Sunday, July 22, 2012

- – - P.S.: I Wrote This on a Self-Destructing Memo

Shawn Starr / don’t need no hug 

———————-Batman: Earth 1 ———————-

The point of the Earth One line of OGN’s is to capture the proverbial “new reader” that never seems to appear. My guess as to why, is that comics are by and large expensive and shitty. Fifty Shades of Grey is $10 and, although poorly written, will at least make your mother and sister cum; Batman: Earth One is $24 and will just make you feel empty inside. Batman has a strict no cum policy in place. AND HE IS THE LAW!

The only moment of emotion felt in Earth One is when Batman sweeps Alfred’s leg like Johnny Lawrence in Karate Kid and showed that cripple son of a bitch who’s the boss. Because in that moment Alfred (and you, my dear reader) know Bats is really ready for the mean streets of Gotham, because only Batman is so cold that he’d knock the prosthetic limb off of the only man who was ever there for him. He took lassie out behind the shed and put a .22 square between his eyes and became a man in that single moment, because that’s how you become a man, by killing the things you love. And Geoff Johns kills everything he loves. Because he is a man. And so is Batman.

—————–Batman #11——————–

The joke was there was no joke.

——————Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #6————–

No review, just this.

———————-Thickness #3 ———————-

You ever see anal beads shoved up a man’s urethra? If not email me, I got pics for you.

———————- Walking Dead #100——————-

This is going to be the highest selling comic of the year, maybe the decade, and it seems set out to prove to everyone that Marvel and DC do not have a monopoly on shitty comics.

It takes a cynical man to write the same comic he did 55 issues ago and think no one will pick up on it, and I guess in between screwing his co-creators out of royalties so he can buy more KFC grease to rub on himself, Kirkman got his cynicism down. Joey (Alusiolioe) posits that Kirkman has a random plot generator, i posit that he has a 3 sided dice with maim, kill, copy plot of -50 issues ago that he rolls each arc to determine the fate of his characters; and copy takes up 47 of the 52 sides of the die.

———————–Spider-Men #3————————-

The following is an excerpt from the pitch meeting for Spider-Men:

Marvel: “Come on baby, i thought we had something special here, it’ll be quick, you won’t feel a thing.”

Bendis: “I’m not sure… i don’t feel comfortable about it…”

Marvel: “Baby, don’t you love me?”

Bendis: “Yeah, but…”

Marvel: “Then you’ll let me…”

Bendis: “I don’t know…”

Marvel: “Baby…”

Bendis: “I just don’t know… will it hurt?”

Marvel: “Will it hurt?”

Bendis: “Yeah, will it?”

Marvel:"I would never do anything to hurt you. Never.”

Bendis:"Are you sure?"


Bendis: “Ok. I guess”

Marvel: "Are you sure?"

Bendis: "Yeah, I'm sure"

Marvel: “I love you”

Bendis: “I love you to”


The primary obstacle in comics, for the artist, is to convey motion. Unable to show every action, like animation, artists need to pick out the major beats and convince the reader the character got from one point to another. All in the span of a single gutter. It’s a difficult task, and the over-rendered nature of mainstream comics has made it all the more so. Readers expect splash pages and group shots, but inherent in this is a reduction in the spontaneity of the artists line work: when every line is pre-planned and pre-arranged; before ever being put to paper the image just sits there like a stiff corpse. There’s a reason why Kirby’s panels jump off the page, and it’s not because he’s laboring over each panel.
One of those silly philosophical questions you’re asked as a child is “if a tree falls in the woods, does it make any noise?”. The actual answer is no, since sound requires a human (or “living” entity) to register the motion taking place. It is because of this fact that sound in comics is impossible, but for it to even be a possibility it requires the artist to provide the semblance of motion on the page. Which far to many fail to do.

It is for this fact that the use of sound effects is so widespread in comics, they are used as a way to hedge one’s bets against the incompetence of so many artists and show explicitly whats occurring on panel. Where the purple prose of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing once secured this fact, writers and editors are now stripped down to this single tool. Which they use as subtlety as Snoop Dog’s drug advocacy. This in turn ruins the artwork of competent artists by adding foreign objects into the composition and making each element unbalanced.

There’s no real point to this , besides that you shouldn’t ruin Jerome Opena’s art with sound effects to reinforce the point that he did in fact illustrate someone getting stabbed, but maybe it’s OK on a Billy Tan page.

———————-MORE OF AN ASIDE: Pop that Pussy Patrol =====================

I went to the beach this week; this is what I learn’t:

Mandy is supposedly a bitch.

Some girl within earshot had sand in her crotch.

The proper ratio of rum to cola, in a beach setting, is one liter to one pint.

Sand crotch girl doesn’t remember where she got all her bruises from… she drinks a lot.

All I learn’t about beach life from 1950′s movies was a lie. There was in fact, no beach battles, nor was there a clam shack rock band playing music for all the beach babes to bop the night away at.

I am not a fun beach companion.

——————————-BloodStrike #1———————-
RUBBING THE BLOOD is no longer a provided service. I demand a refund.

——————————- LINK DUMP—————-

This was awesome

Additionally Sean Collins has taken up Tom Spurgeon’s call to talk about Love and Rockets during Comic Con pretty seriously. You can read some of his reviews and essays here . I do have to say that Jaime's Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 story was easily the greatest ending to a comic ever published. I read both Locas omnibuses over two amazing months last year and when you reach the final pages of Love Bunglers its truly a transcendent experience. Jaime Hernandez is one of the mediums greatest artists and produced one of the decade’s defining stories, his absence from both the Harveys and Eisner’s is a tragedy.

Chad Nevetts posts on Avengers vs X-men are so much more than that shitty comic ever deserved.

For all you’re League of Extraordinary Gentlemen news may I suggest The Mindless Ones and Comic Books ARE BURNING IN HELL

Tucker Stones 10 most anticipated comics of the year are pretty spot on. Although he did neglect those EC archives Fantagraphics are doing and the new Johnny Negron book from Picture Box Negron. But you know, opinions are opinions.

Mickey Zacchilli is selling original artwork from her Thickness strip. (

The Chemical Box put up a new podcast, I attempted to record an episode with them earlier this year, but it was 7 hours long and unusable. This one is much better. (

MOCCA died and no one should give a fuck.

———– Digression #8———–

No Black Kiss review, just more Chaykin. See Black Kiss is old and therefore irrelevant. Cheer up
though, I’ve got seven inches of natural blonde on retainer for tonight.

= ==== Random Haunts, Random Digs, Random So Called Lives+++++++++++

The Scatology of Freud. –       #PossibleBandNames
 The Scatology of Freud –       #MyNewComic
  The Scatology of Freud –      #MyNewS&MClub
   The Scatology of Freud –     #MyGraduateThesis
    The Scatology of Freud –    #NotFunnyAnymore
     The Scatology of Freud –   #GrandmasFavoriteBook

Well, I got fired from the column this week, see you never.

- – - exit

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Left Me Wanting More Reads


Every time I read a Brandon Graham comic all I want to do is get on the subway, put Blueprint (KRS-One not Jay-Z) on repeat and read a stack of quarter bin comics. This collection is no different.

Escalator collects Brandon Graham's early short stories, along with some nice commentary on each stories genesis. What I always liked about these types of collections is seeing how a creator got from point A to point B (or C, D, E, F, G...). Looking at Adrian Tomine's 32 Stories collection and seeing him change so dramatically over just a few issues of Optic Nerve is amazing, especially knowing where he ultimately ended up. Grahams progression isn't as dramatic as Tomine's though, Grahams style is firmly cemented in these early stories, just less refined than it is today. His panels become busy at points, overly angular (look at his self-depiction in I Owe You compared to now) and his inking is looser, but his basic style is there.

Sugarless Candy is the first story that feels like a Graham comic, its just a guy talking to his girlfriend and looking over the cityscape before she gets on a plane for home. Graham's ability to forge an immediate connect between his characters and the reader is astonishing, even in his creative infancy within three panels he makes you identify with each character in the story in a way i still don't connect with any "mainstream" creation; curled feet peeking out of a blanket, sock puppets, old sugar free candy, Indian headdress from old memories box. These little things craft a  connection that you buy wholeheartedly in mere panels, where others take tomes. 

There's also some nice forays into auto-bio with True Crime and I Owe You, along with a funny two pager about starring at girls asses when they walk by. 

The final story collected is an early installment of Multiple Warheads which is the most accomplished (and "newest") entry in the collection. His art and writing are fully formed in this short, his hyper-detailed and yet open panels , his proclivity for puns, small side-character moments ("The ladies love a field hat") and his need to draw pretty girls with there asses sticking out are all on display here. I'm genuinely excited to see him continue this strip with Image later this year.

From the first page of Escalator to the last, you see Graham grow as an artist and storyteller, infusing his work with elements of Science Fiction, Autobiography, absurdism along with playing around with his story structure and subverting reader expectations. When you put down Escalator its easy to see how he went from this, to King City

Wild Children:

Grant Morrison's Bat-Epic opened with Batman shooting the Joker in the face, a rejection of the chaos that the Joker represented, along with the chaos of his previous comics. Morrison's initial Batman run is a story of structure and stability, wheels within wheels. Wild Children kicks off by shooting Jim Gordan in the fucking face. A direct act of rejection towards Morrison's latter day work as a corporate cog. Wild Children is a shift to the Morison of the early nineties, retro-fitted for the current zestiest. A post-Morrison, per-Morrison, comic for the Facebook Generation.

