All the Scarlet Witches: Marco Rudy

In Scarlet Witch #1,  Vanesa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire were able to combine forces to transcend James Robinson’s lackluster writing. In Scarlet Witch #2, Marco Rudy falls straight into that bog and gets stuck there.

Marco Rudy is perfectly capable of creating pages that work. He paints, so the color is all him too, and he plays with colors and panel shapes. He likes to get whimsical and psychological. On a few restrained pages, he creates a nice effect.

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The cool blue tones contrast with the stark black and white of Wanda in the corner. There’s a pop of red. The paneling is non-traditional but helps to tell the story. Most of all, he strikes a mood that resonates as a mood and not a mishmash. In this next panel he uses some of his more painterly work on Wanda’s face, and it still works.

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What differentiates these pages from the rest of the book is 1) not too many faces, 2) not too many different art styles, 3) not too many colors, 4) not too many words, and 5) not trying too hard!!

But this page is more representative:

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And this one even more so:

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What do you get if you try out a smorgasbord of styles and combine it with a whole bunch of bla bla bla? Something that looks like a teenager drew it on her jeans in history class. Marco Rudy’s art gets so busy that you’d think James Robinson’s words could hide there and escape notice. But no, there is no escaping the mediocrity of the writing in this issue.

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Minotaur? Why whatever could you mean?

 

All the Scarlet Witches: Del Rey & Bellaire

I like that James Robinson is writing a Scarlet Witch series that is all stand-alone stories and a different artist for each story. Vanesa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire so totally owned the character and story in the first issue, though, I’m not sure anyone else will be able to measure up. Right now it looks like issue after issue will come out, and we’ll just sigh and think “Remember that time that Vanesa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire drew Wanda Maximoff?”

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I’m planning to follow the series because I like this sort of thing, where some variables (writer, character, letterer) stay the same and another (art) is switched. It’s a good set up for story science. I know now that the Del Rey/Bellaire issue is the one that will have to be the benchmark all the others are compared to. What I don’t know is if I’m ever going to actually read the words.

I “read” the Del Rey and Bellaire issue several times, poring over the art, before I realized I hadn’t actually read it. And then when I went back and consciously set out to read it, I just got bored and bogged down and wanted to stop. A lot of conversation, a lot of reflection, a lot of exposition — and I couldn’t latch on. The art is where it’s at.

From the first pages, Del Rey (pencils & inks) and Bellaire (color) lock in this dusky aesthetic. There’s the shadowy, magenta-bathed privacy of Wanda’s home. And then there’s the grey-scale grittiness of the city outside. In both places, Wanda’s red clothing pops against the background and her face is made luminous and expressive with minimal line work.

There’s a smudgy scratchiness to how Del Rey draws, but there’s something sharp, accurate, and reliable about her art. Clean white gutters between murky panels, columnar panels like the canyons of the city avenues, chevron panels coming down in smart Vs like her heroine’s angular nose and chin. And most of all — and Bellaire contributes to this — the aesthetic creates an uninterrupted dream featuring a particular person in a particular place. And that’s why I don’t care that I don’t care about the writing. This is confident, intuitive visual storytelling, and will be a hard act to follow.

Ody-C #8: Haunting and Unambiguous

With Ody-C #9 coming out in a few days, I decided to jot down a few thoughts on Ody-C #8.

Ody-C #8 cover

When I wrote about Ody-C #6 a few months ago, I suggested that there was something off or untrustworthy about the storytelling. It felt so surreal and gimmicky, and the treatment of gender issues seemed… flip and baffling. Are we supposed to laugh at the dejected He in his gimp suit, because it read as silly, whether it was supposed to or not. Alternating his glossy little form with the stories of rape and death he was reading just made the whole issue into a confusing stew of uncomfortable images.

Ody-C #8 is a story within a story again, but it’s easy to follow its one faithful thread all the way through. We learn about these blood-thirsty brother kings and how they perform the ritual rape and slaughter of virgins. The country’s young people were being raised up like livestock to fulfill this bloodlust. Fraction and Ward are straightforward about showing that the victims of this are both male and female. They convey that men and boys are rape victims too without getting cute about gender-bending and gender roles.

