Archive for April, 2008

I don’t just hate comics…

April 3, 2008

…I hate criticism too. Two sentences from the introduction to Fantagraphics’ Popeye Vol. II, by Donald Phelps:

1) It is extraordinary to reflect that in this comic strip, which calls to mind Gilbert Seldes’s dour reflection on The Katzenjammer Kids — they looked the way people who never read comic strips thought they all looked — what appear to be drawing conventions, and the most rudimentary at that, turn out, on close and serial scrutiny, not to be conventions in the generally acknowledged sense at all; nor the “style” to be any acknowledgeable style, even a bad one; least of all, the sense of any authority, any fanfaring of the strip’s personality, its worthiness and beaming future intentions, in terms of a visual plumage, such as the daft elegance of Bringing Up Father, the jaunty scurry of Jerry on the Job, and the slapstick swank of Polly and Her Pals alike convey.

Hey, I like asides and semi-colons, but you can have too much of a good thing. And, worse, the sentence is so long that, by the time he gets to the final clause, the author himself has forgotten to give it a verb. Seriously, parse that last clause–what is being predicated of “the sense of authority”?

2) He [Segar] evidently acquired early on in the Popeye sequences not only the grand operatic gravity which he imparted to the lovely little businesses, like the one with the pillow described above, or Olive Oyl’s kittenish-wistful tilting of Popeye’s sailor hat in the Skullyville adventure; but of Segar’s apprehension and general deployment (at once “primitive”, i.e. in its literalness, and sophisticated beyond most of his contemporaries) of “actual” time-space, his use of both attenuation (the longueurs, the off-stage sequences of action, chronicled in the characters’ reactions); the use of pause and double-take (in which I do not believe he was matched until the advent of intimate-toned comic strips like Johnny Hart’s B.C., Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, and Mell Lazarus’s Miss Peach, and later, Momma); and, on the other hand, the excited jamming of conversations, interjected comments, hasty summaries of relevant information, or the conveyance of which he advanced the use of dialogue balloons in alternating tier or stair-steps.

…I’m sorry, what were we talking about again? First of all, something has gone wrong with the expression “he evidently acquired … not only [blah] … but of Segar’s apprehension”. He acquired of Segar’s apprehension? What? Second, “his use of both attenuation”…and what? Both blah and blah, right? What’s the second “blah”? Third, something has gone seriously wrong with this phrase: “or the conveyance of which he advanced the use of dialogue balloons in alternating tier or stair-steps.” Huh?

These aren’t cherrypicked examples. They are two of the particularly egregious sentences, but they’re far from the only frankensteins in the introduction. There seems to be lots of interesting stuff in the introduction. But I’ll be damned if I can get through the syntax.

I’m not just being an arsehole here (emphasis on just). I literally cannot parse these sentences; they do not make syntactic sense to me as English sentences. If it was just some blog-post, then the reaction would be “whatever” — god knows I live in a glass house, a glass house made of over-long sentences. And, uh, glass. But this should have been proof-read at least once, preferably by somebody concerned with whether the sentences, you know, actually made any goddamn sense whatsoever.

The strips themselves, of course, are the shit. Not least because: first appearance of the real Jones.

Random reviews of comics that everyone was talking about ten months ago #1

April 1, 2008

Acme Novelty Library #18. Chris Ware. Drawn and Quarterly, 2007. $17.95, 56 action-packed pages.

Over the fifteen or so years that he’s been publishing Acme Novelty Library, Chris Ware has shown an impressive emotional range. He’s written depressive cowboy loners, depressive schoolboy loners, depressive superhero loners, depressive funny animal loners, depressive robot loners, depressive space explorer loners and that one issue about the little dancing potato guy.

Who was a depressive loner.

With this volume, #18, Ware branches out and writes a depressive young woman loner.

Now that’s what I call progress.

As with many of Ware’s characters, the protagonist’s emotional shortcomings are here embodied as a physical abnormality. Sparky the cat was a bodyless head. The Quimbies, Ware’s most gruesome jeu de corps, were conjoined twins, one of whom died and decayed while the other lived on. Jimmy Corrigan broke his leg and had to hobble around on crutches. The protagonist of #18 stands somewhere between Jimmy Corrigan and Sparky in the seriousness of her condition, which is permanent but at least humanly tolerable–she has a prosthetic leg.

OMG it’s teh symbolism coz shes emotionally criplled!!!!

In any case, the shock twist of this volume is not that Ware has turned his pen to female depressive loners. For he has, in fact, already created another female protagonist (or co-protagonist, at least) in previous volumes for the ensemble of Rusty Brown. No, the real surprise of this volume is that it lacks entirely any of Ware’s usual ironic distancing prose.

That’s right, there’s not a single sentence outside the comics themselves, not even in the indicia or on the bar code. These convoluted apologiae, at once conspiratorially self-mocking and bitterly funny, have been a crucial part of Ware’s design aesthetic since the very first issue of Acme Novelty Library. As far as I know, they’ve been prominent in every comic or collection he has produced since then, filling paragraph after paragraph with layers of protective irony. So it’s genuinely shocking to see a volume with them nowhere in sight. It’s like opening a Captain America comic to find Cap wiping his arse with the American flag. The mind boggles.

That’s not to say that this artistic departure is necessarily a bad thing. (As a non-American, I’d be more interested in Captain Arsewipe, too, for that matter). Personally, I enjoy the apologiae, but they have always seemed like the defence of a younger artist, unsure of his own talent. Maybe, by leaving them out this time around, Ware is signalling that he has come to terms with his status as a cartoonist. Or maybe it just means that the prozac is working.

But then again, probably not. The most striking composition in this volume appears on the inside front-cover, and it pretty clearly shows that Ware is still no stranger to the black dog. The composition in question is a loop of words and pictures which shows the protagonist pondering suicide, deciding against it (because she doesn’t want to bother anyone by leaving them a body) and generally lying around being depressed. There’s no privileged starting place for the reader on this loop, and no privileged direction for the eye to follow, either. While Ware has used these tricks before, of the democratic page, he’s never used them to such brutal effect, matching form to content perfectly. A loop that starts at any point, never ends, and goes anywhere except outside itself? That’s as fine a depiction of depression as you’re likely to find anywhere, in any medium—matched, for mine, only by the film Last Days.*

And that’s why Ware is still the king. In two pages–in the inside front cover, no less–he does more than most artists can manage in their whole careers.

Even if it’s still about a depressive loner.

* Although that Achewood strip which showed Roast Beef’s decision flowchart is pretty good, too.

Recommended? If you have to be told to buy anything Chris Ware releases, you’re probably not reading this blog in the first place.


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