Friday, August 04, 2006

Hey look! New content!

So... haven't been reading new stuff lately (as I mentioned in the last post). But Franny and I each have an article in this month's edition of that nifty online zine, The Comic Foundry.

True to form, Franny writes something intellectual, citing actual theories and forming coherent sentences.

I, on the other hand, write something that is equal parts ZOMGFLAIL and fanboy snark.

So go, check that out. Let us know what you think, and maybe we'll do that again.

...If you're here because you Googled one of us after reading our stuff in CF, welcome! Please take a look at the "Best Of" links to the right, and enjoy your stay.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Creative titles are overrated

So. I haven't written in a very long time. And there's a very important reason why.

First off, I didn't want to come in here after Franny has written some very well-composed, articulate pieces about very good indie comics and sound like "that guy" on comics forums, the asshole who rants about the most inane shit:

But that feeling quickly passed. I'm passionate about comics. When I'm passionate about something, I tend to swear like a sailor. And I still think dumb shit like the O RLY? owl is really, really funny. So fuck trying to be "academic" and "safe for work."

So the real reason I've been silent for so long? I got tired. I got really, really fucking tired of new comics. I'm tired of One Year Later, I'm tired of Infinite Crisis, and saddest of all, I'm really tired of 52 and I haven't even read a damn page of the thing.

That's what made me realize it. After I graduated from MSU earlier this month, I moved away from my beloved comics shop back to my parents' place in Saginaw. So I haven't read any new comics for over three weeks.

And, amazingly, I don't miss them at all. I've missed the first three issues of 52 and I couldn't care less.

I had way more fun reading old issues of Action Comics Weekly than I did reading most of what's come out in the past four months. And that's sad.

Seriously, people. In ten years 52 will be in exactly the same position Action Comics Weekly is now. Some of it is pretty good, some of it is eye-gougingly bad... and all of it will be in the quarter bin. So why freak out about it? I have so many other things I'd rather spend my energy on. Like playing World of Warcraft and doodling little pictures of Art Spiegelman getting sexually harassed by furries.

So! Here's to the old ones, the bad ones, the cracktastic ones. Here's to the issues in your longbox you'll love long after the latest crossover has been retconned out of existence.

For the first time in my life, I'm without my precious, mile-long pull list.

And it feels pretty good.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Starting to read independent and experimental comics is like entering any fandom, although I think many creators in the genre would bristle at that term. Success at finding something you like is much more likely if you have a friend to guide you and make recommendations. The good stuff comes largely through word of mouth--if you go only by books that get big shiny recognition, you end up with Jimmy Corrigan, which may be revolutionary but is absolutely no fun to read.

I am a very suspicious reader. But I can say with certainty that my latest read, Gilbert Hernandez's half of Love and Rockets, is absolutely deserving of the heaps of praise it has gotten in the several decades since it debuted. I picked up the trade hardcover edition Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories because I intended to look in it for traces of a codex legacy--I'm working on a paper for a class on American Indian rhetorics that's trying to imagine a decolonial history for the comic book. While I didn't exactly find what I was originally looking for, the work had obvious connections to other literary and comic book texts.

All of Gilbert Hernandez's stories in this collection take place in the fictional town of Palomar, which he glosses as meaning "pigeon coop". This world-building impulse can be traced back to two sources--Gabriel Garcí­a Marquez's town of Macondo, featured in One Hundred Years of Solitude as well as DC Comics' own fictionopolises like Metropolis and Gotham. He actually references the ironic connection to Macondo in the text, but the Metropolis link is extra-textual. His author bio mentions a childhood love of Superman, and to me as a reader, the impulse to create a fictional town with a vague geographical location is as much a legacy of DC in his work as it is a legacy of that other super-famous South American writer.

That's a fun detail that makes my literary brain happy, but it's also an engaging read. The portrayal of small-town life is really...authentic. That's always a problematic word to use, but the characters truly felt like real people to me. I'm not from a poor Mexican rural town, so I can't really judge it on accuracy there, but as far as human nature goes, G. Hernandez understands souls passing through this world.

I was surprised as to how much disability there is in the work. This relates to the feeling of authenticity--in the real world, disabled folks are everywhere, they just end up invisible in many forms of media. If you know what to look for they are everywhere in superhero comics, but I had discounted indie comics from my search (more because I know a lot more about superheroes than I do anything else). I was short-sighted--the town of Palomar embodies what James Trent describes as the oldest form of reaction to people with disabilities (mental in his case, as his book was Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the United States). They are integrated into the community because there is no other possibility. One man is referred to sometimes as "Martí­n el Loco" but ultimately he is just another part of the town. I'm not sure anyone has ever done a disability-related analysis of the work but it merits further thought.

