Sunday, December 28, 2008

Doodle Penance: "the kiss painting"

This week's Doodle Penance comes from someone who found our site after searching for "the kiss painting."

Probably this poor searcher found him- or herself visiting one of Mike's old swipe file posts. (Incidentally, this is by far our most-visited page on the site. Could that have something to do with Uma in the altogether? Personally, I prefer to imagine that it's just general affection for the details of our second issue. Order it now and have it in plenty of time for Valentine's Day!)

But here's what the poor Googler probably wanted to find on our site:

Many people do not realize that Chaim Witz, otherwise known as Gene Simmons, based his "Demon" persona on an early version of Picasso's 1903 The Old Guitarist. Recent technological inspection has revealed a preoccupied woman, apparently nude, under the famous painting, but the earlier and more awesome version of the painting has been lost to the vagaries of time... until now!

(You may click to enlarge somewhat.)

It's worth noting that Simmons is unlike Picasso, in that there are some things that Pablo Picasso was never called.

"Things as they are / Are changed upon the blue guitar," indeed.

Mike, I hope you'll paste your penance below...

...uh, okay, Isaac, hyar 'tis:
Clearly this is based not on Klimt's famous painting "The Kiss" (as seen, sort of, in SatCom #2, as noted above), but on Edvard Munch's less famous painting "The Kiss," which you can see here in its oil-paint version and here in its woodcut version. I have altered the image ever-so-slightly to suggest that it depicts a scene of osculation between Prince, original performer of the song "Kiss," and Tom Jones, who covered it with the Art of Noise. Munch's original design didn't leave a lot of room to suggest who's who in my version. I leave it to the viewer to decide if TAFKAP is wearing his own apparel or if the Performer from Pontypridd is sporting the Purple One's coat as the fan he must be.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Doodle Penance: "superboy jamie muscles"

There are more than fourteen inches of snow on the ground here as I write this, and yet I'm still planning to fly home tomorrow morning. It seems pretty implausible, but that won't stop me from getting up crazy early to head for the airport.

But before I go, I think there's some penance to take care of.

Some hapless soul was directed to our website when he or she asked the internet for "superboy jamie muscles" this week.

Probably this fan of Silver-Age silliness was looking for that issue where a thinly-veiled Charles Atlas made a cameo appearance to thump the twerp on the chest, kick sand in his face, and steal the affections of Lana Lang.

Superboy never was much of a "Hero of the Beach."

Happy Hannukah, Mike. Drop your doodle in here when it's done, okay?

—Sure thing, Isaac! Here's my vision of Superboy Jamie Muscles:

Here's my Sharpie-direct-to-paper doodle, executed so swiftly that I screwed up the socks. Whatever: it's a DOODLE, not a proper drawing. And I think I have captured sufficiently my vision of a pint-sized Highlander heavyweight, though his sideburns make him look older than his age (he's a wee lad of some six summers, he is). Jamie Muscles. Respect him!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Doodle Penance: "wobbly space craft comics"

Oh, right: we have a blog!

Isaac has already explained the idea behind our "Doodle Penance" series. Our latest search term/drawing prompt: "wobbly space craft comics"—which term, Isaac informs me, led an internet seeker to spend a whopping eleven seconds on our site. Perhaps one of these images would have held the seeker for longer:

I like the way Isaac has turned to old-fashioned romance-comics tropes here, though I am a bit dismayed to note that this is our second science-fiction joke involving bad driving by a woman at the wheel (or should that be the helm?). The first such joke, a cheap shot fired obliquely at my beloved spouse's inexperience with manual transmissions, appeared way back in Satisfactory Comics #1, whose heroine's costume and overall anatomy also earned us some dressing-down by readers unhappy with our resort to design conventions of dubious propriety.

