Monday, January 11, 2010

RIP Art Clokey, creator of Gumby.

Today David Mazzuchelli's Asterios Polyp showed up at the Baltimore Public Library and I was able to read it. Normally I try to avoid writing about things other people have already discussed at length, and that book's been talked over by pretty much everyone except for the artist himself. It's incredible for its control over various drawing styles and color use. Of all the masterpieces of graphic novels of the past decade, this is the book that is probably the best-looking, all the way through, in its sense of design. It's also the most thematically thought-through. I could run through it all right now. It's all been discussed, and it's pretty much all readily apparent when you read the thing. It's an approachable comic, if you're keyed into its concerns of art-making. It's a very "comics" comic, in terms of how important it is that you read it visually, but there's enough indicators in the actual prose on page to make it clear that's how it's supposed to be to those not necessarily initiated, like mainstream literary critics. It's a game-changer, a standards-raiser for American comics, to be certain. I look forward to seeing it be processed and moved past by others. It's moving and charming in the midst of all else. It's not pretentious, I don't think, despite the way all it's themes are mirrored and repeated on so many levels- I think the word people are looking for is "baroque."

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Shaky Kane's A-Men, the single issue collecting work from Deadline magazine which showed up at Atomic Books a few days ago. This comic is super-dense with references, but they're never explained as such, and there is none of the thought-out doubling found in Mazzuchelli- instead, it's this intuitive procession of free-association, that's not "moving" so much as it is "interesting" as a document of an artist expelling things from his mind. Like, the comic is called "A-Men" as a riff on religion and superhero comics, and while the whole thing is drawn in a Jack Kirby style the actual comic most evoked is Judge Dredd. It's about religion as fascism in some kind of British sense. There are all sorts of other references that aren't as important to "decoding meaning" so much as enforcing what's there. The plotting is super non-linear, and the conclusion anti-climactic. Plus there's two one-page things about Elvis thrown in, and other separate pages with their own various design approaches. I liked it, it's well-drawn and bonkers in the comic book format I respond favorably to. It's inarticulate in a way that seems like it corresponds to the amount of vision at hand. It's not a thing to be "processed" and then built on, the way I read modern comics, it's a weird early nineties cul de sac of cultural processing as an end in itself, it's own meager reward.

If you, like me, saw that Art Clokey had died and thought about Paper Rad, then I guess you understand appropriation as a means of understanding. That lesson is based on the symbols being dealt with- that's why there isn't "continuity" between Shaky Kane and Ben Jones. These are people who don't make work as a closed-circuit, they're dealing in a bigger pond, and ponds are not a stream flowing through time the way that influence works. Imagine reading that strip from Kramers Ergot 6 about Seinfeld and Smog in 2027, trying to know the foreign tongue of the past. This could be why Ben Jones is describing his new work in the context of Yuichi Yokoyama. Of course, Ben's more influential than Shaky Kane ever was. It's 2010 and the future is hard to understand, with our best chance at knowing the present being to think of it as a sum of the past's collection of dead-end narratives.

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