I'm still a little skeptical of all the praise Love and Rockets has received for good portrayals of women, as it is written by men, but it's very similar to the situation with Y: The Last Man. Dudes get gold medals for not being violently sexist. But I digress: the women are really cool characters, not judged by the author's gaze for being as sexually active as the men in the series.

Anyway, I loved what I have read so far, and since there is WAY more to read where that came from, my next stop will either be the Jaime Hernandez half of stuff or G. Hernandez's later works following his central character, Luba, and others after they leave Palomar.

Friday, April 21, 2006

My first comic

It's no longer "first comics week" but I have no concept of time other than it is flying, so I'm going to tell you about my first comic anyway.

As a young child, I was something of a female chauvinist. I didn't have any feminist analysis of oppression or hate men for any patriarchal sense, I just thought boys were gross, as well as everything that was even nominally male. Toy dinosaurs and trucks weren't actually male, so they were okay, but any anthropomorphic or humanoid toy had to be female for me to play with it. I had a rocking horse on springs that was technically named "Thunder" but I renamed it Jill so she could be a girl. Needless to say, I hardly had any Ken dolls. Actually, I never had a real Ken; I had Mr. Heart, the dad of a family of dolls, an Aladdin doll, and Prince Phillip doll from Sleeping Beauty. However, I had (still have) dozens of girl dolls. They took over my bedroom and were finally relegated to one half of the basement.

Suffice to say, when Marvel released a Barbie comic book, I was all over it. My first comic books were Barbie Comics #1 and Barbie Fashion #1 (they came bundled together). I have no idea what was in it or what the story was like, but it was pink and there were paper dolls and lots of pictures of clothes.

I do remember that it had a letters column. One letter has stuck in my mind to this day--a guy wrote in a few issues in after he had read his little sister's Barbie comics. He said that he was tired of ultra-violent comics like The Punisher and it made him happy to see that there was at least one Marvel comic book out there that told cute, funny stories without any gore.

There were Marvel company ads for other titles they sold, and I especially recall their ads for X-Men because I assumed all the characters they showed were boys, including Storm. I was ridiculously surprised and pleased when Fox Kids first aired the X-Men cartoon and I found out that she was a girl. If there were even a few girl X-Men I could make a concession and like them, even though there were boys too. (In the end I liked Rogue much better. Maybe I would have gone the other way if they used her costume from Claremont's leather years, but as it was Rogue had awesome hair and a cool belt.)

My one frustration was that there were never any superhero Barbies to play with. I really, really, really wanted X-Men Barbies. The closest they ever came while I was a kid was Flying Hero Barbie, who was pink and glittery--not like any X-Men I knew. The release of Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and (ugly) Batgirl barbies along with Elektra, the Invisible Woman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy dolls made my heart happy for the current generation of weird little girls who want their dolls to kick butt as well as have hair long enough to brush and lots of interesting outfits to wear. And, of course, I bought some for myself. Supergirl and Wonder Woman are wearing each other's costumes right now and sitting on top of my toybox. Seriously.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Waiting for Scott McCloud

Two men sit in a room. Neither knows why they are there. A table, or perhaps a picture of a table repeated over and over on the page, lies between them. There is a door, exquisitely crosshatched, and a window.

“Do you think there is a world outside that door?” asks the man in the mouse mask.

“I assume so,” replies the man with fat lips and blank glasses. “The world does not cease to exist when it is not observed by humans. A tree has life outside of human consciousness, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t. Know what you mean, that is. Do you know why we are here?” He takes off his mouse mask, throwing it on the floor, to reveal another mouse mask. You no longer see the first mask, but despite this, you assume it continues to exist.

“You asked me that. No.”

They stare blankly at each other for a moment.

“Do you have a name?” asks the man with fat lips.

“Art Spiegelman.”

“Let’s go.”

“We can’t”, says Art, “We’re waiting for Scott McCloud.”

“So what do we do while we wait?”

“We could hang ourselves.”

“We don’t have any rope.”

Art grimaces. “We could draw ourselves hanging ourselves. We are cartoonists, aren’t we?”

“Oh. I guess we are.”

They draw.

The man with fat lips asks: “Do you have a mouth?”