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Ward illustrates the humanity of the victims clearly — from the fear on their faces, to the way one woman reaches down to help the person behind her who has fallen. When one of them actually tries to run, the furious reds and pinks are replaced with the cool blues of night time and the coldness of both the prey’s fear and the predators’ focus.

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Her vivid, fearful face is contrasted with the expressionless, featureless faces of the men who are just watching, from lighted windows above. These aren’t even the men who are going to rape and kill her. They’re just the ones watching and doing nothing.

But what this issue does next is close this circle of humanity. The brother-kings have turned into deranged, power-hungry killers and they have created an entire rape culture that the men are enmeshed in as well as the adolescents victims of both sexes. Because this girl happened to be descended from a god, the men are haunted by what they have done. Now Ward draws their faces not as animals but as humans.

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One man is shown lying awake next to a woman, like a normal man and wife. This perfectly brings home the point that rapists are normal people, normal husbands and fathers and boyfriends. And rape culture is perpetuated by an even wider circle of completely normal people. In these moments, Fraction’s high-flying prose and Ward’s fantastical art both circle down to earth. The quietness is more powerful than the screaming red slaughter scenes that I didn’t want to include here (though of course they are beautiful too, because: Christian Ward).

The prose and the illustrations both lift off again as we see the men obsessively digging up the girls’ bones, which have multiplied to become an infinite number of bones. They are compelled to build towers and walls out of the bones — monuments to rape that also serve as a prison that the men can never leave and never stop building.

This is the hardest-hitting comic book treatment of rape that I’ve seen, including in more overtly feminist series like Bitch Planet. It feels unstintingly brave and, frankly, magnificent.

Little Nemo #6: Andrea Tsurumi

January 22, 2016

As soon as I got home from work, I took this daylight photograph of my houseguest Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream laid out on my kitchen table by the window. The way my journal goes with this page has given me outsized pleasure.

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Like the best dreams, Andrea Tsurumi makes the mundane surreal and the surreal mundane in her contribution to Locust Moon’s Winsor McCay tribute anthology. She takes a simple play on words and flips it into the most charming, distinctive, and weirdly classic page in the book so far. Two mammaried oddballs guide — or maybe shanghai — Nemo on this adventure in Slumbraland.

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We look down on the scene of the department store floor as these three figures wander through and cross paths with an array of breasted feminoids. Bras and department stores do stretch back just about to Winsor McCay’s time a century ago, making this scene both modern and vintage. Tsurumi also strikes a perfect vintage note with her matte pastels (pitched down a step) and her clean noodly lines. Her art reminds me of boomerang formica tabletops:

Tsurumi makes all the bras taupe and telegraphs “fun” by using squiggly lines instead of bright colors. This is how she keeps her whole page locked into a handful of carefully selected hues. The color scheme is distinctive, disciplined, and pleasing–the playful black lines neatly corral each flat shape. The page is full of uncluttered movement as a cheerful, anxiety-inducing tangle swallows up Nemo.

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Surrounding this little boy with breasts and bra jokes might seem daffily subversive but it’s also just what happens to little kids obliged to tag along after mothers and older sisters. It’s along the lines of the neighbor woman nursing her baby on the porch on a hot day — no big deal. This is classic childhood stuff, just the usual nibbling at the edges of the adult world that sometimes turns into a Fourth of July dunking booth. It’s a page that’s funny because it’s true, and funnier because a woman made it as a humorous shrug and a roll of the eyes. That authenticity also makes it laugh-out-loud funny when Nemo takes a peek under his nightshirt in the lower right, “waking-up” corner of Tsurumi’s page.

 

 

 

Life on Mars: Emma Rios in Island #1 & #2

Island is an Image project that Brandon Graham and friends put together. It’s part anthology and part comics magazine, and it’s full of treasures. Island #6 will be in comic shops next Wednesday (January 27) but today I’m looking back at the first and second issues, which included the chilling, warming, red-inked tale “I.D.” by Emma Rios.

