Sunday, February 19, 2012

On the State of the Industry (circa 1991)

 "Marvel's only goal, with which honorable men and women in this profession have nothing in common, is to generate as much profit for Ronald Perelman as they can, and to shovel as much shit down the public's gullet as they can get away with. They prey upon the ignorance of children and the stupidity of adults, and if they could wish every sophisticated reader of comic books to become stupid tomorrow they would do so, such is their commitment to art and humanity. They see comics not as art but as product from which the only end to be gotten is profit."
- Gary Groth 
The Comics Journal #146, November 1991

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Just What It Isn't

I started reading comics five years ago give or take, it was around the time the Dark Knight was released. I remember because there was a big hoopla over the Watchmen movie, it being based on one of the mediums greatest achievements. Five years ago though i was a different person. That sense of joy of leaving high school for college, that cynicism which told me people sucked but film, books, art, and comics...oh comics...they were better than that. Media couldn't disappoint you, just people.

Its been five years though and disappoint me they have. All that hope in a new form of media, that glee i took in trying to find a new Kubrick has all dissipated. I remember reading Transmetropilation after being told it was like Hunter S Thompson and being so excited, four years later i now realize its not the same...Warren Ellis isn't Hunter he's just a veiled imitation like so many others. It just took me four years before my blinders towards comics wore off. 

I moved a majority of my comics into my attic recently, to free up some space in my room. I had filled five book shelves, with piles of books stacked throughout the house. And that was just over the course of five years. I ended up whittling it down to two shelves. Two shelves of books i wanted to have constant access to. Two shelves i was proud to display in my room. The problem though is those two shelves are made up solely of books I've purchased over the past year. Four years and three shelves worth of trades, singles, anthologies, graphic novels, are to me little more than bound paper now.

I know no one starts reading by being handed Ulysses, but by high school your teachers have at least forced you to read a couple Shakespeare plays and spark notes your way through The Scarlett Letter. So why is it that comics starts you with Dr. Seuss and graduates you to the Hardy Boys. Comics as a community, with the exception of a few critics, actively dissuades you from branching outwards. If you go on any message board or forum and ask for recommendations, the lists generated are so nauseatingly bad if i were to start reading in my present mindset i would brush off the medium as a whole after a days reading. People actively argue that Green Lantern is a better comic than Watchmen for new readers.

Some may invoke the "99% of stuff is shit" principle here, a solid point. But I'm speaking precisely towards that 1% which is so ardently held up as "great". Those three shelves of books i deemed ancillary, those were the books held up as the 1% amongst the mainstream. Those runs "comics people"  call definitive the Y the Last Mans, the Walking Dead's, Blankets, those runs by and large are terrible.

If Jason Aarons run on Punisher MAX has taught us anything, its that their is no such thing as a "definitive run" just a lack of talent to out due what has come before you. And if there is one thing comics has, its a lack of talent, even in its definitive form.

And for four fucking years i read this trash with self imposed blinders on, oh after a while i knew it was bad, no one reads a Geoff Johns comic for a extended period of time without the sneaking suspicion this guy has no clue what writing is beyond yelling and splash pages, but i thought i just didn't get it. Look at the top 10 comics list for 2011 for any website and it will read like a fourth graders favorite book list, books that verge on competency are labelled magnum opus's . When the community as a whole holds up Daredevil and Habibi as the best they can achieve in a year, I have serious doubts about that community.

When I talk to someone who's into movies the conversation is never about Transformers, its about Kubrick, Hitchcock, Kurosawa. Likewise with television its about Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire. But with comics its about who's hotter Black Canary or Supergirl. I wish for the day i come across someone who wants to talk about Ware, Hernandez, Clowes, but i doubt that will ever happen.

I remember asking the guy at my shop if they had Love and Rockets New Stories v4 when it was released, I was told they only special order those books*. That's the industry and culture comics is forced to pander to. Its not that good comics don't exist, people are pushing the medium forward every day, its just that no one is bothering to notice. Comics as a whole has not been able to move past their initial honeymoon period with the medium and finally realize that bitch has a lazy eye and my god do you hate her mother. This year though has been mine... i just hope other people wake up to.

