Blogging my way toward a book 12/7

I find that writing down my thoughts as I have them is always the best way to actually retain them, so I’m going to start adding some scattered observations on comics history to this blog as I try to pull together the proposal for what I hope will be my first book. Without further ado:

—The EC bust was a really astounding sea change, entirely inflicted from without by prudes and weirdos and well-meaning people who completely misunderstood. The books were progressive, lurid, and gorgeously rendered (there’s an amazing story about a guy who gets bullied by the KKK into burning down a Jewish neighbor’s house and the cornball Twilight Zone-style twist is that his mother has hidden his own Jewish identity from him). After they vanished, the subsequent pabulum from DC and Timely/Marvel had its charms but it was just *so* much less ambitious.

—My god it’s just impossible that George Perez is dying. One of the greatest artists of the last century. The 1990s get a bad rap because of the excesses of the artists who would go on to Image but his Avengers and Avengers-JLA stuff with Kurt Busiek is filled with such a wonderful energy. He inked Curt Swan. He did The Brave and the Bold with Mark Waid. What a loss.

—I’m trying to figure out how best to describe the influence of French (or Franco-Belgian) comics on US artists and am a little stumped. It obviously starts with Metal Hurlant, but I’m not sure how we get from there to Geof Darrow, who produced work with Moebius and who gets namechecked in Moebius’s big goofy Pirandellan memoir. I know people read Tintin but I don’t see the direct influence as clearly. Trying to nail this down.

—When did specialty shops become a thing? What was the first?

What I’ve Been Reading

I’VE JUST BEEN MAINLINING COMICS for the last few weeks and I figured I’d drop some reviews here, both to mark time for myself, and in aid of any reader who’s seeking interesting stuff.

Monsters is copyright 2021 Barry Windsor-Smith.

I’VE JUST BEEN MAINLINING COMICS for the last few weeks and I figured I’d drop some reviews here, both to mark time for myself, and in aid of any reader who’s seeking interesting stuff. This is a free post, so if you can spare a donation, I’d be grateful.

MONSTERS by Barry Windsor-Smith
Barry Windsor-Smith is one of the capital-G great superhero comics artists, an incredibly technically proficient draftsman whose work is always rendered to the hilt, with gorgeous, full backgrounds and an incredibly keen sense of depth and movement in his action sequences. He’s been effectively AWOL from the comics world since repackaging and updating the stories from his Storyteller anthology series from the 1990’s into big hardcover graphic novels, which are a lot of good fun; since then, apparently, he’s been at work on a gigantic 365-page graphic novel, written, drawn, inked, and lettered entirely by the man himself. It is one of those works of profound monomania you sometimes get in comics, up there with Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters and Dave Sim’s Cerebus; I’ve seen people refer to it as “long-awaited” but that wrongly implies that people were waiting for this specific book, when it’s closer to the truth that Windsor-Smith, a hugely popular X-Men artist who could probably have sustained a comfortable living drawing variant covers and selling head sketches at cons for $1000 apiece, basically evaporated amid rumors of a graphic novel project — one of several; there’s a Superman story he’s supposedly still working on and he still hasn’t finished Paradoxman— and then showed up seventeen years later, tome in tow.

Monsters began life as a 23-page one-off about Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s Marvel hero The Hulk, which is sort of where it starts in its current form; the story follows Bobby Bailey, a dead ringer for a pre-Hulk Bruce Banner, who wanders into a shady MKULTRA-style government program that ends up making him into a big Frankensteiny critter in possession of, we are noisily informed, a great big dong. Then, for the duration of the book, Bobby flashes back to his childhood, where pages from his mother’s diary provide narration for his sad tales of Bobby’s encounters with his WWII vet father, who has seen such horrors during the war that he maims Bobby during one of many beatings and hits his wife on the regular, eventually getting drunk and killing everybody over Thanksgiving dinner before the cop who has a crush on Bobby’s mom bursts in, shoots him, and saves Bobby’s miserable life so that it can be further ruined and ultimately ended by the government after an aimless childhood.

Knowing that this was originally a proposed issue of The Incredible Hulk leavens all this bullshit quite a bit; that was always the deal with superhero comics. Yes, melodramatic tragedies befall these characters but also they go on to have amazing adventures in space or whatever. Here, the domestic abuses and period drama are just sort of baffling. Must we really wallow in this poor kid’s degradation for page after page? I guess so. Windsor-Smith spent so many years on the incredibly beautiful art that it feels impolite to say so, but the book is too long and would have benefited greatly from an editor. He wants to craft a great mid-century American tragedy, but we’re not in the mid-century anymore, and Windsor-Smith isn’t American. His narration for—and, frankly, conception of—Bobby’s angelic mother, Janet, is pure England, despite the effort to extract all the idiomatic Britishisms from it.

That would be forgivable if Windsor-Smith were less intent on marrying John O’Hara-style domestic realism to sci-fi pulp Nazi psychic dumbassery; I love both of those things and can imagine a good story that uses both, but here they go together like peanut butter and aioli. To pull off a good story of The Unexplained, you have to take the idea of psychic phenomena seriously enough to suspend your reader’s disbelief, and to pull off a good story of prosperity constricting the human animal, you have to delineate the real world so thoroughly that the protagonist’s spiritual escape is impossible. In Monsters, spiritual escape from ectoplasmic hooey is impossible, and the emotional crescendi Windsor-Smith tries to play often land with a plunk and I couldn’t shake the feeling that on some level the author was not wholly kidding about all the precognition and Jungian collective unconscious stuff.

With all that unfortunately said, I’ll happily admit that I liked the psychic crap much more than the aspirational serious-ism. Windsor-Smith writes dialogue too much like his Uncanny X-Men collaborator Chris Claremont to give his characters’ exclamation points any emotional heft, but he has a wonderful gift for the oblique and the just-out-of-sight in his works of sci-fi, and his unparalleled draftsmanship grounds it all very firmly in a world that seems just next to our own. There’s a great piece of grimdark 80’s-style WWII-inflected sci-fi in here somewhere, and while it’s partially buried under the punishingly detailed scenes of domestic abuse, it doesn’t lie so deep that the book isn’t worth reading. I love Windsor-Smith’s art, and I’ll keep reading his comics, whether or not I find them perfect.

VELVET1 by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting
Brubaker and Epting are probably best-known for their run on Captain America, which is good, but not nearly as good as Brubaker’s work at Image with Sean Phillips, and this, I guess, is something similar to an effort to bring Epting into that fold, which I would say succeeds in high style. There’s that great frisson a reader gets from reading to the end of a Marvel comic and going “Oh shit, it’s Doctor Doom” when he shows up at the cliffhanger on the last page, and that’s not a thing indie creators can do without investing a huge amount of narrative energy into establishing characters and then letting them lie fallow for long enough to surprise you by popping up again; you have to write at incredible length to pull it off—George R. R. Martin does it a lot, which is one reason people love his books—and having a superhero universe world with all that convenient backstory, which most of your readers have absorbed through high-octane retellings in TV or movies the way people used to absorb the Bible, makes the work of getting a pleasant emotional response out of your reader a lot simpler.

But one thing an over-reliance on that crutch can obscure is how fun it is to start from ground zero with all the confidence of one of those corporate comics, and Velvet is a book that does just that. It has a shocking cameo from a major historical figure who might as well be Doctor Doom, but in my humble opinion that’s the least interesting part of the book; I was much more taken with Epting’s incredible renderings, which make even the silliest trappings of this high-tech Steranko-style spy story seem realistic and gritty. Comics are great for a lot of reasons, but a favorite of mine (and one that is often cited, so pardon me for using a near-cliche) is that the budget is infinite. You can set the story on a spaceship or in a bar or under the sea with a cast of dozens or hundreds or thousands of people or aliens or Peterbald cats. This is a sexy super-spy adventure on a tier with one the Mission: Impossible movies, starring Velvet Templeton, a thin-lipped and dry-witted middle-aged woman—a thing I don’t think I have ever seen on the screen, because it’s just not the sort of thing producers greenlight. But that’s fine, because all this needs to get greenlit is Brubaker and Epting and what look like hundreds of man-hours of inking and scripting.

Epting is working digitally here, I believe—a lot of the really talented adventure-story guys and gals are doing digital finishes over pencil or ink roughs because it’s so much faster—but it’s hard to tell because whatever he has mimics brushwork so beautifully. There was a period when “computer art” meant something that look like the weirder parts of The Lawnmower Man (please check out Batman: Digital Justice, it’s hilarious) but now there’s a whole range of textures and effects available and the results here are remarkable.

It’s a light, clever piece, smooth reading a way that suggests a ton of effort on the part of the authors, and I loved it.

1. The series originally shipped as comics, then as trade paperbacks, and finally as the “deluxe edition” linked above, which is both the most attractive and biggest version, and also the cheapest. But you can buy a comic or two or the first paperback to see if you like it, if you prefer.

RECKLESS and FRIEND OF THE DEVIL by Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Brubaker again—I got interested in him after reading one of his newsletters the other day and picked up his new project with Phillips, an artist I always have time for. I have to say, Brubaker gets better and better. The thing he’s doing here is so simple I’m shocked it hasn’t been done successfully before: It’s a series of stand-alone detective graphic novels a la Sue Grafton or James Patterson. The stories don’t build on each other but the characters who survive recur: Ethan Reckless, our hero, Anna, the gal Friday who works with Ethan out of a dilapidated movie theater, and Frank, the pal from Ethan’s FBI days who gets him police reports. The setting is the early 1980’s, but the two mysteries are both pure Raymond Chandler; gun appropriately to my head, I’d say I liked the writing in the first book a touch better and the art in the second. Both are terrific but Friend of the Devil felt a bit close to an arc in the pair’s Fatale, which I really enjoyed.

The art here is fascinating: Phillips repeats layouts throughout, opening each chapter with a long panel at the top of the page that goes all the way to the edge of the paper. When Ethan takes a missing-persons case or reads a personnel file, Phillips draws a borderless splash with images from the new character’s life layered over one another. It’s beautiful work, instantly legible but always novel and unusual, and the daring colors by Jacob Phillips (Sean’s son) give the work an exact sense of desaturated SoCal sunlight.

DRACULA, MOTHERF**KER! by Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson
This is one of the most beautiful comics I’ve ever read, with a fantastic story that’s basically a Giallo movie set in 1974 L.A. There’s a lot that I read and have broad thoughts on; how it interacts with the form and who it’s for. This is not one of those books. The story is about a sleazy photographer who sells pictures of dead bodies to the tabloids and finds himself ensnared by Dracula’s various friends and enemies, but I can’t really do it justice with description; it’s written visually and you have to see it. Henderson’s colors just vibrate off the page; her layouts and pacing work beautifully throughout and every spread is a new surprise. She says in the book’s back matter that she laid out all the pages as two-page spreads, and it paid off beautifully. It’s a comic book, for consumption as a codex. Her monster design is just unreal; Dracula is not sexy or alluring, he’s horrifying and scary in a way that looks like he ought to be a boss in a From Software RPG. Henderson is one of my favorite artists alive; I have two commissions by her, a Betty & Veronica and a Ma Hunkel, that I’m inordinately proud of. But even knowing her art well, I had no idea she was capable of this. It’s a terrific double bill with Emily Carroll’s When I Arrived at the Castle. Highest possible recommendation.

VENUS IN THE BLIND SPOT by Junji Ito
Ito is one of those horror masters whose work will probably inspire bad dreams long after his death. I had read Spiral, his awesome, shockingly weird book about the deaths in a small Japanese town, and I’d read The Enigma of Amigara Fault, one of the scariest short stories ever written, which is collected here. I wasn’t sure I wanted to start another novel-length work by him (Amigara Fault is also collected as supplemental material in Gyo, which is two volumes long), but I love horror shorts, so I picked this one up, and I’m glad I did. The stories are all solid but the first one, about an agoraphobic guy with a crush on a pretty girl in a town where lonely people are being horribly murdered, might be my favorite; there are also two adaptations of short stories by Edogawa Ranpo, the pen name of Taro Hirai, a mid-century Japanese mystery and horror writer who revolutionized weird fiction and localized a lot of his Western inspiration by incorporating pathbreaking English-language authors into the very Japanese anxieties in his own work. (Say his name out loud.) The one about the woman who’s afraid somebody lives in her armchair is perfect Ito fodder. You can see Ranpo’s influence on Ito in the original, ridiculous, but screamingly disturbing hook for the story, and the adaptation makes everything scarier. Good book.

BLACK HAMMER2, vols. 1 & 2 by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston
I’d picked up the first volume of Black Hammer a bit ago and put it down; it felt a little conventional or something to me, and it looked like Ormston’s health was going to keep him from drawing the rest of the book. But then it turned out he’d completed a second book-length arc and I figured reading the first one would probably be fun. It was! Lemire is a good slow-burn writer, and the world he’s created is very interesting. Briefly, a superhero team gets trapped in some kind of pocket dimension or alternate universe (I’m sure it will turn out to be more interesting than that) and has to live as normal people; the whole team are roughly analogous to a bunch of second-tier DC Comics characters from the 1960’s, which is a period I have a lot of affection for; they also have contemporary twists or reversals I generally found really compelling. There’s a mysterious space traveler who’s kind of insane, a lonely gay alien, a middle-aged woman trapped in the age of a super-powered kid, a hard-luck boxer type a la Wildcat or the original Atom, and a Black Superman analogue whose death is part of the secret event that trapped everybody.

This kind of Silver Age-style derivative stuff was throw-a-rock-and-you’ll-hit-one common a few years ago. It had largely fallen by the wayside in part because it’s been done to death, often by people who are literal geniuses by like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison and then various passengers on their coattails. But the other factor is that comics readers are simply younger than that, now; nobody remembers the old Silver Age superhero comics because nobody bought them on the newsstands as children. Today’s kids and young adults think of superheroes as massive transmedia properties and comics as one of but a few vessels for them. So Lemire’s instinct to go weird is a great one.

I really love Ormston’s art. He uses very thin lines and great big shadows, and the combination of them makes his renderings of monsters and otherworldly horrors that much more uncanny and interesting to look at. So much of this book is domestic drama that Ormston’s gifts aren’t always used to their fullest, but Lemire wisely salts the whole thing with flashback sequences and hints as to the nature of the mystery that give Ormston a chance to really flex. So far, the payoff has been interesting; I’m curious what the next two volumes, which I believe complete the first big sequence, will reveal, and when I learn, I’ll post it here.

2. Same deal as Velvet, except that the Dark Horse deluxe library editions are more expensive than the Image ones, but they’re also much larger and include extra material.

THE TWELVE by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston
Another book I sought out for the art: Weston is a British artist whose best work to date is his big maxi-series The Filth with Grant Morrison; it’s a fantastic book and pretty much everything you may fondly remember about The Invisibles without the dreadful hamfisted racial and sexual anarcho-progressive politics we all worked so hard to forget.