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I.D. opens with three strangers meeting in a coffee shop in a future that feels familiar. They are all part of a pilot program to have their brains transferred into new bodies. The story quickly zooms out to show a Mars colony beset by political unrest, then zooms all the way back in to the insides of each character’s mind, and the smallest moments between them, and the touch of their skin against surfaces. All of it is in red. Some of it is in the stark red and white of a china pattern. Some of it is in the dusty pinks of Mars. In the first panels, the two men learn that prickly 50-something Charlotte is a writer. Themes of the wry, observant writer are spun throughout I.D., turning the story into a fantastic literary mic-drop by Emma Rios, a woman who is largely known as a visual artist.

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Charlotte, Mike and Noa start to talk–with awkwardness, diffidence and sparks of chemistry.Each has his or her  own reasons for wanting a new body–and none of them thinks the others would understand.

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The world beyond their restless broodiness soon comes crashing in–on the television, and through the glass windows of the coffee shop. Rios’s art pivots from quiet eavesdropping to slashing, furious shapes and lines. After a dizzying stream of action panels,  the three manage to get away from the protesters and militarized police. It’s the chaos, not the conversation, that makes them intimates. And this leads to a strange night in Charlotte’s apartment, with more conversation, emotion, and hi-jinks. It’s the ultimate sleepover, really.

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But all the while, there is this bone-chilling awareness that they are planning to let their bodies die. It’s a cold current running underneath the human warmth we see developing between the three. When they part the next morning, Rios wraps us around Charlotte alone in her apartment. We curl like Charlotte’s fingers around her cup of tea. Every solitary, visceral moment is allowed to pass in real time. And then she begins to write.

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One of the things that makes this story immediately great is that Rios has the restraint to go small when everything big is happening. It’s taking place on a partly terraformed Mars, in a time of popular uprisings against an oppressive class system, in a future where science has advanced to the point where your brain can be extracted and put in another body. It is terrifying. And still everyone is just locked in their own skin and in their own experiences, trying to connect through a hailstorm of identity issues.

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(I accidentally lapsed into re-cap mode, but there is much more to the story beyond what I described–the disturbing political and scientific details of the program, the outcomes of the psychologically and physically risky surgeries, and of course the  arcs of the relationships between Mike, Noa, and Charlotte. Which is all to say, go get Island #1 and #2, and generally get into Island because this is the caliber of work that the series includes.)

Jordie Bellaire colors Agatha Harkness

There were a couple of Marvel sequences recently that made me think “this is why I read comics.” Even though the pages are in two different series with two different artists, they are both colored by Jordie Bellaire and they both feature the white-haired witch, Agatha Harkness. In both cases, we see how a limited palette shows off what Bellaire can do–and how heavily Bellaire contributes to the integrity of the stories she works on.

Scarlet Witch #1 opens quietly with Vanesa Del Rey’s dark, scratchy lines soaking up Bellaire’s moody colors. Agatha, in ghost form, is talking with her protege Wanda.

Agatha is dry, sardonic, and all in blue gray. Her coloring matches Wanda’s sad eyes. Wanda’s red dressing gown strikes a minor chord with the magenta of the room. These rich bloody colors work with James Robinson’s dialogue to drench the panels in a feeling of privacy and the bond between two women.

In The Vision #3, we go back in time to when Agatha was alive. She and her familiar are performing a ritual to see into the future. The mood immediately shifts with time and place because the colors are so subdued after pages and pages of the Vision family’s bright green hair against their red skin. The Agatha panels start quietly enough.

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The dimmer palette accentuates Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s inking in a way the earlier pages, bulging with color, don’t. It’s a sort of nakedness. Tom King’s narration carries through the scene, moving at a different pace–on a different path–than the pictures. The boxes have been magenta all along, but  now they seem to presage Agatha’s appearance.

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As the Agatha panels turn vicious and bloody, the red/magenta juxtaposition appears again–and again it speaks to intimacy between Wanda and Agatha.

The carnage reminds us of another supernatural white-haired woman Bellaire colored: Alice in Image’s Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios.

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With a few colors, Bellaire both heightens Rios’s lines and stays out of their way. It’s one of those things that looks easy when done right–but if everybody could do it, these books wouldn’t stand out from the field as much as they do.

 

Little Nemo #5: Peter Hoey & Maria Hoey

(Reading Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream; Part Something of Many)

It’s important to have fun with objects, and I am having the most fun I’ve had since I bought a manual typewriter in 2012.