K I'm out of wine and don't care anymore. This is disjointed as fuck but whatever, I'm going to go to go read some Milo Manara comics and try to find some whiskey while the comics zeitgeist jerks off to Power Girl's cleavage. 



*Keep in mind i live 5 minutes outside a major city and my shop is next to a busy train/bus stop.

Friday, February 17, 2012

On How to be a Lazy Blogger and Such.

This weeks post was originally going to be on the conclusion to Jason Aarons Punisher MAX series, but that post took on a mind of its own so it won't be done till next week. So in the grand tradition of lazy blog posting here are random links / comments and a couple random thoughts thrown in to pad the word count.

Comics Alliance is doing a month long expose on "sex" in comics, most of these posts are little more than jokes about boobs, but two of them (so far) have been quite good.

The always wonderful David Brothers talks about how the over sexualization of female characters has hurt the story telling ability of artists. This is primarily due to, like the over reliance on splash pages and double page spreads, artists creating pages for collectors instead of as devices to tell the story. What strikes me as odd is that most of the artists who spring to mind doing this draw some hideous looking woman. While the more subdued artists, primarily those who routinely draw female characters in the nude, know how to restrain themselves. It's a odd variety of repression afflicting the direct market, if only some artists could draw a nipple every once in a while we may be saved from 20 pages of ass shots.

On a side note Brothers also wrote a exquisite piece of comic-journalism about who exactly is pirating Marvel comics (which was quickly picked up by dozens of comic websites, who i assume payed him for his article and didn't just run it as "general news")

The other Comics Alliance story which i found interesting was Jason Michelitch piece on Milo Manara. The main thrust of his argument is that Manara's frankness about sexual exploitation is more about confronting the readers own feelings towards sex and exploitation than it is about drawing pretty girls fucking. While Manara is certainty more than simply producing Tijuana Bible's i think this reading may be over-intellectualizing his body of work. There are certainty instances of his work transcending the confines of the genre (that genre being S&M spank books) ,but the vast majority of his work is simply meant to be scene as pornography. Its one of those readings which is used when someone praises 120 Days of Sodom for its brutal use of sexualization and violence to convey a philosophical point about the nature of man, while dismissing entire genre's of exploitative films as trash. If exploitation is read as being art its given a pass on most fronts, while if it not its reviled.

The Comic Journal featured an old Gary Groth interview with Kevin Eastman (co-creator of The Mutant Ninja Turtles) in a two part interview, the first focusing on the Turtles, and the second on Tundra press. The first section is a great read about their struggle to retain the rights to the Turtles, and how difficult it was to manage a multimillion dollar corporation while trying to follow the tenants of the creator rights movement. The second part of the interview though is an amazing look at how comics as a whole took advantage of Eastman, just inundating him with pitches and please for work, only to take his money and never deliver. The section on Big Numbers is especially fascinating.

Alex Berry does a great job summing up why Glory may be one of the biggest steps forward for female characters in comics in a long long time. I would also like to add, in addition to not spending 20 pages proving to me Glory has a awesome rack, Glory also features only one splash pages. This choices allows them to parse our the necessary exposition over 20 pages instead of info dumping it in the last two pages following nine double page spreads of ass / tit shots / people looking EXTREME! 

I'm late to the game on this one but Chad Nevett's '28' series of posts is one of the best things I've read in a while. Its not so much a series of reviews as Chad just looking back on how he's changed since the first time he had read these books. Its a level of honesty and frankness that's missing in comic journalism. Also its great reading Chad work through his cynicism towards everything.

I also listened to an old Splash page podcast (episode 22) were they discuss a clip in which someone threatens to punch Tim Callahan in the throat because he didn't like X-Factor. I love the fact that a review, however mundane, could elicit such a reaction. I'm not sure if its that certain groups of fans are easily angered at any perceived criticism of their favorite "thing" or that people just like to punch other people in the throat for no reason. Even more interesting is that a person who would go so far as to threaten a critic, would then tell said critic that they take comics to seriously...i wish it was satire, because that would be brilliant, but i doubt their smart enough for that.

Well that's about 800 words and required next to no thought. Ill try and have a real piece up next week, which sadly enough will have taken 10x as long and might be 200 words longer.

I now see the appeal of "Copy and Paste" journalism.