Archive for the Cartoon stuff Category

Pure Pajamas by Marc Bell

Posted in Cartoon stuff, Graphic Novel review on March 9, 2012 by brunswick

Pure Pajamas
by Marc Bell
Drawn & Quarterly, 2011

Delightful, intricate and somewhat melancholy. Bell is a fan of the “big feet” style popularized by E. C. Segar’s Popeye and revived by Robert Crumb, and this book is full of the adventures of gentle, bumbling characters moving gingerly through environments populated by tiny antagonists. There’s also a section where he illustrates songs by David Bowie (Fashion) and Mark E. Smith (I’m into C.B.).

It’s an immersive universe with details and tiny text crammed into every space – if you like the concept of tiny pet balonies, creatures who unexpectedly pop open to reveal smaller creatures operating them from the inside, and complicated 16-step nose re-modeling, this is for you.

Pow! Bam! Er…

Posted in Cartoon stuff, Graphic Novel review on March 4, 2012 by brunswick

The point I was building up to in my previous post (before being distracted by vampires) is that while fiction is an infinite canvas, the superhero genre is unusually constrained (you could pretty much say retarded) by commercial considerations and low expectations, and in return this limits the range and appeal of the entire comics format.

Most comics publishers recognized decades ago that their readers eventually move on from superhero comics (into the ever-popular “no comics at all” genre), so to retain loyal readers who are in that awkward stage (too old for the adventures of Superman, too young to desire nostalgic leather-bound reprints) comics have “grown up” to a certain extent – while retaining the bizarrely Puritanical standards for modern American entertainment (ultraviolence without blood, titillation with absolutely no nudity) the characters are allowed a certain amount of self-reflection and angst.

The problem is that talented artists and writers aren’t thinking “How can I make comics that investigate the unexplored potential of this medium, and appeal to intelligent and mature readers?” Like anyone else up against a deadline with a survival instinct, they’re thinking “How can I work within the limitations of this ludicrous and hackneyed genre so I can shift a few units and keep my job?” If a genre has been extensively strip-mined over the decades, but you still keep digging away, the only solution is parody or a post-modern approach.

This is always the point that Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns turns up in discussions of comics. Both are unsuitable for children and extremely serious works, although Watchmen has a nimble wit and understanding of human failings. One of its big themes (covered many times in critical works) is the effect it would have on modern civilization if an actual superhero turned up, making the earnest cape-and-tight antics of amateur crimefighters look rather silly.

Dark Knight examines how the motivation of a vigilante to fight crime will eventually result in psychosis if the society he defends is sufficiently nihilistic and violent. They have earned a place in comics history because of their timing, quality and influence. They certainly kept the superhero genre around long enough to benefit from the advances in technology which made movies of their adventures feasible.

Anyway! This is a long enough ill-informed rant as it is, tomorrow, what I’ve really been building up to: some of my favourite superhero post-modern parodies.

Tortured metaphors

Posted in Cartoon stuff on March 3, 2012 by brunswick

Okay, here’s the thing. Imagine if the novel format was completely dominated by a single genre – say, for example, vampire novels. Ninety percent of the books published and available in bookshops and libraries were about vampires, and whenever most people though about books, they thought “Oh, those are those paper objects which tell stories about vampires.” There were some books that weren’t about vampires, and while these tended to win all the book awards, no-one read them except in France.

Now imagine this situation has been going on since the 1930s. Pretty much all the straightforward stories about vampires have been told. Although there’s a constant influx of young readers discovering vampire stories, they tend to drop them when they get older, and move on to more sophisticated forms of entertainment. The problem creatively is that while you can do a lot of things with vampires, the stories and characters never really progress. The vampires aren’t allowed to have a normal story arc, because their adventures are continual and open-ended. They face the same problems again and again, and may even die once in a while to shake things up – but like characters in Sartre’s No Exit, they always return to the same point.

Once in a while vampires become briefly popular with the general public again, but the interest is always based on hype and financial speculation – either Hollywood has just made an expensive film about a vampire story that people remember from when they were kids, or investors get very excited about trying to sell multiple-copies of the same hologram-covered vampire novel sealed in perspex. Writers will occasionally say “You know, I’d like to write stories that aren’t about vampires, because I’m sure you can do a lot more with 300 pages, the vast richness of the English language, and the infinite possibilities of the human imagination… but for some reason, there just isn’t the demand.”

This is how I feel about superhero comics.

Ronald Searle 1920-2011

Posted in Cartoon stuff, The Rake's Progress on January 4, 2012 by brunswick

Very sad to see that Ronald Searle died a few days ago. One of the greatest cartoonists and satirists of the 20th century, by his thirties he’d already created the notorious denizens of St. Trinian’s School for Girls, and collaborated with Geoffrey Willans on the Molesworth series. Already quietly rattled by his long internment in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, he had something of a midlife crisis at the height of his fame, and left his young family behind to begin a new life in France, where he produced glorious work for the next fifty years.

He was also responsible for rebooting Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress series in Punch in the mid-fifties, the model for my own short-lived series in Salient… we know how well that turned out!