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Still Life with Giant Book
Today’s page is a crowd-pleaser, and I never miss a chance to be among a pleased crowd. The bull’s eye look of Peter Hoey & Maria Hoey’s page was already familiar to me because it shows up in a lot of marketing materials for the book. The dream story they tell is serviceable, but the real deal with this page is that it looks good at a glance. It goes down in a big glug. It’s eminently quaffable. Clean black lines. Thick white gutters. Creative paneling decisions that don’t get tangled. Dark teal dominates the page, with pops of muted red. Not too much is said (what a relief some days, huh?) and what is said is in big clear block letters.

I took a photo from above the page–and even on my phone, with crap lighting, the picture turned out crisp, clear, and legible. So much so that it didn’t seem sporting to include that picture! So here is this one instead.

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For scale: Evidence of my ongoing fascination with colorist Jordie Bellaire
In our next installment, we get excited about that business on the right by Andrea Tsurumi.

 

(Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream is a Winsor McCay tribute anthology by Locust Moon Press, which I am not affiliated with.)

 

Little Nemo #4: Jeremy A. Bastian

(In which I “review” a book with giant pages, page by page.)

Jeremy Bastian’s contribution to this Little Nemo project is in black and white and full of pleasing details in the wall paper and around the edges of the panels. It’s a few small things done lovingly. Bastian fleshes out the kernel of a dream–“there was a ship that was also a giant shoe… and I think the crew was insect pirates!”

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His lettering and word balloons are unassuming, and they go well with Nemo’s boyishness. Nemo isn’t so much boyish as he is kiddish. His curiousity, his exclamations, the way he tips over the lip of the bath tub and into this dream–everything right up to and including his rumpled “Yikes!” when he wakes up in the last panel–everything is endearing. Everything makes us feel a little tender toward him.

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If you think about it, you really only have the patience to hear the dreams of people you feel especially tender toward, like little children. “Any dreams last night?” my mom will ask my nieces at the breakfast table. Her eyebrows will be lofted in receptive encouragement and if one of them nods yes, she will start to beam. Not so for me; I have grown too far past that cherubic phase. If I started to tell my mom how I had to haul a casio keyboard up a slippery ladder to find a skein of yarn, her eyes would glaze over faster than you could say “rapid-eye movement.”

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I can think of one exception to the general rule that dream-reporting is a children’s game. My friend Gina’s entire family has a way with dreams and the telling of them. She recently texted me in the middle of the workday: “Uncle Ferd had a dream that he tried to google ‘mayonnaise juice’ on the piano.”

 

(For this series, I’m reading the anthology Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream by Locust Moon Press. It’s a tribute to the newspaper comic strip by Winsor McCay, which came out over one hundred years ago and is still blowing people’s minds)

State of the Union, at the Library

Since it was Obama’s last State of the Union address, I went to the downtown public library last night to watch it on the big screen with my fellow citizens. I live-tweeted the address by scribbling on a legal pad which I then jammed into my shoulder bag.

A cadaverous white man to my right has feet up on the seat in front of him and keeps muttering “You creep! You weren’t invited! No one wants you here!” Not sure who he is talking to.

When Obama comes in, the room claps heartily, and it’s fun to feel like we are there. Biden looks so proud of Obama.

It’s fun to see this just for Michelle’s yellow dress, Ruth Bader Ginsberg hugging Obama with her bird arms, Elena Kagen looking pretty when she smiles, and Sonia Sotomayor’s big dangling disc earrings.

The guy who was muttering about creeps sits up straight and takes his hat off when Obama appears on the screen. He seems ready to behave himself now.

Obama mentions the economic recovery and a beefy bearded white guy to my left says “Recovery? What recovery? Who recovered?” He sees me looking over at him and says “Did YOU recover??”

Obama says “…incredible things we can do together” and a man clutching a sleeping bag shouts “ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION!!!”

Titters in the room at Marco Rubio’s face. Not sure why, but I get it.

There are clapping types in the room, and non-clapping types. Possibly not an indication of actual relative affection for Obama.

Obama says “…longest stretch of job creation…” and someone behind me shouts “for THEM, not for US.”

