Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Real short items

My first piece for The Savage Critics:
A review of Black Hole, it's here. Sean Collins did indeed write a review earlier this week as well--your memory isn't playing tricks on you. Later in the week we'll have a final post reacting to each other's review, and maybe reacting to each other's reactions as well. Mark your calendars, fans of reactions.

My next review there:
Probably Kramers Ergot 7. Hopefully that's not what Sean had planned.

Why I will see the Watchmen movie:
I imagine that it will eventually be on basic cable (or satellite, in my case). I still haven't seen The Dark Knight; I'm starting to question if I'll ever bother.

Note #1 about recent Bookscan conversations:
I think the current debates reveal more about the rivalries and relationships between prominent comics bloggers than anything useful about the numbers themselves. This probably would have amused me more a few years ago.

Note #2 about recent Bookscan conversations:
As weary as I am of the phenomenon mentioned above, I'm always more annoyed by the interjections from the peanut gallery. Can anyone point out any instance where Alan Coil has ever added anything of value to any conversation whatsoever?

Note #3 about recent Bookscan conversations:
This is the sad, serious part. Last year I interviewed Andy Graves, the owner of an independent bookstore in Columbia, SC that stocked a lot of art/literary comics. It was the kind of store which I think accounts for some of the discrepancies in the Bookscan numbers. Unfortunately, the Happy Bookseller closed late last year. It's hardly a unique story, which makes it all the more tragic that the popularization of the graphic novel coincided with the steep decline of the independent bookstore. It could have been a vital symbiotic relationship. I mean, I guess it still is for those big, bad independents that are still going strong, but it would have been nice to know that you could go into any medium-sized town in the US, found the local independent bookstore, and known that you could find something like Love and Rockets on the shelf.

This year marks the 150th uh, 200th anniversary of the births of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln:
In fact, the day passed a couple of weeks ago. You may have heard scintillating debate over which man was more important to history. This brings to mind other classic "which was more important to history" debates: Millard Fillmore or Ed Sullivan? Blackbeard or Henry Ford? Jesus Christ or the cultivation of rice? The debates rage.

If you didn't know that mixed martial arts had started to resemble Tekken, here is your visual evidence: That's Nate Marquardt finishing Wilson Gouveia at last weekend's UFC 95. The amazing thing is that nobody had previously considered Marquardt even one of the top 10 strikers in his division, but now he's pulling off the kind of chain attacks that would be considered too unrealistic for Virtua Fighter.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Was thinking this post would no longer be timely, then Diamond bails me out

(This post is NSFW. It's not pornographic or anything, but I wanted to warn you that there are drawings of bare-chested ladies on down the line.)

So it's come to my attention that Diamond has named Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo's Joker the OGN of the year. For those curious, something called Dark Knight: The Joker 1:6 Scale Collector Figure won "Toy Product of the Year," (great year for cash-ins on Heath Ledger's likeness!) and Marvel Masterpieces Set 2 Trading Cards won Non-Sports Card Product of the Year. I'm glad to see that Collectable [sic] Statue of the Year was a separate category from Mini Bust of the Year; I'd hate to live in a world where Batman: Black & White Frank Miller Statue and Women of the DCU Series 2 Wonder Woman Bust wouldn't both receive some kind of award.

Even though there can be no doubting the immense prestige of the Diamond Gem awards (just re-read that first paragraph if you have any doubt), I probably wouldn't have made a mental note of any of this had there not been a post on a prominent blog about a month ago suggesting that Joker was the graphic novel of the year, and implying that anyone who doubted this was a stupid elitist who wanted to wrest the term "graphic novel" from the righteous grip of the masses. I had planned to write some kind of snide response, but then it dawned on me that I had not actually read Joker, nor even flipped through its pages. How could I write something suggesting that another writer was painfully ignorant and unfit to make such statements if I myself had not read the book in question? I mean, what if Joker made Maus look like, I don't know, Women of the DCU Series 2 Phantom Lady Bust? Who would look silly then?