The Twelve is a straight superhero book; a solid, self-contained mystery story set in the Marvel Universe among down-at-heel fourth-tier superheroes, none of whom I had heard of before reading the book. It’s a very self-conscious riff on Watchmen (also a murder mystery initially set among obscure DCU heroes, until DC balked at some of the harder-core stuff Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons wanted to do with them and made them revamp everybody so they were legally distinct from Captain Atom and The Question), which is frankly a little shitty of Straczynski, who wrote some of DC’s horrible Before Watchmen prequel comics and was notoriously callous about the company’s poor treatment of Moore and Gibbons.

Anyway, it should come as no surprise that The Twelve is not as good as Watchmen, but it is pretty good; the resolution of the central mystery is a genuine surprise and the characters are nicely delineated. It’s eye-rollingly sexist in places and the delicate politics of Jewishness in the forties is, ironically, handled much better and more subtly by Moore, who is not Jewish. The art is really top-notch; it’s a little ironic, though, that Straczynski got to do what Moore never could, namely write his opus using company characters, and the resulting work didn’t even leave a dent on their obscurity. The story came and went, and now it’s a pleasant diversion, where Watchmen is and always will be a watershed.

DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN—ARTISAN EDITION by David Mazzucchelli
This is a funny book; I have a few gigantic “artifact” or “artist’s” editions of comics, which I love for their super-HD reprinting of enormous pages of comic art on which you can see brushtrokes and correction fluid and editors notes and occasionally dedications to fans who bought them at conventions. Usually, those reprint selected portions of a comic; this reprints the entirety of David Mazzuchelli’s art for his Born Again story arc on Daredevil. It even includes text bubbles and captions so you can read the whole story that way, and as someone who owns a couple pages from this period, let me assure you that the little pieces of paper on which those bubbles are drawn have long since come loose and left big orange stains on the art.

This is the first comic art book I’ve picked up that also reprints some of the overlays used in production; it’s a fantastic choice and I loved flipping the translucent paper over to see which parts were drawn on the paper and which textures and ink block were applied to a sheet of plastic and then xeroxed. I believe Fantagraphics’ enormous Original Art by Daniel Clowes also does this, but I can’t justify dropping the $200 on that and this is a surprisingly cheap paperback. Highly recommended.

MILLARWORLD
I reviewed Jupiter’s Legacy for NBC, which is based on a comic book I really like, and it occurred to me that I also usually like Mark Millar’s comics, despite his having a lot of unpleasant conservative political opinions, and that he seems like he goes out of his way to treat his collaborators well, so I thought I’d pick up a few of his recent efforts and see what I thought. Nothing below takes more than thirty minutes to read but I have to say the batting average is appallingly high. Even the old edgelordy shit is pretty fun. Because they’re so pithy, I’m going to try to do these reviews as small capsules.
SHARKEY THE BOUNTY HUNTER with Simone Bianchi
The book I wanted to like the most but ended up liking the least, though it is reasonably fun. It’s very much Dog the Bounty Hunter in Space though I enjoyed the way it fit in with the other MW titles. Bianchi’s art is always gorgeous but most of the other collaborators are doing the work of their careers, and this is just not up to his usual standard, though it’s still better than 95% of everything. This book also has the ignominious distinction of using a cutout of a Frank Quitely variant cover as back cover art rather than reprinting the full drawing inside the book, something I cannot forgive.
MPH with Duncan Fegredo
I really loved this one, about an inner-city kid who discovers a cache of drugs that give you super-speed. Fegredo really goes for broke and Millar’s script is quite po-faced; you’re never sure whether he’s making fun of the extremely earnest protagonist or on his side, or both. Probably both. The payoff is really clever.
THE MAGIC ORDER with Olivier Coipel
Probably the best script in the bunch, and the one that felt the most like it was set up to be an ongoing series of some variety. Millar is usually a sci-fi guy, but his facility with urban fantasy worldbuilding is a nice surprise. Coipel is the most traditional of the artists Millar uses, and it’s great to see him on something that’s not superheroes.
KICK-ASS: THE NEW GIRL with John Romita, Jr.
I picked this up with a bit of a groan; the original Kick-Ass, about a shitty high schooler who becomes an obnoxious superhero, is not my cup of tea. This spinoff, about a veteran mom who comes home from the war and decides to rob drug dealers, was a really pleasant surprise; it was also fantastic work from Romita, who does the occasional phone-in job, as on his and Frank Miller’s big Superman: Year One not long ago. This is better in every way, both than recent Romita work and than Millar’s original idea for the series. There are subsequent volumes but they’re not written by Millar or drawn by Romita, so I haven’t read them yet.
HIT-GIRL IN COLOMBIA with Ricardo Lopez Ortiz
This is as close to the old Millar as anything I read; it’s part of his most successful franchise, the Kick-Ass story, and it’s very much about blowing things up and looking badass and tittering at the misbehavior of our protagonist, an adorable little girl. The script Is okay. But Ortiz is a delight; I’ll be picking up whatever he does next.
SPACE BANDITS with Mateo Scalera
A close second to Huck, Space Bandits is easy to love. Scalera’s work is messy and weird throughout, and Millar’s story about a pair of con artist women screwed over by their ex-partners is the kind of hook that feels engineered in a lab to keep you reading. Ties in with Sharkey the Bounty Hunter, interestingly, and hopefully there will be more of both series.
EMPRESS with Stuart Immonen
Another good title with another great artist, also set in the Millar space universe, this time revolving around a tyrannical space monarch and his wayward wife, our heroine. Immonen’s range is immense and I think I like his painterly stuff on, say, Superman: Secret Identity a bit better, but it’s still very much worth reading.
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE with Dave Gibbons
The oldest of the titles I read, with the weakest script, but also with unimpeachable art by Dave Gibbons. I was surprised at how fun I found the story of a British kid plucked from the lower classes to become a posh secret agent, despite being occasionally annoyed by it.
HUCK with Rafael Albuquerque
This was my favorite of the lot. Basically a Superman story, and Millar’s Superman stories are some of his best work. Albuquerque’s almost-caricature style works perfectly for a story set among regular folks in Middle America, and the hero is just lovable.

NEXT TIME: Rain Like Hammers, Billionaires, the rest of November, It’s Life as I See It, Adventureman, The Neil Gaiman Library, more!

Donate here!

Comics Notes 1/30

Hello and welcome to what will, I suspect, be a daily feature on this site, namely a quick roundup of comics news and some notes on whatever it is I’m reading.

• The big French comics festival Angoulême has awarded its Grand Prix to Emmanuel Guibert, author of The Photographer among others. I’m excited to read his stuff.

• Somewhat annoyingly, the Keanu Reeves comic on Kickstarter has sold out immediately. I’m all for comics but cmon guys. It’s Keanu Reeves. He’s not a cartoonist.

• The collection of Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill short stories from Avatar’s very weird and good black-and-white anthology Cinema Purgatorio was supposed to come out this month and did not. If you look on Amazon it says it’s postponed until 2022 but on the Comics Cavalcade site (and CC owns Avatar), you can pre-order it for March. Probably the last new Alan Moore comics we’ll see for a while, maybe ever.

• Warren Ellis has announced he’s restarting his newsletter. I’m not excited about this, I’ll tell you that for free.

• Matt Fraction’s November and Elsa Charretier’s November is one of the better books I’ve read in a bit; Fraction is such a wonderful writer and the book feels perfectly planned in a way that really makes me relax and let myself fall into it without worrying I’m going to be disappointed by it. Fraction is one of the writers in contemporary comics who can really stick the landing. Charretier is one of those Image artists who seems to have sprung from Zeus’s forehead fully formed—I’m shocked I didn’t know about her before. She’s so good.

• Casting for The Sandman on Netflix continues to ramp up; the choices veer between wild reimaginings (Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer) and JK Simmons-as-Jonah-Jameson stepped-off-the-page perfection (Charles Dance as Roderick Burgess). Tom Sturridge is a great choice; he feels like he falls solidly into the latter category.

• One of my least acceptable joys is old Euro sex comics from the 80’s and 90’s; Humanoids recently rereleased a bunch of Milo Manara’s work from the era in really nice editions and I picked up his adaptation of second-century writer Apulieus’s The Golden Ass, a surprisingly complex story—novel, really, though it predates what we think of as the form by more than a millennium. Manara removes all the inset stories and just focuses on the main narrative; it’s still quite complicated, made moreso by the fact that Manara’s work often provokes the reader with explicit images, sometimes away from interrogating the narrative’s intentions, sometimes toward it. Anyway, good book.

• Thus far I’ve really enjoyed Jason Aaron and rm guera’s The Goddamned, a book about life on earth before the flood of Genesis, so I figured I’d see if the pair’s previous series, Scalped, was worth reading. It’s a bit of a disappointment so far—very violent and sneery and drenched in testosterone, redolent of a lot of stuff Vertigo has published over the years, which is to say that it’s kind of a shaggy dog story with a lot of lurid stuff thrown in to give the author some leeway to learn his craft. This worked really well for stuff like The Invisibles, cringey as a lot of it is now, and Transmetropolitan, which is cringey for other reasons, but there are negative examples, too (I hated Y: The Last Man) and . I can see some seeds of strong character work in Scapled, which is good, and guera’s art is amazing.

• There’s also going to be an Usagi Yojimbo series on Netflix, which is terrific—I love Stan Sakai and I love Usagi Yojimbo, one of the comics my little boy also adores.

• Speaking of kids, I am reading Dog Man to Lev in the evenings, which he enjoys. I like it, too; it’s a very odd book because of course we’ve also read Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books and the former are drawn in a style he attributes to George and Harold, the heroes of the latter (they also show up in the bookends to the Dog Man books). It’s very scratchy and wiggly and misspelled and written with childlike “bad” grammar; I have no idea how he did it. It’s perfectly childish but it’s also a cohesive narrative that goes on for hundreds of pages. Really remarkable books; we’ve read three so far and I’m sure I’ll be expected to read more.

Small Donate Button

Comics notes 1/21

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest bookplate by Kevin O’Neill
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen—Century: 2009 bookplate by Kevin O’Neill

Just wanted to write some comics news, because I love comics and I don’t read as much of it as I wish I did these days now that Tom Spurgeon is dead. I miss Tom, whom I only knew online but who often said nice things about my writing.

• Just found this from back in September: Mark Buckingham told Spanish YouTube show Dialogos de Comic that Miracleman: The Silver Age will begin shipping this year. So I’m very much looking forward to that—I love Buckingham’s art, and I love Neil Gaiman’s work, and the pair’s previous story is some of my favorite superhero comics writing ever. I am in need of things to look forward to, I don’t know about any of you. I couldn’t get the interview to embed with the time marker intact so I’ve linked it here; it’s quite good, if a bit meandering. Mega-thanks to David Macho for his great show, definitely subscribe to his YouTube channel. Relevant excerpt, cleaned up a bit from the transcript:

I've got beyond the the tricky bit, which was me trying to go back to what we'd been doing when it all kind of came crashing to a halt originally with Eclipse. We'd started [The Silver Age], and we had a couple of issues out and a third one that was sort of in a drawer waiting to happen, but never quite completed. Eclipse was starting to get into trouble, and the book was only coming out occasionally—I mean we were lucky if we got more than one out a year, and that was also partly because we tended to sort of wait to get paid before we started the next one. Which is a terrible thing to have to confess, but back then every penny counted, and I was doing other work in between issues of Miracleman. And my style would change. I'd be working with different people, I'd pick up different influences, or I'd try working in a different way. So the problem is, those three issues of The Silver Age all looked quite different from each other, and that was never the intention. The Golden Age was all about short stories in different styles. The Silver Age was supposed to be one continuous narrative that needed to be really solid and on point. So I'd ask politely if I could kind of go over those early issues again and and try and sort of find a way to make it more consistent, which basically ended up involving me trying to redraw them all from scratch. And because we had a few occasions where everything ground to a halt, every time I came back to it, I didn't like it! So the reality is that I have multiple versions of of issues one, two, and three in different styles and different formats, and it took a long time for me to sort of finally settle and feel like, "Okay, this is how it's going to be, and this is how everybody's going to look, and this is it now." So that's done, and so those early issues have all been redrawn and we're now into the thick of new new plots, new scripts, and new art. It's all it's all chugging along and it will be coming out I'm sure in the new year, but I just couldn't tell you when and obviously, the way things are at the moment, everything that happened with the pandemic has not done any of us any favors and schedules on most books are not quite where they were meant to be. We'll see what happens, but I am working on it. I'm really happy and very proud of what Neil and I are doing on the new stuff, so I think it's going to be great and it will come soon.

Dialogos de Comic 98: MARK BUCKINGHAM, streamed Sept. 30, 2020, archived here.

• Gary Panter’s monograph (I guess) Crashpad comes out in February. I love it so much, guys. I got an early copy of it and it is just the most gorgeous thing. It also has a little pocket inside the front cover for a facsimile of the book at normal comic saddle-stitched comic trim size, the same size as the Jimbo comics. It’s just gorgeous, and very different narratively from anything he’s ever done. New York Review Comics is reissuing the first Jimbo book, Jimbo’s Adventures in Paradise, and the reissue is great. Lots of new stuff in the back as is usual for the NYRC editions, great paper quality, slightly stuffy book design.

• Fantagraphics is publishing The Grand Odalisque, a new graphic novel by Bastien Vivès, Florent Ruppert, and Jerome Mulot. I did not especially want to like it; it’s a book about sexy art thieves by three French dudes. But it’s really good—the Tarantino-y thing they’re doing really works and the draftsmanship is off-the-charts great. If it had shipped in a few saddle-stitched volumes I think it would read like a hit from Image rather than a haute bande desinée.

• NYRC is publishing a big coffee-table-book collection of Shary Flenniken’s Trots and Bonnie comic from the classic era of National Lampoon, due out in April. It’s not a book I would have picked up without a free copy and nothing better to do but I’m so glad that I did. Flenniken has a very weird sense of humor (which is usually good although sometimes I find it too grim for even my awful taste) but she’s working in a mode that wouldn’t really get rediscovered until Chris Ware came along in the 1990’s and started trying to do Frank King-style Sunday pages in the oversized issues of Acme Novelty Library. It’s really remarkable; there’s so much invisible work that goes into the layouts, backgrounds, and character designs. Two weeks ago I had barely heard of this strip and now the collection has pride of place on my shelf.

