I've been thinking about moving away from the current template of this blog, as a place for my attempts to write criticism, in favor of a series of Q+A formatted interviews. In my mind, transcribing conversations with cartoonist pals would seem the best compromise between my imagined readerships, one-half comics-interested folk and one-half people I've encountered in physical space aiming to keep in touch. The thing that might serve as a deterrent is how, even if I were to just talk to people I talk to regularly, the presence of a tape recorder could make them think in terms of "talking to the press" and the whole endeavor sabotaged.
For now, though, here are brief reviews of comics I've enjoyed recently.
Hard Boiled, by Frank Miller and Geoff Darrow. The themes in this comic are really similar to those found within Grant Morrison and Chris Weston's The Filth, but this is much better. It's like the film version of that as The Filth attempting to be literature, which it turns out makes for much better comics. Formally, in its various approaches to action, it's like the Morrison/Quitely comic We3. Like, almost exactly- similar lengths overall, operating like movies but oriented towards a different kind of editing and drawing. Both have art influenced by Moebius but take it further into anatomical interest. Again, Geoff Darrow is better. (And this comic came out over a decade before We3.) Time gets broken down in a million different ways, all depictions of action, all action driving home this vision of humans as meat, this whole sweaty mess of life viewed on the picture-plane in perfect focus. All the flesh ripples and all the surfaces are cracked. Walls are a thing to write graffiti upon. In most ways this is the coolest thing you can do.
Wally Gropius, by Tim Hensley. This is the nerdiest thing you can do, like anagrams and math club. But the language being investigated is comics- This is drawn sort of to resemble 1960s "teen" humor comics, but in this bizarre way- almost no panel makes a point of distinguishing between ground and wall, everything just sort of hangs in space. Sometimes there are spots that employ perspective and their unexpected angularity is really stunning, despite the air of genericism at all times. Wally Gropius, the character, is a teen millionaire, but the comic takes the fact that comics are a commercial art as point number 1 to investigate commerce and wealth by extension- A large amount of the sound effects are allusions to currency or the rich. I get lost as to working out what the book's conclusion means thematically as an extension of what came before it. While the story ends, capitalism doesn't, the book persists on the shelf, timelessly, the same way that a new Richie Rich could be on the stands on the month. The ending is climactic for whatever it means, like the Bush administration winding down. Super-weird, totally compelling.
Lose 1 and 2, by Michael Deforge. These blew me away, as a one-two punch. The first one has this cover that's a self-portrait of the artist, covered in ink, sort of like the Paul Pope art book, but here it's a ton of cartoony deforming melty details. The comic inside is total anxiety infiltrated by having read a ton of comics- there's fun gags about dogs in college, and the Justice League paying for Green Lantern to go to art school, but the gist of it is this horror-comic trip to cartoon hell. It's kind of perfect as a comic book, a one-shot, which is what I first thought it would be upon it's release, and then the second issue comes out (WAY FASTER THAN THE SECOND ISSUE OF ANY ALTERNATIVE COMIC BOOK WORKING THIS FORMAT IN YEARS - for all the talk about how Crickets was trying to bring back the format, it fucked up by not having another issue come out for ages) and it actually is a semi-straightforward horror comic. I love the paper it's printed on, the way the black ink sticks to it- it's like the issues of Charles Burns' Black Hole, but made more appropriate here by the invocation of cartoon characters rather than just EC Comics. The second issue seems sort of like an Al Columbia or Renee French thing. I like this more than Al Columbia though, although part of that is the excitement of "whoa, this dude reads all the comics" recognition. I imagine that most of the people who would read the first issue are people who would recognize it and be creeped out by it, once they get past the level of "Is this irony? How comfortable to I feel about this person appropriating all the stuff he is?" It's more loaded than Paper Rad because I respect Peanuts and Bullwinkle way more than I respect Garfield, but I came to the conclusion to let it go and trust the artist. Garfield is used by Paper Rad because it's a ubiquitous thing in the culture, and Peanuts is used because it's a specific thing in the mind of a certain kind of comics nerd- using it makes you feel more uncomfortable because it's closer to home, but in a horror story discomfort is what's aimed for. I just listened to an interview where he said that two heroes/influences were Saul Steinberg and Richard Corben. Those are two completely different artists and it didn't feel like picking two opposite ends of the spectrum arbitrarily, so much as a useful hint at what's going on here. I hope he keeps making comics, because, while this is fully-realized work (especially for a dude that's twenty-two) I really want it to end up that he's actually going somewhere with this- because the first issue is such an all-encompassing, all-embracing piece of work, and then the second issue focuses on one particular thing. (In that interview he said he'd like to do an issue a year, which bummed me out as being kind of a noncommittal cop-out, although it's more realistic than saying two a year, which is what I would push for.)