So I went to Borders to find out for certain and, well, it's absolutely, positively not even close to being one of the best things I've read this year. Remember that list I made of all the stuff I would consider (or would like to consider) for a year's best list? Every single thing I've read on it is better than Joker, and not by just a little. I don't like Lee Bermejo's art at all, and I guess I'm immune to the charms of Brian Azzarello's writing (especially his dialogue, which I take to be one of his strengths according to his admirers). The whole thing felt like a gritty crime caper squeezed into a pair of ill-fitting spandex tights. That scene with the newsie? The one holding up a newspaper with a headline about the Joker's latest shenanigans, so as to inform the reader that Joker is back and Gotham is terrified? That's just schlocky. Terrible.

I mean, I understand the purpose of Joker is to exploit the most recent Batman movie, to attract consumers who liked Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker. (I would think the cover does it a disservice in that it's not clear this is the "movie" Joker, but the thing seems to have sold well enough, so what do I know?) Personally, I found it distracting, a constant reminder that this was a cash grab on DC's part. I mean, it's a smart move, and I don't blame them or anything; this is exactly the sort of thing bloggers rightfully complain about when some company (cough, MARVEL) fails to have a palatable tie-in for the quasi-interested moviegoer. But really, now: does Lee Bermejo have to "cast" Johnny Depp as the Riddler? I'm not sure if Bermejo drew this before or after Michael Caine claimed Depp would be in the next movie; either way, it's just as lame here as when Salvador Larocca or Bryan Hitch do it.

So no, I cannot fathom how anyone could proclaim Joker to be the best graphic novel of the year. It speaks to one of the following: (1) woeful unfamiliarity with the wide, wide array of comics with greater ambitions, and more successful realizations of their ambitions, that were published in 2008; (2) taste so far removed from my understanding of what constitutes worthwhile comics that I question my own grasp of reality; (3) a weird definition of "graphic novel" that excludes every halfway decent comic book-like thing which came out in 2008; or (4) a premium on appreciation for what shoveled the most money into a distributor's coffers in 2008.

As long as I was in my local Borders (which, BTW, looks about as sad as you'd expect given the chain's current woes--those manga shelves are anemic, they're literally debacled; on the other hand, you can't sneeze without tripping over a Watchmen display, or something like that), I figured I might as well check out a few other books which I had heretofore ignored when considering the best of 2008. In a couple of cases, I read copies from the local public library. Briefly:

Too Cool to Be Forgotten
I never cared for Alex Robinson's art. In fact I hated it with a burning passion that has only faded in recent years as I've realized that it's not 1998 anymore, and that Robinson has probably learned a few things over the last decade-and-change. This is, of course, absolutely true; he's actually turned into a good cartoonist. I still don't find his style all that appealing, but he's a confident storyteller and character designer. It's a little annoying when you get the sense that Robinson is holding back a little--there's a sequence on page 94 that suggests that he's capable of more interesting linework than what fills most of Too Cool to Be Forgotten. But he's got a leg up on most working cartoonists.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty okay book until the end, which is about the schmaltziest thing I've read in ages (or it would be if I hadn't read (and reviewed) Never Land recently). It's a really hackneyed sort of ending, though I could see it really speaking to those with raw wounds similar to the protagonist's. But I still found it simplistic, implying that healing psychological wounds is kind of like solving a jigsaw puzzle. Too Cool to Be Forgotten is worth reading, and has as nicely designed a cover as I can remember seeing in 2008, but it's not one of the best comics of the year.

The Alcoholic
First the cover: I hate photo covers on graphic novels. It makes sense for prose novels because there aren't any pictures inside, so it doesn't really matter what's on the cover as long as it's aesthetically pleasing and encourages purchases. Those are also the goal of most comics covers as well, but the difference is comics do have interior art. Having an interest in what's actually inside a graphic novel or comic, I expect the imagery on the front cover to bear some resemblance to the interior art. There are, of course, exceptions; I wouldn't dare complain about those great Carmine Infantino and Neal Adams covers in the 1960s, for instance. But that's partly because I think they're engaging in a type of visual narrative themselves, which, as Eddie Campbell has argued, is a sort of cousin to comics, and worth our time in and of themselves. (At least I think that's what Campbell has argued, but for the love of god don't go by my memory/interpretation of his words.) The cover of The Alcoholic, however, conveys the impression that the book is ashamed by its guts, almost like it's trying to lure in the fabled casual reader by intimating that it's not really a comic book. It's just like a regular book, see?

