Archive for the ‘A horse called ditKirby’ Category

Helter Skelter

June 7, 2012

So, it’s now official: I’ve “joined” the Manson family. I have my own bio¬†as a “contributing writer” and everything. Oh, the unspeakable horrors of their initiation rites, how horrible and unspeakable and initiatory they were, what with the rites and the initiations and the horrors, and oh, speak about unspeakable!

Naturally, I’m sworn to secrecy about the exact nature of those rites, but let’s just say the phrase “Now that your Mom’s gone, you have to be the chihuahua” will be forever burned into my memory, as well as my — well, like I said, sworn to secrecy.

Of course, this means I’ll have to step up my douchebaggery to a whole new level. On the CID-Scale (Comics-Internet-Douchebag Scale), writing at HU (even irregularly) ranks only just below posting comments about fuck-Kirby’s-family-what-did-they-ever-create or male-superheroes-are-objectified-too, so it’s time for me to troll up and flame on.

***

Did somebody say troll up and fuck Kirby’s family?

You may have noticed a lot of chatter lately about comic creators getting screwed. It’s just one of those crazy little things that come up every now and then, you know how people love to complain on the internet. Anyhoo, Tom Spurgeon’s been making this kind of point a bit, and I just wanted to elaborate on it a little.

So, consider this. The guy who drove the van that delivered the catering to the site for secondary photography during the postproduction process of the future DVD making-of feature of the popular movie The Walt Disney Company’s Marvel Entertainment’s The Avengers probably made a lot more money out of The Avengers than Jack Kirby ever did.

And that’s no slam on that guy — he probably did a really good job driving that van; if you were in that van you’d probably be all like whoa dude you took that corner so smoothly it was like being tongue-kissed by a lace doily knitted by God Himself. (Ladies, gents, don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about). Or even if that guy wasn’t, you know, a veritable William Blake of the catering delivery industry, even if he was just basically what you’d expect — some dude driving a catering van — he probably did an okay job, and he deserves to be fairly recompensed. Let’s send him a nice royalty cheque.

But, you know what?

Let’s send Jack Kirby a much fucking bigger one while we’re at it.

I don’t know, is it partly an American thing? I mean, there are arseholes the world over, but it seems to me, at least in this late stage of capitalism, to be a distinctively American kind of arsehole who will defend to the death the right of Goliath to beat the shit out of David as long as there’s a buck in it and no laws are broken and besides he’s got a goddamn sling why doesn’t he defend himself for Yahweh’s sake?

It makes me wonder: in the world of The Simpsons are there bloggers who pride themselves on being all hard-headed and tough-minded and realistic, able to cut through all the the namby-pamby, sheltered-workshop hand-wringing of the Lennys and Carls of the world? Guys who write long blog posts and message-board comments about how of course it’s perfectly morally acceptable for Mr Burns to build a giant shield to block the sun from falling on Springfield ever again, or to flay the cute widdle puppies of Santa’s Little Helper so he can make a vest out of their skins?

No one put a gun to your head and made you live under Mr Burns’ giant sun-shield. You knew what you were getting yourself in for when you were born in Springfield

Do they write paragraph after paragraph justifying Mr Burns’ decision to dump extremely hazardous toxic waste in the grounds of Springfield Elementary on the rationale that, hey, he’s the one who’s undertaken all the risk of actually putting the waste into barrels and having it driven to the school, so he’s morally entitled to a fair return on his investment? Why do Lenny and Carl hate America? Class warfare! Job-creators! Work-for-hire! Sign the back of this cheque to get paid and thereby validate our legally dubious claims of ownership!

Who am I kidding? Of course there would be people like that.

In the world of The Simpsons, however, the plebs sometimes riot in the face of injustice. Actually, they’ll riot at the drop of a hat, but sometimes it happens to be a hat of injustice, and so they’re kind of rioting in the face of injustice, a face made of hats. Hm, I kind of lost a grip on my metaphors there, but you get my point.

It’s time for a motherfucking riot.

Love in the time of zombies

March 27, 2007

So it turns out that my real work is more important than this blog.

But not to worry, internetters! I still love you–here’s a review to prove it.

Even if it’s only nominally a review of the book it’s supposed to be about.

***

The living and the dead, Jason. Fantagraphics, 2006. $9.95, 48 pages.

Everybody knows the story of how Sigmund Freud was asked about the deep psychological meaning of his (ultimately fatal) smoking habit. The story goes that Freud replied: “sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar”.*

What everybody doesn’t know is what Freud went on to say: “But a zombie is never just a zombie”.

For once, Freud was right. The horror genre as a whole is rife with symbolic subtext, but it’s never rifer than in the disreputable subgenre of zombie fiction. Zombies aren’t just shambling living dead monstrosities in search of the nearest brain to chomp on. They can also, like, mean stuff too.