Unlike The Invisibles though, which existed in a world of Transgender Discotecha’s, Philip K Dick novels and ecstasy, Wild Children exists in the internet era. Mass communication ("For fucks sake. Televised-Youtubed-Casualties") widespread and accepted forms of fetishism ("Want me to Piss on you some more") internet criticism (" 'Sequence is Magic' – Matt Seneca") and self referential entertainment ("The Space-Time Worms in Donnie Darko, the All Now from The Invisibles, the Five Dimensional beings in Neonomicon") rule the day, and are therefore key components to Wild Children, and pop culture at large. When Morrison wrote Kill Your Boyfriend and St. Swithin's Day he was talking about youthful rebellion in the age of the post-60's protest movements, Wild Children approaches them in the post-internet digital revolution, the Anonymous movement, hacktivism, Occupy, Wikileaks.

Its a comic about comics, based on comics about comics, that have been deconstructed for a decade over internet message boards until they became something completely different. I can see readers rolling their eyes at every page, in a couple months i may too, but for right now i am fascinated by the balls behind this thing. It's both new and old, and dying to be ripped apart on 4chan. 

It's a mission statement of whats next, sent from the past to fuck up the present. 

Captain Marvel

There's nothing particularly good or bad about this comic, the script has some bounce to it in the beginning, but that dies a slow cancerous death and descends into exposition and melodrama after page five. The art seems out of place for the most part, its in an inky Rafael Albuquerque style that doesn't work with the script very well. That's not to say it's not good, it's just out of place.

The whole time reading this i was thinking how nice this comic would be if Jamie McKelvie had drawn it and they just cut out the second half and just talked about britpop while at a club full of cute girls. That would have been nice.

What i am getting at is Jamie McKelvie needs to draw more comics about cute girls dancing in clubs.

God i miss Phonogram, when's that coming back? Soon right?

Also mullet.

Fantastic Four 608

This was terrible, but i do want a comic about WW2 Black Panther fighting Japaneses soldiers in a white suit drawn by David Aja now.

Blacksad: A Silent Hell

The only real reason to pick up Blacksad is for the art, and even more specifically for the coloring. Juanjo Guarnido linework is solid with an eye for detail, but his colors are vibrant and lush. That may be why this collection devotes over thirty pages of extra's to his coloring process. His understanding of lighting is probably his most astonishing skill, being able to differentiate between a neon drenched street and a room lit only by candle light, or the shading produced by a tree's canopy, it's awe inspiring.

Juan Diaz Canales scripts are fine, they don't set the world on fire and tend to delve into genre tropes far too often. There are some nice period references and his research shows in the text, but it never really coalesces into something more. Noir and crime stories are always difficult to pull off from a writing point of view, The Third Man isn't remembered for its script but for its atmosphere, but, ultimately, theres just something missing in Canales's script.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Marra Dialogue a.k.a. Bitch Swag

Alec Berry & Shawn Starr / couldn’t come up with a title

Originally published at

Alec Berry: Benjamin Marra is the dude who can’t be told ‘no’ at the moment. The industry, or the side aware of him, has latched onto his work, and no matter what genre, content or heinous thing he draws, the people can’t get enough.

I would place myself in that camp of the faithful. Like most of the industry, I too was unaware of Marra’s comics up until this year, but now after having spent time with them, I find his attitude and passion for creating engrossing, and I feel his comics represent a long forgotten aspect of the medium. Representing, of course, for the betterment of comics.

Marra’s books, while lewd, grotesque and absurd, are keeping this funny book thing on the ground, balancing out the high reaching works of Craig Thompson, or whatever other clone there may be, celebrating some of the roots associated with comics while simply presenting an artist who doesn’t really give a fuck what you think. Marra’s making the shit he wants to see, and from this I feel it’s appropriate we discuss Marra’s work after our previous discussion which pertained to Rob Liefeld. Because Marra, like Liefeld, celebrates the trash entertainment value found in comics, but does so with an energy and charm that cannot be overridden. Yet, as an added bonus, Marra’s comics juxtapose the trash subject matter by presenting astounding craft and draftsmanship, making his books into these bombastic scraps slammed together with staples.

For anyone who spends any time on the comic industry’s side of the internet, this may not be anything new to chat about as Benjamin Marra has become a very well covered, and discussed, cartoonist. You can read just about any interview with the guy and discover what I just wrote, straight from the man himself. But, this aside, he does have a new book out titled Lincoln Washington: Free Man, and I think we would be remiss not to discuss this book because, of all the Marra comics I’ve read, I feel Lincoln Washington is his absolute best. It really brings all the ideas of his work home and houses them under a perfectly illustrated composition.

From the subject matter to the characterization to the humor, this comic performs in every way. And we can’t forget the six panel grids. But, fuck, let me stop. You’re the bigger fan than I. What did you find appealing about Lincoln Washington?

Shawn Starr: I think what makes Marra important is that he makes genuinely fun comics. That seems like an odd statement, but when you examine the landscape of comics in the wake of the 80’s / 90’s intellectual movement (in both art comics via RAW and Art Spiegelman and in the “mainstream” by the likes of Alan Moore and Frank Miller) everything became serious. Too serious. Every comic, from superheroes whose only power was to shoot arrows and look like Robin Hood, to the ‘zine some guy xeroxed on his lunch break about middle-aged samurai kangaroos, was considered the pinnacle of art.

Everything became graphic-novel-this and graphic-novel-that, and comics were thrust into the hands of the mainstream under the guise of “Art”; even the Batman movie was accompanied by a Grant Morrison / Dave McKean “graphic novel” that would grab the attention of none of the moviegoers. Seriously, that book is fucking impenetrable.

Intellectualism is what everybody decided made comics acceptable, I guess. That’s why all those RAW guys live on yachts and pour champagne on bitches all day. Except Spiegelman; he just puts his cigarettes out on their inner-thighs and watches them dance real slow. Real slow. And now no one looks at the kid reading the new issue of Wolverine on the bus weird, because everyone knows how serious Wolverine is. Dude’s got adamantium claws and can’t remember his past. Dostoyevsky, eat your heart out.

Except, none of that’s true.

The problem is that Spiegelman and his disciples looked at EC Comics and MAD Magazine and saw an air of intellectualism in Harvey Kurtzman, and assumed that’s where comics went right, and pumped it up a thousandfold. They abandoned all the horror and humor that made those comics popular for an attempt at respectability. They tried to make comics for the “masses” (those masses being people who hang out at Cambridge coffee houses and try and pick up Grad-Students with an insightful critique of China’s economic development they culled from last year’s New Yorker) and lost what made comics, you know, comics. Liefeld and the Image guys recaptured that to a certain degree, but they were never able to get that underlying intellectualism down. It was a perfect mix, that everyone took the extremes of and lost what made it truly great. (The Wally Wood art didn’t hurt either.)

That air of intellectualism and is an important feature of EC and MAD, no doubt, but its beneath the surface to a large extent, or at least as beneath the surface as a 1950’s comic could be. Kids didn’t read EC and MAD to find out about Cuba’s strategic geo-political value or Soviet Collectivism, they wanted to see poop jokes and ghouls ripping limbs off unsuspecting college students, and Marra perfectly captures that feeling. Gangsta Rap Posse is steeped in the history of Gangsta Rap, but Marra doesn’t allow that to constrain the book. It’s all there if you want it, but the book is first and foremost an exploration of a 12-year old’s perception of NWA and Gangsta Rap. A view warped by the perception that the band itself put forward and the media’s further distortion under Reaganomics skewed morality. He makes comics warped by white suburbia’s fears of the violent, aggressive and subversive extremes of art and culture. Something Robert Crumb would have loved, if he hadn’t turned into a old curmudgeon who yells at his direct (rather than theoretical*) descendants to get off his lawn.

NWA smokes crack, fucks hookers and kills cops. The end. So why not make a comic about that, and not the 10,000th auto-bio comic about how you can’t get laid and no one understands you.
Marra makes fun comics first and foremost. That may be why he can do no wrong (currently), and Lincoln Washington is his best effort yet. It’s the exploitation movie Tarantino wishes he could make (and may now have) done in twenty-three expertly crafted pages. Even his use (along with the current crop of art/alt-comics creators) of the comics pamphlet is revolutionary; a back to basics approach to comic making in the strain of the original EC Comics shock aesthetic, reproduced on the disposable newsprint (which American Psycho used perfectly) that created the ideal of the trash culture of comics. No more multi-arc genre deconstructions based on a Yeats poem the author misunderstood, just single issue fistfights, with a little something more if you want it. Straight up comics.

Even Marra’s books that end with a “to be continued…” read more like a threat than a promise of more to come. Maybe Marra has a Lincoln Washington #2 in mind, but #1 did everything I wanted and more. I’m not sure comics could handle a follow up.