At least that's what I think whenever I see a cover like this one. This is at least a shade better than Vertigo's other major OGN for 2008, Incognegro, in that interior artist Dean Haspiel drew the napkin doodle on the cover. On the inside, I thought Haspiel's art was a bit less sharp than I remembered. There are some pages which do shine, like a scene towards the end of the book depicting the narrator (a basically non-veiled stand-in for writer Jonathan Ames) trying heroin for the first time. It's effective for a few reasons--the way the Jonathan's legs form panel gutters for instance--but it's also noteworthy that it's one of the few panels in which Haspiel's Jack Kirby influence is prominent. And that's really Haspiel's strong suit, those sorts of powerful images.

Unfortunately, part of what bugs me about this book is my doubt that Haspiel is the right artist for it. I think he's a fine artist, and his work with Harvey Pekar indicates that he can succeed in a collaborative effort, but I don't think he sounds the right tone here. No matter how mundane his material, Pekar's work is always very much steeped in the traditions of the traditional North American comic book, making Haspiel a good collaborator. Here, though, I think Haspiel's storytelling and cartooning is actually too big, too comic book-y. There's a lot of crying and sadness in this book, the depictions of which almost always involve mouths and eyes agape, actual rivers of tears flowing. Like, you could go white water rafting down those cheeks.

Part of this is Ames' fault as well, as he veers toward the melodramatic. When bad news is delivered over the phone (and it frequently is), characters stare directly into the reader's eyes, shouting NO NO NO in big bold letters. There's certainly a place for melodrama in comics, no question, but Ames and Haspiel seem to lose sight of what kind of book they're making. This is a cancer comic. I don't use that term in an entirely pejorative sense, since there have been many good tragedy-laden memoirs published in the last 10 years--the best probably being Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. But a cancer comic calls for at least some degree of subtlety, as seen in Bechdel's work, or in that of Emmanuel Guibert. (Alan's War isn't really a cancer comic, given the tone and content, but it's a cousin.) The approach here is more like the kind of made-for-TV movie I saw during my childhood. (Not-so-fun fact: CBS aired one such movie about a classmate of mine who shot and killed two guys who were apparently trying to rob his home.)

There are other problems, like my feeling that I didn't really learn much about the roots of Jonathan A.'s problems. Ames seems a little reluctant to discuss the possible influence of his parents and his upbringing, but it's probably hard to get out of your own skin when writing a memoir like this. The Alcoholic isn't a bad comic. It's certainly better than Joker (high praise indeed!) but probably not as good as Too Cool to Be Forgotten. I liked the ending, which actually makes the execution a bit more frustrating--this might have been pretty good if handled differently. Still, it's almost certainly going to be somewhere in the top 10 on the 2008 meta-list, so kudos for DC/Vertigo's publicity department's work in getting this into the right hands.


This comic is seriously okay. If graphic novels were widely available in airport newsstands, the homes of relatives hosting family gatherings, or the waiting rooms of dentists, tire stores, etc., then I would strongly recommend checking out the first volume of Northlanders. It captures the feeling of reading an issue of Quasar or Kull the Conqueror on a long drive with one's parents. I liked it better than Local or Demo.

You'll find the art by Davide Gianfelice and (particularly) colorist Dave McCraig quite good, at least at first. McCraig's rich colors gives it the appearance of stained glass at times, sort of an ironic (but not unpleasant) effect for a comic about Vikings. It also reminds me of Ernie Colon's art in his 1988 OGN Ax (which is pretty interesting, if you ever get the chance to flip through it). As the series wears on, Gianfelice's line art looks more rushed, the lines heavier and less expressive, almost bordering on latter-day Scott McDaniel territory. Brian Wood's writing provides occasional excitement, and lots of colorful language.

