Here we are, back, with more comicbook discussion content for your perusal.
Shawn Starr and Joey Aulisio present a conversation on Michael DeForge’s Spotting Deer (something I really need to read) while Chad Nevett returns to look at Before Watchmen‘s pirate strip, “The Curse of the Crimson Corsair.” We also have a newcomer to the SR column this week, Rick Vance, who sets up and introduces the column’s new manga feature by contextualizing Shonen Jump Alpha and discussing MW by Osamu Tezuka.
I’ll return with something next week as the paycheck job currently gets the best of me.
So, stay beautiful, readers. No need for ugly.
- – – spotting deer: a conversation between shawn starr and joey aulisio
Shawn Starr: Michael DeForge straddles the line between the alt-comics premiere horror creator and the next Clowes. His primary book, Lose, is probably the clearest example of this. Lose #2 tells the story of a child befriending an animal and finding happiness. While that sounds like a made for Disney Channel movie (I’m fairly certain that’s the plot to Air Bud only without basketball and an evil clown), DeForge depicts the child not in the Disneyfied “I just moved to a new town that banned Basketball because the preacher didn’t like all the gyrations” pre-teen angst way, but instead as an insular and bullied child. But, not to be reduced to a pure Clowes-ian mix of depression and cynicism, DeForge injects a horror element. The child’s new best friend is a severed horse head piloted by an “alien” spider who infects the child’s tormentors with a horrendous rash and whose offspring eventually overrun the city. Even his artwork is a mix of Clowes’s clean line mixed with Ware’s geometric circles, only with an added layer of sweat and grime to make it his own.
In a review, Stephen Bissette said he would have loved to publish Incinerator in Taboo, which is a perfect way to describe DeForge’s output. A horror artist / anthology that became so much more (from a re-imagining of EC to the publisher of From Hell). Even his short in Thickness #2 (College Girls By Night) takes the genre tropes and overt social commentary of old EC horror stories and adds layers of depth that those stories could never achieve. It’s a simple werewolf story that’s inverted into a commentary on transgender sexuality and gender identity.
Dudes got chops.
Spotting Deer, like Lose and Thickness, takes on a familiar format and twists it into something new. Riffing on old nature documentaries (the kind you watched when you Biology teacher is out sick), DeForge creates a near perfect homage. All the story beats are there, the uncomfortable section on mating rituals (DeForge’s depiction of the “Sexual Aqueduct” perfectly captures that feeling of awkwardness experienced in a sixth grade classroom) and the oddly nationalistic / hyperbolic statement on the animals importance in popular culture and ecosystem. The book is even designed like an old CRT monitor, and its use of the four panel grid is reminiscent of a slideshow presentation.Even the close up of the “Snout” resembles one of those cheap plastic anatomy figures you’d find in a high school science class.
So, Joey, what makes this your favorite work by DeForge?
Joey Aulisio: It’s not just my favorite work by DeForge but probably one of my favorite comics period. I told a story on a chemical box episode about how I read this comic and nothing else, every single day for about a month. Something about this book just hooked me like few other books in recent years have.That said, I have found it difficult to explain why it resonated with me so much. What I can figure is that at the time I read it, I was going through a phase where I was just sick of comics and “comics culture” and really contemplated disengaging with it permanently. I don’t know what your interpretation of the story is, but I saw it as Deforge going through that same line of thought.
I think DeForge started out trying to make a book savaging the “fanboys” and then by the end realizing he was just like them, which was the real horror of it all. That moment of realization rendered by DeForge is truly chilling, nobody draws disappointment and disgust quite like him. A turn of the cheek says a thousand words.
Shawn Starr: I hadn’t considered that reading. It certainly makes the last page hit a lot harder. Obsessing over Spotting Deer (or comics) for years and writing a book, just to be asked “Why?” during a reading. Then to add insult to injury, watching your life’s work end up on a bargain table and ultimately the dump being picked over by wildlife.
I think the “savaging” is to intimate to be from a fanboy. My reading of it is more as an affirmation of DeForge place as a cartoonist. He may have started as an outside figure (the writer), but once he (the writer) appears it moves away from the first half’s exploration of “herd” (nerd) culture and becomes explicitly about cartooning.