What this evidence suggests about my unintentional but unreconstructed sexism is a bit depressing. But I shouldn't hijack Isaac's doodle for my own public second-guessing. Here's my doodle for "wobbly space craft comics":

I had already seen Isaac's doodle when I started mine, hence the predictable "variation on a theme" rather than, say, a four-panel comic strip about wobbly space craft (which thought did occur to me, briefly). Note how I (accidentally) omitted the word "craft" in my title—not the first time I've botched a title that's been handed to me (see my first Mapjam entry, and compare it against the map itself). However, I think the omission is appropriate inasmuch as my design riffs on the logo of the Industrial Workers of the World, who promoted not craft unionism but industrial unionism—in this case, no doubt, that of the aeronautics & space industry. There are a couple more references to the Wobblies, just in case that's what our errant seeker was searching for. Though if it's Wobbly comics that s/he seeks, this would be the place to look.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Doodle Penance: "fun things to draw comics on"

... And we're back. It has been a long and difficult month. I think this is the first time I've felt like I've had time to put anything up on the blog, and even this is going to be pretty minimal. But we have a new comics game to play. I'm thinking of it as a way to get us started again, posting things weekly, with the goal of keeping the blog alive until we have real time to draw or write about comics.

I've been feeling guilty about not posting, which is pretty ridiculous, but if eight years of grad school couldn't train me to feel guilty for not writing, I'd probably have absolutely no sense of shame. Since I've been feeling guilty, I've been thinking about the way that our former colleague Carl Pyrdum will occasionally do what he calls "Google Penance," in which he takes a search term that led someone to his blog and then writes about it, essentially adding the entry that the errant Googler seems to have wanted his site to have.

Mike and I have decided to undertake a variant on this challenge, which we'll call "Doodle Penance." We'll try to do this once a week. We'll dip into our website analytics at the beginning of the weekend and produce some doodles based on one of the searches that led someone to our site in the previous week.

This week, the "lucky" search term is: fun things to draw comics on.

(cleeck to eenlarge)

(Probably this person found the back-issue listing for our sketchbook project, "________ Are Always Fun to Draw," which is still available for you to order.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Oh Hell Yes.

I'm totally swiping that image from Adam "Ape Lad" Koford, of course.

What an excellent night. Complete blow-by-blow political bloggery can be found over at Gerry Canavan's site.

Don't feel bad, Mike. Pogo can run again in 2016.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Comic Foundry mini-review of our minicomic

The Fall 2008 issue of Comic Foundry magazine spotlights politics in comics; profiles Tony Harris, main artist on James Robinson's Starman (one of Isaac's favorite superhero books); and includes a feature on six new and recent minicomics, including our latest:

We're in good company, too, right alongside Sarah Glidden's How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less #2 and Gabrielle Bell's Lucky vol. 2 #2 (and just above a row of books that are new to me but sound interesting: Harvest is When I Need You the Most by various artists, Untitled (Dinosaur) by Joseph Lambert, and Jam in the Band Vol. 1 by Robin Enrico).

Our thanks to writers Brian Heater and Sarah Morean for including us among "some of the best books to hit the scene recently" and for running a picture of page 1 in its slipcover band!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Fun Punkin!


I know I should be grading papers tonight—and I'm about to get back to work—but I just couldn't let the season go by without doing something to mark the arrival of Halloween, which is my favorite holiday. Last year, as a special treat for our blog readers, I posted some Halloween Fun Comics, a choose-your-own-adventure story that is included in Satisfactory Comics #7.

This year, because we're likely to get trick-or-treaters here in Burlington, I decided to do something people could enjoy without being on the internet.

It started with one of the best demons from our Demonstration book, the Dark Abbess.

(Well, actually, it started with a bunch of sketches and doodles. I was originally thinking that I might make a punkin with the werewolf from "The Graveyard of Forking Paths.")

But once I'd settled on the Dark Abbess, I had to figure out how to make the shading work. I couldn't put her pupils in the middle of her eyes and also carve out the eyes for light to come through...

... but it looked like this was going to work. (I did have to upgrade to a bigger pumpkin.) And so, with a little handheld pumpkin jigsaw knife and a regular old craft knife, I started carving, and about an hour and a half later, I had this:

Let's turn off the lights and enjoy that the way it's intended to be seen. You can click this picture to enlarge it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

No Time to Blog...

