TOWOIT #230

September 7, 2017… Day 231

My cousin in Florida is preparing her bedroom closet as her hideaway during Irma. Food, water, flashlights, batteries. Hopefully some comic books to keep spirits high. Maybe that description just made me think of Calvin & Hobbes. Or maybe it’s just me acting Calvin&Hobbesian by putting three novels in my backpack for camping this weekend. “We can stay out here for weeks!” I’m a little concerned about the fires because they seem to be everywhere, just outside city limits. My friends-who-know-what-they’re-doing are not concerned though.

I stared at this photo for a long time, trying to gauge the distance and the casualness.

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TOWOIT #209: Juggalos vs. Proud Boys

August 17, 2017… Day 210

**Promotional Nepotism Break**

My dearly beloved, who is a good person, a booster, a staid friend, a man who works quietly behind the scenes, an all-around unsung hero and the person who always shows up with a big car to help people move… THAT guy has a modest little Kickstarter going for a nifty illustrated fan-zine that brings together several of the coolest independent comics artists on the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver,BC corridor. I would like for him to have big success. In return for how he handled (handles) my voluble and recurring post-election storms with kindness and true emotional support, I now must do all I can to put eyes on his Kickstarter so that his quirky, arty, toilet-themed, sumptuously illustrated movie review book will see the light of day. Here’s the link.

HERE’s one of the rewards (designed by Brandon Graham aka @royalboiler):

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*** And we now return to our regularly scheduled program, Nightmare World with Lil ***

 

This August 16, 1973 would also make a great enamel pin:

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All across the media and the Internet, people are talking like this is a real turning point for the Trump Administration. Not the kind they used to talk about, the pivot, but a kind from which there’s no turning back for Trump. His ghostwriter for Art of the Deal thinks Trump will resign by the end of the year.

But I’ll believe it when it happens. Too many unbelievable things already happened to get us here. Plus, last night Rachel Maddow made vague intimations of the first signs of something maybe going awry with the Mueller investigation. And there’s always the threat of a big distracting war. So I’m not holding my breath.

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I’m just waiting to see what happens when the Juggalos march on Washington and come across the Proud Boys next month.

Speaking of which, a warning just came into my Facebook timeline, all the way from Japan:

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Thank you and goodnight.

 

 

 

 

 

TOWOIT #163

July 2, 2017… Day 164

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Current mood: In a shared motel room in the dark, laptop open, earbuds in, listening to a new Pod Save America podcast of the guys live at a healthcare demonstration in D.C., just talking to people. They keep bumping into Democratic lawmakers just wandering through the crowd being part of things.

That was recorded yesterday, and is the soundtrack for my morning Twitter reading:

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There have been some more disturbing local happenings lately. A Tukwila mother of 4 snatched by ICE. An Asian teenager shot by police, an ink pen in his hand. But I have been more reluctant to catalog these things after seeing a wedge of black Twitter doing a joking lament of Shaun King being a one-stop shop for black trauma. I’m not saying that’s fair to Shaun King (although I have plenty of criticism of my own to level at him for the way he wrote about HRC in 2016). But the point is, am *I* some kind of perverse bower bird collecting baubles for my bower? Am I serving any purpose? But then, if you don’t gather together and pin down some of these local incidents, you feel like you’re glossing over what’s happening to people.

Anyway, there’s been a flurry of inescapable (to me) chatter over the comic book artist Howard Chaykin and his series The Divided States of Hysteria. There’s been a drumbeat of response to the book’s treatment of trans people for weeks now. The cover of Issue #4 showed a hate crime against a person of color, and things are boiling over. Image issued an apology full of soothing pretzel talk about how this book is a cautionary tale, and it’s “revenge fiction.” They’re sorry that we’re too neurotic to tell that this book is on OUR side. The thing straight white comic book guys never realize is, we can gauge the ratio of a) fun you’re having drawing this shit to b) personal investment in the subject matter. When the ratio doesn’t come out right, then you’re just kind of a shit. Sorry. True story.