People are floating in and out. The elderly, teenagers, homeless people. A lot of people seem to have luggage. The children’s librarian leans in the doorway, looking blonde and willowy as she gazes up at the screen — but this isn’t a very white crowd.

Paul Ryan and Joe Biden share some kind of moment as Obama says we can cut red tape.

Bernie Sanders appears on screen — whistles in the room!!

Huge applause line for the room: “Food-stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis.”

Comparing sputnik to climate change gets a chuckle from me and a couple of white guys who are that special brand of Seattle white collar, possibly may have just emerged from 3-day hike in the woods.

“Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley” — if only this were the sort of speech where Obama could really lift-off and take flight.

“Joe is in charge of Mission Control” — we can haz cancer cure?! Original muttering guy remains quiet and respectful.

Biggest laugh so far: the Joint Chiefs of Staff laboring stiffly to their feet as they simultaneously realize they’re going to have to stand up, even though they don’t feel like standing up.

Talking about terrorists now. “We have to take them out” gets a gospel-style “Oh yes” in the room.

Mad bearded white guy yells “Didn’t we CREATE Isis, Obama? We did!” I hate that he has a point.

Mad white guy says “Sorry you guys, sorry, sorry”

Everyone seems either bored or uncomfortable during this long middle east section. The person I’d identified as the heartiest clapper in the room has become involved with a package of goldfish crackers.

Still talking about ISIL, and mad white guys says “There’s a whole lot of coercion going on!” Slim regretful library employee pads up the aisle and gently asks him to be quiet.

Native American guy in safety orange wanders in and he and the mad white guy greet each other like old associates but don’t sit next to each other.

Mad white guy claps with great enthusiasm at the line about stopping Ebola in West Africa, as if to show that he’s cooperating now, and not just hate-watching, and also that stopping Ebola rules.

General coming and going continues. A skinny black kid in red track pants and gold chains saunters out as an old white guy in a giant sweatshirt and black watch cap wobbles in.

Obama’s talking about leadership and international order as another guy gets up and walks out, throwing a black-power fist in the air in case anyone’s watching.

Obama uses the Pope to bash Trump and says “We the people.” A black man with an afro shaped like a pompadour has laid his things out carefully on the table near where the children’s librarian leans. He is rearranging items from bag to bag, and because he’s right down in front of us, it feels like a performance.

In the room, a woman fans herself with a big gold Japanese fan. On the screen, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, looks small and gnomelike peering over Michele Obama’s shoulder.

Obama says something about people getting discouraged and thinking “the system is rigged” and the man directly behind me, who had been quiet the whole time, leaned forward and said calmly in a deep bass voice, “IT IS.”

The room comes back to life a bit and gives a big hearty clap for “Each of us is only here because somebody somewhere stood up for us.”

Obama wraps up by talking a lot about good and decency, but his optimistic words are falling flat in this crowd. Maybe it’s just more of a stump speech and he’ll be more inspiring again under different circumstances. Or maybe it’s just hard to be sanguine about things working out just fine when you’re in a crowd with a large homeless component.

A parting note near the end, something to hold on to, something we can really feel good about as we head back out to our bus stops in the rain: Edith Childs’ glittering and substantial hat.

 

Postscript: Seriously considering going back next week to watch the big Seahawks game there.

 

 

 

 

Something happened on the day he died

David Bowie’s death jolted even casual fans today

I see this outpouring of sadness for David Bowie today, and I don’t feel it. I’m not indifferent either—it’s more like my nerves are jangled, like we all received small portions of Bowie’s life force and it’s a lot to contain. I feel like I’ve just left a funeral, and I’ve shut the church doors behind me, and I’m walking down the stone steps alone. The cold air hits my eyes and nose, and all I can think is “I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive.”

It’s not my place to mourn David Bowie. I know that, because my Facebook friends say they are gutted and I’m not even sad. I’m sorry they’re sad, and my hat’s off to the strangeness and good taste that made them turn toward Bowie with such reverence. I feel bad for his family and it’s jarring that he was born the same year as my parents and now he is gone. It’s a reminder that death is circling. I hear he had good personal qualities, I assumed he was a genius, and I know now that he was a beacon. I just didn’t pick up his signal.

