Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hope you like rhetorical questions

-I've been contemplating the currently popular pastime of searching for potentially offensive images in DC/Marvel solicitations, and it occurs to me that this is now an active type of process for a lot of folks. In the past, we looked at solicitations mostly just to check out all the new covers; if one of them stood out as particularly stupid or offensive, then people would comment. At some point, perhaps after noticing that there were always a few questionable covers in any given month, the possibility of offensive covers became a more prominent concern. Solicitation browsing thus became something done with an air of anticipation, as we dreaded our first look at the inevitable Michael Turner covers. But now I'm starting to get the sense that some folks are primarily searching for offensive cover art when they browse solicitation art; any consideration of impending stories or the actual quality of the compositions are increasingly secondary.

This is kind of an interesting phenomenon in and of itself, but I wonder what the eventual impact will be on future covers. We're at the point where there's an interminable parade of outrages, a new one every week. Surely cover artists and editors have noticed this. How will they react? Will the stakes be raised? Will tentacles become a staple of Marvel/DC covers, to the point where we grow numb to their presence? If so, what will replace them? Giant metal phalli? Erotic gas masks? Erotic cannibalism? (Someone at Marvel/DC needs to rent some Ruggero Deodato.) Or, against all odds, will cover artists and their editors try to take things down a notch? I'm betting on the former. Legal experts--is it possible to trademark the concept of erotic eye trauma? I'm trying to seek out tomorrow's trends today.

-Am I the only blogger on earth who kind of likes Green Arrow? Maybe I just haven't read enough Mike Grell-era stuff or something, but when I think of GA, I think of the version in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, or in Denny O'Neill's Justice League. Yes, the Green Lantern/Green Arrow version is kind of stupid, but anyone who actually reads the word balloons in those comics is just asking for trouble.

(And now I see that there's a new counter-backlash against the anti-Arrow/Canary wedding backlash. It's hard to keep up these days. I still get the sense, however, that nobody else likes Green Arrow for some reason.)

-"I wonder if anyone will notice we replaced Al Capp with a government surplus robot programmed to hunt Communists."

-Holy fuck, a new Jim Woodring story? Related #1: I bought my first issue of MOME last week, but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I finally decided that I couldn't pass up a new Trondheim story. Related #2: Is it worth picking up any of the Woodring DVDs? I'm guessing yes, but I thought I'd pose the question here.

-Semi-reviews of Ignatz comics: Delphine #2 was better than the first issue, partly because the original gray tones have been replaced with more of a sepia. Plus Richard Sala seems to be getting better accustomed to the larger format. I didn't think he had fully made that adjustment with the first issue; it looked like his regular art, only blown up to a larger size. Now there's more detail, and Sala seems to be playing with the extra space a little more. I'm also enjoying the story more than some of his more recent work. For me, Mad Night lacked the interesting set pieces and imagery which made The Chuckling Whatsit such a pleasure. Delphine holds the promise of a return to form: so far we've seen winding narrow streets, strange stores, dark forests, cemeteries, and rustic shacks. The mirror/picture sequence was clever and creepy, while the design of the woodsman (particularly the cape) underlined the theme of medieval imagery intersecting with the modern world (a theme also emphasized by the protagonists' struggle to find a car or phone). This is Sala at his best, which is very good indeed.

And having said all that, I thought Zak Sally's Sammy the Mouse #1 was even better. This is doubly shocking considering the concept sounded absolutely horrible: ugly versions of Disney characters wander aimlessly, drink to excess, vomit, and argue. Sounds as unappealing as another "adult" superhero book filled with analogues for DC and Marvel's intellectual properties. The difference here is execution; as Jog mentioned, the dialogue is completely credible and serves to distinguish Sammy, Feekes, and Puppy Boy as compelling characters, rather than one-note jokes. The scenes where these characters interact, especially in the bar, soar--Sally's sense of timing is just as sharp as his dialogue. It's really wonderful stuff, which makes it even more surprising that the introduction of larger plot devices (involving mysterious off-panel voices and hulking creatures) don't detract from the overall experience. In similar, lesser works, one might long for the author to concentrate on the smaller, more charming moments. Here, they work in absolute harmony. It's similar to Bone in that respect (and in a few others as well.)

As for the art, I'll again echo Jog in saying the blue and gray tones are crucial. Sally draws his characters in a very sketchy, off-the-cuff style; at times they look almost like doodles. This would be overbearing if not for the presence of the tones, which add a lighter, almost whimsical touch to the proceedings. Sally generally limits the tones to the background, leaving the characters unshaded (and thus brighter and more prominent on the page). It's a very effective technique. If Sally's art were more polished, it would emphasize the derivative nature of the characters. Instead, the loose, expressive linework gives the characters their own life apart from the intellectual properties which inspired them.*

This, in turn, begs the question of why Sally chose to use Disney analogues to tell his story. It's probably too early to say, but the most obvious effect is to emphasize the bleakness of Sally's characters. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy (or is that Pluto?) are smiling, friendly characters who have adventures together; Sammy, Feekes, and Puppy Boy are alcoholic wastrels who only assemble for the purposes of alcohol consumption (at least in this volume). There might be something deeper to this, but I can't really say yet. I can say, however, that it's not anarchistic, fuck-the-man bullshit. At the very least, it adds an unease to the proceedings; we'll see if it's intended to do any more than that.

*Unfortunately, I don't think this effect worked on the cover; the rich reds and yellows make Sally's drawing of Sammy look shabby. Plus his pose obscures the fact that he's a Mickey Mouse analogue. It's a cover which would actually deter me from buying the book, if I weren't already inclined to buy it.)


Joe Rice said...

The DVDs are mind-blowing, almost literally so.

Noah Brand said...

Hey, I'm with you on Green Arrow. Ollie simultaneously has the balls to yell at Batman AND the balls to yell at Superman, which are two totally separate and unrelated types of balls. He rocks.

As to the outrage, I think you've got the wrong impression. It's not that there's a sudden loud chorus of regular weekly outrage, it's that the voices that ARE speaking up seem louder because they were preceded by almost total silence. Folks aren't looking at the solicits to find things to be mad about, they're looking at them the same way they always have. The difference is that now, when they see something that's really fucked up, they take the time to say something about it.

Cole Moore Odell said...

Part of it is just the Internet: a bunch of self-consciously feminist comics readers found each other online, and are now amplifying each other through the hub of When Fangirls Attack. Before, those who might have looked at retarded images in Previews and grimaced to themselves have a receptive audience for their complaints, and the courage of strength in numbers to shout about it.

Unfortunately, this development leads to people saying, in all sincerity, things like "I don't know where to focus my rage"...about mildly cheesecake Green Arrow covers.

Nevertheless, I don't think there's anything strange about or wrong with the basic impulse. There is, after all, a lot of stupid, sniggering sexist shit in comics. Look at any picture of or comment by Joe Quesada and tell me he couldn't use a good verbal (or otherwise) stoning.