Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hallowe'en Haiku

Back in the day
they made fun comics.
Nostalgia for ghosts and monsters.

(top to bottom: John Stanley's Melvin Monster, Curt Swan's Superman, and Steve Ditko's Captain Atom featuring The Ghost, 13, and Faustus the magical cat from the future)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Class, Dismissed

More about the idea of class in mainstream superhero comics, this time from The Absorbascon, a blog that seems to have a thing for the 1980s Hispanic superhero Vibe:

But, somehow, somewhen, the world changed. NASCAR became a "sport"; poker became a spectator event on television; Las Vegas became acceptable; Target & Wal-Mart supplanted Saks & Bloomingdales. Men stopped wearing hats in the streets and started wearing them in restaurants. Women turned in their high heels for sneakers. Ties were replaced by bluetooths and gowns by jeans. People no longer aspire to higher class, but struggle to maintain a lower- class facade, no matter what their finances.

Back in the day, Carter Hall was an archeologically-oriented sophisticate; Ted Grant was a medical student, then a wealthy celebrity. Nowadays, Carter is some sort of barely restrained savage and Ted Grant is some beer-swilling Wolverine-lite, and a reader can only assume that criminals can literally smell either one of them from a block away.

The post tends to conflate the economic realities of class with the trappings of culture, style and attitude that we clothe ourselves in, and often equates education with class, but it sparks off an interesting line of thought and the comments section has some great discussion.

As well, The Legion Abstract has assembled a nice list of recent discussions on this topic here.

(above: College student The Atom contemplates the power of the proletariat, art by Jon Chester Kozlak, All Star Comics #33, 1947)

Friday, October 20, 2006

(not quite a) Graphic Novel Review: Nog a Dod

Nog a Dog cover
Nog a Dod: Prehistoric Canadian Psychedoolia
Edited by Marc Bell
Conundrum Press
288 pages
ISBN 1-894994-16-7

review by BK Munn

1. "A renovated sandwich takes your eyebrows to tuba practice."

Nog a Dog is something of an artistic manifesto for a group of friends who have been sharing their art back-and-forth in zine form over the past decade or so. According to editor and contributor Marc Bell, the book is a "filtering down" of work created "by a loosely affiliated group of Canadian artists." It's quite a work of conservation, since many of the booklets collected in this squarebound trade paperback were originally printed in very small quantities and were often disassembled and recombined by their intended audience.

2. "S/he turned up to fight crime with washroom keys."

Reading the book --a bewildering array of photo-montage, piggy-back art, doodles, word games, anti-narrative comics and paintings-- I get the feeling that I'm eavesdropping on a cultish jam-session whose members share a secret surrealist language of in-jokes and myths. But far from being the proverbial turn-off , the good-natured lame-ass clubbiness of the work serves as something of a doorway to a particular way of seeing.

3. "I'll dump these dirty umbrellas in T.O."

The book collects large chunks of material from over 40 zines --some in full colour but many in black and white. Having all of these books crammed together, living under one roof as it were, is something of a godsend --accumulating something that I would never otherwise see until some museum retrospective is published 20 years from now and all the energy of this art has dissipated. Even back when I was regularly ordering things through the pages of the old Factsheet 5 or Broken Pencil I often shied away from tiny drawing zines and artist's books in favour of comics. After all, I reasoned, 10 pages of stapled-together drawings is a poor substitute for ten pages of stapled together narrative. Now that the lines between comics and the gallery seem more blurred to me, I'm just overwhelmed and intimidated by the volume of work out there and fear it's impossible to keep track of these artists without some kind of guide. Luckily Bell has stepped in to try to organize a bit of the exuberance and put faces to names (or names to drawings). Many of the contributors will be familiar to readers of contemporary art comics: Marc Bell and frequent collaborators Jason McLean & Peter Thompson, Keith Jones, etc. Most I was unfamiliar with before this volume. Among the revelations for me were the dark dreamscapes of Jonathen Petersen whose drawing style here is sort of like Mark Beyer meets Yellow Submarine. As well, the chubby sketches of Amy Lockhart, who also provides the book's gorgeous cover, are comforting and disturbing at the same time.

4. "Personal obsession is the crowning glory of life."