I don't really have time to write a real post.

I have a ton of papers to grade, and a few non-blog writing tasks I ought to address before I do anything substantial over here.

Please substitute me for longhair '70s Barry Allen in the picture above, and replace dinner with paper-grading, and slow things down about a million times. Also, put bags under his eyes. Or mine. And replace his manic look of inspiration with a weary thousand-yard stare. Ugh.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Endorsement that Convinced Me

If you love freedom, this is all you need to see. Hellboy's candidate is my candidate. Never mind what Mike says.

If you want this original art for yourself, it's on auction until the evening of October 13. All proceeds go to the campaign.

You can also use that link if you don't want it for yourself, and just want to buy it for me instead. Because if you love freedom, you probably also love giving me presents.

UPDATE: It sold for $1,625.00. That's some very nice fund-raising.

Monday, October 6, 2008

"Freedom within Boundaries": Derik Badman on Constraint in Comics

Derik Badman—cartoonist, critic, and comics theorist—recently gave a presentation at the first annual Web Comics Comic-Con and Conference, wherein he discussed varieties of constraint in comics. His presentation, "Freedom within Boundaries: the Theory and Practice of Constraint in Comics," may be viewed (and heard!) in full here.

His presentation lasts about 22 and a half minutes, during which he discusses general principles of constraint before focusing on some examples of "generative" and "transformative" constraint (borrowing categories from a Thierry Groensteen article in OuPus 1, a publication of the francophone Oubapo movement for formal experiment in comics). There are a number of interesting examples along the way, among which the following stood out for me:

1) David Lasky's adaptation of Poe's "The Raven" (which crops up around 9:50), a work I was already familiar with and which I enjoy a great deal (save for the transcription error where the meter gets loused up in a line, confound it). Its minimalism makes an interesting contrast with the Kurtzman-Elder adaptation from Mad, with its typically Elderian profusion of detail.

2) Frederic and Luc Schuiten's Nogegon (about 11:10 in) presents a symmetrical layout that outdoes even issue 5 of Watchmen (the first issue in the pair devoted to Rorschach).

3) Tom Hart's implementation of Matt Madden's obstructions (14:45 or so) for a week of his Hutch Owen strip, based in part on director Lars von Trier's Five Obstructions challenge. Tom and Matt's joint effort was of course the inspiration for our own "Stepan Crick and the Chart of the Possible," also known as Satisfactory Comics #8...

4) ...which also appears in Derik's presentation (at 17:15)! I'm pleased that Derik included us in his presentation (and I didn't know we were a part of it until I followed the link to it from Journalista this evening), and I'm doubly pleased that he showcases my favorite page from the story, Isaac's riff on Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase (page 7 of the comic).

5) Badman concludes the generative constraints with his own "Things Change" (19:00), based on Ovid's Metamorphoses. He shows two pages from a sequence designed so that each page doubles the panel count of the preceding page, till the art dissolves into blackness. (Before it does that, though, the use of color is quite striking, as seen in the adjacent 16- and 32-panel pages on display in his video).

So if you're interested in seeing and hearing a bit more about comics constraints (from somebody other than Isaac or myself, for a change!), I recommend giving Derik's presentation a listen.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

SPX 2008 Doodle Strip

I'm just back from this year's installment of SPX. I had a busy afternoon, what with co-moderating a panel with Isaac and introducing Ben Katchor's slide-show and Q & A, but there was just enough time to join Isaac for a quick three-panel doodle during a late lunch. Here's our quickie comic, our first joint work drawn in the same place since I can't remember when:
Deathless, isn't it? Nice to know that we've still got it!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Debate Doodle Duo (Veep Edition)

So last night I did the civic-minded thing and watched the Vice Presidential debate between Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin. While watching, the Mrs. and I played a few cards of Palin bingo (I eventually won, at 9:45, with the vertical series "Tax Relief—Job Creation—Free Space [snarkily labeled "Air Space"]—National Guard—Drill"). Anyway, even with the laser-like focus demanded by the bingo cards, I found my attention wandering occasionally--not too far, but far enough for my hands to produce a couple of doodles. Since I haven't drawn anything in ages, and I have been pretty AWOL from the blog, I thought I'd share these veeptastic designs.