I don’t know. I’ve had enough of intellectualism and pseudo-realism in my comics. They have their place, i just don’t think that place is at the forefront anymore. I just want comics to be comics again, and Marra (and company) captures that aesthetic perfectly.

Also on your point of Marra’s apparent “lewdness” do you actually see his comics as “lewd” or is it his use of violence and sexuality for satirical purposes that causes that feeling? I assume that’s his intent, to create lewd and obscene work, but I don’t think any Marra book is as violent as anything that DC puts out (just look at an issue of Green Lantern and you’ll see a female in far skimpier attire than anything Marra depicts disemboweled for 20 pages at a time) or as sexual. If anything it’s less, since Marra is depicting a slave ripping out his “owners” spine purely for laughs (even the slave-owners rape of Lincoln Washington’s wife, although horrific, is done with the readers knowledge that he’s going to get what’s coming to him sooner rather than later). Maybe the problem is that Marra makes the reader complacent, or even proactive in the violence? I know when I saw what happened to everyone I was gleeful. I literally rushed out to make my brother read it and point out panels to him. While when you read the same thing in a Batman comic you’re kind of disturbed by the whole experience. Batman’s real, or at least his world is portrayed as real, Marra’s is always firmly dealing in the fictional.

AB: While the content plays into the humor or Marra’s fascination with trash entertainment, it is, by nature, still provocative, and I wouldn’t go as far as to say a DC or Marvel comic is worse or just as bad. Maybe in terms of the context, yes, a Marvel or DC can take a lighthearted thing like Green Lantern and pervert it through violence or an overly serious tone, but the violence, by itself, is still technically worse and more explicit in a Marra book. But it can feel lighthearted, as you say, because of association through humor or knowing exactly what you’re reading from the start. Batman going out and raping someone or whatever will come at more of a shock and leave more of an impact (that’s for you, Joey) just because of the expectations placed on a Batman comic. A Ben Marra comic brings with it a whole other bag of expectations. So, to a degree, I can agree with your point.

I’m not trying to demean Marra’s subjects or make these comics out to be offensive. In fact, I find the lewd quality as a definite benefit to the work because I feel it helps accomplish the mission of what Marra’s doing, in that, these are w to people. You should read Gangsta Rap Posse or Night Business alone in your room, and when your mom walks in, tuck it under the bed.. It brings back that idea of hiding shit from your parents. Like, even now in my own apartment, I stack Marra’s stuff underneath other comics because I don’t want someone to walk into my room and get any ideas about the shit I’m into. But again, that’s cool. Like you usually say, “comics as weapons.” Or comics being the poison which ruins your kids. I love that concept or perspective on the medium.

I like your thought on Marra’s violence making a reader more proactive because I do think he uses violence in such a way, as do stories or entertainment of this sort. Especially for this subject matter where good and evil are so black and white (no pun intended). You can’t help but cheer Lincoln Washington on. And that even comes down to the characterization. Washington is such a set-in-stone hero and the Klansmen are such vile pieces of shit. Nothing’s grey, and it completely dodges this current idea of what we see in super hero comics or other stories in general. Every character has turned into a washboard, contemplating life’s big questions before acting. Marra’s characters just do what they do without any further thought. Bad real life practice, great fictional stance.

But as for participating in that violence, or anticipating it, banking on it … I do find that an interesting way to read into people. Trash entertainment, being what it is, speaks to that savage side of us. That side that’s not really concerned about the consequences but just wants bloodshed, tits and hard drugs. You could go into a whole debate about whether it’s a good thing to stir up that side of our psyche or not, but I feel the point is it’s there. We possess such an instinct, and storytelling such as this feeds or at least exercises that shit out in a relatively safe way.

There’s more to say about these types of work than just wish fulfillment or humor. Maybe they help keep us sane?

For Lincoln Washington, it’s about payback. It’s about rubbing shit in the white man’s face as well as confronting some of that white guilt – on top of being about a man ripping another guy’s spine out. And it all sort of satisfies by the end, no matter the reader’s skin color, because you feel in a sense justice has been rightfully served, fictionally. But though fiction, it still hits and means something. The reaction either is one of they got what they deserved, or I, being the white man, totally needed my ass kicked.

Maybe that’s an unnecessary reading, but I like the idea of Marra’s work both being trash as well as well-thought out and intelligent. I feel much of that resides in Lincoln Washington, and it builds a little on what you were saying about the violence inciting a proactive response. The violence has a purpose. Like all the best stories.

How did you feel about the inking style on this book? It sort of reverted back, in a sense, to what he did before Gangsta Rap Posse #2. Does it fit the book for you? I would say so. The bold blacks certainly give the story more of a defined stance, and the inking really helps to depict Washington’s character as this bad ass hero type who appears cut from stone.

SS: He certainly has a lot more spot blacks in Lincoln Washington, a contrast from his last work (Gangsta Rap Posse #2) which was all line work. I’m not sure if it’s a reversion, though. His early inking style is quite heavy handed, while Lincoln Washington’s inking seems like more of a continuation from Gangsta Rap Posse than a reversion. His inking here is more restrained than his previous works, and utilized with greater purpose, something that I wouldn’t generally identify with Marra. By doing away with all the excess inking, Marra seems to have figured out when and where it’s absolutely necessary to the story and leave it out in any other instance.

In Gangsta Rap Posse #2 Marra choose not to distinguish the black cast from the white with any additional shading or color, that probably stems from  trying to keep the colors (black & white) in balance on the page, along with streamlining the process. It works on that project, and there’s a definite improvement in the art between issues #1 and #2, but in Lincoln Washington it needed the blacks to distinguish the character from his surroundings.

Lincoln Washington is the only black character in the book (except for his wife, who appears for a total of three pages), and he’s entering an “alien” and hostile place (Post-Civil War South), so his color has to be at the forefront, requiring a heavy shading/color process to separate him from the white residence. What could be ignored in Gangsta Rap Posse really can’t in Lincoln Washington. Race is a far more prominent detail.

If you look at the first page of Lincoln Washington, the only two objects that are completely black are Lincoln Washington and the title “O’ Sins of Men, What Demon Fathered You” which both distinguishes Lincoln from his surroundings and connects him with the title explicitly, the title both works as a comment on the sins of racism (America’s original sin) and Lincoln Washington, who is a man empowered by the souls of slaves to avenge the wrong doings perpetrated by white slaveholders. The colors are used as a way of separating and defining Lincoln as a character.

I also want to expand on Marra’s use of the six panel grid which you touched on. His layouts are simple, concise, and have a great 1-2 beat, while the nine panel grid always seemed too dense (probably due to its association with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen) and anything less reads too fast (Widescreen comics and their Three/Four panel grid for example are closely associated with decompression). The six panel grid allows Marra to tell a whole story, both between each panel, and over the course of twenty-three pages, without any sense of decompression, or limiting his artwork by confining it in an overly dense panel.

Marra’s ability to keep his pages kinetic has always impressed me, and I think the six panel grid has a lot to do with it. He has a particularly stiff line compared to most artists, which he uses to a great effect in showing his characters body language and adding a subtle hint of contrast between his characters by playing with their bodies “stiffness” and “looseness” on the page. But his line’s stiffness never seems to constrain the action. Everything’s in constant motion on a Marra page, making it seem that each panel is being pushed into the next. I think this is where the grids’ simplicity comes into effect. It allows the action to flow smoothly from one panel to another while still remaining clear and rhythmic, which Marra uses to offset anything static about his line work.

AB: This Matt Seneca interview with Marra is a great read, if you haven’t already.

I’d say you summed it all up nicely, Shawn; therefore, I’m going to let it go at that.

Purchase Lincoln Washington: Free Man here. That is a demand.


*Johnny Ryan and Ben Marra have more in common with Crumb content wise (especially Crumbs early work) than every artist RAW published combined, and yet Crumb identifies with the latter instead of the former. Going so far as to criticize Johnny Ryan for his content. Which always seemed odd from a man who started out drawing a mixture of racist and perverted comics meant to offend squares in San Francisco.

"Filling Words"

So we filed our last Spandexless Reads column this week, you may have missed it due to it being posted at 7pm on a Saturday night over SDCC weekend, i doubt that was intentional, and merely an editorial oversight. I mean who's supposed to know when columns go up? Sure as fuck ain't me.

I liked that final column, Alec writes a nice good bye and keeps things professional. If there's one thing that guy is, its professional. Chad and Rick contributed stellar entries, Joey abstained (or simply stopped caring to contribute, either one is likely), and i wrote a 1,200 word pile of petty bullshit. Because that's who i am.

We were fired because we changed the focus of the column from short snippets on what we were reading (akin to every other site on the internet) into something more focused on long form discussions of creators work, interviews, and essays ranging from Manga's use of violence to european erotica to old Ed Brubaker comics, and that was all very unacceptable. It broached the readers trust, and trust is paramount to everything i guess.

What they objected to was everything that i loved about that column, it was unwieldy, unpredictable and unrelenting. It started out as a derivative thing that aspired to be just that, and evolved into a jam piece that we could all fuck around with each week.

What they saw as us "filling words", i saw as evolving past a stale premise.

But, hey, whatever it's their site. I hear they got a great scoop on some My Little Pony comics. So goodluck to them.

