Saturday, October 25, 2008

Watchmen Porn: Watching the Watchmen by Gibbons

Is there any Chip Kidd book that doesn't have a serious staredown happening somewhere in the end papers, let along the cover? Am I alone in thinking that the books tend to follow you across the room?

Watching the Watchmen is really Watchmen porn, with every single bit and piece of the creation of the seminal series held up to 600dpi treatment, and it is hard to think of many other books that could really stand this sort of scrutiny. Sketches, thumbnails, watercolors, bits of Alan's scripts all litter that book which should be a primer for anyone that has ever wondered just how easy it is to produce a comic book, let alone one with this depth. The answer, to no ones surprise, is that it was a mountain of work, and it shows in each series of thumbnails as Gibbons lays out panel after panel after panel of nine panel grid, moving the camera around, in, and out and around each of his set pieces.

My god is it a ton of work. I'm exhausted just looking at it.

How much new stuff is there you ask? Hard to say, given that the best of preliminary work was all put into the Grafitti hardcover from back in '87 that i own, so i've not bought the Absolute edition, although the new coloring is quite a draw honestly, as it the increase of page size. The thumbnails are a masterful touch, but I think only to someone who is really deep into the artistic process. (Seeing the transition from Sharpie thumbnails to pencils to full inks is quite an education in itself.) If this is art porn, and, lets face it, it really is, then its got a very specific fetish audience in mind.

But there is some delight in seeing all the work that was put in behind the scenes, even though two things, of course, jump out at me: that some 16 pages in we have the handsomely put together indicia page "WATCHMEN and all related names, characters and elements are trademarks of DC Comics" and that 200 pages or so into the book, Gibbons writes
It was certainly beyond the imaginings Alain andI had as its creators. We expected that three years after the original series had gone out of print the rights would revert back to us, as stated in our contract. Instead, it has been in print ever since.
Meaning, of course, that this is why Moore will never work for DC again. Victims of their own success, the work has been in print ever since. Had we all just stopped buying the damn thing it could have gone back into the hands of its true parents: Alan and Dave. Sad. DC could never bring itself to do the one thing that financially would have paid huge dividends: bit the bullet, given them the rites back in exchange for all that Alan could have brought to them over the last 20 years. Small change for what they could have had.

Sad. Sad. Sad.

This is a beautiful companion volume, one that sits perfectly on the shelf next to the Grafitti edition that I had to freakin' pry out of the hands of the Downtown Sacramento Comics and Comix guys. They only received two copies and sold the two of them to myself and Ron Lim. Sorry everyone in the Sacramento valley, we got 'em.

Who is watching the Watchmen? These days, just about everyone.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

In Review Of: Local Hardcover by Wood and Kelly

I came to the Local series in the middle, and made a totally 2008 decision: to not search out the back issues but simply wait for the trade. Except that the trade isn't a trade, but a beautifully produced hardback . And the series holds together exceptionally well. The issues that I had with it when it first came out are the same that i have here, with all the supplemental material in one spot.

The series was a good idea, one that allowed for some fascinating vignettes in the life of Megan. Stories like "The Last Lonely Days at the Oxford Theatre" don't have to go too far to wallow in the level of fucked-upedness that so many of us felt at that age. Wood has captured it beautifully; the hopelessness, the subtle treachery of the minimum wage worker, the small victories that the lost feel with the subtle deception of the switching name tags. There are other standouts here as well: the abject hopelessness of Megan's cousin as a teenager, and, best of all, the real coda of the series, issue #11.

Wood had taken a pretty unflinching look at Megan and her immediate family: her father and brother's alcoholism, her own inability to make commitments or to have any empathy for others in her travels, her cousin's casual violence. After suffering through all the growing pains and intransigence of her earlier years, the story actually opens on Megan in a good space, perhaps the only time that any of the stories have, and puts her into a story headlong with a younger self, and not a carbon copy but simply another young woman with with as little empathy as Megan ever showed in any of her earlier relationships. It not only lets us revisit the small bits and pieces of her past as they're shown on display in the gallery, but puts us in the position of being both voyeur and sympathetic friend. We have been there as Megan ran out on roommates, blew perfectly healthy relationships, lied casually to anyone that she had run into and yet we're to feel her violation as her things are stolen and held up as fictional items for everyone to see. It is both a betrayal of trust and a suitable comeuppance to her. And it helps her take one more step forward in her level of maturity.

If there is any problem that I had with the series, it really is only in the last issue. The story tries to follow Megan back home to the house that she ran away from 20 years earlier, and tries to answer the nagging questions that we all have as we get older: am I just the sum of my experiences, the sum of my parents longing for me to become something else, the sum of my own mistakes? For most of us, and for Megan, the we're left with our own answers, since the ghosts and wall don't talk. But the issue is oddly overly sentimental, and, in returning Megan to the old house, seems to betray the growth that we had finally seen from her in the last issue. Megan steps back, and seems to be going back to nothing particually interesting. It serves the authors needs, but not Megan's needs, and that's an issue. There really is nothing there for her, at least not for the character thatwe've been seeing, the walls won't talk, and her mother's decision to leave the house to her may not have anything deeper to it at all as much as Wood might wish to pretend.