First up, a debate demon:

Next, a debate doll:

And no, I did not intend for either of these to represent either of the candidates or my feelings about them, though you are free to psychoanalyze my random doodles to your heart's content. Meanwhile, I remind you that I declared my endorsement of a perennial candidate over a month ago, after earlier consideration of a real Washington outsider.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The things I have from "The 50 Things That Every Comics Collection Truly Needs" (via the Comics Reporter)

Last Sunday, Tom Spurgeon ran an article on his Comics Reporter website featuring his list of "the fifty things that every comics collection truly needs." It's an interesting list, with lots of illustrations and numerous suggestions and sub-suggestions within broad categories. I recommend checking it out here.

He also posted a suggestion from one Stephen Frug on how to play along with his list by sharing what your collection already includes. Tom Spurgeon has tweaked Frug's helpful visual shortcuts to yield the following code:

Leave Plain = Things I don't have
Make Bold = Things I do have
Italics = I have some but probably not enough
Underline = I don't agree I need this

This seems easy enough to play along with, so here's my list as of today. Isaac, if you are so inclined, it would be interesting to see your list, too. Anyway, my list, with occasional notes:

1. Something From The ACME Novelty Library
2. A Complete Run Of Arcade (I have most, but not all)
3. Any Number Of Mini-Comics
4. At Least One Pogo Book From The 1950s
5. A Barnaby Collection (I don't own any myself, but I know where there's a copy at my wife’s parents' house)
6. Binky Brown and the Holy Virgin Mary
7. As Many Issues of RAW as You Can Place Your Hands On (alas, I passed on my one chance as a youth to buy a remaindered copy of Read Yourself Raw)
8. A Little Stack of Archie Comics (sorry, my only interest in Archie is when the ISB brings it up)
9. A Suite of Modern Literary Graphic Novels
10. Several Tintin Albums
11. A Smattering Of Treasury Editions Or Similarly Oversized Books
12. Several Significant Runs of Alternative Comic Book Series
13. A Few Early Comic Strip Collections To Your Taste
14. Several "Indy Comics" From Their Heyday
15. At Least One Comic Book From When You First Started Reading Comic Books (Sad to say, I actually read the "Anatomy Lesson" issue of Swamp Thing from the spinner rack at an Eckerd Drugs when I was a kid--and I put it back, unpurchased, but fully read. That story haunted me like no other comic story I had ever read. A few years later, as Watchmen rolled out, I realized what I had let slip through my fingers. Ah, well; at least I still have my copy of Marvel Tails starring Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham!)
16. At Least One Comic That Failed to Finish The Way It Planned To (If Eddie Campbell's Egomania counts, then I got one, at least)
17. Some Osamu Tezuka
18. The Entire Run Of At Least One Manga Series (Lone Wolf and Cub; Mai the Psychic Girl; Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind: all outstanding)
19. One Or Two 1970s Doonesbury Collections (again, the in-laws have some)
20. At Least One Saul Steinberg Hardcover
21. One Run of A Comic Strip That You Yourself Have Clipped (Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers, from its original run in the Forward)
22. A Selection of Comics That Interest You That You Can't Explain To Anyone Else (it's my job to figure out how to explain what I find interesting, so I am having real trouble thinking of a suitable comic to fit this category)
23. At Least One Woodcut Novel
24. As Much Peanuts As You Can Stand
25. Maus
26. A Significant Sample of R. Crumb's Sketchbooks
27. The original edition of Sick, Sick, Sick (my in-laws probably have this one, as well)
28. The Smithsonian Collection Of Newspaper Comics (possibly the single best present I ever received as a child; thanks, Uncle Bill!)
29. Several copies of MAD
30. A stack of Jack Kirby 1970s Comic Books (in collected editions, at least)
31. More than a few Stan Lee/Jack Kirby 1960s Marvel Comic Books (ditto)
32. A You're-Too-High-To-Tell Amount of Underground Comix
33. Some Calvin and Hobbes
34. Some Love and Rockets
35. The Marvel Benefit Issue Of Coober Skeber (I've seen it; I really don't think I need it. Seth's Vernacular Drawing suits me just fine for his superhero renderings)
36. A Few Comics Not In Your Native Tongue (I have a few of these, yes...)
37. A Nice Stack of Jack Chick Comics (I've seen enough not to be that interested, and not just because I have a friend who is a Rabbi Waxman)
38. A Stack of Comics You Can Hand To Anybody's Kid
39. At Least A Few Alan Moore Comics
40. A Comic You Made Yourself
41. A Few Comics About Comics
42. A Run Of Yummy Fur
43. Some Frank Miller Comics
44. Several Lee/Ditko/Romita Amazing Spider-Man Comic Books
45. A Few Great Comics Short Stories
46. A Tijuana Bible (I've seen some; do I need to own them?)
47. Some Weirdo
48. An Array Of Comics In Various Non-Superhero Genres
49. An Editorial Cartoonist's Collection or Two
50. A Few Collections From New Yorker Cartoonists