The panel when the writer takes a picture of the spotted deer reminds me of those old Sci-Fi shows when people switch bodies or imprint their conscience on someone else. From that panel on, I think DeForge realized he was one of the spotted deer. A part of the “study group”. It’s even more explicit on the next page when all the “deers” social anxieties are superimposed over the writer’s image.
Then there is the “Deer in Society” section, moving away from home to the city (but not before being ostracized by your family / community), the “ink spot” neighborhoods, the livejournal communities and the “pay farms” where their “psychic meat” adapts the characteristics of other products; It seems to all be there, the artist communities, the livejournal groups (now twitter), DeForge’s work as a storyboard artist (along with countless other cartoonists).
Joey Aulisio: Maybe you are right in that a “savaging of fanboys” is too easy a way to reconcile this work, and it’s actually just about being a cartoonist/working in comics or maybe just working in a creative field to paint with a broader brush. It still seems like what DeForge is talking about is very specific to comics though (and how could it not be considering it was presented in comic form).
Comics have a certain stigma to them that other mediums do not have, you get the impression that if you worked for 20 years in comics and weren’t successful, most people would say “well why did you waste your time on these silly things” (you would probably get that reaction even if you were a success in comics, let’s be honest) whereas replace comics with film, literature, music, etc. the response would be “well at least you gave it a shot, you tried to live your dream”. Failure in other mediums is still viewed as more triumphant than a success in comics which is still viewed as tragic or sad.
Now take Deforge, clearly a master of his craft just a few years into the game. He’s someone that sits heads and shoulders above his peers, and I guarantee he has been given more attention for working on Adventure Time (or his 5 page Adventure Time story) than anything he has done in comics. That has to get to you after awhile. When the writer at the end stands on that podium and gets asked basically “why do you keep doing this?”, it really hits that point home and must be hard for you to reconcile after a certain point.
I am sure working in comics can be fun, but from all accounts it seems to be rather exhausting most of the time with little reward. “Depression. Anxiety Attacks, Migraines. and Sleep Disorders”, comics will destroy you if you let them. Now you sit in front of a desk drawing away at things that mean so much to you, and you put out something you feel proud of just to have someone in an audience ask “this is alright, but when are you going to move onto a real thing like a novel or a film?” , and then knowing your work is probably going to end up lining a litter box one day. It’s a sobering thought.
Shawn Starr: Yeah, it difficult to watch Ware and Hernandez remain in relative obscurity, while Mark Millar and Stan Lee are household names. No matter how much talent they bring to the craft, they’re always just making funnybooks. That is, until those funny books become movies.
Since I like to end things on a down note, I guess we’ll end things here.
- – – ocean update
“The Curse of the Crimson Corsair” Part Two | Len Wein, John Higgins | DC Comics
There’s a lesson in the second chapter of “The Curse of the Crimson Corsair:” people will let you down every time. Our narrator tries to do the right thing and fails. First, he tries to save the keelhauled man before his flesh is torn from him and, of course, he’s too late, because if you’re given a choice between John Higgins drawing a regular guy whose flesh is still where it should be and John Higgins drawing a dead man whose flesh has been torn from his face, which option are you going to choose? You don’t have Len Wein’s career by being a stupid man. But, what happens next is where the lesson is learned. The narrator pulls his sword on the captain, relying on his shipmates to back him up as he brings down a tyrant and… oh, they’re just hanging back, too afraid and ashamed to even look directly at him. Because everyone looks out for number one in this world and those that don’t are going to get screwed over again and again. None of which has anything to do with anything, obviously.
— -america, you are not the world
MW by Osamu Tezuka
Rick Vance / like Shawn Starr, has a blog
Where to begin writing this was a bit of a challenge due to all that’s contained within the work in question.
Originally serialized from 1976-78, I re-read MW to compare its dealing with the sexuality of the main characters in their very explicit homosexual relationship to the way those character choices have become headline news from both Marvel & DC. The problem with this approach became immediately apparent, because while the relationship is a large part of the book and the characters in it, it isn’t emphasized over any other detail about them; it isn’t the headline of the story but rather just a facet in its construction.