• A couple other offerings from NYRC that I’m a little late to: Mitchum, by Blutch, which was so unbelievably fucking good I immediately bought his graphic novel, Peplum (also NYRC), and The Green Hand and Other Stories by Nicole Claveloux, a book of dream-logic short pieces that remind me a lot of the good stuff from Heavy Metal. I believe they were mostly published in Metal Hurlant but I don’t think any of them crossed the pond. It’s really worth noting what amazing work NYRC has done relettering some of these books; Claveloux published in French so of course her big Will Eisner-style titles have to either be left alone or redrawn exactly to her style but in a different language; Dustin Harbin has done the latter and he’s done it so, so well.

• Rick Veitch is doing this incredible thing where he just… does what he wants and puts it on Amazon and tells Diamond, the monopoly distributor to comic-book stores, that he’s not interested in their bullshit. Some stores actually order the print-on-demand copies and sell them, which is among the noblest actions every undertaken by mankind. Anyway I got a couple of these, they are a really solid reminder of what a reliably brilliant cartoonist Veitch is. Like it’s kind of appalling. He has the absolutely perfect little gem of a novella, completely wordless, called The Spotted Stone, that won a richly deserved Eisner a couple of years ago, and several new comics published since. They’re very reminiscent of his work in sadly defunct dirty-SF magazines like Epic Illustrated, Eclipse, and so on. I love those mags, so seeing new stories that could easily be published in them in whatever form is a real treat.

• I finally got around to finishing Locke & Key, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s blockbuster horror-fantasy comic about magic keys from the demon dimensions. I really like Hill personally and I think his first couple novels are very good; Locke & Key is… fine. It’s very inventive and then it has to literalize everything for the finale and I found the underlying worldbuilding to be pretty flimsy, though I did like the characters. I adored the art. Hill curated a pop-up imprint at DC called Hill House and it produced a very good Creepy-style book called Daphne Byrne drawn by Kelley Jones from excellent scripts by Laura Marks.

• For some reason it’s Sandman-apalooza these days. DC is finally issuing editions that are neither 12 lbs. each nor misprinted and missing several key stories. The new books are in their Deluxe Edition format, which has been my favorite way to read comics for a long time now. Dave McKean didn’t do the covers, surprisingly—the first one has a gorgeous wrap-around cover by Mike Kaluta, horribly defaced by an ad for the Audible adaptation of the series. Somebody commissioned Kaluta to do Sandman pieces a few years ago and Neil Gaiman tweeted them out and then very quickly deleted the tweets, which was a shame because the pieces were some of Kaluta’s best work, so I’m glad to see these pieces, even though he didn’t actually draw any of the series itself. The Audible show is very good; it’s narrated by Gaiman who sounds like he’s probably reading some of his own panel descriptions occasionally, but he’s quite adroitly reordered the events so that they make sense as a radio play. I’m only an episode-ish in but it’s a very comforting story to me, having read it so many times. I’m also looking forward to the Netflix series, about which Gaiman has been teasing casting announcements on Twitter. There’s a crossover with Locke & Key that Hill is writing coming up; I suspect it will be good. I believe it’s the first time there’s been an inter-company crossover with the character.

• A few series, like The Sandman, are bound up in my personal development in a way that is probably familiar to hobbyists of all stripes. Miracleman is another and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a third; I’ve been trying to acquire the little prints and bookplates that Kevin O’Neill did to promote the series when it left DC a few years ago and they’re lovely. I haven’t seen them posted anywhere and they’re long sold-out so I hope nobody minds that I’ve scanned mine and put them at the top of the page.

May make this a daily thing; we’ll see how people like it. Any donations would be much appreciated.

Small Donate Button

A Q&A With David Cronenberg From 2007

Hi, folks, I just discovered this in some old notes. I thought I’d published it but, obviously, I had not! I met the director David Cronenberg on the red carpet when I was reporting for Variety in the aughts; he was the nicest person I ever talked to on one of those assignments, which in hindsight were kind of thankless, despite it being very fun and weird to be the only person attending a movie premiere for the free eats. I had no health insurance and was paid by the hour through a rotten temp agency and I got a flat bonus of $75 to go to these after hours and write a glorified photo caption for the party pages, so long as I showed up on time the next morning. I have always loved Cronenberg’s movies and I buttonholed him for about ten minutes at the party for Eastern Promises, which I loved, and he was nice enough that he agreed to do an interview for a little mini-profile that, in hindsight, is kinda fluffy and embarrassing. But the interview itself was pretty good, and I am leaving it here unexpurgated.

So, I was watching the featurette on History of Violence about you guys excising that one scene that looks like something from Videodrome or Dead Ringers, and it seems to me that these last two films have really been a departure for you. Why is that?

Well, I don’t really think it’s a departure, creatively. I can see analytically that people might think that, but when you think, for example of Dead Ringers, that’s a story based on real people. M. Butterfly was also a story based on real people — historical occurrence — so the level of reality in those movies is actually, bizarrely, higher than this movie, in which all the characters are totally invented. So for me, creatively, it’s not that different. I mean even The Dead Zone, which did have some slightly supernatural elements, was a sort of a small town in America. You had a sheriff, just like History of Violence, you had a family story, so I don’t really think that this is all that different. I think it has more to do with the way I’m perceived in general than it has to do with any creative evolution.

I guess everybody kind of remembers Naked Lunch and Videodrome.

Yeah, yeah, and Scanners, and of course those were sort of sci-fi, bizarre movies, but I have done these other movies that intersperse with those, so I’m just jumping around. It’s really a lot like business as usual, not to make it too bland, because of course it’s not. Even though people for example see these movies as a kind of matched pair – and of course I understand why that might be thought — but creatively, Eastern Promises is completely different from History of Violence: It’s not an American story, there are no American characters and so on, it does take place in a big city instead of a small town. So for Viggo and I, it’s very, very different.

It’s that guy from Lord of the Rings who throws everyone off.

And there’s that, too – people say that they’re Viggo fans, but they’re really Aragorn fans! That’s quite different.

I sort of wonder what will happen if you ever get him to play a villain for you.

Well, he sort of does in this one.

But a redeemable character.

Well, we hope so.

So what attracts you to him as an actor? Why work with him again?

Well, I like to say that with Viggo, you don’t just get a solo violin, you get an entire orchestra. He brings a lot to a film that is quite extraordinary, with the depth of the research that he does. He’s a photographer and a poet and a musician and a composer and a publisher as well, and he brings all of that to a project but in a very gentle, collaborative way, you know. It’s just so subtle. But he does feed you things, a lot more things than maybe an ordinary actor would, and I point out particularly this movie. In the original script, tattoos were alluded to, but they weren’t a big deal, they weren’t a metaphor – the central metaphor that they became. And it was Viggo who discovered this book called Russian Criminal Tattoo and a documentary made by a friend of his named Alex Lambert that was called The Mark of Cain. [inaudible] been developed in this tattooing subculture in Russian prisons going back to Tsarist days, you know, long predating the Soviet Union, that has evolved, and the symbology that has evolved, and that was so fascinating it just exploded everything. Viggo basically said, “Okay, if I’m going to get tattoos, I wonder what they should be? Why do I have them?” And that research that he was doing on his own completely changed the direction of script.

You have to be pretty flexible as a director to accomodate that kind of thing.

Well, yes. I mean, yeah, I haven’t been on too many other directors’ sets, but it’s obvious that directors can be very territorial and can feel encroached upon by actors and other members of their crew, and this is not my approach. I am very collaborative, and I’m actually very lazy, so if someone else will do a lot of the work, I’m very happy for that. But the nice thing about that is that actors do respond to that. […] Are you still there? Ha – the plug just came out of the phone. No, I’ll keep talking: I really wouldn’t want my actors to feel that they had to improvise the dialogue; that’s not the kind of collaboration I mean. I like to stick to the script on that level. But there are so many other things that an actor can do for you. That’s why I don’t do storyboards and have never been tempted to: because I’m not interested in sort of manipulating them, even through space. I want to see what how they’re going to move through space: would you sit down in this scene? Would you stand at the window? Would you lie on the floor? I don’t want to do that with storyboards before we’ve even cast the movie; I want my actor to tell me what he feels like doing and work from there. And that all works rather well, actually.

Vincent Cassel actually spoke highly of you on that topic; he said that you were really willing to let things evolve naturally in such a way that it enabled him to give more to a scene.

Sure, sure — I’ve never understood why you would hire brilliant actors and then tell them exactly what to do. That doesn’t make sense.

There’s an approach to violence that’s really pioneered in your early work; a sort of implacable sense that you’re making the audience watch something that’s happening on screen, which you talked about in moral terms at the Eastern Promises premiere. I was wondering if you’d seen any of the films that draw on that, but in an amoral or even perhaps immoral way.

Yeah, I actually haven’t seen — you mean the Hostel and Saw movies, the sort of torture films, right?

Right.

I haven’t actually seen any of them, but I don’t think they relate directly to what I was doing, I mean the scenes of torture in Videodrome are fleeting and sort of played for a certain reason, rather than being the subject of the movie, so I actually think that, whether these movies have been influenced by me or not, I don’t think I’ve ever done that, nor have I ever done a slasher movie, basically.

Do you have an opinion of the trend?

Well, forgive me if I repeat myself and you’ve heard this, but this is a very strange time. I remember when Al Goldstein offered $50,000 to anyone who could show him a real snuff film — everybody talked about them, but nobody ever produced one. Now they’re available on the internet every hour of the day or night. You can see beheadings, throat-cuttings, women being stoned to death, mostly courtesy of Muslim extremists. And that’s never existed before.

Do you think it exists as entertainment?

I think that it exists to be seen, and the closeness of that — I’ve often been asked, in fact, I’ve been asked for 40 straight years, ‘Do you think people are now desensitized to violence?’ and so on. And I think in fact that people are more sensitized to violence than they ever were, certainly in North America, while Americans are being beheaded in countries people haven’t heard of by people whose motives are not understood by most Americans, I would suggest. And you can watch that on your computer. That’s never existed before. So let me say — this is very theoretical, with the caveat that we haven’t even seen these movies — maybe these movies are a response to that. People often go to horror films to confront things that they are afraid of, and maybe that is the fear, now, and maybe that is a fear that needs to be exorcised by confronting it in a controlled situation. That would be a possibility, you know.

Does Eastern Promises confront those fears with its images of a culture that’s very foreign and strange to most of us?

Well, I think people go to movies to live other lives. You want to get out of your own life and kind of become somebody else for a while, even if you wouldn’t want to stay in that life. There’s a kind of vicariousness that’s a part of all art, I think. You read a good novel, you get inside somebody else’s head – that’s part of what attracts you to them. So, if you’re going to be Nikolai, who lives a life that is fraught with danger, then I want you to experience his life as it really is. To me, that’s part of my deal with the audience. In every movie you establish a certain level of reality. So if you’re doing a Bourne movie, it’s sort of a fantasy reality. You don’t really believe that those car chases could really happen that way.

Or that you could kill a guy with a pencil.

Of course, you technically could kill a guy with a pencil. … And that’s completely legitimate within the reality that the film is creating. With Eastern Promises, we’re establishing a level of physical, street reality. We’re saying “these guys kill each other, and when they do, sometimes it’s not easy, and it’s physical,” and I take it very seriously. We’re really talking about the destruction of human bodies.

That always struck me about you as an adapter of Stephen King, because his work really speaks a lot about the difficulty of killing somebody.

Well, it’s easy to evade that reality. When we talk about violence, though, it’s easy to think about statistics coming from Iraq, and statistics coming from the tsunami and so on, but we’re talking about the destruction of a body and a unique one, at that — one that will not exist again. If you’re an atheist like I am, you don’t have the exit of “Okay, well, I killed this guy, but he’s in heaven now, so it’s not really so bad.”

Or burning in Hell.

Yeah, and I’m saying, “No, it is bad, because you’ve committed an act of absolute destruction. This creature will never exist again,” and I’m kind of insisting on the physical reality of that in this movie. Literally, we’re talking in the whole movie about five minutes of violence of a hundred-minute film.

But it’s so overwhelming.

My reaction to that is, “And so it should be.”

Right.

If I were doing a Bourne movie or something else, then it would be quite different because your agreement with the audience is different.

Tell me a little bit about The Fly: The Opera, just to completely change the subject.

Well, you know, talking about scaring yourself, that’s how I do it — because I’ve never done it before. There are a lot of film directors from Woody Allen to Friedkin to Terry Gilliam who’ve been doing this, and I think part of it is that the world of opera is kind of thinking that for that art form to survive, it has to revitalize itself, and, you know, how many times can you do La bohème?

Quite a few.

Yeah, it’s already done about 800,000 times and is there a limit, well, I don’t know. Looking for novelty and different approaches and so on – it’s obvious that there are a lot of film directors who are intrigued by that, and almost every one of them will say, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” And we’re right. We don’t. It’s so different from film. But my fallback position is that opera is not a director’s medium, it is a composer’s medium, and Howard Shore is the creative core of this opera, and he’s composed the score, and David Henry Hwang has done the libretto. And I’m only the director, so if I screw it up, the music will still be good, and the libretto will still be good.

Do you have an approach in mind?

Oh yeah, of course, but I don’t want to reveal it. I don’t want to spoil it. But I am working with Dante Ferretti. He’s done some of Tim Burton’s films, he’s done Gangs of New York, but he’s also done a number of operas, so he’s the guy with the most experience in terms of opera, working on this project. I have a particular approach, and in about a week, I’ll be working with singers for the first time in my life, and we’ll have the telepods there that we’ve designed, and we’ll see how it all starts to work.

Will you have Placido Domingo there to help you out?

No, because he’ll primarily be conducting the orchestra, and you don’t get the orchestra – I’ve recently learned – until about two weeks before the opening of the opera. So I won’t have a real orchestra to play with until then. You don’t get the real singers until then either, so we’ll be doing it with accompaniment pianists and understudy singers. It’s all so expensive to have a 77-piece orchestra playing, so you only have your moments when you can do that. […] It’s completely different, yeah, I’ve been talking to my friend Atom Egoyan who’s done it a few times. But I have to go now, so thank you!

Thank you. Can I ask you one more quick one?

Sure.

To close, just basically because I enjoy your literary adaptations, can I ask if you’ve you read anything good lately?

I read a lot of stuff for Eastern Promises — no novels, but one of the books I read was called “Black Earth,” which follows the development of Russia after the fall of the communism, by Patrick Meier, and it was just really, really excellent. I highly recommend it.

That’s great. Hey, thank you so much.

Thank you.

Small Donate Button

Why I Will Vote Against Donald Trump

It’s hard to be angry all the time and I’m sure it just makes me sound crazy to people who are not as angry as I am, so I thought I would try to lay out as dispassionately as I can why I think Donald Trump is an unacceptable choice for reelection in November. Make of it what you will.