What does this tell me? (a) My tastes overlap with Tom Spurgeon's to a rather high degree. (b) I can cut back on the comics a bit, probably.

Update: Upon further reflection, I have altered the replies for items 21 and 27 from their original state.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

SatCom at SPX: Collaboration & Katchor

The first weekend in October brings this year's installment of the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland. It's also bringing Isaac down to DC from Vermont, and we'll be teaming up again for some comics-related activity, though I doubt we'll have time to collaborate on any comics ourselves. Instead, we'll be co-moderators of a panel on "Cartooning in Collaboration/Collaboration in Cartooning," with featured artists Becky Cloonan, Mike Dawson, Jim Ottaviani, Frank Santoro, and Dash Shaw. Their works include material in a variety of styles and genres in venues from self-published minicomics to wide releases from such publishers as Vertigo, Fantagraphics, and Picturebox, and among them these artists and writers have explored a number of different approaches to comics-making, both in collaboration and in solo efforts.

I'll also be moderating questions at an artist's spotlight on one of the cartoonists I admire most, the inimitable Ben Katchor.

If you're in the area, please do consider these events and other programming at SPX (a full list of panels and presentations may be found here).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Something I Hadn't Noticed in Jimmy Corrigan (Until This Week)

This has to be another light post. I still haven't read everything from my last Swansea find (which was back in July!), so I can only present another trivium that has surfaced from my comics-reading this week.

I have been retooling that paper on Chris Ware's diagrams from last year's MLA, for a collection of essays that should be forthcoming from University Press of Mississippi. As I was writing about the last diagram in Jimmy Corrigan—the one that reveals Amy's ancestry, and shows that she's actually a close blood relation to all of the Corrigan men in the book—I noticed something about the diagram that I hadn't seen before. (This surprises me, because I've taught the book several times, and I'd already written about this diagram once.)

You'll remember, probably, the diagram I'm talking about. Toward the end of it it, it looks like this:

That little girl is the half-sister of James Corrigan, the little boy in the nineteenth-century parts of the book and the shriveled old "Granpa" in the twentieth-century parts of the book.

Those panels are all set against a background that shows the William Corrigan house in the foreground.

What I had never noticed is the tiny figure in the background of that background, under this last diagram panel with the little girl. Here's the last image in the diagram's "chain" again.

... and if you look really closely...

Not only is Amy related by blood to her adopted father and grandfather, but her great-grandmother grew up just a few hundred yards away from young James, or so it seems. I've always argued that this diagram is in the book to heighten our sense of the sadness of the failed connection between Jimmy and Amy; I hadn't really taken into account the way that it also adds sadness to the story of little James. (As if that story needed more sadness.)

