Friday, June 26, 2009

The new issue of Jordan Crane's comic book, Uptight 3, is not very good. One story, the first part of a serial called "Vicissitude," works out a new art style that stands as a development from stories in the last Uptight. In it, Crane's printer's training gets worked into black and white, with greytones. It looks really well-designed, and there's a break from the standard grid pacing I've seen in all of his comics. But: It's called "Vicissitude." Story-wise, it's in really well-travelled territory, about people in their twenties, committing infidelities. It's the sort of thing that would be embraced by a "graphic novel" audience, theoretically, upon completion, if it went anywhere. There's no guarantees it's going to go anywhere. And I really don't understand why this is the sort of comic you would serialize. There's no real intrigue to get a reader to read a future installment. Really, none, besides seeing Crane work in this style more. Granted, the style looks great- I will single out the panels featuring sex scenes and raccoons, but this is pretty dull stuff. I guess it's sort of standard for alternative comics of this type to serialize stories like this one, but maybe that's why the format is dead.

The comic also reads really fast, partly because of the punctuation-less dialogue. It works in Ben Jones comics, (including Cold Heat) and Achewood, because it's kind of inherently funny, but I think it speeds up the pacing: Like the panel is only the length of someone saying something, caught between breaths, and doesn't include the pause that follows a period. The only thing to slow you down is looking at the design work, but that's going to get you looking at it in the store, or looking back to it after an initial read. Maybe it'll be good when completed, but holy shit do I ever not want a comic called Vicissitude on my shelf.

The second story is for kids! And it's pretty much unreadable. Drawn in this light and feathery style, displaying pretty active detailed backgrounds. It's a sequel to The Clouds Above, but that comic was done in color- And looked gorgeous, with color to determine composition and delineate space. It was also printed at a panel a page, which made the pages not be overworked, as well as slowing down the speed with which it was read. Why is this sequel in a black and white comic? I understand Jordan wanting to do this kind of comic book format, but Eightball had stuff printed in color when it needed to be.

There's no economy for that, so do a comic that works in black and white. Vicissitude, art-wise, works in black and white. Ideally, the whole comic would work like that. But then, if the comic was just Vicissitude, it would be an issue of Optic Nerve, and people hate that comic these days.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I haven't seen much talk about this news of Sammy Harkham editing a Simpsons Treehouse Of Horror special- if Ben Parrish hadn't e-mailed it to me I wouldn't have really known about it- but I am really excited about it. A collaboration between Kevin Huizenga and Matthew Thurber would never seem like a good idea except in this specific context, where it shines brilliantly. I really love the fact whenever mainstream companies give this venue to more idiosyncratic artists- in this case it'll end up being one of the cheapest places to find work by these people. This is the comic I am most looking forward to, until that Brendan McCarthy Dr. Strange thing gets solicited.

The news of Will Sweeney being in the comic is exciting, also, as he just made one of the best animated music videos I've seen in some time. And his actual comics won't be readily available cheaply until Picturebox does that Tales From Greenfuzz collection. Will Sweeney, I believe, is also a member of the band Zongamin.

Or wait, this new Jacob Ciocci video I just saw is pretty good. I really think that Jacob is underrated as a cartoonist, by the way- His videos are widely-acclaimed, but I think his approach to comics is pretty cool, and... his part of the Paper Rad Kramers Ergot 6 piece was edited out of the Ware anthology, despite being the climax. It seems like people maybe view it as hippie stuff, dismissively, in contrast to the gags of Ben Jones which are more relatable to humor comics traditions. But his style looks great, even in black and white, like in the last issue of Paper Rodeo: the way there's no borders, how it just streams and approaches collage seems pretty difficult, but it reads great. It looks related to the collages he does, but it's narrative enough that when you read it it feels really free, and melty, and sort of pushes forth this idea of "letting go" which the characters espouse. I like how there's sort of a narrative, or sense of forward motion, in this video too, and it's likewise abstracted.