  1. He maliciously lied to the public about the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, far more than any other developed country, misrepresenting its magnitude because he thought public knowledge of the disease’s true scope would hurt his re-election campaign, and in an effort to avoid making difficult decisions. He said he knew early on that the disease was catastrophic. “I always wanted to play it down,” he told Bob Woodward. He also knew that the disease was airborne, but refused to encourage mask use. He has refused to extend federal financial benefits to Americans out of work as a result of the pandemic and has instead proposed cuts to federal aid to “Democrat cities” where protests of police brutality—largely peaceful, except for the constant beatings by the police themselves—are ongoing. Because of this neglect, the country faces economic ruin and mass death on a scale not seen since the Second World War.
  2. Within a week of taking office, he ordered ICE and the Customs and Border Patrol to detain people who had committed no crime by the tens of thousands daily, expanding the deportation regime to such a radical extent that the US has built camps for detainees all over the country, including “tender age” prisons for babies and toddlers, many forcibly separated from their parents, all maintained at huge public expense in deplorable conditions where guards “systematically” sexually assault detainees, including children, and COVID-19 has spread unchecked. He separated thousands of immigrant children, including babies, from their parents at the border at the encouragement of his advisor, white nationalist Stephen Miller, and refused asylum seekers who were then murdered by the people they had fled their homes to escape. The children in many cases did not recognize their parents when they were returned to them and have experienced permanent and extensive psychological trauma. Some were not returned to their parents at all. Children as young as three were asked to represent themselves in court. A good summary can be found here.
  3. He has successfully solicited violence, both directly and indirectly, against his enemies since the beginning of his campaign. He told his supporters to “knock the crap out of” protesters and that he would foot legal bills; he specifically told supporters to beat a black woman at one of his rallies, which one of them did. When George Floyd was killed, Trump told followers to shoot looters using the protests, and a young man who attended one of his rallies drove across state lines with his AR-15 to join the right-wing counterprotesters, and murdered two people. In general, counterprotesters themselves have been horrifically violent, undoubtedly due at least in part to Trump’s encouragement of police violence. He told NYPD officers at an address on Long Island near the beginning of his presidency, that he enjoyed seeing arrestees mistreated and encouraged them not to be “too nice” and has since defended police misconduct in every conceivable scenario. Under his leadership, the GOP has held armed rallies to shut down Democrat-controlled statehouses trying to pass life-saving legislation. Trump is not discovering racism now that he is an elected official; he was well-known for discriminating against black tenants, a practice he learned from his father. He took out a full-page ad in the New York Times calling for the execution of the five black teenagers wrongfully accused of raping a woman in Central Park in 1989 and refused to apologize after they were exonerated. When neo-nazis rallied in support of him in Charlottesville and killed a woman, he called them “very fine people.” I have personally witnessed neo-Nazis with swastika and SS tattoos holding a Trump rally on the streets of Boston, and I have seen the police he emboldens beat the locals who came out to peacefully protest their presence.
  4. He actively encourages US servicemen to commit atrocities. He pardoned Eddie Gallagher, a Marine sniper who was, according to his squadmates, a serial killer, undoing the sacrifice of the men who turned him in and placing those men in danger. He also pardoned Matt Golsteyn, who hunted down and killed an Afghani man, and Clint Lorance, who ordered his platoon to open fire on three unarmed men. Trump overrode the decisions of experienced soldiers and their commanding officers in every one of these cases, preferring the counsel of his favorite TV show.
  5. He appears to be a serial rapist and has used his powers of office and your money and mine to shield himself legally from the consequences of rape, to say nothing of suits and accusations from dozens of women who have accused him of lesser, but still criminal, sexual molestations.
  6. He has helped Saudi Arabia prosecute a genocidal war in Yemen, declaring a state of emergency in order to grant himself the necessary powers to give the Saudis $8 billion in arms they then used to conduct more than a hundred airstrikes during a ceasefire and bomb hospitals being used to treat the tens of thousands of children under 5 who have cholera as a result of the war. When the State Department’s Inspector General opened an investigation into the declaration, Trump just fired him. Mohammad bin Salman, the ruler of Saudi Arabia, had a Washington Post columnist critical of the war in Yemen killed by dismemberment in Istanbul; in response, Trump issued a statement “standing with Saudi Arabia.”
  7. His campaign has directly employed violent neo-fascists including Enrique Tarrio, the head of the Proud Boys, a far-right street gang that has carried out multiple stabbings and beatings in the president’s name. Tarrio can be seen here in a place of honor behind Trump at one of his rallies.
  8. His cabinet appointees are corrupt and unsuited to their work. Betsy Devos, a right-wing heiress whose primary business is pseudoscientific quackery, is the Secretary of Education. Wilbur Ross, accused of stealing millions, is the Secretary of Commerce. Trump tried to make Andy Puzder, the chairman of Hardee’s, a company famous for wage theft, his labor secretary until Puzder withdrew after his history of spousal abuse was uncovered. Steven Mnuchin, his secretary of the treasury, was the “foreclosure king of California” during the 2008 financial crisis. His Attorney General, William Barr, was previously most famous for negotiating the pardons of war criminals implicated in the atrocities of the Iran-Contra scandal.
  9. He deployed what appears to be his own private security force, under the command of the Attorney General, in unmarked uniforms in the nation’s capitol during the George Floyd protests, where he violently dispersed protesters so he could attend a photo shoot in front of a church holding a Bible.
  10. He used chemical weapons on American citizens.
  11. He tried to deploy 10,000 active duty US troops on American soil and was only stopped by pushback from the Pentagon.
  12. His election was itself illegitimate. Trump solicited and then received help from a foreign adversary’s intelligence service after his campaign clandestinely met with its representatives while they were in New York. That outreach was part of a broad campaign by the Russian Federation to suborn Republicans in an effort to weaken the transatlantic alliance and NATO so that Russia could continue to prosecute its proxy wars in Africa and the Middle East and wars of expansion along its borders unimpeded. Apparently in return, Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort altered the Republican party platform to make it softer on Russian military aggression, and the Trump administration has weakened previously existing sanctions. I did a lot of this reporting personally.
  13. He is uniquely unfit for public office in the history of presidency. Trump is a career swindler and white-collar criminal, with decades-long ties to New York’s organized crime families and recent connections, again, documented by me, to the Russian mob that extend into his first presidential campaign. Given that Trump refused to put his personal holdings into a blind trust, he probably still has those ties, and the best we can hope for is that they are dormant, though they probably aren’t. Beyond this, he has no experience in government or public service, in fact his life in the private sector is one of criminal greed, the effects of which have been felt long into his presidency, including a fine in the tens of millions of dollars for defrauding students at his “Trump University” that he bragged about because it was lower than he knew it should have been.

Anyway I hate him. I hate the motherfucker. If you still want to vote for him I assume it’s because you think all of the above is hilarious and you’ve had your brains turned inside out by right-wing media, which, fair play to you, is not an uncommon condition in this country. Maybe you’re really angry about trans people or abortion or something. I don’t care any more. I wish you every happiness. Except this one. Stay home on November 3. Marathon your favorite Dinesh D’Souza movies or reread The Turner Diaries. Just don’t vote for him. He does not care if you die. He will think it’s funny, if he thinks about you at all. I will call you up and personally beg you and cry liberal tears if you want. I will be so owned. It’ll be so funny. It’ll be such a great joke on me, guys, if you just don’t vote for this monster.

Comics, Comics, Comics

Three panels from “The City in the Sea,” an adaptation by Richard Corben of the poem by Edgar Allan Poe, from Corben’s collection Spirits of the Dead, Dark Horse Comics, 2019.

Hello, patient readers! I thought about writing about… well, any number of things in the political atmosphere at the moment, but they all fill me with despair! The viciousness and hypocrisy of various political factions whose fortunes have been reversed and find themselves on the top or the bottom of a pecking order that usually treats them differently; the acquittal of Donald Trump and his responsive exercise of power; further madness and cruelty at the border; the growing understanding that we’re all required to carry around little surveillance devices that sell our most private secrets to the highest bidder—this is all very depressing!

So I’m writing about comics this week. I hope you enjoy it.

I rarely write about all the comics I read, in part because I don’t have that kind of time and in part because, well, I don’t want to sound like a freak. I read a lot of comics. It’s a thing I do to relax but it also helps me feel like a normal human being, which is hard to square with the habit itself, since it is of course kind of eccentric. Over the course of a few years of therapy and meds to remedy some fairly urgent depression (I’m fine!), I’ve come to terms with the truism that life is stressful and filled with pressure and responsibilities, and a lot of work needs to be done to arrange those stresses and pressures so that they’re not causing harm to you or causing you to harm someone you love. Creative outlets are good, but they, of course, are also work, and so passive outlets are necessary, and while I like television and movies and video games as much as the next guy, I either find them not engaging enough or too engaging. When my brain is turning into mucilage at the end of my day I don’t really like looking at another video screen; I’ve spent too long doing that already.

So I read comics, and I buy comics that I might want to read later, using a horrifying percentage of my disposable income, and I collect and trade them and borrow them from the library and and hunt them down on eBay and steal them off the internet. This isn’t good; I’m kind of ashamed of a lot of it; but it’s better for a person like me than unwinding with drugs or booze or pornography, which are all as readily available and require about as much brain juice to engage with.

There are, of course, gradations of comics. There are some really intellectual ones, like Alan Moore’s Providence or Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges. And there are those that have layers upon layers—Dan Clowes’s stuff, Dame Darcy, Los Bros Hernandez, etc. But a fascinating thing about comics is that they’re neither “hot” media (like TV) nor “cool” media (like novels), exactly. To some extent, you can read them with your lizard brain the way you’d watch a sitcom or play a video game; they’re hugely immersive, once you understand how to read them.

But well-done comics also operate on several different very sophisticated levels, even the cotton-candy ones. There’s a difference between a good comic where the Hulk beats up Wolverine and a bad comic where the Hulk beats up Wolverine; it’s a matter of intention and technical skill on the part of the guy drawing it—whether he knows how to direct your eye from panel to panel and how to emphasize the important beats in the story or not. So I read these things all the time, and I reread them. And I love them. 

This year for whatever reason I thought I’d spend at least a few weeks documenting literally everything I read in comics terms, and telling you about it. This is a partial accounting of what I’ve read since the beginning of the year—probably not even that long ago, honestly—and will get more thorough as it goes on. Let me know if you like it.

Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston: Like, I suspect, absolutely no one else who glommed onto this book, I have no strong opinions about Jeff Lemire, but was all in from the jump as soon as I heard Dean Ormston was doing the art. I adore Ormston; I think he’s one of the most talented people working in superhero comics and I wish he’d draw absolutely everything. I was horrified to see he’d suffered a cerebral hemorrhage before the first issue of this book shipped but gratified to subsequently learn that, unlike quite a few of his contemporaries, Lemire wasn’t going to abandon his partner and move on with someone who could work to his pace; the series has a lot of great work by Ormston, and I look forward to picking up more. It’s an extremely fun Outer Limits-style sci-fi-mystery book, with a slowly unwinding plot and solid characterizations. It looks so unlike any superhero book you’ve read that when it takes a conventional twist or turn, the counterpoint of the art is so strong that it feels fresh and interesting. Anyway, I’ve only read the first volume but I’m sure I’ll pick up more.

Rat God, Richard Corben: A terrific horror story. Just top-tier stuff. It iterates the Lovecraft story, Shadows Over Innsmouth, in which the protagonist visits a town where everybody seems to be slowly turning into a frog, except with rats, and a protagonist who is very clearly drawn to resemble Lovecraft himself.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Shadows on the Grave, Corben: More great work from Corben and occasionally Rich Margopoulos, who lends him a hand with scripting duties. Some of these stories are only a few pages and some are twenty and thirty pages long but they’re all amazingly beautiful and some of them are quite clever; the best is his Masque of the Red Death.

Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allan Poe, Corben and Rich Margopoulos: An earlier Poe collection by Corben, this one in black and white. A spottier collection, with the page count bulked up with reprints of the original text of the Poe stories and poems. Some of these are good and at least one, a resetting of Poe’s poem Israfel in majority-black gangland, that is incredibly cringey. In both collections Conqueror Worm is a real standout. There’s a second Haunt of Horror mini in the same format, all Lovecraft stories, that I’m anxious to track down.

Vic and Blood by Corben and Harlan Ellison: As with the Marvel Poe and Lovecraft collections, this adaptation of what is arguably Ellison’s best-known original work reprints the text of the original stories, in this case with gorgeous black-and-white spot illos by Corben. They’re worth the price of admission; the supposedly main attraction, I have to say, is not. It’s less that the adaptations of the Ellison stories aren’t good—they are, very, in fact—and more that they’re not produced from film but from scans of the old comics pages, and there’s no color correction and in most cases you can see a faint outline of the page border where it’s been printed on the paper. The darks are all way too dark and Corben’s art is shadowy anyway, so it’s just kind of an orangey-brown mush. This is put out by Byron Preiss’s iBooks, a tiny little publisher that did a bunch of Harlan stuff, presumably to his ridiculous standards. If you like Ellison, Borderlands did a complete edition of his stories for these characters—all prose—with a nice Corben cover out shortly after Ellison died.

Invisible Woman by Mark Waid and Mattia de Iulis: A fun spy romp by Waid, very predictable but nicely paced and with pleasant computery art by de Iulis. I really like Waid; I’m surprised this book didn’t get a higher billing when it was solicited and shipped. The Adam Hughes covers are lovely. Waid’s recent Ant-Man and the Wasp mini is a similar experiment, far more successful by every measure. Waid does sci-fi really well; here he has a spy story with extremely silly sci-fi trappings and it feels a little vague.

Hellblazer: Hard Time by Corben and Brian Azzarello: A really nicely done one-off arc announcing Azzarello’s run on Hellblazer, which is well-thought-of. The story mechanics are clever and the plot is interesting, and Corben is a genius. Azzarello’s dialogue tics are kept to a minimum here, but the elephant in the room is the absolutely appalling racism and homophobia throughout the book. The villain is a big-dicked black prisoner who rapes a femmey white boy all day and his motivation is that he wants to rape Constantine. There are jokes about dropping the soap and all kinds of incredibly dumb, dumb, dumb 90’s edgelord comedy. As a Corben completist I guess I liked the cartooning—the way Constantine works magic in the story really is clever and it has some scary moments but it’s such an obvious relic of the period, in the same ways as Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s odious Preacher, that I can’t recommend it unless you can still stomach the worst excesses of that book.

Ultimate Comics: X by Jeph Loeb and Arthur Adams: Jeph Loeb is a solid comic book scripter. It took me years to see this; he does things that really piss me off, like quote punchlines from movies in his dialogue, and there’s a generic quality to many of his plots, with a couple of exceptions. But he knows exactly what artists like to draw, how to tell a complete story legibly and compellingly, and how to use captions without overloading a page. His stuff is never talky and it’s almost *always* beautiful, and for a few years at Marvel, the company just let him have whoever he wanted to work with and they did amazing work. This little X-Book about B-listers forming a new team after the death of the rest of the X-Men is fantastic—cleverly structured, speedily paced, and just eight tons of fun to read, in no small part because Adams is just one of the most accomplished cartoonists alive. I can’t tell you how much I like looking at his work; I wish to goodness his older stuff like his Monkeyman and O’Brien miniseries was back in print. Anyway this is one of those comics that’s going to be easy to find used; I recommend it.