The comic is a dramatic procedural which deals with the leak of a toxic material and the fallout as well as cover up that comes from that. Elements that are reminiscent of Kurosawa’s High & Low along with parts of The Wire are all brilliantly laid out in Tezuka’s signature style. This is one of those works that at first it seems like Tezuka’s cartoony character work would not fit the tone of the story, yet his exaggeration of human emotion through the drawings works to pull you in and make the story even more engrossing. It also helps in making the characters instantly separate and recognizable, some even to their career (the thinking outside the box police inspector with the large nose is a the best example of this). Some see MW as Tezuka’s retaliation against the gekiga movement that was going on in Japanese comics in the 60s and 70s, a movement that saw artists wanting to give their work a new word or branding to separate it from the Disney inspired more childish looking manga (think Graph Novels vs. Comic Books). That interpretations makes sense especially with how the book begins with a man looking to get his son back from a kidnapper only to find his son dead when he delivers the money, and then, is promptly murdered by who we come to learn is one of our main characters.
Michio Yuki is that character, and he’s charismatic, handsome, intelligent, hardworking and completely lacking in morality or decency. He at times comes off as a supervillain in the book without a proper adversary to quarrel with. All his would be opponents are working within the confines of the law or their personal faith, which hampers their ability to compete with his utter lack of morality. The story does a good job of keeping him as both a villain and a protagonist by balancing his victims between those who are responsible for his condition (being exposed to the leaking MW at a young age), and the families and people with ties with them to show the larger ramifications of his actions. I would go into more detail here but a great deal of the thrill of this comic is to witness the swathe of chaos and destruction he causes across Tokyo as the depths and nature of his attacks magnifies and changes. In this respect, he very much mirrors V from V For Vendetta, stripped of the costume and the totalitarian setting. His opposite number and lover is portrayed by Father Garai, a catholic priest who joined the church after witnessing the same toxin leak as Yuki, and thus vowing to absolve and save him from his ‘demons’. This relationship is predicated on events from their youth, and while flashbacks are very brief, there is a clear evolution and change in the dynamic of that relationship as they have grown up together.
What astounded me most about the comic is, while it is 582 pages, it showcases so well both the pacing of the story and how cleanly split the tasks of writing and art have at giving information to the reader in such a way as to keep it from snagging. Combine that with the large cast, the constantly changing panel structure and the perfect eye for where to place the camera for every panel, and every conversation becomes as captivating as the more trilling stuff when Yuki goes to his plotting. MW is a book that is all about how every piece is important and connected and how even the best laid plans can go astray if even one piece is unaccounted for. The thing that I keep noticing as I read more Tezuka is that he doesn’t have books that are not a good, all encompassing look, at what he does. Every work is a great entry into the man’s work, and with that, a great entry in manga as a whole, especially while Tezuka is coming out under Vertial who put really great production into all his books.
Shonen Jump Alpha / Various
Rick Vance / wrote this too
Along with a more detailed look at a series / volume I have enjoyed, I plan to discuss new, weekly manga that is delivered in Shonen Jump Alpha. I should clarify a few things about this product for readers who may be unaware.
SJA is roughly 130 pages of digital content that is released every Monday and features three week old content from six series running in Weekly Shonen Jump in Japan. The current six are: One Piece by Eiichiro Oda, Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto, Bleach by Tite Kubo, Toriko by Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan by Hiroshi Shiibashi, and newcomer Barrage by Kouhei Horikoshi. SJA also includes monthly chapters of Rurouni Kenshin: Restoration by Nobuhiro Watsuki.
Having only started subscribing to SJA a month ago, it is strange how coated in mythology and world building all six of these series are, and yet how focused and direct they each are about delivering a consistent tone week after week. This contributes to how people find their excessive world building easier to grasp than the inter-universe continuity of superheroes in American comics. The anthology format also allows the series to take entire sprawls of chapters about fights and action sequences, because if one story is all action, there are still 110 pages of comics around it to balance that out, combined with the fact that while all the series are action series, the plot, setting, characters, method of combat, art style are so disparate that it makes them gel nicer in a collection together than were they all closer to the same look and tone.
My intention behind the focus on manga is two-fold. One, I didn’t want to step on anyone else contributing to this, yet this seemed the optimal way to cover manga. Secondly, I feel that too much of a disconnect is placed in comic circles between manga and American Comics. Which is flawed. Because it’s all comics.
Hopefully it all works out.
- – – exit