usage derives from Peter Geach]

***

This is a few weeks old, an excerpt from Shaenon Gaerrity’s interview with Gail Simone in The Comics Journal, but it’s been bugging me since I saw it. Simone, describing her experience in contacting cartoonists about Women in Refrigerators:

One writer/artist was very sympathetic, he knew exactly what I was talking about, and that’s why he always tried to write a variety of female characters, etc. etc. etc. Very nice. Then, out of nowhere — and keep in mind, this asshole doesn’t know me at all — he starts telling me how heavenly it is when his “lover” lets him ejaculate on her face, and asking me about my sex life. One minute, “Oh, you’re right, the plight of women in comics, woe, oh, woe,” and the next it’s outtakes from this guy’s porn-move repertoire.

Okay, there are arsehole, sexist cartoonists, no surprises there. But in the next paragraph, Simone adds:

That was a Fantagraphics guy, by the way, not a superhero creator.

Who on earth could it have been? If only there were a weekly gossip column dedicated to spreading scurrilous, ill-founded rumours about the personal lives of cartoonists and industry… I mean, if this isn’t what Rich Johnston was invented for, what is?

But since Johnston is MIA, and no one else seems to have taken up the topic, it falls to me to make unwarranted and irresponsible accusations that make light of Simone’s harrassment.

Now, if there’s anything I’ve learned from Murder, She Wrote, it’s that it’s never the obvious suspect. So the first thing to do is eliminate cartoonists whose work features “sick”, juvenile, sexual or scatological humour. So Brunetti, Crumb, Kaz, Millionaire and, of course, Ryan can be struck from the list of suspects.

That still leaves a lot of suspects, so let’s keep winnowing down the list. Still following Lansbury-logic, we can deduce that it must have been the least likely person. Meaning someone who either seems like a genuinely nice guy, is generally PC, or is as unsexist as you can imagine. Let’s see who is left, then, as the least likely suspect: Joe Sacco? Jim Woodring? Chris Ware? One of the Hernandez brothers? Charles Schulz is dead, and wasn’t published by Fantagraphics when Simone would have been calling around.

Oh, no, wait. Who seems like the most harmless, sweetest, lovely guy ever published by Fantagraphics?

It’s got to be Stan Sakai.

***

PS: I am, of course, not really making any of the accusations in the previous item. Please don’t sue me.

Index verborum prohibitorum

November 6, 2007

In the interests of furthering internet discourse, I offer the following list of words that “graphic novel” bloggers should no longer be allowed to use. Surely we can all agree that our lives would be better if we never had to read or write these words again.

***

Meta-

Deconstruction

Art comics, or similar phrases [but “Cancer Comics” is acceptable]

Autobio

Mythos

Mythology

Franchise

Age (as in: “Golden Age”, “Silver Age”, etc.)

Objectification

Fun

Barnes and/or Noble

Editorially dictated

Joe Quesada

Blog

Graphic novel

Spatula

The

Some things I’ve read lately

November 3, 2007

Most recent depressofests I have endured: Funny Games, Anatomy of Hell and Irreversible.

Funny Games is one of those have-your-cake-and-choke-on-it movies about how, like, the viewer is totally complicit in cinematic violence, man, and that means YOU. The best thing about this strategy for the writer/director Michel Haneke is that, if you like the film, he’s right, and if you don’t like it, he’s still right. Emo rating: when I slap you, you’ll take it and like it. I didn’t like it.

Anatomy of Hell was alternately dull and ridiculous, a softcore porno scripted by Sartre. The female character’s vagina is memorably described as “The horror of Nothingness that is the imprescribable All.” That might sound pretty entertaining; it wasn’t, although the bit with the garden-tool was (unintentionally) funny. Some enterprising nerd should dub the soundtrack and subtitles onto a real porno. Emo rating: Gerard Way writing an apparently good comic.