There are comic strip-type stories here, notably by Keith Jones and Mark Connery, but I'm not sure I prefer these more orderly sequential drawings to the anarchy that the majority of the book represents. There's something else that is harder to pin down going on here, something that the wonderful world of sequential art in all its glory is not sufficient to express. Although in turns beautiful and baffling, repeated journeys through the book reveal a sort of meta-narrative at work, documenting the process better than Bell's sometimes confusing attempt at collation. The collection tells the story of how these artists have interacted, developing weird tropes, recurrent characters, and their own drawing chops over the course of this "project." Above all, the book says "Don't just sit there, draw something! Transform the raw materials of your world's monoculture --restaurant reviews, newscasters, JFK, Stephen Harper, The Lord of the Rings-- into something representing your own worldview."

conundrum press

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sabrina Mania

Jay Stephens sings the praises of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and her creators George Gladir and the late great Dan DeCarlo over at his Monsterama Blog. Nowadays she is a tv star and her comic is drawn in a manga style but Jay remembers her back in the day. Also included is a look at Archie's Madhouse and the usual assortment of creepy comics and pop culture artifacts.

For myself, I've always felt there's something missing from the classic Sabrina comics stories --her fit in the Archie world has never been perfect, maybe because so much of her cast is so comic-book ugly (not that Archie and Jughead are any great prizes). The dynamic that enervates the other Archie teenage romantic rivalry series just isn't there. Maybe because the series has never been a priority for the publisher, even when it has been a cartoon show and live-action sitcom and Archie and the gang have languished.

Hallowe'en is coming!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


It's a Sad Sack world, we're all just living in it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Graphic Novel Review: Mendacity

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Mendacity: One Woman's Ordeal
Art by Sophie Cossette
Written by Tamara Faith Berger
Kiss Machine

What if Little Annie Fannie was a Moldovan Existentialist?

Mendacity is the latest in Kiss Machine's new line of "graphic novellas." A previous volume, last year's Skim, won an honourable mention from the Wright Awards jury for its smart writing and razor-sharp draughtmanship, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this new offering on the magazine rack of my local bookstore.

The comic tells the story of Inna Rosca, a bored young woman from Moldova who answers a classified ad for foreign workers in order to escape her abusive home life and the general political malaise of her homeland. Perhaps naively, she signs up with an outfit that turns out to be a criminal gang and she soon finds herself with a group of other women, without a passport and in the hands of a human trafficking ring.

What follows is a grim tale of life in an Israeli brothel where Inna is kept as a sex-slave, at the service of an endless stream of johns. Curiously, she maintains a sort of bored composure throughout, whether being gang-raped, listening to the elaborate philosophical rationalizations of her pimp, or engaging in more passionate sex with her lover and errant "rescuer," a married john named Hersh. Her constant companion and only solace is a book, "On the Heights of Despair" by the Romanian-born existentialist philosopher E.M. Cioran.

I almost don't know what to make of all this depressing story besides "life is bleak, especially if you are a Romanian prostitute in an Israeli brothel." I suspect the ideas of Cioran (at least his non-Fascist ideas) are meant to serve as a sort of philosophical underpinning to the narrative, his philosophy of the absurdity of life and human degradation a back-beat or counterpoint to the relentlessly depressing ordeal endured by Inna. The overt, resigned sexuality of the protagonist and her existential leanings remind me of Ana, the titular heroine of a graphic novel by the Argentine F. Solano Lopez. The Candide-like journey of Ana is equally as depressing as Inna's but Ana at least has the benefit of actually discussing philosophy with her mentor, Simone de Beauvoir, whereas Inna must make do with the cold comfort of the printed word and the murmured endearments and banalities of her lover.

The artwork is quite dark, with lots of solid blacks and awkwardly posed, angular figures that impart a slightly claustophobic, disoriented feeling to the narrative. At times I found the cartooning a little unclear --a tiny panel showing Inna being beaten by her new pimp almost looks like a disembodied hand is slapping the pimp, for instance. Unfortunate, not least because so much of what is said in Mendacity is either hypocritical or ironic, meaning character actions and other graphic aspects of the book have to carry quite a bit of the story. After all, it is in this way, through visual symbols, that Inna seems to find a way to assert some control over her life and body. Although her passport and letters home are intercepted, the talisman of her existentialist book and the various tatoos she inscribes on herself (rising sun, Star of David) manage to say much more about her personality and worldview than any words or even sexual act (and there is a quite a bit of sex in this comic). Ultimately, although we last see a tearful Inna having sex in a garbage-strewn alley, we can only assume that she has made some sort of peace with her situation, as she notes: "You have to have nerves of steel to do this kind of work."

Preview Mendacity at Kiss Machine