And to people who vaguely agree with the critics of Chaykin but think there is just too much outrage these days: Patience is worn to a nubbin and will be from here on out. It’s like this for me every day in my real life. I was putting up with sexist bullshit all day under President Barack Obama too. But now that we have DJT, I don’t have enough energy to exist in that guy’s U.S.A. *AND* deal with your sexist bullshit all day. So if I seem bitchy and irritable, well that’s just the way it’s going to continue to be. And my experience is Tip Of The Iceberg compared to women of color and others who have been living in an untenable bullshit reality always and who have even more pressure on them to “act nice.” 

I’m having a big familyish 4th of July weekend, so I thought I’d better knock out some kind of TOWOIT entry early and get that out of away. Thanks for listening. Good luck out there. I hope in your personal “Was that fireworks or bullets?” game, it’s always fireworks. And I hope your dogs and cats have safe hidey-holes and sources of comfort during these bewildering days.

TOWOIT #156

June 25, 2017… Day 157

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Shade the Changing Girl, Issue #8 (Castellucci, Zircon, Parks, Fitzpatrick)

Pride is going on downtown. Black Lives Matter protested and halted the parade, and my queer friends are the sort that supported that.

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I’ve been inside by my fan, looking on by social media and reading the first 9 issues of Shade the Changing Girl (finally).

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Shade the Changing Girl, Issue #7 (Castellucci, Sauvage, Temofonte)

I’m really enjoying this comic.

On the healthcare front, which is currently the everything front, all I can say is COME ON, SUSAN COLLINS. COME ON, LISA MURKOWSKI. As a former Alaskan, I know you flinty, pragmatic Republican ladies of the north can make some reasonable decisions. I know you can dooooo ittttt.

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Susan Collins said she has reservations and doesn’t want to vote on the healthcare bill before the July 4 recess.

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I spent my whole life bending over backwards to not think along the lines of “smart” and “dumb” — always recognizing the different forms of intelligence, the different levels of articulation, still waters run deep, don’t judge a book by the cover, have some fucking humility, you don’t know what’s going on in people’s heads. I don’t know if people are born dumb, but for one reason or another their brains are rotting now. And that’s why I watch the Gallup poll numbers when they update every day at 10:00 am Seattle time.

**UPDATE** I feel sorry for saying this about people’s brains rotting. It is also possible that they are a) REALLY not paying attention, or b) craven.

**UPDATE #2** I do actually know several Trump voters. They don’t seem to be dumb. They seem like nice people. That’s why I want to bang my head into walls.

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That little spike to 42% had me worried.

I just liked this headline:

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And in reply:

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I did get out of the house for awhile, and was sitting in a shady place with my significant other, sipping iced coffee. We had the perfect view of a developing Pokemon birthday party of a small Asian child with a large extended family, and a burgeoning picnic gathering of Muslims in especially beautiful clothes. The kids of both gatherings ran back and forth to the same merry go round in the middle. We were over-heated, but we scraped together our knowledge of religion. “End of Ramadan,” he said. “Eid,” I added. And then nodding in the other direction, “Pikachu.”

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Katherine Collins One Afternoon

About a year after U.S. politics ate my interest in comic books, I found myself sitting outside Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, studying a Ben Sears print. It had been the longest, shittiest winter in a hundred years and now I was in the sun, staring at a picture like a child.

I had decamped that morning from Seattle to Vancouver, which is both foreign to me and closer to my original home in Alaska. Trump had decamped to Saudi Arabia. Between the two, my constant IV drip of political news had dried up. My phone didn’t work that well in Canada, so I couldn’t even text anyone for a secondhand hit. The Asian stock markets wouldn’t re-open for another 24 hours. No information was coming in except the colorful details of the Ben Sears print in my hands.

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Just a small detail of the Ben Sears print I bought

Being in an unfamiliar place in new sandals gave me a feeling from childhood that I’d forgotten. There’s liking yourself, and there’s being all right with the world. As adults we try to do both those things and be reasonably happy. But sometimes when you’re a little kid you have this sensation of liking yourself in the world. Liking the places where you and the world touch.

So that’s where I was, with the sun warming my back and bright artwork in my eyes, when my boyfriend tapped my shoulder and said, “We have to go to this panel—not enough people are showing up!”

Continue reading Katherine Collins One Afternoon

TOWOIT #124

May 20, 2017… Day 121

It was a Saturday after a wild news week. Trump took almost the entire White House senior staff and went on his first foreign trip, to Saudi Arabia. I went on my first foreign trip in 7 years, to Canada. My phone didn’t work reliably there and I was surrounded by festive people all day. The combined effect was a muting of my awareness of what was going on in the news.