Column highlights (for me):

Alec Berry's essays on The Nightly News and The End of the Fucking World. Those were gangbuster.

Everything Rick Vance wrote, not one dud in the bunch.

Getting an article that discussed wizard throat rape onto Spandexless.

Getting to write in the same column as Chad Nevett, that was a fucking cool.

My and Alec's 8,000 word discussion of Rob Liefelds Youngblood #1. That bordered on hedonistic.

Getting Joey Aulisio to write anything.

Oh and those time's Ben Marra linked to something I wrote and didn't hate it.


Hey, this was under 400 words. I think i got the "being concise" thing down. Can we have our non-paying jobs back now?

No... oh, ok.


Friday, July 6, 2012

spotting deer: a conversation between shawn starr and joey aulisio

Shawn Starr: Michael DeForge straddles the line between the alt-comics premiere horror creator and the next Clowes. His primary book, Lose, is probably the clearest example of this. Lose #2 tells the story of a child befriending an animal and finding happiness. While that sounds like a made for Disney Channel movie (I’m fairly certain that’s the plot to Air Bud only without basketball and an evil clown), DeForge depicts the child not in the Disneyfied “I just moved to a new town that banned Basketball because the preacher didn’t like all the gyrations” pre-teen angst way, but instead as an insular and bullied child. But, not to be reduced to a pure Clowes-ian mix of depression and cynicism, DeForge injects a horror element. The child’s new best friend is a severed horse head piloted by an “alien” spider who infects the child’s tormentors with a horrendous rash and whose offspring eventually overrun the city. Even his artwork is a mix of Clowes’s clean line mixed with Ware’s geometric circles, only with an added layer of sweat and grime to make it his own.

In a review, Stephen Bissette said he would have loved to publish Incinerator in Taboo, which is a perfect way to describe DeForge’s output. A horror artist / anthology that became so much more (from a re-imagining of EC to the publisher of From Hell). Even his short in Thickness #2 (College Girls By Night) takes the genre tropes and overt social commentary of old EC horror stories and adds layers of depth that those stories could never achieve. It’s a simple werewolf story that’s inverted into a commentary on transgender sexuality and gender identity.

Dudes got chops.

Spotting Deer, like Lose and Thickness, takes on a familiar format and twists it into something new. Riffing on old nature documentaries (the kind you watched when you Biology teacher is out sick), DeForge creates a near perfect homage. All the story beats are there, the uncomfortable section on mating rituals (DeForge’s depiction of the “Sexual Aqueduct” perfectly captures that feeling of awkwardness experienced in a sixth grade classroom) and the oddly nationalistic / hyperbolic statement on the animals importance in popular culture and ecosystem. The book is even designed like an old CRT monitor, and its use of the four panel grid is reminiscent of a slideshow presentation.Even the close up of the “Snout” resembles one of those cheap plastic anatomy figures you’d find in a high school science class.

So, Joey, what makes this your favorite work by DeForge?

Joey Aulisio: It’s not just my favorite work by DeForge but probably one of my favorite comics period. I told a story on a chemical box episode about how I read this comic and nothing else, every single day for about a month. Something about this book just hooked me like few other books in recent years have.That said, I have found it difficult to explain why it resonated with me so much. What I can figure is that at the time I read it, I was going through a phase where I was just sick of comics and “comics culture” and really contemplated disengaging with it permanently. I don’t know what your interpretation of the story is, but I saw it as Deforge going through that same line of thought.
I think DeForge started out trying to make a book savaging the “fanboys” and then by the end realizing he was just like them, which was the real horror of it all. That moment of realization rendered by DeForge is truly chilling, nobody draws disappointment and disgust quite like him. A turn of the cheek says a thousand words.

Shawn Starr: I hadn’t considered that reading. It certainly makes the last page hit a lot harder. Obsessing over Spotting Deer (or comics) for years and writing a book, just to be asked “Why?” during a reading. Then to add insult to injury, watching your life’s work end up on a bargain table and ultimately the dump being picked over by wildlife.

I think the “savaging” is to intimate to be from a fanboy. My reading of it is more as an affirmation of DeForge place as a cartoonist. He may have started as an outside figure (the writer), but once he (the writer) appears it moves away from the first half’s exploration of “herd” (nerd) culture and becomes explicitly about cartooning.

The panel when the writer takes a picture of the spotted deer reminds me of those old Sci-Fi shows when people switch bodies or imprint their conscience on someone else. From that panel on, I think DeForge realized he was one of the spotted deer. A part of the “study group”. It’s even more explicit on the next page when all the “deers” social anxieties are superimposed over the writer’s image.
Then there is the “Deer in Society” section, moving away from home to the city (but not before being ostracized by your family / community), the “ink spot” neighborhoods, the livejournal communities and the “pay farms” where their “psychic meat” adapts the characteristics of other products; It seems to all be there, the artist communities, the livejournal groups (now twitter), DeForge’s work as a storyboard artist (along with countless other cartoonists).

Joey Aulisio: Maybe you are right in that a “savaging of fanboys” is too easy a way to reconcile this work, and it’s actually just about being a cartoonist/working in comics or maybe just working in a creative field to paint with a broader brush. It still seems like what DeForge is talking about is very specific to comics though (and how could it not be considering it was presented in comic form).
Comics have a certain stigma to them that other mediums do not have, you get the impression that if you worked for 20 years in comics and weren’t successful, most people would say “well why did you waste your time on these silly things” (you would probably get that reaction even if you were a success in comics, let’s be honest) whereas replace comics with film, literature, music, etc. the response would be “well at least you gave it a shot, you tried to live your dream”. Failure in other mediums is still viewed as more triumphant than a success in comics which is still viewed as tragic or sad.

Now take Deforge, clearly a master of his craft just a few years into the game. He’s someone that sits heads and shoulders above his peers, and I guarantee he has been given more attention for working on Adventure Time (or his 5 page Adventure Time story) than anything he has done in comics. That has to get to you after awhile. When the writer at the end stands on that podium and gets asked basically “why do you keep doing this?”, it really hits that point home and must be hard for you to reconcile after a certain point.

I am sure working in comics can be fun, but from all accounts it seems to be rather exhausting most of the time with little reward. “Depression. Anxiety Attacks, Migraines. and Sleep Disorders”, comics will destroy you if you let them. Now you sit in front of a desk drawing away at things that mean so much to you, and you put out something you feel proud of just to have someone in an audience ask “this is alright, but when are you going to move onto a real thing like a novel or a film?” , and then knowing your work is probably going to end up lining a litter box one day. It’s a sobering thought.

Shawn Starr: Yeah, it difficult to watch Ware and Hernandez remain in relative obscurity, while Mark Millar and Stan Lee are household names. No matter how much talent they bring to the craft, they’re always just making funnybooks. That is, until those funny books become movies.

Since I like to end things on a down note, I guess we’ll end things here.

If you want to read Spotting Deer you can find it here and purchase it here

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Thirty-Three Shots from Twin Glocks

- Ripping off Random Thoughts this week.

- That Catwoman cover reminds me of that one time when all those comic artists didn’t know how to draw.

- That cover is especially heinous because Guilem March draws pornography on the side, which requires a certain understanding of proportionality and the ability to draw an attractively posed female, none of which were on display on that cover.

- Secret Invasion is the worst event comic of all time; it’s baffling that it ever saw print. There is literally a scene in the first issue where Ares says that the Skrulls in the Savage Lands are meant as a distraction and they should leave. Four issues later, and they finally say fuck it and leave to go punch the space armada away. I just don't get it.

- Judd Winick is a sexist ass clown who’s last relevant work died with Bill Clinton’s hollow promise to end AIDS.

- Top three comics of the year (so far): Incinerator, Lincoln Washington, Prophet. All three are perfect representations of their authors artistic vision and redefine their respective genres while still existing within there confines.

- Superman: Truth Justice and the American Way (along with Alex Ross’s body of work) illustrates the major problem with fanboy critiques; the book simply dismisses and mocks the idea of The Authority without properly countering it intellectually or showing why its way is better. All Star Superman was a twelve issue rebuke, Superman #775 was twenty two pages of incessant whining. It's a creative and ideological failures, instead of showing why their way is better, they recap past moments of “glory” and expect nostalgia to win the day. Nostalgia is a bitch though, and not to be relied on.

- The best comic podcast is now Comic Books Are Burning in Hell. Sorry, repeats of old Splash Page episodes, but your reign had to come to an end sometime.

- Alternatively, the best comics interview podcast is Inkstuds. Word Balloon can eat a dick.

- Favorite line of the week: “I learned in cases such as these that ejaculation was the legal point of no return” – Bret Easton Ellis, Lunar Park

- Girls ended its first season perfectly. Understated, yet poignant and devoid of cliche.

- Something amazing happened on Johnny Ryan’s Twitter feed this week.

- Note to retailers, if your shop is full of flies and does not feature a spectacular back issue bin, don’t expect my return.