That's it for now. Stay tuned for an announcement about this year's SPX.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Little Lulu and the Arbitrary Signifier

Another minimal post for me, because I'm still swamped. Weeks go by pretty quickly when the semester's in full force. I'm still learning to tame the constant flow of work.

Discerning bloggers have already picked this up—the original post went up a couple of weeks ago—but I keep being amused by a little story from a 1956 issue of Little Lulu.

In it, Lulu and Alvin discover the arbitrary nature of linguistic signification.

I excerpt just three panels from the story here, but you can read it in full—and with brilliant comic timing—at the link above.

The kids are charmed by the slippage between signifier and signified, you see.

In one of the most joyful panels ever, language is revealed to be a mere construct. Chaos ensues.

By the time the adults get hold of the game, "foot" and "feet" have become so destabilized that they can only be construed in terms of natural (as opposed to arbitrary) signifiers: as a kind of onomatopoeia.

Ever notice how you never see pictures of John Stanley and Ferdinand de Saussure in the same room?

For extra credit: read this and watch:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Highbrow Kirby Character Collage

Not much time today. Maybe my last "Swansea Find" post will come next weekend.

But this floated (electronically) across my desk today, and I thought it was worth taking out of context:

There are two Simon & Kirby heroes, The Fighting American and The Guardian, both of them variations on Captain America. (To me that looks like fanzine art, maybe even traced from a couple of different comics, but not Kirby.) In the background, the Smithsonian Castle, in an old postcard image (printed badly, with seriously off-register color).

The creator of this little collage? This man:

Here's the New York Times article, to provide some context.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Mike Dawson's Freddie & Me

In a way, this should also be a "Swansea Find" post, like the ones I have been making for the last couple of weeks. (I still have one left to make, but I'm not done with everything I want to read before I write it.) I went into a big chain bookstore in Swansea, hoping they would have a copy of Posy Simmonds's Tamara Drewe, which hasn't been released yet in the States. Alas, their "graphic novel" section looked pretty much the same as an American one: lots of Marvel Comics, lots of Justice League, a smattering of Dan Clowes and the Hernandez Brothers, mostly jumbled in with the superhero stuff so it'd be hard to find. And Tamara Drewe was nowhere to be found. Posy Simmonds is supposed to be Britain's best-loved cartoonist, but her reputation did not extend to the clerks in this Welsh shopping mall.

What was there, though, much to my surprise, was a copy of Mike Dawson's Freddie & Me: a Teenage (Bohemian) Rhapsody. I don't know why it surprised me. Mike's got a serious publisher in Bloomsbury, and the book would certainly have plenty of appeal in the U.K.. It's just that, because I first saw (and bought) the book at MoCCA, where Mike and his wife were selling copies personally, it seemed impossible that one would wash up so far from home.

I finally read it this week. Freddie & Me is a really personal book, a memoir of the author's lifelong attachment to the band Queen. (Well, it's not literally lifelong: he shows us the moment when he first hears a Queen song. But there's not much of his life before that in the book, and Dawson is a "superfan" almost from day one.)

My reaction to the book also turns out to be personal: as I was reading, I was thinking about my own childhood, the way I would listen to Beatles records over and over in my room, the first Talking Heads album I ever owned, my total devotion to Talking Heads when I was in high school, and other assorted memories. There probably aren't very many people who share Dawson's level of devotion to Queen—though every one of those people surely should buy this book—but most of us had some sort of intense teenage devotion, the sort of thing so intense that it shaped your sense of who you were. That's really what this book is about.

Freddie & Me manages to deliver both the manifest awesomeness of Queen and the patent absurdity of an elementary-school boy who has given his soul to them, or a high-school boy whose emotional life is wrapped around the band he loves. In fact, sometimes it gives us both of these things (the sublime and the ridiculous) at the same time, in a way that seems totally appropriate to Queen. Here, for example, is the young Mike Dawson, partway through a routine at a talent show in which he proposed to sing "Bohemian Rhapsody" a cappella.

(As with all the images from Freddie & Me, this one needs to be click-and-enlarged.)

