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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

This Might Just Be One Of The Greatest Blog Posts Yet Produced By... Um... Me, I Guess!

Here's a silly question for all of you that was prompted by recent re-readings of Paradax, Rogan Gosh, and other such comics: If Brendan McCarthy was Jack Kirby for the 80s Brit-comics set, would that make Peter Milligan his Stan Lee?
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Saturday, May 21, 2005

Sharknife

Nah, I'm sorry, but this comic just isn't working for me. In Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, the "game logic" angle served worked both as a source of neat throwaway gags, and as an odd literalisation of the emotional lives of the characters. Like, Ramona wasn't just popping up in Scott's dreams because he was infatuated with her, she was there because she was really using his headspace as a shortcut! And not only does Scott have to deal with the mental specter of her previous boyfriends, he also has to fight them in hand to hand combat! These goofy touches are obviously meant to tweak the game playing, manga loving part of the reader's brain, but there's a context for them, and as such they add to the overall effect of the book quite nicely. In Sharknife, you get none of this. Instead you get the occasional beat-em-up stat overlay, a paper-thin plot... and that's about it.

This in itself is fair enough, as Sharknife seems to be aiming more for pure visual spectacle than anything else, but if I'm being honest it doesn't work for me on that level either. It's not that I don't like fight comics or computer games or whatever--on the contrary, I like these things just fine. It's more that I just don't feel that Sharknife plays with these elements in a way that comes off as anything but trite and try-hard. I can feel the comic straining for moments of cool, or computer-geek recognition, but the strain is too evident, and even admirably goofy touches such as the "special moves" sidebar don't save it for me. In the end I guess that it's the lack of rhythm that keeps me from getting more involved in this book. There's plenty of energy on display, for sure, but there's no sense of dynamism here--the story just flops from one action-filled splash to another with very little sense of purpose or pacing. It's too much like an actual beat-em-up, only without the level of interactivity that makes such games relatively worthwhile.

Compare it to, say, Paul Pope's turn on Solo, DC's current creator showcase title. The stories within that volume might not add up to much, but there's a sense of craft there, a basic knowledge of structure with which Pope neatly harnesses the vibrant energy of his artwork. The example seems pertinent, as Sharknife creator Corey Lewis' fluid, inky line drawing seems like the work of a man who has clearly read more than a handful of Paul Pope comics in his life. Don't get me wrong, there are obviously other influences in the mix too, but you can definitely see Pope in there, and looking at the two books (Solo and Sharknife) back to back, the deficiencies of the latter just seem all too clear. Solo is basically just Paul Pope goofing off, but it makes for a far more satisfying read than Sharknife does, because Pope knows how to hit some basic story beats while he's busy cranking out the purty pictures. And that's all I'm asking for here, really--it's not much, but it would help.

I hope I'm not being too mean here. It seems pretty clear to me that Lewis has talent and enthusiasm to burn, so I don't want to shit on his parade too much, but... it seems to me he's still got a long way to go before he can create a truly satisfying comic.

It could definitely be argued that this just isn't the right book for me, and that's absolutely fine. But to my eyes Sharknife still looks like nothing more than a series of lively surface impressions piled up on each other for next to no reason. I can see everything from Street Fighter to Jack Kirby in there, and that's cool and all, but if I'm being honest I had a hard time finding any reason to actually read the comic instead of merely skimming it.

Some further reading for you:

--Ian Brill gave the book a far more enthusiastic review than I did, but even he noted that Lewis is probably capable of better:

"Sharknife is a good piece of work. It is a great representative of a certain subculture of youth. Lewis is a young creator and I hope he is creating comics for a long time. For that to happen it means he'll have to keep growing and challenge himself and his audience. Bringing back memories of the days when shouting "ha-du-ken!" at the TV screen was a normal occurrence is cool but I want to see him use his gifts to give us a lot more. I think he can do it, it's just a matter of will he or not."

--Like me, Jog had a hard time getting caught up in the book. Unlike me, I think he did a damned good job of explaining exactly why this was the case:

"I guess when viewed from a distance, it's an attractive book. But I found it almost impossible to get much closer to the book, so self-contained is its model world of model fighters, an extended comic book of moving model kits."

--Speaking of Jog, he also wrote a pretty good piece about Paul Pope back when Solo #3 came out. Go check it out.

And that's me done for today. Take care out there folks!
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Friday, May 20, 2005

And Then There Were... Damn, How Many Of Us Are There Now?

There's something about that post I wrote about postmodern horror that just bugs me, so much so that I've almost deleted it several times in the past couple of weeks. Somehow, I've not banished it to memory just yet, but I've definitely came close. I've struggled to work out exactly what it is that bothers me about writing here, and in the end I guess that I think that my examples don't really match up very well with what my overall argument seems to be. You can see a sort of dawning awareness of this in the body of the post itself, as I begin to realise that while Shaun Of The Dead and Scott Pilgrim are constructed with a great deal of knowing playfulness, their characters act as though the stories they find themselves in are pretty natural. Since this is a big part of the charm of both works, it irritates me that my post seems to blunder around this fact in its attempts to meaningfully articulate what actually interests me in these stories. These are works that depict characters who could use a little bit more perspective in their approach to life, and while the rom-zom-com/Nintendo realism stylings may make this fact very clear, they also keep us tangled up in the lives of the protagonists. Whatever postmodern effects are at work here, they do not serve to distance us from the characters because there is enough of the original genre's appeal in there to keep us hooked. Shaun may be a bit of a dunderhead, but he's also the charming schmuck boyfriend trying to win back the girl, and someone who's struggling to survive in a zombie movie. These situations are played knowingly, but with sympathy, and this is important here. Similarly, while the various fantasies that Scott Pilgrim wraps himself up in are explicit for what they are on the page, they're also hugely engaging on their own terms.