- What I’ve been listening to: Sage Francis – Got Up This Morning and Eyedea & Abilities – Smile

- Prometheus represents the first major conflict of film’s auteur theory (director centered) and television’s show runner/writer. Aaron Sorkin may have been the first to cross over, but he’s white-bread. Inoffensive. Lost resulted in a giant bag of pissed off snakes when it ended, so what you get is one of the biggest directors of all time, returning to one of the biggest sci-fi franchises,written by the screenwriter of one of the biggest shows of all time, and no one knows who to assign credit and blame to. Five years ago, no one would have mentioned the writer (except in the case of Charlie Kaufman), but with the progression of TV and its spillover, in this case, the writer is taking center stage in the discussion.

- Ryan Sands was interviewed about his and Michael Deforge’s porn anthology Thickness, whose third and final issue is debuting at CAKE this week, on Inkstuds. The first two issues of Thickness were phenomenal, particularly the 2nd issue which featured the best short story of the year in DeForge’s College Girls By Night along with a stunning Angie Wang short. To say i'm excited for the third issue may be an understatment.

- “Ether” is the hardest dis’ track ever recorded (Hit ‘em Up is #2)

- This week in Amazon orders: Joe Sacco’s Journalism and Josh Simmons The Furry Trap. There may be a theme to be found, but I’m just not sure what it is.

- Watched Lost Boys for the first time. What a goddamn weird ass movie.

- Just started reading Lunar Park after finishing Imperial Bedroom last week. I’ve been on a big Bret Easton Ellis kick for the past two months, following Chad Nevett and Joey Allusio’s recommendations. Imperial Bedroom was billed as a sequel to Less Than Zero, but it’s more so a culmination of Ellis’s entire body of work, interweaving themes and techniques from his previous novels into one single thought. 

- One of the best Horror documentaries ever made is Never Sleep Again, a 4 hour long retrospective of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. It’s fascinating both if you’re a fan of the franchise or simply interested in how a indie horror film about dreams captured the cultural zeitgeist.

- The Comics Journal reprinted an old Alan Moore interview just in time for the release of Scab: The Book.

- Although, that interview paled in comparison to the Michel Fiffe three part Tony Salmons interview over at The Factual Opinion, which can only be described as a Groth-ian.

- Morrison was honored by the queen. Between that, Rags Morales, and Matt Seneca’s All Star Superman review, dude’s had a tough year.

- Judd Apatow’s involvement in Girls is a perfect thematic progression in the context of his television work. Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared and now Girls center around the struggle to find ones identity between major life changes (high school, college, and post-college) and the changes that entails.

- I remember growing up and Hellraiser being one of the few movies my parents barred me from watching. I re-watched it a few days ago and can see why, although I’m fairly certain they thought it was just too scary for a twelve year old, and not because the film is a dissection of fetishism and power play. The films popularity is really unsettling.

- I’d like to thank everyone for spoiling League of Extraordinary Gentleman: Centuries 2009 for me two weeks before its release. Really appreciate that.

- If the new Aesop Rock single is anything to go by, his new album is going to be ridiculous.

- I tend to dump title ideas in a word document and use them when applicable. Here is one that won’t be applicable for a while: “I just want to be inside you, like up in your vagina with my dick. Exploring that moist cavern like Captain Nemo and The Nautilus. And then, after due diligence (like 3 minutes?) inseminating your pussy with my sea-men. AKA DON’T STOP BELIEVING “

- I don't think my editors ever read my submissions. It would explain a lot. (Although this "though" being cut out of the original post may contradict this point)

- A great way to waste two hours.

- I’m tempted to try and read the entirety of The Death of Superman, although I’m hesitant to open my collectors edition poly-bag.

- Did you guys read Rick Vance’s review of MW in last week’s column? Every time we get a new contributor they make me look like a punk ass bitch. God damn them.

Friday, June 15, 2012


a.k.a. “No arrows. These words will have to do.”
originally published over at Spandexless
written by two guys who have little else to do.

Alec Berry: I forget why we decided to do this, but here we are … preparing to discuss the legend himself, Rob Liefeld, and the legacy-drenched comic book that is Youngblood #1. I would be lying if I said I was not interested in having this conversation.
Of course, it is a big year for Liefeld what with the relaunch of Extreme Studios and his involvement with DC Comics, so it seems appropriate to state Liefeld as a figment of the current zeitgeist. That’s probably why we’re here.

And we need an excuse to talk about Liefeld.

Honestly, I like the guy, and in some sense I feel we’re all way past the days of stunted conversation based solely on “hating” him. Few of those claims possessed any evidence to begin with. People just needed a scapegoat for the trash of 1990s comic books that they took it out on the guy who established one of the decades key aesthetics rather than the numerous imitators who wrung it dry and cannibalized the thing. Liefeld may not produce deep or even always technically efficient comics, but the one thing he has up on a lot of creators is his uncontainable energy, passion and overall voice. That stuff overpowers the mechanical flaws, for me, and while all the energy and love only produces over the top action, I feel that’s wildly appropriate, especially for superhero comics.
A guy like Liefeld humbles the medium, drawing us back from the ever present desire to legitimize what’s created and what’s read; the experience reminds a reader of the childlike wonderment which can be associated with the artform as well as the slightly exploitative element associated with the superhero genre.

And the best part … all of Liefeld’s work is genuine. He’s a genuine motherfucker making the comic books he wants to make while knowing exactly what it is he’s making. He’s not kidding you like a Matt Fraction Mighty Thor pitch which tries to get religious or is made out to be the next great work in modern comics. If Liefeld tells you’re getting a comic about Youngblood fighting terrorists, that’s exactly what you’ll get, no unnecessary varnish applied throughout.
Yet, while I say his work aims low and is low, I do hold this odd opinion that Liefeld’s visual style sort of reworks Kirby’s, in a sense. Kirby influenced super hero cartooning because of the language he created. Liefeld sort of did something similar, I think, but more in terms of an aesthetic and maybe tone. So, yeah, maybe there’s a argument for Liefeld’s higher importance. If you want to go there.
Could I only read Rob Liefeld comics? No. But as part of a varied industry, Liefeld has a place. And that’s without mentioning Image and the historical component you could place on his person.
So, Shawn, let’s get into this and discuss this somewhat larger than life personality and creator.
Where we going?

Shawn Starr: I’m fairly certain I broached the subject during a drunken email at 2 A.M, which is when all my great ideas occur. I’m kind of like Hemingway in that sense. I also like to take credit for other people’s ideas, so I’m kind of like Stan Lee too.
Why would anyone want to discuss Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood, especially after everyone’s told us how inept a creator he is? Simple, Liefeld is one of comics most interesting figures, and Youngblood is one of his most important works.

Also most of those criticisms (as you pointed out) are dubious.
Liefeld was selling 1 million copies of X-Force a month at the age of twenty-two. To put that in perspective, I’m twenty-two and do not sell 1 million copies of X-Force each month. In addition to simply selling comics by the metric ton, Liefeld single handedly defined a decade of comic art, and was a founding member of Image Comics, which, depending on who you ask (*cough* Gary Groth*cough*) represents one of the biggest leaps forward in comic publishing since the inception of the Direct Market.

And, while I don’t subscribe to the quantity equals quality idea, that’s a career which requires inspection.

As you noted, Liefeld has experienced a resurgence of late, with the recent relaunch of Extreme Studios and his work on several DC relaunch titles. Liefeld has at least one book out each week (he’s currently overseeing the production of nine books total) which is more than many small publishers. But, Liefeld wouldn’t be the topic of our discussion today just because he produces nine books a month. I mean IDW puts out at least that many and who cares about them.

There’s something else to Liefeld.

What makes Liefeld, well, Liefeld is his style. When you look at one of his pages or creations it just screams Liefeld, he imbues everything he touches with his essence. If Cable wasn’t weighed down by 500 pounds of guns and ammo, then he wouldn’t be Cable. And that’s Liefeld. Everything he creates is extreme, an action movie on every page, and not just a “failed movie pitch” that comics have recently become the repository for, a genuine action movie. Schwarzenegger in his heyday shit. Which, in an industry of endless possibilities, is a sight for sore eyes.
Liefeld is one of two direct heirs to Kirby, the other being art-comix god Gary Panter. Both creators filtered the essence of Kirby through their own distinct visions, creating dramatically different bodies of work, but always keeping Kirby’s kinetic energy in mind.

Panter filtered Kirby through a punk rock attitude and high art sensibility to create the definitive style of the art-comix movement. He reduced Kirby’s line work to a single jagged line, yet maintained all of the original’s energy. Panter is distilled Kirby. He was even able to capture Kirby’s sense of epic scale (Fourth World), with Jimbo (Panter’s most famous creation) embarking on a tour through Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Panter took Jimbo biblical, the closest thing he could do to capture Kirby’s cosmic ideals.

Liefeld, in stark contrast, took Kirby’s line work and added onto it (a reverse Vince Colletta of sorts) filtering it through Manga sensibilities and supercharging each page. If Panter was a reductionist, Liefeld was an expansionist. Throwing lines on top of lines, cross hatching each image like a schizophrenic who was about to discover the inner workings of the universe if only he could just ink one more line. And then throwing on some Manga infused speed lines to drive the point home.
His pages are a truly awesome experience.