While I'm linking to videos, here is a USAISAMONSTER video made by Imaginary Company, featuring some limited animation of Kevin Hooyman drawings. Jacob has also done Flash animation for Imaginary Company. And Matthew made a totem pole for the final USAISAMONSTER show in New York City a few months ago. That brings this post full circle.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

This weekend, in Baltimore, there was a festival of ten-minute plays. There were around twelve plays, around that length, for a bill of entertainment running around two hours. The work was, on the whole, pretty strong, with only one or two pieces that had one anticipating the end to their brief running time. A lot of people I don't associate with strong work really excelled, doing work that was darker than the more frivolous work they usually produce: A near-twenty-minute-monologue, about the inevitability of human extinction due to exponential population growth, was written by a guy who largely makes puppet-show music videos for self-consciously "fun" bands. Dina Kelberman did a pretty piece that ran through her normal themes, but for a more sustained length than usual, and with more visual panache. One actor involved said that the whole festival felt like it marked a highwater point for a certain set of Baltimore energies.

But the two threads, running through the majority of plays, from a variety of different playwrights- (although pretty much all would be in their mid-to-late-twenties) were the apocalypse, and characters not doing what to do in their lives. "The apocalypse" is a broad term, and one some involved would question- one playwright, Evan Moritz, described his piece as being about "the housing collapse," although it starred two characters scrounging for food. Others were more blatant than such ambiguities. Other plays were about apathy, or inability to make decisions, which, when taken in conjunction with the apocalypse thing, paints a pretty bleak picture of where the Baltimore mindset is at.

What's funny is I walked away from the festival going "OK: Don't write about the apocalypse anymore," despite the fact that, in embracing such darkness in material, the artists represented in the festival turned out some of the best, most mature work I've seen from them. And then, with that resolution in mind, I myself no longer knew what to do, what to discuss.

Because talking about such things has produced some phenomenal work, particularly in this decade. Kevin Huizenga has ruminated on total collapse from a number of different angles. The book I'm reading right now, Margaret Atwood's Oryx And Crake, is from still another angle, and she has other books in her bibliography also working as investigations of such territory. In some ways, this post is a follow-up to my last post, about the feelings caused by reading The Men Who Stare At Goats the same day I saw Up, and the fun-romp nature of the latter, but Up is Pixar's follow-up to the artistic high point of Wall-E.

And then, in the middle of all these thoughts, I stumbled across this horrible thing: A song called "Making Love," designed to explain to children why they shouldn't be scared by the sounds coming from their parents bedroom. It's horrifying, nauseating, and so aesthetically revolting that I am made to bandy about the term "pure evil." I recommend clicking on that link, to experience the horror.

So I called up my good friend Alex Tripp, to tell him about that song, and discuss the movie Up. In the course of that phone call, he informed me of something I hadn't heard about: Robert Zemeckis' plans to make a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, to be done entirely in 3-D CGI motion capture- Along the lines of his Polar Express or Beowulf. This pretty much made my head spin, giving me something I couldn't wrap my mind around: A movie that would so fully miss the appeal of seeing humans and cartoons interact with each other, because all would be animated. Another big chunk of the appeal of Roger Rabbit was the way cartoon characters associated with different animation studios/corporate monoliths interacted, but I don't think there's any chance of that being recreated, let alone with the new era of CGI characters sprouted from Dreamworks and Pixar.

Basically: These were ideas I couldn't understand, that seemed so wrong on the face of it that some neuron shouted "EVIL" and "THE END OF ALL THINGS." That I really wanted to talk about, but couldn't, because I'd sought to remove such end-times terms from my artistic vocabulary.

The only solace to be found, really, is in craft: If seeing things so disagreeable makes me feel that way, then the only response left would be to make things more aesthetically pleasurable. I was already thinking about such things: I haven't made a video in a year, and feel the urge to do so, with these novels done, and then I found this blog which made me realize how good even crappy movies can look, in a way that made me want to venture towards it.

But that's still not really having anything to say, just realizing that I would want to execute it on a very high level. That's barely a thought at all, and I'm left again thinking of how I don't know what to do. An existential crisis brought on by a song called "Making Love," and the idea of a sequel to Roger Rabbit.

The only inspiring thing is this Lazy Magnet box set. Lazy Magnet, Jeremy Harris of Providence, made one amazing record, Is Music Even Good, that Corleone put out. But he's also made a ton of CD-Rs and self-released cassettes, and he just put out a box set, collecting much of that material made from 2004-2009, with liner notes by him with an intro by CF. It's pretty inspiring, on the whole. It's not as singular an achievement as his actual record is, but it's a different kind of achievement, a document of a restless creative force. In the liner notes he highlights a specific song, "Species Wide Mass Suicide" (which appears on the Corleone release) as being one of the best songs he's ever written. I will refrain from quoting the lyrics to simply state that it feels the pressure to create, hard, and that song is indeed a high point of a record I think is an actual masterpiece.