It is by no means one of the best comics or graphic novels of 2008, at least based on the first collection of issues. Maybe the single issues published last year improve dramatically; maybe I'll check out the second volume when it comes out later this year to see for sure.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I swear I'm going to run this every year until someone admits it's funny

I have to admit, this makes even less sense the further we get from those halcyon days of furious reactions to Civil War (responses to Final Crisis are positively panegyrical in comparison), perhaps best exemplified by those ubiquitous/fatuous "Cap was right" banners. Also noteworthy (sort of): I do not have a stepfather; my parents are actually still married. And man, I really liked exclamation points back then.

I added in an entry for President Obama and edited some stuff that seemed excessively dumb in retrospect (obviously that's really saying something). Otherwise, this is the same shit I've run the last two President's Days. Get used to it!

You know, we don't do enough to celebrate President's Day in the DC/Marvelogosphere, which is a terrible shame. So we asked our crack research team, who we guarantee know more about history than you, to rectify this situation. What they came up with is a list of which president best corresponds to which corporate intellectual property. Hope you enjoy!

-Abraham Lincoln: Known as the father of our country, old Honest Abe only needed one nickname: the Rail Splitter. Now we've never been much for physical labor. I mean, occasionally our stepfather would force us to pick weeds on a Saturday afternoon, even though we told him that we were allergic to dirt. God, I HATE HIM SO MUCH....Anyway, we speculate that rail-splitting might have been something like swinging a hammer. So the obvious answer here is THOR.

-George Washington: Known as the father of our country, old Honest George was known for chopping down cherry trees just to prove how honest he is. Well, no superhero says "chop" quite like KARATE KID.

-Andrew Jackson: Waged war on the Indians, killed a man in a duel...sounds like JONAH HEX to us. Plus they kind of looked similar.

-Andrew Hamilton: This president is best known for appearing on a ten dollar bill, being secretary of the treasury, calling for the expansion of the federal government, and being killed by Aaron Burr. We're going to say IRON MAN.

-Aaron Burr: We'll continue our earlier line of thought and say CAPTAIN AMERICA. We guess we'll see this Wednesday--we can't wait!!!!!!!!

-Ronald Reagan: We always associate Reagan with our stupid stepfather, who made us wear a stupid Reagan/Bush '84 button to class. All the cool first graders called me us a nazi and made us eat dirt, which made our allergies act up. Our stupid stepfather had a stupid mustache like DOCTOR STRANGE, so let's go with him.

-Franklin Roosevelt: Well, Roger Stern says CAPTAIN AMERICA, so who are we to disa--wait, we already did Captain America. Uh, let's say USAGENT.

-George W. Bush: We hear he doesn't care about black people, and neither did GREEN LANTERN, HAL JORDAN VERSION. Bring back the other guy! [In all fairness to Hal Jordan and his gruesome legion of fans, I hear that he did care about the "purple skins." -DH]

-George HW Bush: Obviously must be GREEN LANTERN, ALAN SCOTT VERSION.

-John F Kennedy: Taken from us too soon. GWEN STACEY.

-Bill Clinton: The greatest player in the history of the presidents, the ultimate large-testicled sex machine. Clearly you have to go with that stud NIGHTWING. We bet they've even had sex with some of the same women! In the DCU, we mean. We know Nightwing doesn't really exist...yet!

-Warren G Harding: Known as the most handsome president, so we guess he'd be BATMAN. Well, we hear women think Batman is handsome. We can't tell, being totally heterosexual-type guys.

-Dwight D Eisenhower: We think he looks like METAMORPHO. Runner up: DON RICKLES.

-Grover Cleveland: Our greatest president, the man who freed the slaves, proponent of free silver. Clearly the best choice is SILVER SURFER.