Liefeld said (in a wonderful interview with Jim Rugg) that he never allowed an inker to touch his faces, because they could never capture that pure “Liefeld-ian” look. He also gave every page one final pass. Another round of rendering. Cross hatching to the nth degree. And that’s where the image becomes a Liefeld image. An entire decade’s worth of artists tried to ape his style, Multi-Media Conglomerates created house styles around him, and yet, no one can draw like Liefeld. Just like no one can draw like Kirby.

If Jaime Hernandez has distilled his art to a single line, Rob Liefeld has distilled his to a thousand.
You say Liefeld’s work plays to the lowest common denominator (in much kinder words), which in some respects is true. There’s no grand theory of life to be found in Youngblood. The first issue has some basal levels of satire, however strained, but it’s not particularly refined or biting. It’s definitely not Watchmen, but then again it was never trying to be. He just wanted to make fun comics, which is something few creators even attempt today. You call it genuine, I call it true to itself. It’s all the same.
What I see as Liefeld’s lasting legacy (besides his involvement with creator rights and Image) is his effect on the current generation of creators. While the initial crop of art-comix creators grew up on Crumb and later Panter, this new generation grew up on Liefeld and Image Comics. It may only be a fleeting moment, but for the next few years his importance is going to become increasingly evident, as the new vanguard of creators move away from the old and begin to reinterpret their childhood influences. Which, by and large, means Rob Liefeld, the defining artists of the 90’s.

The most important art-comix movement since RAW, the Fort Thunder Collective, were the first to begin this distancing from the past. The two most prominent members CF whose angelic line work was so different from what had come before that it redefined the look of much of the genre, and Brian Chippendale who is a self avowed Marvel Fanboy (writing one of the best review sites in comics), on an initial glance one would think of him as an acolyte of Panter, but, and I love this quote, he belongs to the 90’s “When I grew up I didn’t want to draw like Panter, I wanted to be Jim Lee” (this quote is second hand, from the RUB THE BLOOD Inkstuds podcast). Together they show a progression in the medium, away from the old guard and towards something new. To highjack Frank Santoro’s idea (and Comics Comics), they represent fusionism, taking from everything to create something new. And Liefeld is a key component as of late, he defined a decade of art. His influence is impossible to escape. I mean just look at the creators attached to last years RUB THE BLOOD, and you’ll see a who’s who of art-comix.

And that is not even going into the Extreme Studios relaunch, which has produced one of the best sci-fi comics of the decade (Prophet) along with what will soon be heralded as the most progressive take on a female superhero since Wonder Woman was created (Glory). Or the lasting popularity and resurgence of his Marvel work. There was a time (and it still may be) when Deadpool was the most popular character in comics, and just last year Uncanny X-Force and Deadpool MAX were two of the most critically praised Big 2 books being published. None of these titles are by him, but they required him to give them life.

As an aside, the criticisms of Liefeld are largely unfounded. Sure he ignores anatomy, but so does Ware, Crumb, and for a more mainstream and generally excepted example Jim Lee. It’s just that everyone of those guys is given a pass, it’s their “style”, which is true, but the same reasons it’s ok for them to ignore anatomy are, for some reason, not applicable to Liefeld.
Being critiqued for his lack of realism, a feature which his art has never attempted to capture, is missing the point of Liefeld. His art is decadent and expansive. It’s telling that this is what the masses of pseudo-critics jump onto. Realism is largely a constraint on art that individuals try to pass off as valid criticism against something they don’t understand. Kyle Baker summed it up best “in art, as in life, ‘realism’ is for the uncreative.” Of course this is what they latch onto, because they don’t or can’t understand what it is Liefeld is doing.

If Liefeld drew like Alex Ross, I could see the validity in this line of thought, but Liefeld has as much in common with Alex Ross (or Neal Adams) as Matt Brinkman. His style is an extension of himself, not a light-boxed photo from the recent Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, it’s “abstract” and should not be constrained by the idea of realism.

Ok, thats my overlong re-contextualization of Liefeld. I may be completely wrong and participated in a one man historical whitewashing, so do you have anything you want to add, or should we begin this review of Youngblood #1 after our brisk 1,800 word introduction?

AB: That Kyle Baker quote is great.

SS: He posted that on Twitter a couple days ago, and I couldn’t not steal it.

AB: Would you go as far as to say Liefeld is this generation’s Kirby or do you feel his impact isn’t exactly that wide? I feel he’s influential, but I wouldn’t exactly claim his influence to be widespread like Kirby’s. Kirby’s thumb prints are on everything because of the grammar he developed while Liefeld falls more in the camp of an attitude rather than a fundamental. He’s kind of optional, but even then, from the handful of alt comics I’ve touched and the blogs I read, it does appear that some of Liefeld’s brashness works its way through.

I do find it funny, though, that Liefeld suddenly has received this reevaluation. Like many influential people before him, hatred was their initial response. Maybe Liefeld fits that bill, although he was liked, generally, early on because of his difference to what was available at the time.
But, yeah, that’s sort of where we’re at with Liefeld: taking this despised dude and finally finding merit in his work. You could even work Benjamin Marra into your whole thesis as well because like Marra, Youngblood #1 is very much a comic book drawn in the back of some kid’s notebook. It lacks the more obscene elements, but it is still rich with boyhood fascinations. To steal from Ed Piskor, “the early Image comics are like guys playing with actions figures, going “boom!” “bam!” “grrrghh!”

To be honest with you, I didn’t read this and concern myself with the technicalities. I knew going in what it was, so instead, I went in for the spirit, and I think, with that mindset, Youngblood #1 really pays off. You mention this sense of satire that doesn’t exactly shape itself into anything, but I kind of feel it does simply through what the comic is. Youngblood #1, by its quality, does satirize the whole of superhero comics, especially the post-Watchmen mindset of the time, subverting this idea of serious super hero comics to complete ridiculous mish-mash.

The whole flip book approach sort of works to undermine the serious attitude too, bringing back some of that anthology flavor, like with Tales to Astonish.

SS: I’d describe Liefeld as Kirby-lite. I can’t think of any other artist in the past twenty years who has had as great an impact on the medium as Liefeld; he created hundreds of characters and defined the mediums style for a decade, but Kirby is Kirby.
Liefeld probably comes the closest, but Kirby is such a monumental and influential figure that no one could ever truly equal him. Tezuka (Manga), Crumb (Art) and Moebius (Europe) are the only ones who can match him, and even then they feel lacking. Kirby created the North American comics industry almost single handedly; romance comics Kirby, sci-fi comics Kirby super hero comics all Kirby; Liefeld revolutionized one of those, so there is something to be said of him, but I don’t think anyone can really be the “Kirby” of a generation. He’s too important.
Maybe you could describe him as the often trotted out “voice of a generation”, if that doesn’t sound like too shallow a description. I mean, there’s at least 20 “voices” to each generation nowadays so it seems like a meaningless term.

So I guess my answer is no, but with the caveat that no one could really be the Kirby of their generation.

It’s also interesting to point out the differences in Liefeld’s influence. The current “mainstream” comic culture seems to have latched onto his creations (Deadpool, Cable, X-Force) while the alt-comics scene has taken his visual aesthetic and attitude. That’s probably because of the “mainstreams” current incarnation as a Intellectual Property generator, and alt-comic’s focus on style and singular vision.
You mentioned the name of one of my favorite cartoonists Ben Marra, who I almost named dropped in my initial response, but decided not to for some reason. I can’t think of a creator more in tune with pure Liefeld-ian style out there today. His comics are brash and unforgiving, everything I love about Liefeld, and then he throws obscenity on top of it. Scrawlings in a notebook seems to be an apt description for both creators. There’s a childlike essence that exudes from both them that stands out from the rest of the industry. Marra is Liefeld brought up on Gangsta Rap instead of GI-Joes.
Your point on satire makes sense, but I’m not sure if that satire is intentional or not. Where the Image founders crafting a meta-textual Dr. Strangelove, or simply making a B-Movie. Did Liefeld create Youngblood as a reaction to Moore’s intellectualism, or a comic where things blew up. That’s one of those things you need a dig up a brilliant quote to find out. I have a feeling its perceived satire after the fact, and not a great mega-critique played out by Image Comics.

AB: Oh, yeah. I don’t feel it’s intentional. As you said, it’s an effect brought up after the fact, but still, it’s an effect.

SS: Yeah, we’re probably just projecting satire onto them. Us kids and our need for irony and satire in everything we find genuine.

The most likely candidate, by Liefeld, is his mega-event Judgement Day. Which title alone sounds like Final Crisis times ten thousand, but, and here’s the genius of it, it is really just a three issue meta-commentary on the idea of retconing in the guise of a courtroom case, written by Alan Moore.

Alan Moore!

The book reads like it was written for anyone but Liefeld, and in his hands becomes anything but the procedural drama Moore had intended. Imagine the courtroom scene in From Hell in the hands of Liefeld at his peak, that’s Judgement Day.

Liefeld has this ability to overpower the writer on every page. Liefeld renders each figure in such a way as to make their every action a dramatic moment. Dialogue that’s meant to be subtle becomes laden with invisible exclamation points in the hands of Liefeld; his cross hatching seems to spill over onto the dialogue balloons. The best example of this is his facial rendering (no one inks a Liefeld face except Liefeld for a reason!) where every expression is contorted until it turns into an abstraction that can only described as EXTREME! which even Moore can’t escape.