“I thought you did, because all my sensory evidence implies that you are talking to me. I assumed you had a mouth, but when I thought about it, I realized that I could not see it. Isn’t that strange?”

“Scott McCloud would call that closure, the process of seeing the parts but observing the whole."

“I don’t understand how that relates to whether or not you have a mouth, Mr. Spiegelman.”

Now that they have both said this, you become uneasy about the continued existence of the mouse mask on the floor. You no longer see it, and are apprehensive about whether or not it continues to exist, as you previously assumed. Perhaps this mouse mask only existed in your mind in the first place.

“I have a stylized face, do I not, mister…”

“Sacco. I’m Joe Sacco. Look, can you take off your mask? It’s really bothering me. I’d like to see your face in better detail.”

“Ah, but how then could you relate to me? The less detail there is in my face, the more people my face can describe. Besides,” Spiegelman continues, “Isn’t your face just a mask anyway? Facing outward from the day you were born?”

Sacco stands up and begins to pace.

“That’s ludicrous. My face is my face. Besides, I’m a cartoonist. I know about faces and drawing. I’ve made comic books about genocide, for Christ’s sake. But I draw in great detail—stylized and distorted imagery at times, to be sure, but with great detail. And I don’t think this makes it harder for people to relate to my comics than if they starred an army of stick figures.”

“What is real, Mr. Sacco?” Spiegelman takes off his mouse mask to reveal a human mask. He places the second mouse mask on the table, where you can see it. It continues to exist.

“Oh stop it. I draw in detail because I believe that detail, as well as my strategies for drawing interviews, give my work realism.”

“Remember, I am a cartoonist as well, Mr. Sacco. I did Maus. Both parts.”

“Congratulations. Frankly, I found your characters hard to tell apart from one another. If the only distinguishing feature of your individual characters are their attributes, their clothes, hat, accessories, then you are not working hard enough.”

“But my work is about the arbitrariness of the Holocaust—how it conflated individuals into one group identity to be extinguished. From the point of view of the Nazis, all Jews were the same. I reappropriated this sameness as well as the image of Jews as vermin, as mice, therefore transgressing the original meaning and purpose of the image. Anyone reading my book knows Jews do not all look the same in the real world, but in a cartoon world, characters do. Cartoon worlds, like that of Disney—“
Spiegelman pauses to spit on the ground.

“—have cultural connotations of niceness and happiness. I’m subverting those happy memories to tell a story about memory. The story is not about exactly how many Jews died in the Holocaust—my father couldn’t even remember exactly all the details of his own experience. My use of cartoons places my story in the realm of concepts.”

Sacco puzzles over this, while Spiegelman removes his human mask. You look away, and when you look at the next image, you see it has disappeared. You do not know where it went. His face is that of a mouse.

Spiegelman continues: “You are a reporter, are you not?”

Sacco nods.

“Your comics report on facts. It is only proper, according to McCloud, that you use great detail. Your works are in the realm of the physical world, and communicate the materiality of violence and warfare. Facts and dates, while never absolute, are nonetheless more important in your work than mine.”

“Does the level of detail I use on the grass in the background of my panels really affect how I present my facts? Most of those facts are stated in caption boxes or dialogue balloons."

“Ah, but the detail communicates materiality,” Spiegelman says with italic emphasis. “It gives the facts weight and physical presence, which lends to their credibility in the audience’s eye.”

“Okay, fine. Be vague and lacking in detail if you must. But why are we doing this in the first place? What’s the big deal about cartoons? I’m a big deal in comic books, and I don’t even know why,” says Sacco.

“Cartoons have a kind of acidic potency for clarifying a situation because they're reductive."

“Reductive, eh? This room is pretty acidic and reductive. I think I’m going to leave.”

“I wouldn’t, if I were you. You assume there’s something out there, but there’s only something there because you believe it to be so. Neither of us has any sensory evidence that there is anything outside. Nothing can be seen through that window. Your perception of reality is an ‘act of faith, based on mere fragments’."

“I’ve had it with you! “Closure” is the only way the world makes sense! If you stop believing that things exist outside of your sight, then you’d go mad! I’m leaving.”

Neither man moves.


Joe Sacco and Art Spiegelman sit at a kitchen table, reading an essay by Franny Howes titled “Waiting for Scott McCloud”.

“This is terrible,” Spiegelman says. “She makes me out to be some kind of McCloud worshipping murine Zen master. And the assignment was to write a fictitious conversation between the two of us about Understanding Comics. She never even mentions the book.”