The Ultimates: Thor Reborn by Loeb and Frank Cho: Let’s be honest, The Ultimates, even the “good” years under Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, was an extremely silly book that blatantly ripped off Warren Ellis’s run on The Authority but with more swearing and cleavage. Loeb’s work on the title varies pretty wildly but this book, a cheesecakey romp with artist Frank Cho, is honestly my favorite of his stuff in the Ultiverse. It’s so stupid but its raciness isn’t especially sexist and its nihilism is honestly kind of bracing. I also really enjoy that he makes Cap a hidebound old dork.

The Ultimates 3: Who Killed Scarlet Witch? by Loeb and Joe Madureira: A really nasty little book with a ton of big crowd-pleasing fight sequences, and one (along with Ultimatum, which I read a few days ago; see further down) that Loeb apparently hates so much he won’t even talk about it. Loeb’s son Sam died of cancer at 17 a few years before and you can watch the quality of his work just plummet over time after that happens, I believe in 2004, a few years before this. He seems to have pulled himself out of the doldrums by the time he writes Ultimate Comics: X but this one is really embarrassing. I’m hot and cold on Madureira’s art; on the one hand it’s fucking absurd and the women all have ridiculous-looking spheroid boobs and the men have muscles on their muscles, but it’s so extreme it’s kind of fun, almost a parody of itself. Anyway, aggressively sleazy, a little bit fun in spite of itself for how unapologetic it is about crapping on superhero fans, and kind of unpleasantly sad given how clearly Loeb is working out his personal issues. 

The Ultimates: Omniversal by Al Ewing and Kenneth Rocafort: A reboot-ish of the Ultimates in the “real” Marvel Universe without any of the old team’s sleazeball antics, instead written with an enormous sense of scale. The book does really fun things with Galactus, a character I’ve always loved, and Rocafort’s art is just eye-popping. Absolutely beautiful layouts and rendering, it’s just lush. It suffers a bit from getting too meta without a larger point to make, but the cosmic stuff is so fun it’s hard to resent. In the second volume, Rocafort gets an assist from a much less accomplished artist, which is very annoying—I wish Marvel would just give these guys an extra two weeks to catch up rather than interrupt the story with six pages by a penciler with a totally different style—but it’s mostly A1, especially Christian Ward’s fill-in issues, which are every bit the equal of Rocafort’s art on the main story. A reason I have a soft spot for the old, occasionally nasty years of MAX and Ultimate Universe stuff is that it’s so aggressively off-model; with the Disney acquisition, all those shenanigans are over and everything is squeaky clean and PG-13 at most. In a lot of ways, that’s a bad and kind of sad thing, but in others, it pushes writers and artists to find better ways to tell stories, and this is one of the latter. The Rat is a terrible, malign influence on our culture, but that doesn’t mean everything that comes out of its maw is worthless.

Planet Hulk by Greg Pak and Carlo Pagulayan: A genuinely terrific story I’d never made the time to read until very recently, despite its sitting on my shelf for at least months, possibly years. I have generalized good feelings toward Greg Pak, the writer, but am not a completist the way I am for Warren Ellis or Alan Moore, and I never quite dug Carlo Pagulayan’s art, which is kind of workmanlike. But having buckled down and read the whole thing I can honestly say it’s a wonderful book, self-contained to a laudable degree for a Marvel comic, with great characters and a moving arc and a swords-and-sandals style plot with all the trappings of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. And, of course, because it’s the Hulk, it’s tragic, which is probably why he’s my favorite Marvel superhero. And it has a couple of chapters by Gary Frank, an artist I really love.

The Court of Owls Saga by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo: A profoundly annoying thing about DC’s New 52 line of comics, which in hindsight had a lot going for it, was how stubborn the company was about cross-promotion and crossover stories. The crown jewel of the ill-fated relaunch attempt was the Batman book, but the first story arc was at least two volumes long and one of those volumes was filled with bullshit that no one in the world wanted to read. DC has finally rectified this with a new paperback issued through its Black Label imprint, which reprints the first 11 issues of the New 52 Batman with exactly none of the annoying sideline adventures that clogged up the story. Capullo’s art is just unbelievable. His run on the title is such a gift. I’m going to sit down and read the whole thing soon; it’s so good I’m considering dropping too much money on the enormous omnibus.

Cromwell Stone by Andreas: When I was a little kid with no friends in fourth or fifth grade in Western North Carolina, I basically lived in junk shops, sorry, “antique stores” in Black Mountain and the unincorporated community outside its borders, Swannanoa. My crap emporium for a few years is now a store for skinny happy people who like to go hiking, but once it had a great little corner filled with mildewed sci-fi paperbacks and a couple of short boxes of comics. Among these comics was the first Cromwell Stone story, issued in English as a one-shot from Dark Horse, and it scared the hell out of me. I read it over and over again. I did not know what “Lovecraftian” meant or who Lovecraft was, despite his being quoted on the title page, but it was a kind of horror I’d never read before and I absolutely adored it. The sequels, reprinted in a new edition from Titan Books, are just as good as the original, and legible at the new edition’s absolutely mammoth trim size. Each is done in a slightly different medium: The first is largely pen and ink on paper, the second appears to have a long section on scratchboard, and the third has big passages in charcoal. It’s gorgeous, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Familiar Face by Michael DeForge: I have never liked Michael DeForge; my opinion has always been that you can be a glib miserablist or a lazy minimalist but both at once is a bit too much to take. I’m pleased to report that this book is both very inventive narratively and really beautiful; it’s also a very astute criticism of The Way We Live Now. I’ll be thinking about it for a long time. It’s also really, really funny. Now I have to go make sure I haven’t been misreading the author’s other work.

Ultimatum by Loeb and Michael Finch: Hahahahaha this book is DISGUSTING. It caused quite a stir when it came out but basically, the plot is that Magneto brings about a 9/11-ish terrorist disaster because he’s mad at humanity over the death of his son and daughter, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Then the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants go on a rampage and kill a bunch of superheroes, and the body count eventually includes Thor and The Wasp and Wolverine and so on. It’s just way, way, way over the top in terms of violence, so extreme that it’s very hard to take seriously. That didn’t stop people from taking it seriously, of course—lots of folks got super mad about, for example, The Blob eating The Wasp’s intestines and saying that she “tastes like chicken” (on a splash page, no less). Anyway, the exaggerated, theatrical violence is ridiculous and stupid—Dormammu squeezes Doctor Strange until his eyes bug out and his head pops—but the way the women characters are handled is indescribable without using the word “misogyny” and they get tortured and ripped up and almost-raped so much that it’s really hard to take and the book just ends up seeming loathsome on balance even if you don’t take the desecration of corporate superheroes terriby seriously. This was a big crossover event—highly publicized with an artist assigned to it who does a lot of fancy rendering, and with so many tie-ins there’s two big deluxe editions compiling them all. It’s kind of still worth reading just because Finch is a surprisingly good cartoonist on top of being a crowd-pleasing Image Comics-style over-enthusiastic hatch-shader (also just a crazily nice dude. Stacked bald guy with sleeve tattoos; I’ve seen him sign and sketch for literally hours as the line to meet him stretches down Artist’s Alley for table after table. He did a Dark Phoenix for me like ten years ago that I really love). Loeb has written very few comics since this; there’s an Avengers/X-Men miniseries a few years later and he finished up a Captain America story with Tim Sale to go with the rest of his absolutely lovely “Colors” books, neither of which I have read. I hope he found peace; this is the work of a guy in a lot of pain.

World War Hulk by Pak and John Romita, Jr.: The sequel to Planet Hulk, which I wasn’t sure I wanted to read since I’d enjoyed the previous volume so much and this one looked like it would not be much more than a book-long fight, with art by a guy I’ve loved since childhood who has been phoning it in a bit recently. Anyway all that was true, although I would put this just barely on the right side of the JRjr-is-tired divide (his Superman book with Frank MIller is firmly on the wrong side, FWIW. The best thing he’s done in his late career is his Eternals miniseries with Neil Gaiman), but the writing is terrific, mega-fight or no mega-fight, and a plot point I’d thought was a little clumsy at the end of Planet Hulk turned out to be a plot thread, and pays off really beautifully in this book. To some extent it reminds me a lot of Scott McCloud’s tabloid-sized Jack Kirby parody Destroy!, one of my favorite comics, about the ridiculous extent of the property damage inflicted by superhero battles, but I gotta be honest, I loved it.

Starr The Slayer MAX by Corben and Daniel Way: This one I’ll cop to special-ordering through eBay. Way is a very gifted writer; I don’t know if they just inserted dick jokes and sexism by editorial fiat when they greenlit the MAX books but this one veers between the same kind of juvenile dipshittery that plagues so much of the MAX line and a couple of legitimately funny jokes and a very clever storyline with, of course, brilliant cartooning. It’s so performative about its stupidity that it’s hard to recommend but it’s great work from Corben.

And my pull list:

The Green Lantern

Darkstars

Far Sector

Daphne Byrne 

X-Men

X-Men/Fantastic Four

New Mutants (Hickman scripts)

Hellboy and the BRPD (Mignola scripts)

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen

Wonder Twins

Red Sonja

Injection

Sex Criminals

Doctor Strange, Surgeon Supreme

Punisher: Soviet

Star Wars: Darth Vader

Shazam!

The Batman’s Grave

Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child

Don’t Talk to Me or My Son Ever Again

This is a newsletter about parenthood, specifically fatherhood, specifically fatherhood of a boy, which is the only kind of fatherhood with which I have any salient experience. The internet is one of the worst things to happen to nervous parents (which is to say: parents), because it is filled with the musings of malicious strangers who are insecure or mean or just stupid, and these people live to tell other parents that their precious darlings are going to die of an obscure illness because they went without a bib at dinner one evening.

As a result of this ambient terrorization, one of my least charming habits is that I now aggressively poll fellow parents for gory childrearing stories, the more blood and broken bones, the better, because their kids have turned out fine, and I want to be able to say to myself and other concerned friends, “Well, Mark’s little boy had a seizure at the park when he was eleven months old and he’s FINE.” So in the interest of fairness, I have included some of my own here, mostly the scary ones but also a couple that are funny.

So: Here is a list of the helpful things I can think of to say to dads of boys. Moms and parents of daughters, things are different for you both because of biology and because girls and women are socialized differently from boys and men, but feel free to read along, since some of these may be universal.