Scarlet by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev

Posted in Cartoon stuff on December 21, 2011 by brunswick

by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev
Icon Comics, 2011

The back cover asks “What will the world look like when someone stands up and says, ‘Enough’?” It could also have asked “What happens when the Eisner-award winning writer of Ultimate Spider-Man, Daredevil, Alias and Powers reads too many issues of Adbusters and decides to do his own version of V for Vendetta set in hipster central Portland, Oregon, starring a psychotic Manic Pixie Dream Tank Girl?”

It’s, er, very topical, with street protests and struggling against institutionalized corruption, but despite Bendis’ masterful grasp of narration and story construction, Scarlet is as subtle as a brick. Bendis has proved repeatedly that he’s capable of more satirical and intelligent work than this exploitative rubbish.

Maleev (his primary collaborator on Daredevil) dutifully provides the excellent artwork, restricted to a desaturated palette with streaks of red, derived from heavily-treated photos of posed models. The book also contains 13 pages of script (which is pure padding) and 30 pages of covers and sketches, which is rather more worthwhile. One of the covers was censored by the Man, because raised middle fingers are too racy for mainstream comics. Who the fingers were being raised at is less clear.

Alternative Jitteratis for this week

Posted in Cartoon stuff, Jitterati, Lovely pictures on December 19, 2011 by brunswick

JAIMEE: What did you learn this year, Tony?
TONY: Absolutely nothing. I intend to make the same mistakes next year and assume that someone else will pay for them further down the line. I’m going to put off hard decisions, ignore every warning sign, and pander to the rich on the assumption that whatever’s good for them is good for the rest of the country.
JAIMEE: Well, I admire your candour.
TONY: Did you know that poor people are just lazy?

(G.B. Trudeau put this much better in Doonesbury (from memory) with a panel showing Reagan exclaiming “See? I knew poverty was anecdotal!”)

JAIMEE: You know, I must be the only person in Wellington who hasn’t seen The Adventures of Tintin yet.
TONY: But it doesn’t come out until next week!
JAIMEE: Yes, yes, but what with all the Weta screenings and the sneak previews and the internet, it was almost impossible to avoid it!
(Jaimee contemplates this for a panel)
JAIMEE: I could have worse problems.


Posted in Cartoon stuff, Sound & Vision on December 14, 2011 by brunswick

No sign of Capital Times today, but because it’s printed up north, it’s very likely it was affected by that big power cut the other day. Anyway, the online version has been updated, except for the cover.

I went to the first NZSO Close Encounters of the Symphonic Kind concert with Anita this evening for some classical music 101… it was very entertaining, although some of the grandchildren in the audience visibly squirmed when Chief Executive Peter Walls carefully explained each movement prior to the performance. I also didn’t like the way he apologized for using “technical language” like arpeggios… it’s not his fault music appreciation isn’t taught in NZ schools.

There were very few people in the full Town Hall audience between the ages of 12 and 60, and I spent much of The Magic Flute overture watching the antics of a tiny girl across the balcony from me who had been enchanted for the first fifteen minutes, then grew bored and querulous, then took to pirouetting tenaciously in the aisle to Mozart while her mother died of embarrassment. Bless.

Short break

Posted in Cartoon stuff on December 1, 2011 by brunswick

Back on Tuesday the 6th!

P.A.C.K.I.N.G. I’m packing.

Posted in Cartoon stuff, Utter Trivia on September 7, 2011 by brunswick

Although our notice to move has been short, I have the luxury of spending a decent amount of time packing this week. Unfortunately I’m dealing with eight years of inertia. I’ve thrown out most of my collection of student newspapers, keeping only the Salients*, and other publications I’ve either drawn the cover for, or been interviewed in. I’ve cleaned and re-wrapped all 23 metres of the Vic mural – that’s going to be a picnic to move. I’ve carefully cleaned my solid wooden furniture with white vinegar, and right now my Andy Warhol shower curtain is flapping on the washing line. Although I’m moving as much stuff as possible on Friday, I’ve just found out the lounge in our new place is being repainted – and they don’t finish until Sunday. The lounge is about a quarter of the apartment. Gooood start!

I also think I’m going to have to de-friend Capital Times on Facebook. I appreciate that there’s a certain amount of deadline pressure to fill the ‘Weekly LOL’ column, but my profile has very high privacy settings, and some of my friends don’t appreciate being unexpectedly quoted in print. I was getting some very strange texts this afternoon.

*What a lot of my life I’ve devoted to that magazine, and not without cost. I’ve kept the early Brunswick issues, the half-year I designed, and my sporadic contributions up until last year, when it became far easier to get rid of me than to defend my reputation against lunatics with an agenda. Despite contributing to over 280 issues, I’m not as sad about the inevitable introduction of VSM as one would expect.

The mural emerges

Posted in Cartoon stuff on September 2, 2011 by brunswick

Remember the mural at Vic Uni which was above the library entrance for twelve years? It was a sunny day so I dug it out to finish cleaning it. Unfortunately I discovered that some of the panels I’d unwrapped and cleaned now need another clean with white vinegar after being in my flat’s storage cupboard for a year. So, something to do over the next few days, while there’s no painters around and the weather’s nice. Then I wrap it up and it goes back into storage.