“But we were obviously talking about it, I mean, closure and all.” Sacco sips his coffee. Scent lines, a visual metaphor, rise from it, as if from a cartoon pile of feces. However, there are no flies, and there is no evidence to indicate that it smells bad. Thus, you assume the coffee is hot and fragrant.

“But what was her point? That we’re all postmodern weirdos?”

“Be nice. I think she was saying that while it is not the be-all, end-all of theories (signified by my character’s vocal protests), McCloud’s theory of abstract cartoons really does help to explain the difference between our styles. We are both realists, but your realism is a fuzzy realism of memory, and mine is a hard-edged realism of fact.”

“But you address memory in your work as well.”

“Yes, but I don’t problematize it. Part of reporting is sorting out the unreliable sources before you construct your article/comic book/whatever, and only using reliable sources, thus eliminating this question. In contrast, Maus, especially part II, has a strong concern with how to represent memory, especially when you show yourself pondering how to draw Françoise, or being besieged by the media, as well as every part that involves discourse with your father."

“What about all that mask stuff? And whether or not the world exists?”

“Duh, Art. It was an abstract attempt to grapple with McCloud’s notion of closure. She’s merely illustrating through text the phenomenon’s importance, and pointing out its action in the mind of the reader. By pointing it out and problematizing it, she draws attention to it, in the same way that McCloud illustrates it by having the world behind the little boy disappear without him watching it, or stating that he has no legs."

Spiegelman looks resigned. His face wrinkles with frustration. “Fine, Sacco, you win this round. For all I know, I’m a fictional character merely conceding to make a rhetorical point, but you still win.”

With that, Sacco and Spiegelman disappear and are replaced by something infinitely stranger. Who’s to say this has not happened before, and will not happen again?

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Reading Green Lantern Rebirth #5, I said to myself: Oh for Gods sake, he better not waste too much time next issue with Batman. Just hit the bastard and get to the real fight. The next month?


I've always wished for Arisia or Katma Tui to come back to life... and I'd really love Arisia to come back as this sexy butch broad who doesn't take shit from anybody...

In Green Lantern Corps: Recharge, I got a butch version of Katma Tui. Close enough.

I've always wanted to see Hal break the Cyborg Superman in half for what he did to Coast City. (I cannot overstress my visceral hatred of that character.) Reading the previews for May's comics, who do I see on the cover of Green Lantern 12?

Oh, fuck yes.

Walking home yesterday with my comics under my arm, I planned in my head an entry about Steve Englehart's run on Green Lantern Corps... specifically, the issues where Kilowog heads off to the USSR, and the Earth GLs have to deal with the conflict of being heroes for the whole planet vs. their status as Americans. I've told Franny that I'd really love for someone to update that story... After all, you had 7 people with weapons of mass destruction living in a compound in southern California. It's not a stretch to imagine an administration that would declare them a terrorist cell and a threat to homeland security. Or, at the very least, they'd make a lot of other countries very, very nervous.

About ten minutes after formulating that thought, I opened this week's Green Lantern.

Arguing the political complexities of Green Lanterns. While fighting ROCKET REDS, for God's sake!

Literally everything I've ever randomly hoped for in Green Lantern over the past couple of years has been delivered to me by Geoff Johns.

...I swear to God, if I had any fillings I'd be checking them for radio transceivers right now.

Franny, who is always the voice of reason when I lose my shit over things like this, said it's most likely because Geoff and I have a lot in common: Michigan native. MSU alum. Unreasonable obsession with Hal Jordan and test pilots.

But still. It's spooky as hell.

And as long as there might be a chance I've got a psychic connection to Mr. Johns, the Lord and Master of DC Continuity, here are a couple of requests:

*Hal and Guy watching the MSU vs. U of M football game. Hal wearing an MSU T-shirt just to piss Guy off.

*Boodika beating the ever living piss out of Hal in revenge for the loss of her ring and hand.

*More gloriously slashy Hal/Kyle moments.

*Hot hot pilot makeouts between Hal and Cowgirl in the back of an F-15. (Yes, I know it's not even remotely comfortable/possible from a positioning standpoint. It's my fantasy. Shut up.)

*The untimely death of Carol's husband Gil during the course of 52

And if any of this actually happens... well, don't say I didn't call it first.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sorry for the radio silence...

Amy and I are both sick, I more than her, so we've been temporarily unavailable to snark. As soon as I acquire some beneficial pharmaceuticals things should get rolling again.