The package of the book is superb, with great design and all the bits and pieces that made the series interesting to pick up along the way. The guest pin-ups in the back are all included, and I'm sorry taht I didn't get mine in in time to be included! I had a neat one with Megan and her shirt is a map that was kinda neat. While i doubt that I'll need to go back and reread all the text pieces for each issue, they are an intersting slice of time when each issue was created. I specifically like the "soundtrack" portion, since I tend to have different CDs that I can recall listening to as I worked on each page. Practically every comic that i ever drew has its own soundtrack. Overall the hardback is essentially better to have, in my mind, than the original issues. It sits better on the shelf and reads well, since this is a series that works as a thematic whole, despite being a collection of single stand-alone stories.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Comics as Metatext: These Are The Days of Our Lives

So why is it that I know more about Tony Stark’s heart condition than I do my own father’s? Why am I more curious about Wolverine’s past than my family’s own checkered and mysterious past? Why, sadly, do most fanboys know more about Diana Prince’s bust than… well… then about any real busts?

Are comics the true metatext for our times? Have the long running series developed a life of their own in our memories, and our discussions, and our continuing their lives into other media? Have the Fantastic Four become more real to those that had their brains permanently scarred by Lee and Kirby, or those whose chromosomes were altered by Claremont, Byrne and Austin?

For all those that will claim movies as our fictional consciousness, can six hours in the life of Indiana Jones compete with months and years of following the minutea of Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben? Like the album that was playing when you had your first kiss, your first break up, your first make up sex, these serials become the soundtrack to our lives. I can recall not only the 7-11 where I would purchase the X-men comics, but also all the little bits surrounding going down there on Wednesdays after school, getting that hideous Charleston Chews to go along with the new comics. What else can make all that come back?

As well, comics have provided the same sort of story stability the music can provide. When all else is going to hell, you can go back, again and again, to stories and watch everything going to hell, and somehow come out all right yet again. Comics can personify the cathartic element in storytelling as our heroes confront an endless series of troubles that should seem to overwhelm them, and yet somehow do not. While we might expect that somehow there will be a point where they breakdown over the troubles and yet they do not.

If there is a furthering of the metatext, then it is in the addition of the breakdown that has taken heroes one step further than they ever went before. Daredevil breaks down with Karen Page as she returns from her drug addiction, and takes his life as Matt Murdock down with it. Jack Knight, father and girlfriend gone, breaks down with his newborn son in his arms, his precious Opal City no match for his personal losses. Comics grow up when our characters face real dangers, but those dangers act as a real advancement of the characters, which is a danger to the corporate metatext. Perhaps the only way to continue then is to follow the prince Valiant path, where the characters do age, obviously not in real time, but slowly and surely, so that their path eventually mirrors our own.

It is perhaps The Batman who personifies the longest running metatext currently available to those of us who follow popular fiction. Superman has been rebooted enough times that only the very basics of his Jewish origins have stayed true: Ma and Pa Kent, Smallville, and a few others. Batman, on the other hand, has been the true Gilgamesh, whether written by Kane, Fox, Miller or Moore, he’s never quite been able to shake Joe Chill pulling the trigger on his parents. Whether it was from a distance or so close that the pearls break and spill to the ground, it matters not. Two-Face will always be Dent on his worst day, the Joker always the rogue force of chaos, Catwoman his own self with a looser set of morals and a greater sense of who she really is.

Bob Segar once sang, “Come back baby, rock and roll never forgets” but comics do forget. DC and Marvel have, in some measure forgotten where they came from. There is nothing wrong with adult heroes, but we need the heroes of our children as well. While Civil War was heavy handed allegory, Secret Invasion takes the very underpinnings of the Marvel Universe and spins a tale out of Skrull cloth whole. Right now, the Marvel Universe is an odd mix. DC had dragged the entire universe into Morrison’s world, and it is not a happy place with Final Crisis. Oddly enough, Grant knows almost better than anyone how to mix the light and the heavy into a delightful stew that many different ages can enjoy (see his All Star Superman). Somehow, in all the politics and editorial decisions seem to have driven the fun out of it. A selective memory is what is called for here.

And memory is what its all about, then, isn’t it?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Gallery Show: Cici's in Mill Valley Calfornia

A few pics from the my first gallery show ever. Been meaning to post these all month!

Shown here is one wall solely devoted to work on The Carnival:The Human Hourglass while the opposite wall was a mix of illustrations from the original Pistoleras graphic novel proposal and some spot illustrations.