And they can mean a lot of different stuff. Zombies are symbolic chameleons, able take on any number of meanings, depending on the whims of the creator. Nowhere is this symbolic range on clearer display than in Romero’s “Living Dead” series, the closest thing there is to a zombie canon. In Night of the Living Dead, the zombies represent American xenophobia and racism. In Dawn of the Dead, mindless consumerism. And in the most recent entry in the series, Land of the Dead, they represent an oppressed and vengeful underclass.**

This symbolic range has made the humble zombie a versatile monster, more so than other creatures tied to more specific meanings. Given their range, it was not terribly surprising when, a year or two ago, zombies become the hot new thing in comic books. For a while it seemed like you couldn’t pick up a funnybook without tripping over a zombie. Zombie horror! Zombie comedy! Zombie romance! Zombie yaoi!

Okay, I made that last one up.***

Two things drove this fad: the then-recent appearance of a couple of popular zombie movies; and the growing popularity of The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman’s obnoxious right-wing fantasy cunningly disguised as a comic about post-apocalyptic zombie survival horror. But all things come to an end, and the surest sign that this particular trend was on its last, rotten legs was the appearance in early 2006 of the mini-series Marvel Zombies. Hardcore fanservice, this series featured Marvel’s stable of beloved underwearmen (like Spider-Man and Captain America) turned into, you guessed it, ravenous, slavering zombies.

A few things worth noting about this mini-series. Back in the day, “Marvel zombie” was a derogatory term for folks who would only buy comics published by Marvel, no matter how bad they were compared with books from other publishers. No doubt the creators behind Marvel Zombies (including Mr Kirkman again) thought it very “ironic” to turn this term of abuse into the punning premise of a series. As identity theorists might say, they’d reclaimed the term “Marvel zombie” into a badge of pride.

But it’s doubtful the creators saw the deeper irony inherent in the very premise of that series: a stable of once colourful characters, now turned into an undead mockery of their former selves, forced to feed insatiably upon one another in a nihilistic spectacle of violence. They might as well have published a series called Flogging the Dead Horse, featuring unspeakable things done to a horse called Ditkirby.

The second thing to note about the Marvel Zombies series? If perennially late to the party Marvel was doing zombies, then the zombie fad was officially over.****

So what better time than now for Norwegian alternative cartoonist Jason to release a zombie comedy/romance?

But then, Jason has long pursued his creative muse in some unlikely directions. For those unfamiliar with his schtick, all of Jason’s work features anthropomorphic critters drawn like hipster rock kids, i.e. skinny and morose. His short graphic albums, mostly in black and white, put these scrawny creatures through a variety of genre paces: Hey, Wait…, the work that introduced him to English audiences (which many consider his best work), was a poignant slice-of-life look at childhood memory and getting old. The Iron Wagon adapted a mystery novel. The Left Bank Gang was a heist-gone-wrong story featuring James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald (as “funny animals”). You Can’t Get There From Here was a romantic comedy about the cast of Bride of Frankenstein.

Jason’s style is often described as deadpan which is, if anything, a dramatic understatement. His gawky, inhuman characters and prosaic, even mundane framing tend to leech his stories of almost any affect, like an Uncle Scrooge story drawn by an autistic savant. In The Living and the Dead, Jason quite effectively uses these distancing techniques for laughs.

Plot: boy meets girl, girl is street-walker, boy saves enough money to buy a night with her, meanwhile a meteor lands, zombies appear and spread like a plague, boy and girl must fight to survive. In most hands, this would be lurid, pulse-pounding stuff, but Jason plays it as deadpan slapstick visual comedy. Hence we get scenes like the following: the hero fights his zombiefied boss, sticks a knife in his chest, then looks at him still standing there, leaves and comes back with a big machete. Or the Keystone Kops bit with a zombie police officer. Or the throw-away baby-eating joke.

It’s okay, see, because they’re only funny animals! Besides, the protagonists take it all in their stride. In fact, Jason’s characters are uniquely well-placed to survive the apocalypse. The devil himself could appear on the page, rape a thousand schoolchildren and destroy the universe. At most, Jason’s characters might show a few flying sweat beads in alarm; the final panel would matter-of-factly show the earth exploding, seen from outer space. Dealing with a horde of zombies out for their flesh? Child’s play.

Except for a handful of sound effects and half a dozen panels of dialogue (presented as silent film intertitles), the book is completely silent. Luckily, Jason’s clear, minimalist line and straightforward design are more than strong enough to carry a story on their own.

So if a zombie is never just a zombie, what are the zombies in The Living and The Dead? It’s hard to say too much without giving away the (oddly sweet) ending, but I’d say they represent the creeping conformity of middle age.

That, plus an excuse for some flesh-eating gags.

Recommended? Jason’s style is increasingly looking like a limitation, but it works well here. A amusing bit of light entertainment.

IYL: Zombies, silent film comedies, macabre humour/adventure cartoonists like Gorey, Addams or Sala.

* The story is probably apocryphal, which is quite apt for Freud.

** Yeah, I haven’t seen Day of the Dead, but I guess the zombies there symbolise Wall Street brokers and faulty cuisinarts, or something.

*** And a google image search gives me nothing. But the Combinatorial Law of Fetishes predicts that somewhere out there, someone has a jones for zombie yaoi.

**** That said, I would have eaten that shit right up when I was eleven years old. Zombie Spider-Man versus, I don’t know, zombie Hypno-Hustler? Sign me up!