Irreversible was much more like it, an amazing, deeply unsettling and virtuosic bit of film-making. The two infamously gut-wrenching scenes are as unflinching as the cutting scenes of In My Skin. Plus, the DVD has the most disturbing film clip ever,* for a song from the soundtrack (by one of the Daft Punk guys). Emo rating: Ivan Brunetti when he’s off his meds.

* Yes, even more disturbing than that Aphex Twin video.

Onto the graphic novels!

Path of the Assassin, Volumes 1 & 2. Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. Dark Horse, 2006. $9.95 each, 320/312 pages.

At the risk of losing all my manga-credibility, I have a confession to make. I’ve never been able to get into Koike’s and Kojima’s more famous samurai epic, Lone Wolf and Cub. I can appreciate the artistry on display in the volumes I’ve read, but it just never grabbed me. And Koike’s Crying Freeman (with Ryoichi Ikegami) is just flat-out ludicrous, with one of the silliest “high concepts” ever: “A sensitive young artist is mind-controlled to become the world’s deadliest assassin. The one thing they can’t control? His tear-ducts!” If you thought Crying Superman was the height of graphic novel kitsch, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

So it was with considerable trepidation that I approached these first two volumes of yet another manga series from Koike and Kojima.

Well, I needn’t have trepidated. This is excellent stuff, the sort of unputdownable, must-get-the-next-volume experience that this manga reader is always looking for but rarely finds. What makes the difference, from LW&C, at least, is the characterization. The leads here aren’t ciphers like Ogami Itto, but roguish allies and friends who live by their wits. Their interplay is enjoyable, and drives the need to read on and find out what they do next.

Also, ninjas doing cool shit trumps samurai doing cool shit.

Warning–there are some seriously dubious sexual attitudes on display. But I, for one, thought they got away with it (barely!) thanks to the general 70s and pulpish vibe.

Drifting Classroom Volume 8, Kazuo Umezu. Viz, 2007. $9.95, 192 pages.

Aw, yeah. The previous volume dragged in the middle, and gave us less of the stark raving bugfuck craziness that this series trades on. But this volume is a fast-paced return to form, several panels inducing laugh-out-loud horror.

Yes, laugh-out-loud horror, and I don’t mean that it’s campy. Umezu fans, you know what I’m talking about.

Walt and Skeezix Book Three, Frank King. Drawn and Quarterly, 2007. $29.95, 400 pages.

Yes, believe the hype. Gentle, understated masterpiece etc. etc. Three volumes in, and we’re starting to see some of the strip’s most famous feature, the ageing of its characters. Wee Skeezix, introduced as a mere stripling in Book One, is old enough to go to school by the end of this volume. What’s remarkable about these changes is how imperceptibly they occur, just like in real life.

The only work I can think of that does something similar is A la recherche du temps perdu. There’s a remarkable scene towards the very end of those books where the narrator suddenly realizes that he’s grown old, and so has everyone he knows. What’s startling about the scene is that it should have been obvious that, while he was out chasing Albertine and being generally neurasthenic, the narrator was getting on in years. But he hasn’t ever thought about it, and nor has the reader–or this reader hadn’t, at any rate. The message: one day you’ll wake up and realise that you’re a sad old fuck and your life will soon be over. That sounds like a platitude when explicitly stated, but it really resonates when it’s experienced over thousands and thousands of pages.

And if it was good enough for Proust, it ought to be good enough for King.

In this volume, Madame Octave continues her fiendish schemes to take Skeezix away from his adoptive father, Walt. But the anxiety is overall much more subdued than the last volume. Here Octave pops up more as a nuisance than as the sinister embodiment of early death that she seemed before. The general tone is rather dreamier and more romantic, as Walt’s relationship with Blossom blooms (sorry). In keeping with the more romantic tone, King draws several strips in a striking style that I don’t remember from previous volumes, a lovely impressionism which is all shadows and light, silhouettes and dappled splashes of white, clouds of hatching that emanate from street-lamps. It’s beautiful stuff in little black and white (well, yellow) panels.

So: buy it and be reminded of your own inevitable mortality. Memento mori, suckahs!


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