Dawson never says this, but I get the feeling that the mustachioed emcee is ushering him offstage to protect the young boy's dignity. It's precisely the sort of performance an un-self-conscious kid can take seriously, but which for a teenager or an adult feels more like a memory we'd like to repress. Reading this sequence both made me want to download "Bohemian Rhapsody" and made me mildly queasy thinking about some talent shows in my distant past.

When Mike comes to America (to New Jersey, from a childhood in Leighton Buzzard), he makes Queen fans of most of his friends, but he's still (of course) the original high priest. When someone praises Queen, he feels it as a compliment; when someone knocks the new album, he flinches. At one point, overwhelmed by adolescent loneliness, he imagines himself leaping onto a cafeteria table and bursting into song, which opens onto a two-page splash so awesome and grotesque that I couldn't fit it all on my scanner:

Again, I want to listen to this song; again, I'm totally squeamish thinking about my own adolescence. (Thanks, Dawson.)

When Freddie Mercury dies, Dawson has to excuse himself from class. He can't keep himself together. This sequence rings really true, too, and when the book ends with him mourning one of his relatives, it's natural to look back on this extremity of emotion and make comparisons. Losing Freddie Mercury, for the teenaged Dawson, was at least as big a blow as losing kin. Thankfully he finds a safe place at school to do his grieving. (I've cut out one page from this sequence, but please click and read.)

I love the way that he's overwhelmed with emotion but also knows that it's "so stupid" to be feeling so much for a stranger. That says a lot about the awakening of adulthood in the teenage mind, and about the way that when we are figuring out who we are, our devotions are just as personal as anything "real."

It might be surprising that a straight guy would write a book about his early identification with Freddie Mercury, since Mercury became such an icon of the gay community, especially after his death and during the peak of the AIDS epidemic. Dawson is careful, I think, to put his wife in the very first panel of the book, and to point out that when he first heard that Freddie Mercury had AIDS, he "was actually surprised to hear in the radio broadcast that he was gay." He doesn't avoid the fact of Mercury's homosexuality, and he doesn't flinch from it, but it's obviously not important to his own sense of connection with Mercury and Queen.

(When young Michael sees his first Queen video, with Mercury in drag singing "I Want to Break Free," his mother says, "Yes, he's a funny man, isn't he, Michael," not obviously worried about her son's response, but obviously understanding more of the implications of word and image there than he does.)

In the end, though Freddie & Me is much less about Queen in particular, or even teenaged super-fandom, than it is about the way that music in particular can nestle into our memories and attach to them, building complicated associations of emotion and meaning that are both deeply personal and always available on compact disc. The book's final rumination on this sort of "soundtrack" memory is really moving and really smart.

I'm glad that the book goes there. There are moments in Freddie & Me when you can tell that it's a first graphic novel—places where the characters get a little off-model, or where the writing is a little too overt, or where the cartooning invites a comparison (to, for example, Joe Sacco) that it can't quite sustain—but I think this book is a hell of a lot smarter, and a good deal more moving, than most first graphic novels. I didn't know Mike Dawson had it in him. Now I'm really looking forward to whatever comes next.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Izzy Challenge #5

I got something neat in the mail this afternoon, and since it's a bit closer to the alleged subject of this blog than my last post, I thought I'd do some show and tell.

This is the new issue of J.B. Winter's Izzy Challenge, a jam / constraint-based minicomic in which Winter tries out new and experimental ideas for collaborative comics.

I'm in it. You see, back when I still lived in Connecticut and Tom Motley (who has a new blog, by the way) still lived in Colorado, we became neighbors in a list of cartoonists from all fifty states...

... Or, wait -- maybe that's not the best way to explain it.

The latest issue of Izzy is a fifty-state, fifty-cartoonist jam, in which each cartoonist drew a vacation snapshot for Izzy the Mouse as he made his way (impossibly, alphabetically) through the entire union. (Sorry, Mike, Izzy skipped DC.) Each drawing started with a cartoon of Izzy in a weird pose (drawn by Winter), and the cartoonist for that state chose a background and filled it in.