I always liked David Bowie—liked his songs, got a kick out of him. I thought he was cute. He cropped up at all the usual mainstream points in my 80s and 90s. He was unavoidable in the great intake of pop culture nutrients, but I didn’t recognize his divinity. He was jumbled in with dozens of other artists I like. I danced to “Let’s Dance,” sang along theatrically to “Under Pressure,” and brooded to “Space Oddity.” But ultimately David Bowie was less important to me than, say, Belly, P.J. Harvey, or Ethyl Meatplow.

Even as I consumed 80s and 90s pop, grunge, and whatever else was on offer, I had favorites that I had no one to share with. My most steady musical loves—my Bowie equivalents—the ones that are tangled up with my selfhood since sixth grade—were less starry and strange than Bowie. At the core of this group were Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Greg Brown, and Townes Van Zandt. They felt like things I knew on the most basic level: wet wool, low tide, creosote, diesel, tobacco smoke, fish blood, salt water, bad weather, wood stoves. Everyone on Facebook says they loved David Bowie because they identified with his strangeness. I don’t think of them as stranger than me, just cooler.

As I climbed up into my late-blooming twenties, I finally connected with other people my age who also lived and breathed music. Our overlaps were generous, our enthusiasms intense. We could trade oxygen masks and splice IV drips. Lying on our backs in a blanket fort, holding hands, listening to albums end to end, not speaking a word. A true lover of Bowie was once a true love of mine. He was ropy, scrappy, charismatic, dancerly, a beam of light. We looked each other dead in the eye for a long moment of thinking maybe wildness and art could reach escape velocity. The monsters of poverty, mental illness, and addiction were close behind, and all our differences came crashing into the exit interview: “You’re so middle class. You know nothing, and you’ll marry someone white, boring, and rich.” I was left staring at the words “Ziggy Stardust” scrawled across the label of a cassette tape he’d dubbed for me.

I didn’t get married, but the rest was true. I didn’t know much. Once I stopped thrashing about, I just kind of floated deeper into the middle class. I stopped living and breathing for music, and anesthetized myself instead. I didn’t really know about Bowie. Today at his global Internet wake, I see that I was like someone who hasn’t noticed the sunset in a year. I’m like someone who forgot to look at the moon.

The news that David Bowie died was the first thing I heard when my radio alarm clock went off at 4:41 am. We woke up this morning and Bowie was gone, but the broadcast isn’t over. His most recent album is so new that people are only just starting to sink their teeth into it. It’s not too late for the full discovery: everyone just spiraled closer in today. The true believers became stardustologists. The neophytes became disciples. The uninitiated became converts. Next month, a twelve-year-old kid will hear Bowie for the first time, and the transmission will be clear as a bell.

Once I got up and got to the office, I watched Bowie’s new Lazarus video on youtube. I saw it was a goodbye. Then I listened to Cheryl Waters spin Bowie on KEXP. After a while, it was too direct a hit for me, in my drab cubicle, with my brain still chanting “I’m alive, I’m alive.” I sidestepped into Tomo Nakayama’s song “Magnolias,” written for Philip Seymour Hoffman. I put it on repeat and kept waiting for the part when Nakayama sings “Sometimes it’s hard to know, who you are waiting for.” Sometimes it’s hard to know that everything we do is a love letter. And every love letter is a goodbye.

Little Nemo #3: Jasen Lex

January 8, 2016

I took Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream to bed with me. I was tired, and I know you’re not supposed to take work into bed with you–but I also know you’re supposed to work through the tiredness and try to meet your goals if you really want to be a writer. So I wanted to write about one more Nemo page before I gave up on my to-do list for the day.

Imagine a woman propped up in her four-poster bed, in the sweatshirt she plans to sleep in, wearing coke bottle eyeglasses, legs under a heap of quilts, with only little white Christmas lights for illumination. A giant book lies open on her legs, and requires the full seriousness and length of her thighs to lean against. Her heels are a little bit braced against the mattress, doing their part in supporting the book.