  • Mine does that, too.
  • That’s normal.
  • Did he cry immediately? Then he’s okay.
  • Was it the same kind of cry you hear from him usually? Then he’s okay.
  • Does he have a bump on his head? Then he’s okay.
  • Oh yeah, the whole daycare had that and the three of us all got it one after another. For about two days I thought I was going to be the only one who didn’t get sick, but I was changing a diaper on the morning of the third day, and I had to run into the bathroom and choose between barfing on the floor or trying not to shit my pants. I pulled my pants down, sat on the toilet, changed my mind, got on my knees and then barfed in the toilet so hard I burst a blood vessel in my eye and, simultaneously, pooped so hard I had to clean if off the bathroom door, and managed to shit my pants despite the pants in question being several feet away from me, which I hope you’ll all agree is impressive.
  • Feel free to just go to the ER, he’s totally fine but I’m sure you’ll feel better. We did it once for what turned out to be no reason and once when he turned out to need some albuterol for a bad cold.
  • He was fine.
  • He’s great.
  • I cut his finger with a pair of nail clippers when he was just a few days old and made him cry and wanted nothing more than for someone to send me to prison.
  • Here’s the address of a good ER in Brooklyn:
    Address: 83 Amity St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
    Phone: +1 646 754 7900
  • In New York, get a pediatrician within walking distance of your home.
  • Get a dentist within walking distance of your home.
  • Go to the park as often as you possibly can. Get up early to do this. Become an expert on the weather.
  • Plan around naps.
  • Make your peace with $20 an hour for a good babysitter. Don’t bargain-hunt.
  • For some reason the loveliest people I know have suffered prenatally from the intense fear that they will not feel a deep enough love for their children. This is a completely understandable fear and the reason no one ever addresses it is that it vanishes in a puff of smoke as soon as the baby comes out. You forget you were ever worried about it. So if this is you, relax, this will not happen.
  • If you accidentally get water on the umbilical stump, it starts to bleed, which is scary. Dry it off and the bleeding will stop quickly and it will be fine.
  • This woman, Freda Rosenfeld, is a lactation consultant in Brooklyn. She is wonderful and kind and makes house calls and is worth every penny.
  • My son did not say anything at all until he was 18 months old. Don’t know why. Don’t care now. Scared the hell out of me.
  • If you think his runny nose has gone on for too long, take him to the pediatrician and don’t try to ride it out, they have tiny little airways because of their adorable noses, which they have so they can nurse and breathe simultaneously, and they get ear infections like *snaps fingers* that.
  • Use the Fridababy snotsucker thing liberally, even if they hate it. Get the doctor to give you a nebulizer and a prescription for vials of saline and just do it a couple of times a day every single time they get a runny nose until it goes away, it’s easier than trying to rearrange schedules around the pediatrician and better for them than round after round of antibiotics. The pediatrician will just hand you a nebulizer from a closet full of them if you so much as mention it in passing. I promise. They give them away like candy.
  • Kids don’t ever do what you tell them to. They just don’t. Sorry.
  • They *do* listen to absolutely everything you say and sometimes you’ll hear them imitating you and be embarrassed and sometimes you’ll hear them imitating your spouse and it will be hilarious and you’ll learn a ton about yourselves and each other.
  • They’re not short, defective adults. They’re their own people, and they know even less about themselves than you do about yourself. You are teaching them about themselves.
  • I didn’t smile once between moving into the hospital room from the delivery room and getting home, I was so scared I couldn’t think straight. There were other dads at the hospital who were laughing and slapping their relatives on the back and I was happy but I was also completely terrified. For weeks I was nearly catatonic thinking “what have I done? what have I done? I have no idea how to do this and this little person is totally dependent on me for everything and can’t communicate at all beyond crying.”
  • Fatherhood is not actually fun for several weeks. You don’t sleep and you can’t talk to the kid and your wife has undergone an enormous hormonal change equivalent to puberty in the moment of childbirth, and you are in charge of them both. He’ll eventually start to smile and it’ll all be fine. I obsessively texted an ad hoc network of dad buds who’d had kids recently and they were so kind and generous and decent at all hours of the night and morning that my heart gets full thinking about it.
  • When my son was a few months old, we had a lazy plumber cut open a lead pipe in our apartment with no remediation and the place was filled with metal dust while my son was still crawling. He tested positive for high lead levels at the pediatrician—high enough to get a letter from the city—and we bought a $700 vacuum cleaner and the lead levels went down almost immediately. He is fine, the lead is gone, he has no cognitive impairment at all and could name every letter of the alphabet by 30 months. I hope that plumber dies.
  • They love you *so* much. Holy shit, do they love you. It’s like they’ve never loved a person before in their lives, which they have not. This is the horrible and fucked-up thing about parenthood: You are teaching them how to love someone, and who is worthy of love. They start from the null proposition that you are right about everything, even if they disobey you. They are watching you very carefully to see if you love them back, if they can make you love them more, if they can make you stop loving them, if being angry at them or frustrated with them or made to cry by them is a sign that you don’t love them any more. They will say things like “I don’t love you” to see how you react. They are conducting a gigantic, years-long experiment to understand how best to love and be loved, and once they have the results of said experiment, they will go out and start loving other people you have nothing to do with. It will be hard for them even if you do everything right, which you won’t, and all you’ll be able to do is watch and remind them that you really do love them.
  • Our society is not set up to care for kids and a lot of the oases for parents who need help with childcare are traps for either the parents or the kids—efforts to recruit them into one organization or another, or to get them to perform some kind of work.
  • The supposedly “low bar for dads” is not real. The reality this phrase inaccurately describes is depressing as shit. What it actually means is that you are being actively discouraged from fathering a child beyond your biological contribution and monetary investment, that the only thing you should do with him, from the point of view of a society that, again, does not particularly like your child, is play sports or video games. It means that every stroller will be six inches too short for you and there will be a society-wide effort to emasculate you for hanging out with your baby or toddler, taking paternity leave, working from home, changing diapers, picking out clothes, wiping his bottom, feeding him, and anything else to do with his actual well-being. All of that has been feminized and is socially off-limits to you. There are mommy blogs, but not daddy blogs. You’re expected to provide conduits for his aggression, and work all the time, and when your heart breaks into a thousand pieces because you missed the most important thing in life, you’re expected to have a cheap affair or buy a sports car or get hair plugs and it’s all played as comedy. This is called “patriarchy.”
  • Don’t fall for any of that shit. Let him help you remember what it was like being a little boy when everything was too big and at just the right level to whang your head painfully and people talked for hours about stupid stuff that had nothing to do with Bugs Bunny or cars or dogs and you always had to leave the bouncy castle before you even got started having fun. Then act accordingly. Do not pay attention to anyone but him. Do funny voices in public. Chase him on the playground. Buy him a dollhouse and play with it. When he winds up to throw a fork at your head and throws it on the floor instead, tell him how good that was and how glad you are that he didn’t throw the fork at your head. It’s not about any of those other people, who just want your son to contribute to state oppression or capitalist overreach or institutional misogyny or something else that will immiserate women and brown people and burn down the planet.
  • Men get things I call “manhood points.” They’re allotted based on physique and attitude and accent and earning power and talent and a bunch of other factors that are inborn or otherwise hard to alter, and you can get more of them by doing “manly” things. The most popular of these are: being a shithead to women, starting physical fights, using slurs, mocking gay and trans people, mocking disabled people, shooting a gun, shooting a gun at an animal, shooting a gun at a person, going to church, taking a job like police officer, firefighter, soldier, or construction worker, and being funny. You spend them when you give someone a hug, call someone down for using a slur, back down from a physical fight, defer to someone of lower status at the office or in the classroom, enjoy fine art, clean up after someone else, go out in public with an older woman or multiple women and no men. You run out of them really fast; they’re like skee ball tickets, and you may find that you don’t have any left when you need them at work or church or school. They are not only redeemable among men; men can also spend them on some women, especially women who think they can run a con on institutional patriarchy for their own benefit. Teaching your son how to spend his manhood points and how to resist the temptation to earn them in easy ways is incredibly hard. I have no advice on this, except to take hard, regular looks at your own behavior.
  • The subjects of contemporary media for little boys are: sports competitions and fantasy versions of military campaigns or police work. Beyond that, it’s explicitly for girls in a way that will cost your son some of the above manhood points if he wants to enjoy it. Progressive culture has been vigorously corporatized and one of its corruptors’ most important projects is sliming over everything that might challenge capitalism about feminism and calling themselves feminists for depicting all scientists and mathematicians and explorers as women. Because this is almost exclusively a project of men, and women who would rather exploit than abolish patriarchy, it leaves no progressive space at all for little boys, preferring to shunt them into regressive spaces or subordinate roles, which of course no one likes. Little boys can have old things, or they can have reactionary new things, but they can’t have new progressive things. This fucking sucks, obviously. We watch Looney Tunes (although I occasionally have to quickly stop them because there’s some awful racism shockingly late in the filmography) and Pee-Wee Herman, and we read old Carl Barks Donald Duck comics. He likes Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, too, which is contemporary. I’m trying him on Adventure Time, which I think is a bit too old for him yet.
  • Little boys and little girls are different. I don’t mean that trans people aren’t real or that you should freak out if your boy wants to wear a skirt or tells everybody he’s a girl, or any of that bigoted shit. If he does any of that stuff, for god’s sake be nice about it. What I mean is that little boys get hits of testosterone randomly throughout the day, and little girls do not. They acquire language more slowly, and they get bizarre little erections for no reason and want to talk about them, and when they have a lot of energy they want to run around and throw things and push things over and be tickled and chased. Trying to stop them from doing this stuff is a fool’s errand and will just make everyone feel bad. Just babyproof everything within an inch of your lives and when he wants to throw shit because that’s how he feels, have little soft things he can throw. Ours used to turn into the Incredible Hulk and flip over his pack-n-play like a pro wrestler, which was kind of awesome to watch. It’s normal. Treat it like it’s normal. Treat it all like it’s normal.
  • They don’t have sympathy for you. They develop empathy, meaning they understand your feelings, but they don’t feel those feelings by osmosis for a long time. They love you so much but when you are at the end of your rope and about to snap and any reasonable person would know not to mess with you and to let you cool down, they will keep on pushing, because they don’t know any better, and they want to know what will happen. What will happen is up to you.
  • Don’t spank your kids, for heaven’s sake. Just don’t. It doesn’t stop the misbehavior and it makes them feel terrible and you’ll regret it.
  • Bear in mind that you can always leave a situation in which your kid is making you crazy. You can put them in their crib or their bedroom or behind the baby gate and go sit in the other room and calm down.
  • Don’t terrorize them, either. This was a hard thing for me—I didn’t want to spank my kid but I also didn’t want him to hurt himself so at first I yelled at him when he did dangerous things and it just made him cry. The honest truth is that there’s stuff that works in general like time-outs but it’s not a panacea by any means and most disciplinary measures are ad hoc and designed to get the kid away from the mess/fire/knife.
  • There is no discipline. There is only behavior modeling. This becomes obvious long, long after it comes into effect.
  • It’s wise to treat the whole thing as an improv game, where, unless the stakes become too high, you should always respond to your kid with “Yes! AND,” as in, “Yes, you are a dinosaur! AND it’s time for the dinosaur to take a bath.” If you don’t contradict them all the time, they will ideally get the idea that contradiction ought to be a last resort and their best hope for having fun is to play along with you.
  • It’s fine to lose face in front of a toddler. They will not think less of you.
  • It’s fine to compromise with a toddler. Compromise all the time. Give them five more minutes to play. Let them eat french fries again. Take the bus and then the train and then the bus again.
  • They will learn what kinds of behavior are messy and annoying, what kinds of behavior are cruel and unkind, and what kinds of behavior are dangerous and terrifying, and your reaction to each kind of behavior, and they will use the difference to fuck with you.
  • If you’re “not a scheduling person” or “just disorganized, lol” or have a shirt with that Marilyn Monroe quote about how if I can’t handle you at your worst I don’t deserve me at your best, or “always late, sorry” or whateverthefuck, grow your ass up and get a therapist or some exercise or whatever it is that you need—and I recommend starting with the therapist because often you don’t know what you need—and take care of that shit because if you don’t, your halfassery will put pressure on your spouse which will wreck your marriage which will wreck your relationship with your child which will wreck your life.
  • If you don’t do this before becoming a dad—which I, for example, did not—you will be forced to. And that’s okay! Sometimes people are absolutely certain they’re the exception to the rule until it’s proven to them in harsh terms that they’re not. I am like that. You might be, too. It’s okay. Just know that it’s going to happen and make your peace with it as quickly as you can when it does.
  • Nothing else is important. Nothing. It’s all bullshit. Kids are the only real thing.
  • Work culture is a huge scam run on millennials and zoomers by Xers and Boomers to trick them into thinking that their abusive relationships with their supervisors are familial, but they’re not. No one is your friend based on what happens in the office; you can *make* friends there, but you can’t build friendships. The good ones know this. The bad ones will try to trade on it to make their own lives easier.
  • Leave the office when you need to.
  • Work for people who also have kids if you possibly can.
  • Take all the time anyone will give you. Be incredibly greedy with your PTO, leave the office at 5:00 every single day, do not get to work before your first meeting, work from home as often as you possibly can, stay up until 2 a.m. drinking water or seltzer to keep awake and do the shit that absolutely has to be done, and spend every other waking hour with your kid, even when it’s boring, even when you’re exhausted. He will eventually be a teenager who doesn’t like anything or want to talk to you. Get in as much time as you can before then.
  • Get your spouse to spell you and take breaks. Take the breaks for yourself and do not use them to do work. Go to the movies or read Batman or Stephen King over a cup of coffee or something. See a friend.
  • Taking your kid to see another friend’s kid is really fun.
  • I have also known people whose kids were not fine, who came down with vicious disease and obscure cancers. Those people, too, love their children and long to be the one with the blastoma or the vestigial heart valve. There is a feeling, I think, among people whose kids are hale and hearty, that if a neighbor or family member’s child is dying, dead, or imperiled, it is in bad taste to remark on how cute or clever or funny they are—that it’s poking at a sore spot. Not so. The sore spot will be an open wound until time stops. The most generous thing you can do for these people is spend time with them and their own children, listening to remembrances of them if they are gone or patiently participating in the perverted routine of caring for the endangered child and observing how big he’s getting, how smart he is, how much his eyes look like his daddy’s. All any parent wants, including you, is for their child to be okay. Failing that, all that remains is for everyone else to know how special and perfect that child was.
  • I think that the reason parenthood is fun, which is separate from the reasons people have kids—who knows why that is, probably none of us—is that you have that automatic, endocrinal love for your child so suddenly. It makes everything they experience amazingly vivid, and of those experiences, people talk and write about the dramatic and the horrible most regularly. But the lapidary, mundane things are far, far more important; they are the water and air of parenthood. For years, you are constantly watching a little person exactly as complex as yourself take a bite of a first strawberry, find an acorn and decide it is the most valuable thing in the world, swing on the swings for the first time, laugh until he hiccups at a funny face, go down a slide, squish a handful of peas, get a haircut, splash in the bath, name his toys. So… look forward to that. I still do.
  • for the love of god get them their vaccinations or I’ll come to your house in the dead of night and attack your whole family with a syringe full of Tresivac.

The Best Comics of the Decade

A detail from Declan Shalvey and Warren Ellis’s beautiful sci-fi series Injection. Line art by Shalvey, colors by Jordie Bellaire.

Hello, patient readers! For the new year I wanted to write something of undeniable utility to you, and if you agree with me and like this sort of thing, please tell me so and I will do more of it (for a future edition, if folks want: the 99 best children’s picture books, as chosen by me with input from our three-year-old). This edition started as my annoyance at a number of lists of similar size that I won’t name and shame here. They felt both overly dutiful and still somehow undercooked, as though they’d been written by people who felt a responsibility to everything and everyone except the reader, and that they had been compiled by people who read widely but not deeply. And I wanted to read a similar something that was both passionate and well-informed. So I’ve written the former, at least.

My rules for the composition of this list, since ten years is a long time to survey, were as follows:

  1. No artist or writer may appear more than once with the exception of anthology or jam books. This started to feel a little arbitrary by the end of the compilation, but it helped out with rule #2:
  2. As many different kinds of comics as possible must be included.
  3. No including things I didn’t like just because I read them. (this was harder than it sounds!)
  4. Actually read the things on the list and don’t just add them because I’d heard they were good. (also hard!)
  5. Work that began before the decade started but ended during its duration is eligible; so is work that is not yet complete as of this writing (I did not let myself list work that fits the latter category in my piece for The Guardian along similar lines).
  6. The work here appears in alphabetical order. See the above Guardian piece for a shorter list of books I absolutely adored and some longer explanations of why

This involved a lot of reading of new work on my part, which is something I really enjoy, doubly so when it’s for a project that I will eventually publish. I hope you enjoy this list, too, and consult it when you want to read things that are good or buy Christmas or birthday presents or just for fun. I realized fairly early on in making this that I would run out of superlatives very quickly if I tried to tell you what I liked most about these books, so I have opted in most cases to simply tell you what they’re about; sometimes that sounds especially appetizing and sometimes it just doesn’t, but if it’s on this list, I think most people who like my writing here should read it.

My final caveat is that this is me shooting from the hip, extra reading and long gestation period aside. I’m just one guy. I know this list is very male, and very white. It is, in many ways, a picture of the inside of my head, for good and for ill, and as much as I would like to be someone to whom work by women and marginalized creators is marketed and promoted, I am not. I try to seek it out, but I also read a lot of comics, so the proportions are off. Compiling this helped me to change that a little bit! 

I’ve put an asterisk next to the books I think my kid, who is three, might enjoy some time between now and his tenth birthday, and a dagger next to those that I would not read while he was looking over my shoulder. So make of that what you will; I’m not here to tell you how to parent but if you want to know more about any single entry, please email me and we can chat about it.

All entries are single codexes unless otherwise noted. Where books are published in multiple editions, I have listed the easiest to find, i.e., Last Look is one paperback volume, not three big hardcovers. Where books are ongoing, I have noted that as well.

I hope you enjoy it, and that you find something new and cool to read by doing so.