If Judgement Day isn’t a satire of the idea of comics as literature, and the ubiquitous mega event, then I’m not sure what it is. Besides a testament to Liefeld’s power to overwhelm authorial intent.

AB: That’s the Image era in total. Nothing mattered but the attitude and style, and all other elements either became obsolete or excused. I just like how Liefeld still performs in such a way, and in some sense, represents this era entirely by just being. Liefeld doing a book today is like Gerry Conway doing one. You read it, and it immediately takes you to a certain time like a novelty item.

But Liefeld, as we’ve mentioned, accomplishes a little more than a Gerry Conway retro comic.
Liefeld makes the visual end front and center, which for comic books should be a given, but our culture’s so dead set on writers we lack the necessary attention for the true writing. In some way, I think the Image guys were some odd first step in making the mainstream audience wake up and realize the importance of the artwork in comic books. Until then, plot was really everything for the super hero book. The Image guys didn’t exactly produce the best quality stuff, but by being so flamboyant, they made it impossible not to appreciate the illustration and just forget the plot.

SS: The swagger of youth …

AB: Think about that in context of the a-typical comic reader. Fanboys brushing off the plot to rave about line work (a lot of line work) instead. That’s nuts! It’s some twisted sense of an art comics mentality. I want that world again, but instead, with an even balance where both visual and script matter equally. If that’s possible.

A first step, but an important one in many ways, and sadly it seems with the crash and burn of the 90s, readers and creators buried that step because supposedly art over story generated the fall.

SS:  The 90’s were a time when the artist took over, but, and I think this is a key point many critics fail to mention, so were the 60’s. Kirby and Ditko ran Marvel Comics creatively. Stan Lee was merely a editor who dialogued books. When artists are in charge it seems to be indicative of an age of ideas over content. If you look at those era’s you see the creation of thousands of characters, all still in use today, and stories that exude creativity. Writers tend to constrain this expansionism. Look at the past 10 years in mainstream comics and show me a completely original idea from a writer, or even a creation that’s stuck. You might be able to squeak Damien past by Morrison, but he’s a derivative character, just like the Rainbow Patrol over at Green Lantern. I just don’t see that being the same as Kirby creating an entire universe or Liefeld creating the Extreme Studios line.

The problem is that writers have been copying and referencing each other since the start. Moore may have been a singular voice in the comics medium (at first), but he was borrowing from a dozen other writers, it’s just that no one in comics had heard of them. Writing’s a conservative field really, inbred, while art is all about taking a blank canvas and turning it into something more. There may be references and homages but that’s only one panel in a twenty two page pamphlet. It can’t sustain itself for any prolonged period, unlike writing.

Continuity hounds don’t get into comics to be artists, they’re writers for a reason.

Even the “Age of Awesome” collapsed in on itself around the mid-2000’s because it lacked artists capable of seeing it through. The writers of that movement were only able to succeed when they were paired with the best artists in the industry. Casanova needed (needs) Ba’ and Moon, Bulletproof Coffin needed (needs) Shaky Kane and Immortal Iron Fist needed David Aja. When you put Fraction on Iron Man with a lesser artist it all falls apart. Ideas in the hands of a writer can’t sustain themselves past their initial conception.

AB: While Ba’ and Moon give the book its agility, Casanova is Matt Fraction. That’s a book about a writer – showing the journey from wannabe professional to now comics company man, mixed with a sense of sorting through influences, whether they’re life experiences or pop culture tidbits. You can’t take Fraction out of Casanova.

You’re correct to a point. Sure, comic book writers need artists to carry their ideas across the finish line as well as to provide the true impact of these ideas – the visual – but to suggest it’s a one-sided issue seems a bit erroneous. Liefeld’s a great example. His artwork certainly provides the right stylistic punch, but beneath that style, what is there? A poor story lacking a lot of necessary structure and layer.
The work needs a writer to give it a sound foundation.

That’s why comic books are most often produced through a team effort. The writer/artist team makes a lot of sense because where the artist can ignore constraints the writer applies them, offering a sound balance to keep a story in order. Stories need order, to a degree. They function through their structure, most of the time. The artist can certainly help add a sense of spontaneity, though, as well as help tell the story and even rewrite a writer’s script to a degree. The artist is most definitely important, but not every artist can be unleashed on their own. Liefeld’s sort of an example of that – as well as many other writer/artists in mainstream comics.

SS: Sure, you need the writer to provide structure. But I’m not sure if those are the kinds of comics I want to read anymore. There are maybe four or five writers who can craft a competent book, and they all reside in the “mainstream”. Artist run every other genre. There’s probably a reason why every major literary-comic is done by a single creator. Or why the art-comix movement is run by singular vision. Michel Fiffe just dropped the best DC comic of the year, as a self-published, one man operation. If you think putting Adam Glass on scripting duties would have improved that book…well I question your judgement.

AB: Singular vision is certainly a preferred circumstance, and it does seem to work well in art comics where I think the mindset is more set on making a complete piece rather than a story installment. But even then, it’s not like there’s one mindset going into the creative process. The mindset of the writer and the artist are two separate things, so even when you have one person writing and drawing a comic, it’s arguable that one person comes from two different places.

Of course, I’ve never made a comic book, so what’s my theory, really? Speculation.
To point out of my personal interest, though, I would agree with you in your current interest. I’m finding myself more and more attentive to cartoonists these days versus collaborative teams, and ideally, I suppose that’s how comics are meant to be. That’s not to say the writer/artist team up is worthless, though, or that writers can’t push their ideas out into the world mostly on their own. Look at Morrison. Quitely certainly adds a lot, but even without Quitely, Morrison still projects his voice.

One example, but it shows the possibility.

SS: I will backtrack a little and concede that Casanova is Matt Fraction, but without Ba’ and Moon going all Steranko on that bitch it would have lost its pop-comics feel. Pop art starts with pop artists. Fraction set the tone, but Ba’ and Moon perfected the aesthetic. That may have been that sweet spot you were waiting for, and it came and went in four years without any mainstream support.
Morrison has a distinct voice (and just to point this out, he did start out as an artist) and Quitely certainly does bring out the best in him, but here’s the thing, Morrison has been hammering home his ideas of hyper-sigils and Superman as god for nearly twenty years in hundreds of comics, and the only time they really resonate is when Frank Quitely comes into the fold. Flex Mentallo and All Star Superman are the clearest examples of Morrison’s ideas and both are illustrated by Quitely. Morrison needs Quitely.

But back to Liefeld…

AB: I’ll give you the point on Morrison. But, yes, Liefeld.

With all the praise we’ve given, we do need to be fair and recognize the faults. Liefeld has certainly influenced some bad. And not even just copycat artists but really whole publishing approaches. You can either look at Marvel Comics in the mid 90s or just dive into Liefeld’s own back yard with Extreme Studios. With Extreme, North American comics took on a whole new sense of factory line assembly, and Marvel just really took the Image method and completely raped and bled dry any of the charm associated with it (although, third and fourth wave Image titles kind of did this too), creating this culture of comic books dependent on gimmicks above quality (without any of the energy Liefeld or the other Image guys put into the work).

You could even make a case Liefeld had a big influence on internet hate culture, being the shining beacon of it he has been. At least in comic book “discussion.”

Expand on these, Starr. I’m going outside.

SS: Yeah, this part’s inevitable when discussing Liefeld. For all his swagger and attitude, he certainly has his faults. Liefeld has this uncanny ability to overcome most of his artistic weaknesses; he certainly doesn’t care about page to page continuity like every critic on the internet  seems  to (unless the credits don’t read “Artist: Rob Liefeld”). And, like you, I don’t see most of this as a blasphemous act against comics. The rawness of his art saves it from most of its technical faults.

AB: Yeah. Oddly, enough, I started reading this Replacements oral history by Jim Walsh today, and there’s this great quote from Westerberg about their performance style:

“To like us, you have to try and understand us. You can’t come in and just let your first impression lead you. Because your first impression will be a band that doesn’t play real well, is very loud, and might be drunk. Beneath that is a band that values spirit and excitement more than musical prowess. To me, that’s rock and roll, and we’re a rock and roll band.”

That really sums up Liefeld for me, and in a lot of ways, that’s what I want comics to be. Twenty-some pages of spirit.

SS:  Yeah, Liefeld is all about spirit over technical prowess. When his work fails though, is when it starts to restrain itself. Conservatism is Liefeld’s death knell.
Youngblood #1 is split into two separate stories, sixteen pages each, and I think both stories highlight Liefeld’s faults.

“Youngblood: International” (the two teams aren’t distinguished, so I’m using this name for the non-Shaft lead team, and “Youngblood: Stateside” for the main team) is pure action; one page of framing in the post-DKR media lens format followed by fifteen pages of nonstop action. This segment is the most Liefeldian of the two, which makes it the most interesting overall. The story itself is fairly straightforward; the team goes into occupied Israel to take out a Saddam Hussein stand in. It’s choppy in the dialogue, and the middle bit seems to get away from Liefeld at a certain point, but the final sequence with Psi-Fire brings it back. It’s labeled the “1st Explosive Issue” which is a perfect title. Its Liefeld in all his glory and ruin. Pure artistic expression.