Continue reading TOWOIT #124

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I had an encounter on the way home from zumba tonight. I can’t even tell you how silly zumba feels to me now, like fiddling while Rome burns. Still I tell myself, “Now is no time to be soft in mind and body” and heave myself in the direction of the gym. And then the whole time I’m doing light-hearted dance moves I’m thinking, “Later we’ll see ourselves as naive in these days. I guess this is our life now. Trying to preserve something of the U.S. from creeping autocracy. Trying to keep autocracy to a creep.”

At the end of summer, in sunnier times in these United States, I was walking down the street in my neighborhood in something that could only be described as a get-up. It was layers, and flouncy, and competing patterns.

I heard a cheery voice call out “Great eye for color!” and looked down to see a wizened, nearly toothless man in a heap of colorful rags, sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk and smiling at me. He seemed to be genuinely hailing me as one aesthete to another.

Tonight I saw him outside the drugstore. He asked me for a quarter because he wanted to buy a bottle of nail polish for his artwork. He had a feathery staff and a woven, feathery hat. No one would doubt that he really did need nail polish for an art project. So I gave him six bucks, which was all the cash I had on me.img_2742

In exchange, he gave me a card-sized print of a piece of artwork, and told me about himself. “I’m an artist,” he said, “but I have no patience for the academy. I would rather live in quietude in the woods than surround myself with rich people and their rabble.” He had dirt-blackened fingernails, fingerless gloves, and he swished his hands around artily while he talked. He smelled like tobacco and unwashed human. The card was a color photocopy pasted to a magazine cover for stiffness.

It wasn’t until I got home that I saw the words he’d written down in one corner: It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.

And underneath that… arbeit macht frei.

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(A gate at Auschwitz. It means “work sets you free.”)

All the Scarlet Witches: The Writing

Dear James Robinson,

After reading Scarlet Witch #4, I can’t ignore your writing anymore. There’s no shame in needing to get better at writing. I need to get better at writing. My blog posts need editing, but I don’t get paid and I only have a few readers. You, on the other hand, have a lot of readers. As a writer for Marvel, you’ve achieved more writing success than I have. You’ve hustled to get where you are, you’ve put yourself out there, you’ve met your deadlines and you’ve completed your task. You’ve given it a shot. You’re a writer.

You’ll need to work harder if you’re going to keep up at Marvel, though. Matt Fraction, Willow Wilson and Tom King have been roaring down the tracks. They’re making it look easy. They’re telling stories so tight and seaworthy that Marvel can say “suck it, Image Comics intelligentsia.” Your writing on Scarlet Witch is like Marvel saying “Comic book readers are kind of idiots anyway.” Or maybe just “No one gives a shit about Scarlet Witch. Let’s really phone this one in.”

After reading Scarlet Witch #4, I put together a list of things to work on:

Words: how many and which ones.

Scarlet Witch #4 is loaded with words, but the ratio of words that mean something to total words is low. This clogs up the works and makes you look like an amateur. Here are some filler words and phrases that you lean on heavily: Although, though, certainly, if I’m truthful, oh, it does seem as if, most notably, it seems, it would seem, I confess, here is where, honestly, that is, I suppose, more accurately, I imagine, as I recall, actually, I’m sure, whereas, apparently. This kind of speech is common in the office world, especially when someone is a) insecure about their intelligence or b) trying to obfuscate their true meaning and avoid being held accountable. So you’ve got a case of business-ese. I think you thought it would add a nice razzle-dazzle of formality or authenticity but you are wrong. It reads as if you originally thought you would make Wanda’s speech biblical or Shakespearean, and then someone was like “Wait. Hold on. Wanda is Roma, and she’s a witch, and this is a comic book. So let’s make her sound like middle-manager in Toledo who is trying to sound more educated than he is while breaking the bad news to the team about health insurance benefit changes.”

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Try limiting the amount of word balloon space you’ll allow yourself per page. Usually when a writer is forced to make something shorter, it winds up being better. Then we could see more of the art and the art could do more of the talking.

Working dialogue to death.