  1. Achewood by Chris Onstad (webcomic, also in hard copy)Every annoying Twitter comedian loves this longrunning webcomic. It really is brilliant. 
  2. Age of Ultron by Brian Michael Bendis and Bryan HitchMarvel Comics’s event miniseries get a bad rap; this mammoth time-travel story, about evil robot Ultron taking over the world, has a punchy script by Bendis and perfect superhero art by Hitch, one of the all-time greats.
  3. Amnesia: The Lost Films of Francis D. Longfellow by Al Columbia†Columbia’s appallingly perverse paintings are always hard to put a narrative frame around, but it’s impossible to look away from this collection of fake one-sheets for the work of an imaginary cartoons director whose work recalls the Fleischer Brothers’ most psychoactive ideas.
  4. The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf (three volumes, two forthcoming)Sattouf’s memoir about growing up in Libya is drawn in an engaging, funny, ironic style that belies the complexity of its subject matter; one of the few really original and interesting entries in the graphic memoir genre in recent years.
  5. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny LiewA meticulous history of American comics that is also a history of Malaysia, told as an unlikely art book about a failing cartoonist who copies dozens of twentieth century omics artists’ styles in an effort to document the seismic changes to his country.
  6. Athos in America by JasonDour Dutch cartoonist Jason’s funniest book may be this story of musketeer Athos, confident and out of place on US soil.
  7. Bad Gateway by Simon Hanselmann†Hanselmann’s poisonous comedy is maturing into something more heartfelt in this lovely graphic novel, a kind of raw counterpoint to Matt Furie’s Boys’ Club.
  8. Batman: Noel by Lee BermejoBermejo’s bibliography has far too many humorless Brian Azzarello scripts in it, so it’s a relief to read this lighthearted Christmas tale with Batman himself cast as Scrooge. He draws fantastically beautiful pages and his layouts are always inventive; this is easily his best work.
  9. Batman: The Kings of Fear by Kelley Jones and Scott PetersonJones just gets better with age; this fantastically beautiful Batman story looks a little dim in synopsis—The Scarecrow messes with Batman—but in execution it’s largely a collection of wonderfully demented things for Jones to draw.
  10. Battling Boy by Paul Pope*A YA graphic novel that cross-pollinates Jack Kirby, Dune, and John Carter of Mars, all to charming effect with Pope’s beautiful inks on full display. His Adam Strange strip in DC’s Wednesday Comics anthology is similarly beautiful.
  11. Berlin by Jason LutesA massive opus twenty years in the making about the decline of Weimar Berlin and the ascent of the Nazi Party, its every background drawing a dozen pages’ worth of historical, artistic, and architectural research, its foreground Dickensian and thrilling.
  12. Beverly by Nick DrnasoDrnaso’s Sabrina won the Booker; I prefer the more elliptical collection of linked Rick Moody-style short stories that preceded it. It’s as incisive a book about life in suburbia as has been written in twenty years.
  13. Billie the Bee by Mary Fleener*Fleener’s cubistic, strange, and informative book about bees does nothing any other comic ever has.
  14. The Black Beetle by Francesco FrancavillaFrancavilla’s high-contrast pulp comic is the artist’s best work and a treat for fans of vintage pulp writing.
  15. The Black Monday Murders by Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker (two volumes, more forthcoming)An inventive mystery book with a stew of conspiracy theories and high finance as its lore.
  16. Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang (two volumes, sold together)*An inventive retelling of the Boxer Rebellion from both sides, one for each book.
  17. Boys Club by Matt FurieFor all the consternation that Pepe the Frog caused, his origins as a harmless stoner icon are very much worth checking out.
  18. Building Stories by Chris WareWare gets dinged–justifiably–for being gloomier than necessary in much of his other work; here, his absolute joy in the craft of comics and his love of his strange, sad characters shines through, in this collection of disparate little volumes, strips, and doodles in the margins of his margins.
  19. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz ChastChast’s uproarious comedic memoir of her beloved parents’ decline and death is wittier and more poignant than any book on this subject has a right to be.
  20. Captain America: White by Jeph Loeb and Tim SaleAnother long-delayed release—a hugely stylish Captain America tale by Loeb, whose collaborations with Sale (Spider-Man: Blue, Daredevil: Yellow, Hulk: Gray) have a solid, Norman Rockwell-esque vibe perfectly fitting the character.
  21. Castle Waiting Linda Medley (two volumes)*Medley’s life’s work, about a castle where the fairy tale royalty are out on adventures and the staff are left to their own devices, remains essential.
  22. Cosplayers by Dash ShawA kind of Ghost World for millennials, Shaw’s adolescent drama is more tightly focused than his larger work and, as a consequence, a bit more satisfying, too.
  23. Coyote Doggirl by Lisa HanawaltHanawalt, of Bojack Horseman fame, draws a comedy Western about a half-dog, half-coyote protagonist. The jokes go off like whoopee cushions every few pages and the watercolors are unlike anything anyone else is doing.
  24. Daredevil by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, et al (11 volumes)Exactly what you’d like a superhero comic to be: Gripping but light, fun with high stakes, drawn so adroitly the panels seem to flow into each other. 
  25. Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel BáMoon and Bá, brothers, write and draw this ten-part story of a man who dies at the end of every chapter, only to return when the narrative picks back up in the next installment as though nothing had happened.
  26. Everything Together by Sammy HarkhamA lovely volume of deeply felt short stories by Harkham, whose spare drawings elicit rare and surprising emotional connections and seem drawn directly from memory.
  27. The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean PhillipsThe strongest collaboration yet between the comics noir team, The Fade Out has no storytelling gimmicks, no supernatural twist, and resolves as confidently as a Billy Wilder movie.
  28. The Flintstones by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh (two volumes)An absolute treasure of a comedy book with scabrous commentary on capitalism and its discontents, framed as the misadventures of the stars from the 1970s stone-age animated sitcom.
  29. Fury: My War Gone By by Garth Ennis and Goran ParlovSome of Ennis’s strongest work in years, if not his best ever, the author reunites with Punisher artist Parlov to draw an operatic war story about Marvel Comics’s second-favorite soldier and his disturbing decline.
  30. The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins*A willful, strange, charcoal-drawn graphic novel about a gigantic beard that may or may not be malicious.
  31. Glenn Ganges in The River at Night by Kevin HuizengaA bizarre, beautiful, impossible book about the depths of memory and imagination.
  32. Goliath by Tom GauldAnother Bible story, this one a lovely retelling of the story of David and Goliath, rendered sympathetically from Goliath’s perspective.
  33. Grandville by Bryan TalbotI have no excuses for Grandville, Bryan Talbot’s five-volume series of self-contained mystery comics about a badger detective in a world filled with anthropomorphic animals, where humans who look like Herge drawings are a subaltern class and 9/11 was an inside job. But I do recommend it.
  34. Groo: Friends and Foes by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier*After a few heavy-handed miniseries in which Groo experiences contemporary problems like the financial crisis, Aragones and Evanier return to form in a big story revisiting all the old supporting characters from the delightful series’s salad days.
  35. Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories by Ben KatchorKatchor’s gorgeous comics are in color in this terrific collection of short pieces; his eye for humor in the absurd and lapidary has never been sharper and the generous proportions of this collection make it, I would argue, his best.
  36. The Hard Tomorrow by Eleanor DavisAn impossibly adroit consolidation of everything urgent in American life, told in a dazzling variance of styles by one of the preeminent cartoonists working.
  37. Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton (webcomic, also in hard copy)Beaton’s sidesplitting webcomic remains some of the funniest literary humor ever written and her historical gags will have you racing to look up obscure Canadians.
  38. Head Lopper by Andrew MacLean (three volumes, ongoing)A swords-and-sandals fantasy comic with stylish monsters and a simple, kinetic visual sense that carries the reader through edge-of-your-seat swordfights and creeping through its strange dungeons.
  39. Hellboy in Hell by Mike Mignola (two volumes)Mignola’s wry hero finds himself where he was always going to end up: Back home in The Bad Place. The art is filled with cavernous blacks and stylized reds and Mignola’s love of folklore comes to the forefront in the best possible way.
  40. Here by Richard McGuireMcGuire expands his strip for Raw, which is just several drawings of the same living room throughout history, into a genuine art object. Don’t expect a narrative, but do keep it around to flip through it for happy surprises.
  41. High Soft Lisp by Gilbert Hernandez†Hernandez’s lovely collection of stories about his brilliant ingenue actress, Fritz, is the best reduction of his gifts in a single volume so far; it has meta-stories from Fritz’s B-movie adventures, tales of her childhood in Palomar, comedy, tragedy… the works.
  42. Homestuck by Andrew Hussie (webcomic)Hussie’s vast webcomic is less a story at this point and more a way of life, or maybe a minor religion. Worth a try, and possibly a declaration of undying fealty, depending on your tastes.
  43. The Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett (five volumes, ongoing)Ewing writes and Bennett draws a story of Bruce Banner on the lam and his alter ego a genuine horror fiction creation—conflicted, powerful, and terrifying. 
  44. Injection by Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey (five volumes planned, two forthcoming)A dour, funny, very British sci-fi story about ghosts, bad decisions, class, and bureaucracy, with kinetic art by Shalvey that often blossoms into wonderful, mushroomy strangeness.
  45. Is This How You See Me? by Jaime HernandezHernandez draws sentimental tale of middle-aged women attending a punk reunion concert and coming to grips with who they are and who they were.
  46. Journalism by Joe SaccoSacco’s best collection of short work so far, a series of journalistic essays dealing with everything from the upsurge in immigration to his native Malta to the torture of detainees in George W. Bush’s War on Terror.
  47. Killing and Dying by Adrian TomineTomine’s collection of stylistically variant short pieces is the best work of literary fiction on the market this decade in any form.
  48. Kirby: Genesis by Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, and Jackson HerbertA new “universe” of Jack Kirby-created characters that don’t reside in either the DC or Marvel IP hives, the adroit eight-issue miniseries was probably supposed to be a big franchise start for publisher Dynamite. They didn’t get Kirby Cinematic Universe out of the effort but they *did* get a beautiful book with terrific interiors laid out and occasionally painted by Ross.
  49. Ladykiller by Joelle Jones (two volumes)Jones writes and draws a kinetic miniseries about housewife/hitwoman; it’s a book with something close to an ideal ratio of rendering to panel progression for an action comic.
  50. Last Look by Charles Burns†A lovely look at regret and the high price some people unexpectedly have to pay for adolescent foolishness, rendered with the incredibly precise hand for which Burns has long been known, and, for the first time in his career, in color.
  51. Le Major by MoebiusThe final comic about Major Grubert, the hapless hero of Moebius’s mischievous Man from the Ciguri and Airtight Garage comics, is only a sketchbook. It’s still perfect.
  52. The Lie and How We Told It by Tommi Parish†A beautifully painted comic about identity and loss with a surprising digression and vast depth of character, especially for something so short.
  53. Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland by Eric Shanower and Gabriel Rodriguez*Winsor McCay’s opulent Sunday strip is such a foundational text to the history of comics that it seems ridiculous to write a modern version, but Shanower and Rodriguez escape the problems of influence by making their work a longer narrative, filled with visual trickery that pays homage to the original work without drawing unflattering comparison—a difficult task indeed.
  54. Madame Xanadu: Exodus Noir by Matt Wagner and Michael Wm. KalutaWagner’s Madame Xanadu series was the perfect bone to throw fans of his late, lamented 1920’s crime comic, Sandman Mystery Theater. It didn’t last, but its second arc features astounding interiors by Arthur Rackham-esque artist Kaluta, and a supernatural mystery plot with plenty of tension.
  55. March by John Lewis and Nate Powell (three volumes)Lewis’s autobio, drawn by Powell, needs little introduction. It is a masterpiece both of the memoir form and of historical nonfiction.
  56. Mark Twain’s Autobiography, 1910-2010 by Michael KuppermanKupperman’s genius for comic absurdity is at its apex in this book, a half-novel, half-cartoon masterpiece of light fiction.
  57. Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus by Chester Brown†Brown has drawn quite a bit in recent years—this, his follow-up to his memoir Paying for It, about his experiences hiring sex workers and finally becoming partners with one, is the best of the lot. It’s a collection of Bible stories, some of them a bit tendentious (he insists on seeing Ruth as Boaz’s seducer) but all conceived with Brown’s breathtaking gift for simplicity. An angel is realized as feet dangling into the frame from above; God is a giant; Jesus is never pictured. It’s a lovely, surprisingly respectful book.
  58. Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt (six volumes)An exceedingly dense and fun story of mind control and spycraft by writer-artist Matt Kindt, with subplots, palimpsests, and clues hidden in the gutters and the margins.
  59. Ms Marvel by G Willow Wilson and Adrian AlphonaA clever and fun superhero book about a young Muslim woman who gets super powers; the art is just lovely and Wilson is as charming a writer as you could want.
  60. The Multiversity by Grant Morrison, et alMorrison’s unified field theory of superheroes takes the form of nine one-shots set in eight wildly different universes, illustrated by a pantheon of gifted artists including Morrison’s best collaborator, Frank Quitely.
  61. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris (two volumes planned, one forthcoming)A gobsmackingly beautiful murder mystery/bildungsroman/love letter to 1960’s Chicago/treatise on painting, done almost entirely in multicolored ballpoint pen.
  62. My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf†A true crime comic with an ace up its sleeve: The author really did go to school with serial murderer Jeffrey Dahmer. You go in expecting a gruesome horror story and you go out wanting to give a hug to every weird kid who got beat up in high school.
  63. The Nib by Matt Bors, et al (5 volumes, ongoing)A comics newsmagazine that went from endangered to essential in little more than moments.
  64. Notes on a Case of Melancholia, or, A Little Death by Nicholas GurewitchGurewitch’s Perry Bible Fellowship webcomic was always wonderfully tasteless, and his graphic novel is both funny and a work of prodigious artistic achievement in a new style for Gurewitch, reminiscent of Edward Gorey.
  65. Nursery Rhyme Comics by various*An absolutely gorgeous collection of fairy tales by artists from Craig Thompson to Kate Beaton, some traditional, some cleverly bent.
  66. Orc Stain by James StokoeStokoe’s higher-profile work is probably his Godzilla and Aliens comics, but his best is absolutely this bizarre fantasy series, his gorgeously busy renderings a total delight.
  67. Pachyderme by Frederik PeetersPeeters draws the dreamlike story of a young woman wandering the halls of a hospital where either she or her husband lies unconscious during the aftermath of the second world war.
  68. Richard Stark’s Parker by Darwyn Cooke, from the novels by Donald E Westlake (four volumes)An obvious labor of love for the late, lamented Cooke, a worthy successor to midcentury greats like Alex Toth and Bernard Krigstein. They’re back-pocket roman noir novels with Cooke’s gorgeous blacks soaking every page.
  69. Patience by Daniel ClowesDan Clowes’s marvelous sci-fi opus departs from his usual realism and muted pastels, but it’s still filled with weird characters who seem like people you’d run into (or away from) at the grocery.
  70. Picture This by Lynda Barry*Of Barry’s instructional comics, this is my favorite; it also contains Marlys, her little-girl alter ego, and is almost a workbook for making yourself happy. Unconventional, and lovely.
  71. The Playwright by Darren White and Eddie CampbellA Julian Barnes-esque unsentimental love story, with Campbell’s frank gouache art a deadpan counterpoint to the quiet pomposity of White’s self-regarding hero.
  72. Poochytown by Jim WoodringThe culmination of twenty years of fantastically strange stories by Jim Woodring, set in his sentient world of the Unifactor and starring his little generically anthropomorphic creation, Frank. A beauty.
  73. Prince of Cats by Ronald WimberlyWimberly’s book is part Frank Miller ninja comic, part blaxploitation flick, part Romeo and Juliet. That it exists is a small miracle; that it works is a big one.
  74. Prison Pit by Johnny Ryan (six volumes)†A perverted and disgusting romp through hell, starring a vile murderer named Cannibal Fuckface, who must dismember his way out of a space prison. Loads of fun.
  75. Providence by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows (three volumes)†Alan Moore’s goodbye to the comics world is also an ode to HP Lovecraft and a skeptical assessment of the human race’s ability to pull itself out of its slump; it is both frank about Lovecraft’s faults and unfailingly progressive in its use of them, suggesting that true horror comes from the way we fail to honor people weaker than we are.
  76. Puma Blues by Stephen Murphy and Michael ZulliA laid-back environmentalist sci-fi comic that went offline for more than twenty-five years and finally saw completion in 2015, Zulli’s Audobon-level renderings of animals make this book Beatrix Potter for the climate change generation.
  77. Saga by Bryan K Vaughn and Fiona Staples (nine volumes, ongoing, on haitus)†Sure, it’s overpraised, but the gonzo sci-fi series is so briskly paced it’s hard to find time to complain about its thin characters and overwrought dialogue while you’re reading the book, and Fiona Staples’ vibrant art is beyond reproach.
  78. The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman and J. H. Williams IIIGaiman’s beautiful return to his landmark superhero series is a total delight for the eyes thanks to his unbeatably weird imagination and the lush artwork of JH Williams III, a cartoonist who can apparently do anything.
  79. Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley (six volumes)O’Malley’s six-volume faux-anime comic about Canadian hipsters living in a video game-ish version of Toronto has tons of heart and a wry sense of humor. 
  80. The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons (three volumes)Arguably the best of Mark Millar’s sneery sci-fi titles, The Secret Service boasts wish-fulfillment fantasy of the highest order, given a little more humor than it might otherwise have by Gibbons deadpan artwork.
  81. Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky (five volumes, one forthcoming)†An earthy, hilariously funny, reliably surprising book about a couple who start fucking and find that when they come together, they stop time for everyone but themselves. They use this power to rob banks.
  82. Shadows on the Grave by Richard Corben†Corben remains one of the most important cartoonists ever to pick up a pen; his most recent collection of original short horror stories is among his best work.
  83. Shaolin Cowboy: Shemp Buffet by Geof Darrow†Darrow sheds his penchant for comic monologues and absurdity in this volume, which is a single huge sequence of our hero, the Shaolin Cowboy, carving his way through hundreds, maybe thousands of zombies. 
  84. Shazam! Vol. 1 by Geoff Johns and Gary FrankJohns is a smart writer whose aspirations have taken him some dumb places, but when he manages to connect, he often hits a home run. With Shazam!, serialized in the back of Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League series, Johns and the marvelous superhero artist Gary Frank give the kid-friendly hero a clever, not-too-dark upgrade. DC’s New 52 experiment got a lot of grief for its worst missteps (which, to be fair, were around high-profile titles like Batman/Superman and and its giant profusion of multi-title sublines devoted to characters who could handle one monthly book, tops), but some of its reinventions were good, and this was one of the better ones.
  85. Silver Surfer by Dan Slott and Michael Allred (five volumes)*Allred’s pop-art style was never better suited to a writer’s scripts than with Slott’s aggressively kid-friendly Doctor Who homage version of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s morose demigod.
  86. Songy of Paradise by Gary PanterGary Panter’s exploration of epic poetry mashes up Dante and Milton in a messily beautiful book that jams arcane and silly symbolism together with medieval iconography.
  87. Teen Titans: Games by Marv Wolfman and George PerezA lost gem from the golden years of DC’s attempt to best the X-Men, this graphic novel finally saw print in 2013. It’s Perez at the height of his powers and a solid Wolfman script from the glory days.
  88. This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki*The Tamaki sisters’ young adult novel about a family on the cusp of huge changes is rendered entirely in shades of blue, its inking a constant delight.
  89. To Have and to Hold by Graham ChafeeTattoo artist Chafee’s adroit graphic novel is the purest possible form of James M Cain short of digging the late novelist up and snorting him. It’s a remarkably assured piece of cartooning and characterization.
  90. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Erica Henderson, and Derek Charm (12 volumes)*North’s adroit, funny scripts and Henderson’s hilarious art (no slight on Charm that she defines the book’s cartoony, deadpan style) make for a kind of lighthearted fun that ought to be the standard at Marvel Comics.
  91. Upgrade Soul by Ezra Claytan DanielsAn extraordinarily weird story about immortality and family; really like nothing else I’ve read.
  92. Usagi Yojimbo: Sensō by Stan Sakai*Everything Usagi Yojimbo is worth reading but this tale of samurai fighting aliens is particularly fun. As always, his work is good for young readers.
  93. The Vision by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta (two volumes)King’s moment of high-profile showbiz success may be more or less over, but his best work is still this Ice Storm-style take on life as an android with an android wife and kids in a very normal, non-android suburb.
  94. When I Arrived at the Castle by Emily Carroll†Carroll’s painterly, generous graphic novel succeeds her lovely short story collection. It, too, has shades of Angela Carter, but the new work is more assured and the use of color especially daring. 
  95. Woman Rebel by Peter BaggeBagge’s scabrous Hate is a fondly remembered alt-comics fixture and his cartoons at Reason magazine are one of the few reasons to read that publication, but he’s recently focused on biographies of famous women. This is his meticulous narrative of Margaret Sanger’s life, and its controversies.
  96. Wonder Woman: The True Amazon by Jill Thompson*A portrait of the superhero as a young amazon with much to learn about patience and humility, told in Thompson’s assured watercolors, with special attention paid to the needs of younger readers.
  97. Wondermark by David Malki (webcomic)Malki’s cultural landmark of a webcomic has the master comedian’s ear for quirks of modern life that don’t yet have names (see “The Terrible Sea Lion,” which has an entire form of internet trolling—sealioning—named after it).
  98. Wytches by Scott Snyder and JockA Stephen King-style horror book with expressionistic art and deep characters.
  99. xkcd by Randall Munroe (webcomic)Munroe’s silly, computer-nerdy webcomic is proof that you don’t need to be Wally Wood to make interesting narrative comics. There are plenty of great one-off gags, but Munroe’s masterwork is inarguably the cartoon linked above, a 3100-panel masterpiece called Time.