Jason Lex’s page is dark and less paneled than the other two I’ve already written about. It has a lot of greens, browns, and purples. It has textured large three-dimensional surfaces and then cut-aways jammed with flat, cartoony figures. Every word balloon is an exclamation written in hard-to-read gothic lettering. The cutaways are surrounded by a thick white dashed border like ugly white contrast stitching on brown leather shoes from the 1990s. Down at the bottom right, I can see that this page is showing how Nemo has incorporated the storm outside his window into his dream, and he’s imagining that these little creatures are running around possibly inside a dragon, but maybe also in a hill next to a dragon. Nemo doesn’t have any of the bedheady, tumbled-out-of-bed, half-tangled-in-bedclothes-still charm that I’m starting to recognize as a Nemo staple. This Nemo might not even be Nemo. This could be some kid named Kyle.

I’m logey and cross. I want to go to sleep and I’ve committed myself to looking at this joyless page. The best I can do is to identify features and think, “OK, I see what you’re doing with that. OK this is a piece of that cleverness.” There’s no white space. There’s nowhere for my eye to rest. There’s not room for an impression to bloom in my mind.

All the while, there’s this big expanse of the facing page, and I’m forcing myself not to look at it. But it’s there, hogging my field of vision, calling to me. There’s tons of whitespace on that other page and my eye wants to go over there so badly. It’s like I’m a little kid in bed with the mumps and I can stare at dark, unappealing wallpaper, or I can look out at a field covered in fresh snow on a bright, winter day. Maybe there are a few fences and clumps of trees, but mostly it just looks really clean and white and snowy.

And then my mood tips and teeters on this edge between dilligence and subversiveness. Suddenly I’m a little kid, up too late, but fascinated with something. Suddenly, I’m wooed by the danger of over-stimulating myself, never falling asleep, having mom barge in and yell at me when she sees my light on under the door and it’s so far past my bedtime.

That other page is by Jeremy Bastian and I will stare at it head on and write about it another night.

Sweet dreams.

 

Little Nemo #2: Farel Dalrymple

In which I sit in my tiny apartment, reading a giant book that is a tribute to a very important cartoonist that I was heretofore not familiar with.

Hello again, we are back with Farel Dalrymple’s two page Slumberland spread. The giant book is propped open on my sturdy laundry hamper, and from above it looks like it is floating in the air. I sit down in the easy chair next to the book and briefly put my feet up on it, just to try that out.

I know from reading Farel’s stories that he knows his way around magical children in situations that are troubling yet imbued with human kindness. With his Winsor McCay entry, he seems to have decided, “It’s ok if this doesn’t make sense” and then loaded a dreamscape with feelings and easter eggs.

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Because Imp is now (for better or worse) the Waldo of this book, I looked right away to see if he was there, where he was, and how he was drawn. Ahh, I see, said the blind man, as he picked up his hammer and saw. He’s riding a bird, and when Nemo asks him why he can speak English now, Imp responds, “Maybe you just used to be more racist in your dreams.”

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“Maybe you just used to be more racist in your dreams”

Now this makes sense. It makes dream sense. It’s like how last night, I dreamt that I slept with an acquaintance and in the dream he had washboard abs. I woke up laughing because my dream self seemed to celebrate washboard abs a lot more than my waking self. So maybe tonight I will dream about him again, and I’ll say, “Wait, why do you have a normal, middling physique now?” and he will say, “Maybe you just used to be more shallow about male beauty standards in your dreams.”

If there’s anyone who can get to the heart of that real weird dream logic, its Farel Dalrymple. Nemo goes through wardrobe changes in every panel, flies, and doesn’t know who he can trust as dream-reality shifts all around him.

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Underneath the pastel candy colors the pages are anxious, and maybe weary. Like underneath all the razmatazz, dream Nemo really just has a plane to catch and a calculus examthat he had forgotten about, for a course he didn’t know he was enrolled in.

 

 

 

Self-Centered Comic Book Reviewing

It’s ok to be self-centered, in the sense that, well — you are you. You pretty much better be centered IN yourself, if not ON yourself.

Are you reviewing comic books because you want to get into comic book writing, drawing, or editing yourself?

Are you trying to impress someone?

Do you want to feel closer to comics creators?

Are you trying to give good press to indie creators you don’t think get enough attention?

Do you get mad when those creators seem indifferent to your efforts when you were just trying to HELP them?

Do you feel defensive about being on the sidelines?

Are you afraid of making comics industry people mad?