The wordiness I mentioned above seems to be your way of trying to make people talking sound like people talking. But it’s backfiring. Agatha trails along endlessly dumping exposition into her dialogue. It’s exhausting. Wanda over-reports Every Single Feeling she has. She and Agatha have known each other for a long time. Agatha can probably read non-verbal social cues. And so can the readers. Let the art do some of the storytelling. Let Wanda and Agatha’s relationship breathe. And if you’re using dialogue as glue to make your plot followable, maybe your plot isn’t very sturdy.

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Interesting art from Chris Visions

P.S. When your villain says “I love power” that is what they call “too on the nose.”

Overdoing an accent.

Just because someone is Irish doesn’t mean we want to be beaten about the head and neck with a brogue.

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The second example also shows an annoying sexist trope without proper sense of irony. So powerful and yet so flawed and broken, yadda yadda yadda.

Tone-deaf tone shifts.

Wanda has JUST had a jarring, life-changing encounter with the ghost of her mother. She’s beside herself. Two seconds later she’s saying “You mean bitch” saucily to Agatha. Makes no sense. Maybe, after getting silly on sidecars, Hellcat says “You mean bitch” in a teasy way to She-Hulk. MAYBE. And even then, I could see it landing with a thud. This just shows that you’re not feeling your own story beats (and maybe that you don’t know how women talk to each other, girlfriend).

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Notice how Agatha shifts right into dialogue as exposition again.

Neglect and mis-use of available themes.

This run of Scarlet Witch could mean a lot to a lot of people. Aging. Personal demons. Mother-daughter relations. Friendship. Sacrifice. The passage of time. Mortality. It’s so rich with potential themes that all you have to do is get out of the way.

And that’s the hardest thing—learning how to get out of the way. It takes imagination, restraint and skill. If you can learn to get out of the way of your artist, of your characters, of your themes, of your own writing, then you’ll finally be making it look easy. If you can’t learn to get out of the way of all that stuff, then you’ll have to get out of the way of someone who writes sharper and snappier than you do.

 

Mirror #1: Turn Invisible and Run Away

Mirror #5Mirror #1 begins a story of colonization, animals with human qualities, and a mixture of science, magic, and politics. Emma Rios and Hwei Lim give Mirror #1 confidence. Confident stories don’t rush to explain, defend or demonstrate. They trust that we will see the whole picture before we lose patience. They trust in their own ability to give us the information in the order we’ll need it. There’s a lot going on, but we’ll get there. And we can latch on emotionally from the first pages.

 

There are two main things to grab hold of in Mirror #1. First, the dog-girl Sena and the mage Ivan loved each other as children and now they aren’t even friends. Sena’s dogness makes this undone loyalty cut to the quick. A flurry of scenes give us a glimpse of catastrophe in their adolescence. A phrase rings out twice,  first as a threat: “I’ll turn invisible and run away.” Then, a plea: “Turn invisible and run away!”

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The second thing to latch on to is that the little rat-woman Zun has to be brave and take on hard and dangerous tasks for the greater good.

Hwei Lim’s watercolors underwrite the floating, trusting confidence of Mirror. She gives us circus imagery and sadness. Softness and primary colors. The love of a boy for his dog against a sterile backdrop of cages and lab gear. Strong black lines that are rounded, incomplete, floating in white space and washes of color.

Lim’s figures have the quickness of costume designs–unassuming, economical, fluid. Then the figures speak and Rios nails us to the wall with clean, simple dialogue.

 

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Little Nemo #7 & 8

For awhile this giant book became just another surface, a substrate, and the life of my kitchen table was carried out on top of it. But then I had to enlist the book in my battle against light pollution. I barricade myself in each night. Between the book and the cardboard it came in, I can block a lot a light out.

But I have to keep going through this book. Ronald Wimberly, Matt Huynh, and Yuko Shimizu await me, deeper in. And though I am often too sleepy at night in my little apartment, I like communing with all these dream snippets.

David Petersen’s Little Nemo page has an old-fashioned, vintagey feeling. I think these might be my favorite, because to me they are new and nostalgic at the same time. Unfortunately, it also seems to mean a racist imagining of Imp (again).

But we meet the Princess in a yellow dress.

Her father, the king, sends mice to pick up Little Nemo and the Princess who are out on a children’s adventure. There is nothing too scary, and Nemo knows he is dreaming. He wants a lullaby to keep him asleep on his journey. He and the Princess are sweet little friends.