And then there's Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Ken Lowery wrote a neat post about the terrifying honesty of horror a while back. It started off an inter-blog conversation that I missed out on because I was off trying to work out how to write about pop culture stuff again. Now Buffy can definitely be seen as part of what Ken and others seemed to be railing against, i.e horror that is too busy riffing on genre conventions to truly instill a sense of inescapable dread in the viewer. But while I don't think that Buffy could really stand up as a straight action or horror program, I do think that it uses some of the beats and pulp poetry of these genres to great effect as a part of the extended superhero soap opera that is at the heart of the show. These plays on genre convention are there to heighten the comedy, drama and metaphorical value of its characters lives as well as to provide the odd geeky in-joke. This is why I care about the program so much. Hell, this is why I care about all of the pop culture experiences I've been talking about here: Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead, Scott Pilgrim, etc... These aren't "merely" self-referential genre workouts. For all their use of fantastic genre tropes, there's something grounded, something human going on here, and that's what hooks me; that's what keeps me coming back.

Right... This is all still pretty vague and general, but it's a little bit closer to what I wanted to say in the first place, and that's enough for me right now. Take care, and tune in later for more random wanderings!
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Hey Kids -- Comics!

Sleeper Season Two, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips:

Shit, this just keeps on getting bleaker and bleaker.

I'm glad I read the most recent issue while I was in the middle of reading Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest for the first time. Despite their wildly different settings (superpowered global spy drama vs corrupt small-town detective work) both stories share an ever-increasing sense of moral murkiness and blurred personal motives that I find both unsettling and hugely compelling. I have no idea what is going to happen in the last issue, but there's no way in hell that I'm not going to be along for the ride! And is it just me or are all of those tight little boxes that Sean Phillips traps his characters in really oppressive and menacing and as such perfect for the story that Ed Brubaker is telling?

Fucking hell, this is good stuff! My only worry is that the ending will clunk slightly in the wake of what came before. This has always been a series that thrived on the sense that there was no end in sight: just more of those little shadow-filled boxes as far as the eye could see. On the other hand, maybe it's a good thing that this is going to wrap up soon. There's only so much gloom that a reader can take, y'know?

Vimanarama #1 & 2, by Grant Morrison and Philip Bond:

This series hasn't hit me as hard as either Seaguy or We3 did, but I've found it to be pretty enjoyable all the same. It's a silly British rom-com with added sci-fi craziness, bascially. In its own fluffy way it's also a pretty neat expression of the feeling of living in a world that isn't always going to play the game you want it to play. All of the bizarre heroes and monsters that Ali and Sofia end up face-to-face with work perfectly for me to heighten Ali's worries that god might just not like him -- especially given the threat to his future with Sofia that her dream connection to Ben Rama seemed to represent.

Issue #2 had some great lines ("My knee... Grazed beyond all redemption!"), and had a very unexpected ending so... yeah, I'm enjoying this for what it is, basically. And hey, Philip Bond can do luminous sci-fi action every bit as well as he does cute kitchen sink drama -- who knew?

On another note enitely, I was somewhat amused to see this book getting mainstream press for its positive representation of Asian characters when those elements of its setting are in many ways very cliched (cornershops, arranged marriages etc). It is a fun book though, and thinking about these issue is generally pretty interesting, so I suppose that it's good that it's getting some exposure. I just hope that it doesn't get a free pass because it's a comic that at least attempts to depict non-white characters as, y'know, characters. Because that'd be setting the bar a little too low, and there's no need to do that on what should be a pretty basic issue.

Intimates #5, by Joe Casey and Giuseppe Camuncoli:

You know, I really want to be able to give this comic a glowing review but if I'm being honest, it still hasn't quite come together for me. This issue, with its teen suicide plot and amusing "hivejournal" interludes, came closer than any of its predecessors to actually making me care about what was going on, but we're five issues in and I'm still not exactly sure what the hook is supposed to be here. The characters always seem to be on the verge of becoming interesting without ever actually getting there, and there's nothing about the stories themselves that stands out. Which leaves, what, the execution? Well... I guess I am pretty intrigued by the bottom-of-the-page info-feed. It's an ironic device that's there to heighten our engagement with these characters by overloading us with secondary information about them, and while that's kinda cool, on its own it's just not enough. I mean, obviously there's something about this comic that has kept me coming back for five issues, but even though this issue was probably my favourite so far I think I might jump ship soon. There's promise here, but I'm not sure that it's going to be fulfilled, and furthermore I'm not sure how long I'm going to stick around to find out. I've got issue #6 sitting in front of me right now, but I've not felt liking actually reading it yet. It'll probably decide whether or not I keep buying this series so... yeah, I'll get back to you on that one.
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