It's a fun little book, and well worth a read, if only to see what sorts of trouble Izzy gets into in Rhode Island or West Virginia. It's also cool to see Motley and me in close proximity to the likes of Matt Feazell and the J. Chris Campbell. (Shouts out, too, to my new neighbors in the Trees and Hills cartooning group, Colin Tedford of New Hampshire and Morgan Pielli of Vermont!)

Anyway, if you're interested in getting a copy for yourself, it's only a buck over at Winter's Etsy store. Pick up a copy of Noodle #2 (my favorite of his minis) while you're there!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Swansea Find #2: Super Stupid Spidey Stickerbook

On another of my rambles through Swansea, that "ugly-lovely" town, I wandered through the Swansea Market, vaguely hunting for souvenirs. It's an odd institution, this indoor market. Their website says they were established in 1961, and some of the shops may not have changed since then. It gave me an overall feeling of updated Victoriana, rather than anything quite so modern as Six Flags, JFK's inauguration, or Hemingway's suicide. (You see, I can read Wikipedia, which also informs me that 1961 marked the demise of the farthing as British currency.)

Where was I? Right: at one of the market's dingy stalls, I saw a slim book that came with a sheet of fairly cool Spider-Man stickers. I like to put stickers on the occasional outbound piece of comics-related mail,* so I decided to pick these up:

You never know when you'll need a sticker of a camera or a thundercloud or a pair of balloons.

But part of the fun in this stickerbook is how egregiously off-model the characters are, in terms of their concerns and their abilities. The story makes no sense, even if you know nothing about Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus, but I have to assume that most of the book's target audience would know more than nothing. Here's what you get around your stickers:

Spider-Man is in New York, and a pleasant sunny day turns cloudy and stormy, so he figures something bad is happening. A garbage can flies by him while he's swinging toward the storm. Then he sees the storm is being caused by his old nemesis, Doctor Octopus:

Yep. Doc Ock is making lightning.

Many cephalopods are known for their weather-manipulation abilities. (Cuttlefish, for instance, can cause sleet.) So it's not surprising that the writer (uncredited) would make this mistake about good old Doctor Octopus. But in fact he's just a guy with extra mechanical tentacles. (Okay, I see the irony of using the phrase "in fact" to talk about Dr. Octopus. Sorry.) He doesn't have any mollusk powers at all! Why, he can't even change the color of his skin, or shoot out a cloud of ink!

I don't know why the writers didn't use Electro instead. He can't make storms, but he can at least make lightning; it's not a stretch. I've seen him on stickers here in the U.S. But maybe they figured Dr. Octopus was more recognizable, and they couldn't think of any way for him to be a menace other than making it rain on Manhattan.

Once he sees Spider-Man, he's in a hurry to get away, I guess, or to taunt Spidey from a safe disance:

Oh, yeah: did I mention that this guy could fly now?

Because, as everyone with a pool noodle knows, whirling a few flexible cylindrical tubes in the air is going to give you plenty of lift. Fortunately, Spider-Man realizes that there are only a couple of pages left in the book, so he snags his enemy on some webbing:

(I really like that look on Doc Ock's face, actually.) And that's the end. Never mind that none of those four mechanical arms are restrained in any way. Octavius's dignity is broken, and he surrenders meekly. The police come and take him away, for the heinous crime of weather manipulation, I guess. Or maybe there was a warrant out for a previous spree of cloud-seeding.

This reminds me all too much of the ending of another sitckerbook, Stick with Hulk, that I've been meaning to write about. The story's not important, although it's equally dumb. Here's the penultimate page:

Hulk wraps the Abomination in a chain-link fence and offers him a massage. Then, the stunning conclusion:

Hulk changes back to a fully-dressed Bruce Banner and effortlessly retrieves the radioactive macguffin from the snarling, super-strong Abomination, who is still struggling to free himself from his chain-link fence. It's for pleasures like this that I often linger in the toy aisle at the drugstore, or in shabby markets in little Welsh seaside burgs.

* This is the sort of postal goofery around that I'm talking about. See Spidey hop!