Do you quiver with pleasure when a blurb of yours shows up on the cover of a trade paperback? Do you treat it like an accomplishment? Do you realize that being selected for a blurb just means someone thought you made a good shill right then, with those seventeen words you strung together acceptably well?

Have you considered that a review is an essay, and the essay is an artform? You — yes, you! — are making art. Do you know what that means? You’re expressing yourself. Your goddamn SELF.

So be selfish. Eat comic books in wolfish gulps and respond without fear. Stride across the earth. Let your belches echo off the mountainsides. It’s all your fodder  — YOURS. You, You, You.

Other people are still out there, but they don’t matter as much as you do.

What do you have to tell us?

 

Little Nemo #1: Roger Petersen

January 2, 2016

My first glance at Roger Petersen’s page made me realize that going in blind might have been a mistake. Too late now!

On this page, Nemo’s dream friends Flip and Imp are looking for him high and low in a domed library that’s on the moon… where it’s snowing.

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The storyline is clever, I eventually see. The art goes straight to the “Love it — LOVE IT” part of my brain, stroking all those primitive receptors that are the reason people put bold black and white designs in babies’ cribs.

But what I really see and notice and think about first is the fact that Imp is  a gross caricature of a dark-skinned “Native” and says things like “UG UN RUGGLE!” instead of speaking English.

I know, I know–different time, 105 years ago, part and parcel with the culture Winsor McCay lived in. And I registered pretty quickly that Peterson wrote “after McCay” after his own name in the lower right hand corner, as if to say, “not my idea.”

Still, it’s like when you’re meeting your boyfriend’s dad for the first time, and your boyfriend’s talked him up a lot, and you really want to like him — and then the guy almost immediately tells a racist joke.

So my thoughts caromed around the inside of my head in the uncomfortable pinball path of a white person of 2016 who doesn’t want to be a racist asshole. And who thinks the Washington Redskins are way overdue for a name change.

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I mentally sputtered, “Well-what-hey-now-I-I-I would REALLY like to know what Ron Wimberly thinks about this!” Then I remembered that Ron Wimberly has a page coming up in the book, so maybe I will find out what he thinks then. I calmed down a little.

All the while, Petersen’s art went to work on another part of my brain. The page is magical–the moonscape, the falling snow, the mystery of the domed building among the craters, the contrast of white and black, the thick lines, the convex and concave lines of the building, the bindings of rows and rows of books that are each are drawn a little differently from others but repeat along a curve in an almost-pattern.

And then there is Imp, a beautiful assemblage of shapes and lines. He bounces and scampers from panel to panel, always compositionally important and always drawing the eye. I just don’t want to see him this way again. Maybe this sensitivity is just part of what separates McCay-adoring journeyman cartoonists from a McCay-agnostic comicbook-eater like me.

 

People I Barely Know #2

The day after Thanksgiving I got to the bus stop early and wound up getting coffee at the gas station and saying hi to Gina. She was cheery and listening to pop songs from the 1950s. Three young men came in while I was there, and each one asked after Gina’s Thanksgiving with great politeness.

When I paid for my coffee, I told Gina I liked her music. She clasped her hands to her breastbone and said, “Don’t you just feel transported to a high school dance?”

The bus stop usually has several people standing around and drifting like zombies from their cars in the park n’ ride. Today it was just me and a woman I’d never seen before. Like me, she was in her thirties and had brown hair, a red wool coat, and red eyeglasses. We blinked at each other. Suddenly, I worried the bus wasn’t coming.

The bus did come, with only five people on it. As we barreled along on the freeway I peeked out at the waning moon. The driver was whistling an old-timey tune. I couldn’t put my finger on which one. At one of the first downtown stops, the other woman in the red coat got off at the front of the bus.

“You working retail today?” The driver asked. She looked startled, then replied that she was. “OK,” he said, “Just remember to breathe. You’ll get through the day.”

The bus swung south on Second Avenue. The Smith Tower looked so beautiful, lit up at the end of the street. Behind it, the sky had turned that blue a shade lighter than navy.

I asked the driver what he was whistling. He said he didn’t even know. He said, “Whatever was on the radio before I fell asleep, probably.” He said it just relaxed him.