-Barack Hussein Obama: Call me old fashioned, but I'm going to say GREEN LANTERN, JOHN STEWART VERSION. I've always thought Denny O'Neill's depiction of a proud, angry black hero was directly responsible for the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The Civil Rights Act probably had more to do with Lt. Flap from Beetle Bailey, though. I guess that would have been a good choice had this been an article comparing presidents to minor comic strip characters. Maybe next year. [Ha ha. -DH]

And there you have it, every president ever, compared to a superhero. Happy Presidents' Day!!!! !!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

That announcement

In case you've missed it during this wild Valentine's Day weekend, I'm now writing for The Savage Critic, along with fellow new recruits Tucker Stone, Sean Collins, David Uzumeri, and Chris Eckert. I even have a neat little icon designed by Kate McMillan, a test tube to represent Chemical King. I had no idea until I joined that all the Savage Critics' icons represented Legion of Superhero characters (with the exceptions of those prima donnas Tucker and Douglas, who apparently prefer Popeye and Krazy Kat, respectively, to the genius of teenage Jim Shooter; also, maybe (MAYBE) I'm dense, but I'm not entirely sure if Chris and David's icons represent Legionnaires or not). I guess that explains Jeff Lester's tooth, which had previously always baffled me. Anyway, my first post is here. (EDIT: And you know, it now occurs to me that Sean Collins' lightning bolt probably has more to do with David Bowie than Lightning Lad, which probably explains why it's purple and red instead of yellow. Plus, I guess my icon is more accurately described as a beaker, rather than a test tube--and a beaker makes for a better visual anyway. Sigh. One day I'll figure shit out, I swear.)

I'll mostly be working on a project I was going to announce whenever I finished my best of 2008 list (STILL IN THE WORKS, I promise you): an ongoing diary of my attempt to put together a best of the 00s list. I, of course, encourage each and every one of you to consider making a similar list at the end of this year. And we can also think about which comics we would consider for such a list, whether or not to include reprints and translations of work from before this decade, etc. I'm not going to try to make an exhaustive list right now (that's what the comments section is for), but we can start with a list of what I suspect are the consensus choices, or at least the closest approximation to such a thing that I can think of off the top of my head:

Things originally published in this decade:

Fun Home
Bottomless Belly Button
All Star Superman
Exit Wounds
What It Is
Scott Pilgrim series
Acme Novelty Library
Safe Area Gorazde
American Born Chinese
Y the Last Man

Things spanning multiple decades, or originally published in the 90s and collected in the 00s:

Black Hole
David Boring
Jimmy Corrigan
Louis Riel
any of the thousands of Love and Rockets reprints

Reprints would include:

Complete Peanuts
Krazy Kat
Art Out of Time

Translations would include:

Persepolis (I think it qualifies for the 00s anyway)
D&Q's Tatsumi reprints
various Tezuka reprints

Anthologies would include:

Kramers Ergot
McSweeney's #13

None of that is an endorsement of these selections (particularly Y the Last Man), but it's a starting point for a starting point. Now to narrow it down further: what book should I read to start this series? I'm kind of leaning towards Black Hole.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Also: have been playing too much Persona 4

I was going to write something about Final Crisis #7, since what the world really needs right now is yet another post about that subject. But what I'd have to say is largely solipistic, I'm so sick of superheroes stuff, plus a little about how I can't take Morrison's grand themes seriously because I look at Superman and see a mascot used to sell peanut butter, and not a serious socio-religious figure. I would like to echo the comments from Sean Collins (who, just to be clear, is one of the greatest advocates of Final Crisis #7 on my RSS feed) and others that Grant Morrison might consider actually reading some comics by people who are actually doing the revolutionary storytelling he thinks he's doing. Morrison is much, much closer to Geoff Johns or Brian Bendis than Kevin Huizenga or Yuichi Yokoyama, or even NYT Funny Pages mainstays like Jaime Hernandez or Dan Clowes. Given what I think of contemporary superhero comics, I consider Morrison kind of irrelevant to any discussions of what constitutes truly great comics. But then again, I thought All Star Superman was more "nice" than "mind-blowing," so what do I know?

In any event, I'm off to the land of dial-up at my parents' house for about a week so that I can attend my brother's wedding. So no posts for a while (I've been working on something about books I hadn't considered for the best of 2008 list--which, yes, I will eventually post someday--so expect that once I've returned and had a chance to read The Alcoholic). I'll still be checking email and stuff like that, though. Meta-list will be up whenever the year-in-review issue of TCJ is out and I manage to get a copy. And there should be some other Hyacinth-related news out next week, too. Excitement~!