EMPIRE OF DIRT

1. At the end of the most recent season of RICK AND MORTY, Rick, the cranky absentee dad author-surrogate mad scientist who seems to know what’s best for everyone in the show, overhears his family talking about whether or not to turn him in to the authorities for crimes he’s committed as a member of the show’s morally murky equivalent of Star Wars’ Rebel Alliance.

“Let me get this straight,” says his son-in-law Jerry: “For the rest of your lives, no matter how much it hurts you, no matter how much it destroys our children’s futures, we’re gonna do whatever Rick wants, whenever he wants?” 

“Yes,” the rest of the family replies. Why?

Rick’s daughter, Jerry’s husband, has the answer: “Because I don’t want him to leave again, you dumb asshole!”

Rick turns himself in and the last we see of him, he’s shackled spread-eagled to a prison cell. “What are ya in for?” a fellow inmate asks him as Trent Reznor’s industrial ballad “Hurt” washes over them. 

Rick stares straight ahead: “Everything.”

It’s become painfully obvious in hindsight that the creator of the show, Dan Harmon, who announced on his podcast that he and his wife Erin are divorcing, has been mining his own imploding relationship for material during the current season, which features a brutally funny episode about a couple going to counseling on an alien planet and basically wrecking the place with their fatally unhealthy marriage. I was going to write about the comic, which is fine, but the show is such a triumph, and at such obvious cost to the artist. Attention must be paid.

2. Adrian Tomine is a fascinating cartoonist. He started working in the form as a teenager and Drawn & Quarterly started publishing his Optic Nerve when he was 21; since then he’s been able to make a living as a cover artist for various magazines and with other illustration work. He’s deft and witty about young urbanites and so his stuff fits in perfectly and, by now, regularly at The New Yorker (in fact, if you know his work for the publication it’s likely this cover), but it wouldn’t quite be strong enough to say that Tomine’s work has changed radically since the beginning of Optic Nerve. It has rather transformed completely into something nearly unrecognizable as the work of the same guy who self-published minicomics about his troubles with girls in the early ‘90′s, but it’s clearly produced by someone who has been honing his craft since at least then.

Tomine’s best work before KILLING AND DYING was his next most recent book, Shortcomings, a graphic novel about a young man’s dissolving relationship; it was drawn in a style he’d been been working in for the last several issues of Optic Nerve and the book, he has said, was such a chore to put together and for reasons so impossible for the reader to appreciate (each of it settings is drawn from life, and to scale) that he wanted to do literally anything except revisit the style of Shortcomings. Killing and Dying isn’t distinct from Tomine’s other work because of the quality of the writing – that has been on a steady uphill slope for years – but because he’s made a huge leap forward in the quality of his drawing. One of the stories in this book is done in the style of a Sunday newspaper strip; another is done with the same level of detail as his New Yorker covers, a third (my favorite), “Go Owls” uses color theory to show transition, sometimes emotional, sometimes from place to place.

It’s a beautiful story, about a guy who’s a total asshole and also kind of wonderful, and the girl who loves him, and where their relationship goes.

3. Richard McGuire’s HERE, a six-page strip from Raw #1 (vol. 2) is out as a full-blown graphic novel after 25 years. It samples family relationships over the course of billions of years in a single place, usually a single room, always depicted from the same angle. In terms of pure virtuosity, it’s one of the most impressive pieces of graphic literature I’ve ever read.

4. Other stuff: Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s BITCH PLANET is out in paperback; I don’t care for it. It’s fine, but it’s contrived and hokey and its sci-fi feminist schtick was old before it started. Yay, it’s a sexploitation jail movie set in space. It would be better with characters. The art is fun. STRANGE FRUIT #2 is finally on shelves; it’s still very good and looks like a really crazy issue of the Saturday Evening Post, which I love.

*So, for the one-month anniversary of this column I am giving them TITLES from now on. Rejoice. 

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