Then, on the facing page, Jonathan Tune and Eleanor Doughty (on colors) tell a very different story of a different kind of dream. It’s the same Princess in her yellow dress, but she and Nemo are grown up now and their friendship has fallen on hard times.They are on opposite sides of a war. And through a moment’s haste, a misunderstanding, she is shot.

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Little Nemo doesn’t know he’s dreaming, and all the fantastic air ships his mind created turn to dust when he wakes up grieving over the Princess.

In David Petersen’s page, the dream whimsy is contained and defined in clean inking and neat colors.The fantasy is safe for children.  The orderly, carefully described fur of the mice contrasts with the looser inks and water colors of Tune and Doughty’s page. In the war story, the underlying paper is nubbled, the pigment is washed and pooled. The shadows feel contaminating, hard to separate from the bright yellow of the Princess’s dress.

These pages make me want to write a series of novels about these two growing up together, growing hardened, growing apart. Like the Harry Potter novels, the tone would deepen and become more emotionally complex from book to book.

 

 

 

All the Scarlet Witches: Steve Dillon

Scarlet Witches #3 was written by James Robinson (who has been ok at best on this series) with art by Steve Dillon and Frank Martin (Scarlet Witch has a different art team every issue).

Things I like about Scarlet Witches #3:

1.) I kind of like how Steve Dillon (with Frank Martin on colors) plays it as it lays. After more heavily stylized Wandas in #1 and #2, now we have a standard comicbook Wanda. Cleavage, check. Hair that’s sultry but without a lot of personality, check. Pouty comic book lady face, check. I kind of like this cranky, low-affect Wanda, and I like that she is darker-skinned and darker-eyed in this issue. She was looking downright WASPy in #2.

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2.) My favorite thing Dillon and Martin do is a few landscape panels that go farther than anything else in the issue (definitely including the writing) to transmit a spooky mood and a sense of place.

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3.) The teaser for Scarlet Witch #4 at the end, with Chris Visions’s pages, is a sight for sore eyes. It looks really rich and individual, full of red hues and expressive lines. It looks like we might be getting back to the early promise of Scarlet Witch #1, by  Vanesa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire.

4.) James Robinson leaning into Irish brogue is the best opportunity he’s given us so far to work on enjoying a badly written story. Sometimes I’m jealous of the women in my book club who seem to experience novels not as artifacts crafted by a mind but as gossip and folklore that has been downloaded directly into their brains.I enjoy the feeling that we are sitting around a fire talking about people we know. It curbs some of my natural over-thinking. If they were like me, we would kill the novel and take it apart. Most of these women just want to talk about how a character reminds them of their ex-husband, and then there are more details about the ex-husband and everybody forgets about the book for awhile. There is a strong argument to be made that their way of consuming stories is more valid than mine.

At the end of the day: Yes, let’s talk about the end of the day. Lately they’ve been a certain kind. The last three weeks have been long work days full of problem-solving and fire-dousing in the middle of a lot of emotions, politics, and uncertainty. I leave the house at 5:15 in the morning, get home about 12 hours later, skip dinner, and crawl in bed with comic books. I can’t keep up this pathetic routine too much longer without permanent damage to my self-esteem, but for now my total lack of ambition outside of work has been getting me through. So you know, what does a comic book like Scarlet Witch #3 do for me in a situation like that? In my bed with a fried brain? All in all, Scarlet Witch #3 is like a candy bar you used to like as a kid, but now they make it with slightly different ingredients and it’s not as good, but you go through the motions. Hoping that flipping those flimsy pages will make you feel better, that you can recapture some of that magic just from the gestalt of what a comic book is instead of the comic book itself.

Mirror #1 by Emma Rios and Hwei Lim on the other hand? This book met me halfway; this book met me more than halfway. This book came gliding over to me, fresh and intelligent and full of authentic emotion. It was a balm I didn’t have to work for, a revelation. We could have a debate about whether Scarlet Witch #3 justifies its own existence. But when our brains are too tired for debate, its a book like Rios and Lim made that has the power to restore.

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.

Ody-C #8 queue

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.

Ody-C #8 haunted #2

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.

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.

Rios 8

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.

Rios 1

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.

Rios 3

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.

Rios 9

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.

Rios 10

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.

Rios 11

(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.)