Superhero Movies as Moral Obligation

For what I’m sure is now years—possibly decades—a debate has raged between the proletarian defenders of $400 million-budget megablockbuster superhero films and the bourgeois hipster film buff crowd, who seem to irrationally believe that it might be nice to see something else this weekend for a change.

Recently, Martin Scorsese, director of such cult obscura as Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, took to the pages of the New York Times to observe that he’d had a lot of trouble securing financing to make his latest three-hour-plus gangster opus, The Irishman, while the Ant-Man flicks continue emerging from Hollywood’s bowels at an astonishing pace. He was defending himself after being widely and derisively quoted from a long an interesting interview about The Irishman saying that the Marvel Cinematic Universe series of interconnected action flicks are “not cinema,” a statement with the virtue of being obviously true.

“Cinema” is the kind of vaunted term a guy like Marty would probably apply to the work of Ingmar Bergman or Andrei Tarkovsky; I doubt you could even argue persuasively that he believes all of his own movies are cinema—The Age of Innocence and The Last Temptation of Christ, perhaps, but not Shutter Island or Hugo. Because it is what interests Scorsese, even those films are about cinema—disorienting nuthouse flicks like Shock Corridor in the first case and the hand-colored special-effects extravaganzas of George Milies in the second—but they are purer entertainments.

The Marvel movies are soap operas, which is not a cinematic form. They are episodic storytelling about thin characters, starring beautiful actors and actresses, and, due to economic constraints, a vast meta-series of films that will not end until the stories’ Lovecraftian parent company, Disney, has squeezed every last cent from them. Then they will enter Valhalla, which is to say syndication.

There’s nothing wrong with them, per se—I’ve seen them all, in fact I think I’ve seen them all a couple of times—but the entries that are as good as a real movie are the exceptions, not the rules. Thor: Ragnarok is probably the best of the lot, though there are some good bits in Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and The Avengers, too. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a children’s movie adapted from the same suite of intellectual property, which exists outside the MCU’s shared world, is actually goddamn delightful. Even the Ant-Man and Captain Marvel flicks, which are obviously made on the cheap—almost insultingly so—are perfectly fine. 

But they are a fundamentally different kind of work than Scorsese’s, in which the director is the primary voice. In all but the most extraordinary Marvel movies, the real invention and creation is on the part of the producer, Kevin Feige, who has designed these movies’ most interesting feature, namely that they interlock with, continue, and expand on one another in entertaining ways.

Feige’s response to Scorsese was to defend the films as art qua art, though, which he did not do with much success. “We did Civil War. We had our two most popular characters get into a very serious theological and physical altercation [Did I miss this? did it happen out of the frame?]. We killed half of our characters at the end of a movie [Right, but nobody believed they would stay dead for even a minute, marketing antics notwithstanding]. I think it’s fun for us to take our success and use it to take risks [What risks? There are no risks at all being taken in these films with the exception of Thor: Ragnarok thumbing its nose at racist fanboys!] and go in different places [Where, for god’s sake?].”

Recently Ben Schwartz, a film writer with bylines in Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, more eloquently made the argument in favor of Feige’s project in Neal Pollack’s Book and Film Globe: “The [Marvel Cinematic Universe] MCU is impossible to assess as auteurism, it has to be assessed in macro terms, not micro,” he declared. Schwartz writes:

In 2008, MCU began making post-9/11 movies about America in Iron Man, when billionaire arms designer Tony Stark has his own anti-terrorist weapons turned on him in Afghanistan and comes back questioning his (i.e., our) presence there. That was followed by The Avengers’ Bin Laden moment, and then Ragnarok and Black Panther, moving the conversation to colonialism and why anyone would ever want to visit violence and vengeance on a western power.  You know, Why They Hate Us?

If I told you a Jewish Maori filmmaker from a commonwealth nation, New Zealand, had made a movie about the exploitation of indigenous people by a Caucasian superpower (and a member of that superpower’s royal family spent most of the movie experiencing life as a slave) – would you guess that’s Ragnarok, or a movie from Scorsese’s world cinema project?  Taika Waititi, of course, directed Ragnarok, and just used his and Scarlett Johansson’s Marvel franchise clout to make his Jojo Rabbit.

As well-put as this is, it is a very annoying argument from my perspective, for two reasons. First and most obvious, it is of course possible to make a movie on important themes with the best of intentions toward history and politics that sucks, and is contemptible and stupid. In fact not only is it theoretically possible for a person do this, it has been done often—more often, I would say, than it has been done skillfully. Narrative filmmaking and Nietzsche’s The Will to Power are trying to accomplish different things, for which Nietzsche, anyway, was grateful. For anyone “to say, ‘the good and the beautiful are one,’ is infamy,” the German nihilist observed in that text. “[I]f he goes on to add, ‘also the true,’ one ought to thrash him. Truth is ugly. We possess art lest we perish of the truth.”

The second quality that makes this argument annoying is that it tempts the respondent to address the various moral positions adopted for the sake of expediency by the Walt Disney Corporation, and they are hardly above reproach. Note for example Disney’s protracted obeisance before the Chinese government, for which it produces entirely different cuts of its films in exchange for financing support, even as Chinese rulers enslave millions of ethnic Muslims in camps where infanticide and forced sterlization have been reported. Observe CEO Bob Iger’s initial presence on Donald Trump’s business council. Take a look at the company’s rancid history of theft from artists it claims to venerate, from Osamu Tezuka to Wally Wood, and its shameless exploitation of antiblack racism in films like Dumbo and The Song of the South. Perhaps hiring an extremely gifted Jewish Maori filmmaker to make a movie that earned four times the gross domestic product of the Marshall Islands is not all that significant an act of selflessness when stacked up against the company’s sins, past and present. Perhaps there are even other ways to make profitable popcorn movies to fund your pet projects, though in truth goal of the Disney project—which is to say the meta-meta project of which the Marvel films are but a single universe in its multiverse—seems to be to close those avenues. 

Disney currently owns The Muppets, the Pixar animation studio, the rights to distribute English-language dubs of most of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, the Marvel Entertainment combine, the Star Wars franchise, and sundry other smaller former competitors, and after a few years, they all start to resemble each other, like a dog starts to look like its owner.

Why is it so important that I not just enjoy these movies occasionally, in the way I might an amusement-park ride or one of the old Lethal Weapon of Die Hard flicks, but ceremonially affirm their heavy-handed symbology’s profound value to the world’s oppressed? Has anyone asked the world’s oppressed what they think of these movies, or for that matter of Wesley Snipes’s singlehanded expansion of black agency in his landmark role as Eric Brooks in Latino director Guillermo del Toro’s seminal Blade II? I kid, sort of, but Blade II is just as good as the best MCU movies and black audiences loved and still love that film and its predecessor, and Snipes in them. I don’t remember New Line telling them they were morally obliged to do so in the same way these audiences were urged to shell out for Black Panther so that more films like it would be made. This sort of cynicism about representational starvation among minority moviegoers hardly feels like a progressive statement.

More to the point, Scorsese has certainly never made this argument about his own films, or indeed any films, even those he has personally helped to preserve, renew, and screen through his nonprofit organization the World Cinema Project. Which I daresay advances the goal of minority enfranchisement a fucking sight better than the sight of the ethnically diverse millionaires of Avengers: Infinity War.

Scorsese is practically amoral in his mission statement on the company website. The World Cinema Project is interested in “representing the rich diversity of world cinema” and teaching “young people—over 10 million to date—about film language and history,” he says, not in presenting a particular depiction of any of these people.

Perhaps that is because a genuine diversity of cinema—that is, of kinds of films and ways of understanding the peculiar grammar, syntax, and vocabulary of a young and exciting art form—cannot possibly be the purview of a single megacorporation, no matter how devoted that megacorporation may be to hoovering up the legal rights to distribute the world’s great art and then bowdlerizing it to suit the current political climate in whatever region seems most profitable this weekend.

Nor can it be the purview of a single race, nationality, or class. Scorsese’s curation of films that emerged from completely different cultural circumstances, however obviously more enlightened than Disney’s, also expresses a perspective. All institutional efforts to expand the arts do—that is why a healthy art form needs as broad a plurality of institutions as possible. Scorsese embraces that. The shareholders of the Disney corporation do not.