Monday, September 14, 2009

After being disappointed in the TV miniseries The Corner, I held off on my plans to get into Homicide: Life On The Streets. Now, that The Wire is complete, and I live in Baltimore, and the public library seems to have some discs inconsistently in stock, I gave it a go. It has a distinct set of charms- so far unreliant on concepts of "grit," instead moving quickly from scene to scene, with dialogue that feels invested in poetry, and a romantic attitude that's missing in not just The Wire, but Law & Order as well, with these being the two shows I'm most reminded of.

(On Homicide the police spend a great deal of time eating crabs, in a way that seems almost labored now, but is that because 16 years ago, there were more crabs in the bay, and there status as working-class food actually made sense?)

Maybe the attitude comes from Homicide's emphasis on characters, giving actors room to shine with dialogue- The Wire is interested in organization as organism, and while the characters ended up incredibly fleshed-out over time, here in the first episodes the characters are being given plenty of room to breathe, being introduced almost self-consciously, introducing their quirks and being viewed, by those around them, as these distinct individuals, beloved for their strangeness, whereas The Wire's world of bureaucracy would crush such quirks, enraged. Law & Order is given over to procedure and scandal, and while there Richard Belzer plays the same character, he isn't given as much to do.

But I'm only three episodes in, and I'm not really planning on going the distance. (Seven seasons! They make that many for the money syndication allows, why isn't this on all the time? I feel the same way about Newsradio, and now, King Of The Hill.)

On a completely separate note, there are two new single-issue comics worthy of note. The first is the new issue of Matt Thurber's 1-800-Mice, which I've gone on about in the past. Picturebox pulled the plug on serialization after the first two issues, and Matthew self-published (I believe) a thousand copies by himself, to get him to finish the story for the eventual book publication. The new issue is four bucks, and is oversized, bigger than the Picturebox-published issues, bigger than standard-comic size. It looks great. I picked it up at the new gallery, Open Space, run by some of the Closed Caption Comics kids, who are really excited to have Thurber as one of the artists in their first show. (Which looks great.)

The other comic is issue one of Brandon Graham's King City- Which, funnily enough, is in a deeply comparable boat. Tokyopop put out a graphic novel of the first half of the story, then decided not to publish the second half, already mostly drawn. So, Image is republishing the Tokyopop book as single issues, at larger than comic size, bigger than the original publication size. Again, it looks great. When the serialized publication is done, the new material will begin with issue 7.

What's funny is that most comic shops probably won't have both comics on sale within them, and there's the possibility you wouldn't even find these books at the same convention, since their cartoonists move in such different circles. But they're pretty similar comics in a lot of ways: Well-drawn, underground-influenced weird fantasy comics out of step with general trends. King City is the one closer to the mainstream, 1-800-Mice is a little better. But King City is nowhere near bad. When I say one is better, I mean that it is better enough to make up for the price difference: King City 1 is $3 for 32 pages, 1-800-Mice 3 is $4 for 24. King City uses its fantasy elements to tell stories about young people's relationships without getting boring, 1-800-Mice uses its to talk about ecology and society without becoming preachy. It's that distinction in their interests that makes the one book the more mainstream (people care about relationships) while the other is more interesting to me (there's a larger world outside that). But both, like Homicide, or The Wire, are totally invested in their fictional worlds and exploring them with as much detail as they can. Also, both books have these amazing VOICES to them. Graham deals in puns and wordplay while Thurber's prose puts words against each other in this interesting way. The voice, also made manifest in the drawing style, puts together these elements in this way that then drives the narrative to the places it goes. It's weird, and it's funny, and there's really nothing in pure prose that does what the dialogue in these comics do, unencumbered by explanation. Both of them are pretty much as right on as comics get- both for the way they tell stories that are visually interesting and meaningful to their cartoonists, and for the format they tell them in (bigger-than-average single issue comics), both of which are decisions which put them out of step with the larger comics culture which somehow doesn't value what these dudes do. Not like they would complain- The back cover of King City discourages whiners, and Matt's attitude isn't suited towards that sort of thing. If you get the chance to support them, do it.


laura said...

The thing about "Homicide" that you like, with its fleshed out characters, gets a little out of control as the seasons progress and a mini soap opera is revealed.

It's a good show, though, and you should watch all the DVD's because it will never have a life in reruns. I'm actually surprised it even made it to DVD...or that I was not the only person who had ever seen an episode.

And I thought the crab was a nod to Baltimore and its crab cakes. A cliche like coffee in Seattle.

Brian said...

I watched the first episode of season six- Over the years the show became a lot slicker, and the ugly people were fired, and it's not really as interesting.

laura said...

....that's when a turn to British television is in order, when the lack of ugly people in our entertainment gets ya down.