“Youngblood: Stateside” is the weaker of the two artistically, but a significant step up in a craft perspective. Everything flows, the pacing is sound and the exposition is a little heavy handed at points but nothing to complain about. This issue fails, though, where so many Liefeld projects fail; they are restrained at the very last moment. The story ends with a splash page showing Youngblood about to stop a gang, and results in this hard stop that kills the story. So many of Liefeld’s projects seem to restrain him at the last moment, forcing him to draw non-action, dialogue heavy, exposition scenes, and then once they get to the fight, stops dead and calls it a day. It’s not even Liefeld’s fault most of the time. It is just how comics are written nowadays.

Although the panel where Shaft throws a pen across a mall and knocks a would be assassin of a rail to his death is pure Liefeld.

“No Arrows. This pen will have to do.”

AB: I laughed, gleefully, at that scene, along with the scene of Chapel kicking his one night stand out.

SS: “You gotta give ‘em hope… As Shaft would say ‘it’s good P.R. !’” reads like a line out of  Gangsta Rap Posse.

AB: Great moments.

AB: I’m glad you pointed out the pacing of the Stateside story because I too found it to actually be way better than anything I would have expected from this comic. I mean, there are moments when the flow is so on, most comics today could actually take a lesson from it and improve. Particularly, I’m thinking of the scene in the headquarters as they receive the mission brief and Shaft ends the sequence by exclaiming: “Then let’s move it!”

That was some exciting shit, to be perfectly honest.

You’re completely right when you mention the story being cut short, because it is. Completely. And I really wonder what decision led to such a choice. Really, reading what was already there, who’s to say without the abrupt cliffhanger, this comic might have actually received some love and not gone down as the mistake it historically has. Up until then, the main story wasn’t exactly on a horrible track. Cheesy dialogue and situations, certainly, but not exactly bad.

Part two, or “Youngblood: International,” flipflops, like you mention, into a complete reversal of the plot beat Stateside is. Looking at the two halves, it really just seems like Liefeld split one script rather than constructing two complete stories. Blending the best aspects of both into one story could have really worked. Together, they possess everything necessary.

But, no, he splits them, and ultimately that’s a fault of trying to interject too many characters into one book. Liefeld’s concerned with setting both of these teams up in one issue, and to do so, he chooses a route that just sticks a knife in the gut of the script. I also think he was just trying to make this comic book feel packed by offering two “stories,” but instead the gimmick just offers two comic book halves rather than one whole.

To offer one positive critique, though, I love how he just drops us into the world with little explanation or definition of the rules. The comic’s actually pretty good about that. Liefeld takes the punch first, ask later approach, and, I think, does it well. Youngblood #1 is kind of an exciting first issue rather than another thesis statement, as we’re used to today.

What about Liefeld outside the comics, though? Do you have any opinions on Extreme Studios or the outside negative affect?

SS: I agree with you. If Liefeld had synthesized the two issues into one, it would have been a much more satisfying read. He just couldn’t get those stories to gel. So we get one competent, but short story, and one extended action scene.

I haven’t read any of the old Extreme Studios titles; this year’s relaunch was my first contact with them. As I said above, Prophet is the best comic coming out each month, Glory is strong and getting better and Bloodstrike was probably the weakest of the bunch. It fell into the classic Liefeld problem of restraining the artist. Every action scene was cut short so that talking heads can lay out some exposition to catch the reader up on continuity. I dropped that one after its first issue, so it may have found its bearings.

The relaunch of Youngblood was…I’m not sure if i can call it “good,” but I don’t really think that matters with Liefeld. It was certainly interesting, and that’s enough. It operates as a mini-critique of Liefeld’s legacy, and the internet culture surrounding him. Youngblood are described (in comic) as “a long running joke by legitimate super-heroes like Supreme,” which can easily be applied to Liefeld’s current status in the comics zeitgeist. He’s the butt of every shoulder pad joke.

The main plot of the story involves a PR agent being hired to rehabilitate Youngblood’s image, and while in story the team doesn’t change much from page one,when you compare it to the first issue there’s a massive change. The initial issue of Youngblood presented a professional U.S. sanctioned strike force. This iteration reads like an issue of Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League International. Slapstick humor mixed with four month old pop culture references and odd moments of gag humor-esque flirting and overt sexulization. There is literally a cloud of hearts at one point. It’s a weird comic, but from a meta context it works. Liefeld was always criticized for his book’s perceived seriousness, and juvenile content, so what does he do? Get the writer of one of the most critically acclaimed “artsy” films of the 2000’s (Black Swan) and has him turn Youngblood into this oddball humorous cape comic.

On his negative influence, I don’t really have much to say. People certainly aped his style and almost killed the industry. Liefeld should bear some of the blame for that, but not the lion’s share that’s often attributed to him. You still needed Marvel Comics going bankrupt and giving Diamond a distribution monopoly, the mass exodus of speculators, along with a dozen other things that had nothing to do with Liefeld to cause the industry’s collapse. He defined the style of the decade, so I guess people associate him with its failure.

Once you start looking at everything that was going on, it’s clear that Liefeld was just a scapegoat. That’s not to absolve him of any involvement, he was just a single player in a industry wide failure.

AB: I didn’t hate the new Youngblood, either. You summed it up pretty well, and I thought mostly the same of it. Although, I do feel it was an instance where Liefeld’s artwork actually didn’t add much to the work. It came off as an odd compliment to the tone the writer was trying to establish. As you said, this Giffen voice, but it’s met with Liefeld’s extreme aesthetic and creates this odd sensation of a comic book.

Interesting, for sure.

I haven’t read every release from the new take on Extreme Studios, but from what I have explored, I do feel this revamp really represents a lot of what we talked about here. While I feel Liefeld can produce fun, over the top comic books, his ultimate legacy lands more in his influence than his actual work. Whether it be the examples of art comics you brought to light or now these once lost concepts being utilized by the likes of Brandon Graham and Ross Campbell, it seems that Liefeld has managed to create certain elements that will, potentially, outlast him.

Being an artist, that seems to be the ultimate mission, and I like that this unlikely character seems to have accomplished that, in a sense. It’s kind of powerful as well as charming.
I know someone out there has read this and believes we’re both insane, but I feel at this point  it’s hard to deny Liefeld’s place. The guy at least deserves a chance to be reconsidered.

SS: The idea of re-contextualizing and re-interpreting a creator’s body of work has always interested me; it’s really the main point of the critic and criticism. There was an excellent Inkstuds episode featuring Ben Schwartz, Jeet Heer and Gary Groth (Americas Best Comics Criticism) which featured a large segment centered around the discussion of which creators needed a critical re-evaluation to cement their legacy. There certainly are a few creators who are undeniably great, but most need that extra push from an outside source. And that’s where critics come in.
It seems like a lot of re-contextualization is still coming from the print side of things. The (now) yearly Comics Journal along with the archive editions many book publishers put out, specifically Fantagraphics, have kind of cornered the market on this idea. Even as the net becomes more present, it’s still print that holds the reigns on “serious” criticism.
This probably stems from the financial structure of websites. When the newest thing drives site hits, it becomes difficult to justify talking about the past in any definitive sense (I’ve had three week old reviews deemed irrelevant). There’s a two week period when a new book comes out that it can be talked about (and maybe a third when “Best Of” lists start coming out) before they disappear off the main page and into the wasteland that is the site archives.
That’s why Tim Callahan is such an important figure in (web) criticism; he runs one of maybe three columns that focuses on contextualizing older works on a regular basis (Matt Seneca’s Robot 6 column and Jog’s Comics of the Week essay being the only other ones to my knowledge), and on the mediums biggest site to boot. It was Tim who brought Liefeld to the forefront of the comics discussion. I know thats where I became aware of him at least. So I guess that’s why we’re here.
But really, Liefeld was due for a reevaluation anyways. It has been over twenty years since he reshaped the medium, and ten years worth of (as Liefeld has wonderfully named them) Liefeld “Haters” being taken at their word. And no one at the Journal (who I adore in every sense of the word) is going to tackle Liefeld anytime soon.

Jesus, they’re still struggling with Kirby’s legacy.

So here we are, two brash, young critics trying to redefine an industry legend.

AB: I think “young” is a good way to describe us.
It’s a little off topic, but I tend to agree with your points about online comics criticism (and Tim is the man).

Sites do rely on hot topics to entertain their audiences, but they also rely heavily on short pieces. The long, in depth piece rarely exists on a comic book site. Why? I don’t really know, other than most people probably don’t have the attention span for them, so sites cater to that, keeping us in a constant ADHD state of channel surfing. Also, long pieces take a lot more work, and when you have a schedule to keep to, a big site’s better off living on small blurb articles to keep the updates constant.
When a good lengthy piece hits though, there’s little better (at least for my unusual enjoyment). Like this Michel Fiffe piece on the one man anthology comic. Best thing I’ve read in a while, and you can just tell he put the time and effort into it.

So, sadly Shawn, what I’m saying is: only three people will read this conversation we’ve spent the time typing. I hope you won’t kill yourself.