Stray Comics Thoughts 7/31

tomine hignite.jpg

—Adrian Tomine, the brilliant artist behind Shortcomings and Summer Blonde, has the title story from his near-perfect collection Killing and Dying for sale through art dealer Todd Hignite and, to my surprise, every single panel of the story turns out to have been drawn on a separate 8.5″x11″ piece of paper.

Tomine excels at gestures like this, which become not much more than a weird background hum to even the most careful reader. But they are there: Shortcomings, you’ll be completely unaware, is set in real places, each of which was drawn carefully and proportionately by Tomine. In “Killing and Dying,” the artist draws at a size he needs for the precision necessary to achieve greatness, both as a theme of the story about a young woman struggling to become a standup comic and, as the quality of the story itself.

I know I went on at length about what a purely good collection of short stories Killing and Dying happens to be, never mind a collection of cartoon short stories or a a graphic novel, but its virtuosity continues to amaze me. I’ve read it several times and I always find something new and overwhelming in it.

—In the interest of determining what the fuck is wrong with people I’d like to draw our mutual attention to the case of a very nice Marvel editor called Heather Antos who posted a picture of herself and some coworkers holding milkshakes and then received scores of rude, cruel, or hateful tweets and DMs on Twitter related to Marvel’s various offerings of pseudo-woke superhero comics.

Look, corporate feminism, *especially* at the Disney Company, is patriarchal garbage designed to part women from their money and provide a sop to people who might otherwise use their energy to campaign for free birth control and paid maternity leave. We all know this. This was a reaction to a young woman posting a picture of herself and some buds with a snack, though.

I am, to a fault, interested in understanding not merely what makes people bigoted but why they personally believe they are behaving in what other people perceive as bigoted ways, so I’m asking this: What about a picture of seven smiling women drinking milkshakes on a Friday afternoon in July makes you want to—and I’m going to use the turn of phrase I think these guys would use—”start a conversation” about Marvel’s diversity-minded publishing slate? Why don’t Brian Bendis’s tweets of great comics artists make you want to do this? Why doesn’t Dan Slott tweeting about Doctor Who cause dozens upon dozens of people to tweet ugly things at him, delete them, and then deny having ever written them in the first place?

You might want to “start a conversation” because *you don’t like to see women enjoying themselves.* You think they’re smug. You think they’re entitled. You know Hank Pym’s birthday and Captain America’s shoe size and Iron Man’s annual salary adjusted for inflation and you think these people can’t possibly be as committed to the enterprise of creating comics as you, the person committed to the enterprise of reading them. Look at them! Young, smiling, friendly, normal-looking, by and large—everything you, nerd, have been expelled from.

So here’s the thing, fuckers: If women don’t look happy, confident and attractive, they are not allowed to have jobs or places to live or food. So, actually, these women are just trying to be normal within the incredibly limited standard deviation defined for them by a culture that, yes, includes the extremely mildly subversive but mostly overwhelmingly patriarchal product they are generating, in which there are, for some reason, very few superheroines who don’t look like underwear models, give or take a Morlock, and almost no publication designed exclusively for women in the way that the huge majority of Marvel’s books have been designed exclusively for men for the last fifty years. Weirdly, posting a picture of yourself *eating* something, especially something that is not lettuce, is itself kind rad for its dismissal of the shame and judgment that, for women, goes along with eating things. I’m not saying it’s calculated, I’m just saying it’s progress that they’re able to be comfortable snacking in public. The bar for women is that fucking high.

So actually maybe it’s kind of good that they’re devoting some time to at least clawing out a place where women allowed to exist at all, even if it’s as fictional characters wholly owned by Walt Disney’s shareholders, and even if those characters must be peak physical specimens who are compelling simply all the goddamn time. Maybe that is a tiny toehold, and maybe these tiny toeholds in the sheer rock face of patriarchal oppression are significant for their rarity, and maybe we can enjoy the subversive aspects of these books created by almost overwhelming capitalist malice at the same time that we demand far more of the financiers and executives who profit from them. Maybe, actually, the degree to which culture panders to men is worthy of the same scrutiny, given that patriarchy hurts men, too.

And maybe the people trying to roll that boulder up that very high hill deserve a fucking milkshake.

I don’t know, you tell me.

–I read a bunch of comics this weekend. Here they are:

  • One More Year by Simon Hanselmann, the Tasmanian cartoonist probably best known outside his work for cross-dressing and for “marrying comics” in a public ceremony a few years ago. I’d never read anything by Hanselmann; consuming his public persona felt like enough work. Surprise: One More Year is very, very, very dark and occasionally so funny I’d laugh very loudly on the subway reading it. It’s too mean, but I’m not sure that’s a knock. One More Year takes such an unblinking look at the lives of utterly hopeless druggies who’d be lost to despair if they had any sense, so thank God they don’t, that I’m still kind of depressed after reading it. It’s a very good book and it’s ostensibly comedy but it packs a wallop. Hanselmann’s art is really unexpected and cool—it looks like the children’s artist Richard Scarry’s images of funny animals, except the watercolors are all vaguely grayish and the setting is crummy suburbia. Hanselmann’s mastery of his characters is total; each of them feels like they’d be able to live a thousand more episodes like the ones contained in One More Year (Hanselmann has other books about his witch and cat protagonists, Megg and Mogg, on that note). They’re all fairly hateful people: Even Owl, who’s kind of the square of the group and thus the character I immediately wanted to root for, is so self-centered and priggish he’s hard to like—intentionally, I think. Megg is the most normal-seeming and Mogg is the funniest; Werewolf Jones, the final main character, is very similar to Matt Furie’s Landwolf in the sense that he is a huge asshole of the “I pranked you” variety, but Hanselmann makes him a little more entertaining than just that by making him totally uninterested in any consequences—to his friends, of course, but also to himself. The book’s denouement—and it does have one, which itself feels a little like a spoiler, so, sorry—sneaks up on you, but when it comes it’s utterly crushing. (Disclosure: Hanselmann is married to Jacq Cohen, the publicist at Fantagraphics, who has always been super nice to me and sent me books when I was laid off and so on. I’ve never met Hanselmann and am frankly frightened of him after reading this book but his wife is great.)
  • Uncomfortably Happily by Hong Yeon-shik, which is both virtuousic in its draftsmanship and such a meticulous reconstruction of performing the most tedious parts of creative work that it’s almost metonymyic; a tiny little piece of the grueling labor of producing itself. It’s a book about a guy who moves with his wife to the top of a mountain outside Seoul, far from the madding crowd, and tries to survive the winter working as a cartoonist for a big Korean publisher on work he doesn’t own, all while he pines to draw his own graphic novel. There’s a lot of subtext to the book but where One More Year is about the emptiness at the center of a repetitive, bizarre existence trying every flavor of controlled substance, Uncomfortably Happily is about trying to find fulfillment outside of variety. I’d have less patience for it if Hong’s drawings were’t so beautiful, but they are.
  • Mark Waid’s Avengers is a fun exercise in reverse-stunt casting—everybody’s either a B-lister or a controversial race- or gender-flipped variation on a Kirby-era hero—that would probably go great if Marvel would leave Waid alone to write it. This is always the problem with the Avengers, recently—they’re too integral to the way the Marvel Universe works to avoid being dragged along in whatever dreadful crossover story is happening this month. Like a bunch of really good books over the last couple of years, All-New, All-Different Avengers gets three volumes in before Marvel makes Waid reboot the whole enterprise and start back at volume 1 despite continuing the same story threaded through all four books so far. The art varies wildly; relative Mahmud Asrur’s work in the first few volumes is solid and assured but for some reason the much older and more famous artist on the book, Adam Kubert, just phones in most of his pages. It’s disappointing. The reboot has candy-colored psychedelic art by a guy named Mike del Mundo I’ll have to keep an eye out for; if the was the 90’s he’d be working in gouache and these issues of the new Avengers series would be “prestige format” editions at $5.99 apiece, but as it is he’s working digitally and he’s just the regular old series artist. Sometimes comics are good. The villain of the piece is Kang, a character Waid writes well; I’ll hang on until he’s done, I think. Waid’s long Marvel runs aren’t always a sure bet—the first two books of The Indestructible Hulk were the only installments of that series worth reading, and for largely the same reasons itemized above—but when they’re good, like his recent run on Daredevil, they’re loads of fun.

 

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2 thoughts on “Stray Comics Thoughts 7/31

  1. I’d love a Tomine panel, but for the thousands and thousands that they are being sold for, I’m out of luck.

  2. Some thoughts about why these people are “starting a conversation”:

    I think the problem isn’t that it’s women in the photo, or that they’re enjoying themselves, but that they’re hip, young women (ie, likely feminists), and that there’s a bunch of them together, with no men present (ie, united, en masse) and, of course, as follows, that these potential united-feminists are coming anywhere near comics. I think white-male-nerds actually are somewhere near the front lines of a broader culture war at the moment- your essay “You’re Asking the Wrong Questions” articulated this really well. I doubt these particular women are at all “part of the problem” that these conversation-starters are up against, but I guess these guys are taking a [really shitty] “better-safe-than-sorry” approach, because a group of united feminists increasingly really does have the power to change things in comics (or video games) in a way that these guys don’t like. Not the superficial, reversible changes that Dan Slott or Brian Bendis might make, but in core, fundamental ways; interfering with the sacred creator-consumer circuit to inject whole new mechanisms for determining which comics get made, and for whom. (I’m tempted to say “albeit in small ways”, but I don’t really have any first hand knowledge. Maybe big ways?)

    On that note though, it’s telling that the “fake geek girl” dis is thrown around so much. I think these guys perceive the near-total prominence of male-power-sex-fantasies in the comics landscape as being market-driven, and thus democratic and morally unimpeachable, and the real “unfairness” would be in disinterested outsiders (ie non-customers) reshaping the landscape to their own ends- thus the “fake geek girl” slur. They’re concerned that busybody feminists who’ve never picked up a comic are poking their nose into a perfectly evolved economic ecosystem in order to subvert decades of 100% pure, morally-neutral supply and demand. These guys, as customers, patrons of the arts, have done nothing wrong, so why are the things they love and support being pruned and warped by outsiders? A self-centered, misleadingly oversimplified, but not fundamentally unfair question. Unfortunately, since this is the internet, the most obnoxious nuts are going to become the most prominent avatars for every cause. So maybe the short answer is just that these guys are “starting a conversation” because they’re jerks.

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