Well, this sucks. Zainab Akhtar is downing tools on her beloved comics site, Comics and Cola, for reasons which are discussed here. Without Zainab and her work, I probably would not have given Last Man and shot and, more than likely, I would never have even *heard* of The Marquis of Anaon and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A distinctive voice in comics criticism, with eclectic taste and a real eye for quality, the loss of Zainab from the already shallow pool of comics crit represents the loss of a truly diverse voice, highlights the real problems the industry does have, and leaves us all one step closer to having nothing to read but the lazy extended fluff pieces of shill sites like Comic Vine. Way to go, comics peeps – if you’ve ground down someone as passionate and invested as Zainab, you can grind down anyone.
COMIC OF THE WEEK : ANDRE THE GIANT: LIFE AND LEGEND
By Box Brown
Published By First Second
Brown, a virtually lifelong wrestling fan, gamely but wisely avoids the easy way out on a biography of one of the most famous grapplers of all time, humanising the myth instead of embellishing the tall tales. It’s easy to find Andre stories, almost too easy, tales of him drinking wine bottles like beer pots, pooping in Japanese bathtubs because he couldn’t fit on the toilet, but the fact is if you watched Andre’s career, you saw the myth become human right in front of your eyes. He shrunk, slowed, battled obvious pain and went from a man who could have classic, fast-paced wars to being virtually immobile in the ring. It was hurtful to watch, this frailty in a man so incomprehensibly massive and thus seemingly beyond normal concerns of bodily human life.
There is “legend” here, make no mistake, it’s in the title after all. Encounters with Jack Kerouac, the drinking (how could that not be?), the fights, but it’s all tempered. Andre’s discovery that he had Acromegaly whilst getting a check-up on his first tour of Japan, that he would grow and grow and his organs will not be able to cope, is beautifully handled visually, with miniscule organs and bones visible in a hulking physique shown in silhouette. Andre’s desire to perform trumped all – even this prognosis of death by the age of forty. Andre enjoyed the money, he enjoyed the women, he loved the life, the fame, but he was always the country boy - here he is on Letterman perpetuating the myths, celebrating his physical stature, while also talking about how he owns a farm in the Carolinas and likes going for walks in the woods. It’s an important interview, the matter of fact honesty of Andre’s answers is met with laughs, but there is sadness and isolation here. Brown includes this important moment in Andre’s career in his book, but dissects it at a human level: “The line gets a laugh from Letterman and the crowd,” reads Brown’s narration over Andre’s discussion about how he can’t go to the bathroom in Japan. Imagine that, for a moment, basic human functions are frequently impossible for you.
Clearly, Brown understands that this frailty, this implausibility of Andre’s very existence, is the heart of it all and in exploring it goes a long way to rehabilitating the wrestling comic, previously largely used to tell ridiculous, cringe worthy tales like Undertaker fighting people in hell, or silly genre mash-ups, by doing exactly the opposite of what’s expected – strip away all the pomp, all the theatre, all the storyline, all the silliness and reveal the man, this unfortunate, cursed man, who lived life to the fullest despite the pain, the exclusion, the constant difficulty that his condition caused.
Visually, Brown’s artful but cartoonish style allows his Andre to shift from goofy, to menacing, to sad, to imposing with ease, his ageing Andre with his increasing ailments is a cruel thing to see over decades compacted into 240 pages. When in his prime, there’s almost an element of Jack Kirby’s early Hulk about Box Brown’s Andre, this blocky monster of a man, all hands and feet and thickness, clearly not built for this world of tiny, puny things like chairs and telephones and beer cans and beds. In many ways Brown’s style is more appropriate at conveying Andre’s immensity than that of a realist like, say, Alex Ross. The ridiculousness of this cartoony Andre, squeezed into an armchair and clutching a miniscule phone to his ear as he gravely explains to the mother of his child why he can’t be a father is crushing in its incongruousness, it’s weirdness. The hotel room fight between Andre and Blackjack Mulligan (grandfather to current wrestler Bray Wyatt) looks appropriately like a Kirby/Lee Fantastic Four where Thing squares off against Hulk.
Brown is not afraid to make his biography about the wrestling either, as obviously he needs to. A section titled, “The Anatomy of a Wrestling Match” dissects the inner workings of pro wrestling for those unfamiliar, using an Andre match from 1974 to do so. It reads like you’re watching the match with Brown on his couch, he calls it for us in captions, relaying all the information we need to understand what’s going on at a performance level, not afraid to highlight the silliness involved either, as demonstrated by his explanation of Andre’s “big ass bump” and his disarming spotlight on some of Andre’s sub-par opponents – “it’s a pretty bad acting job.” But the bit players all come off well, from Terry Funk watching The Princess Bride with Andre, to Hulk Hogan (Brown thankfully acknowledges Hogan’s prowess as a pro wrestler – his recreation of events leading up to the classic Wrestlemania III bout is a highlight), to the awesome Stan Hansen, to Bad News Allen challenging Andre to a legit fistfight after overhearing a racist slur, Brown populates his cast with all manner of colourful figures from Andre’s long career, building up the myth and dissecting the human with each encounter.
I got to talk briefly with Brown and have him doodle in my copy at TCAF 2014. He was proud of the work, but happy to be done with it. The research was extensive (as backed up by the book’s substantial reference material) and there was only so much Andre that his wife could watch. One can imagine that with his next lengthy work being the history of Tetris, Andre The Giant: Life and Legend served as a suitable warm-up for his quirky but research heavy style of biographical comics. Giant, hero, asshole, drinker, wrestler, legend – Box Brown’s book is the ultimate tribute to this melancholic pop culture titan who, above it all, was first and foremost a human.
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : HEART OF WEIRDNESS
By Seth Jacob and Alchemichael
So M.L MacDonald and I became Twitter besties last week after we hijacked a conversation Brandon Graham was having about Japanese sound effects. A quick click over to MacDonald’s personal Tumblr very quickly reveals an artist heavily influenced by Graham and Moebius and this is a very good thing indeed. Heart of Weirdness, a webcomic with art by MacDonald (going by Alchemichael) and written by Seth Jacob features the aforementioned influences wrapped up in an SF story that’s Joseph Conrad and HP Lovecraft gone glory days Heavy Metal magazine.
COUNTDOWN TO MOZ METAL: HEAVY METAL NOVEMBER 1979
Richard Corben’s back and he’s gone all pen and ink for “Rowlf,” the story of a dog trying to protect his mistress, the princess Yara, from lusty suitors and tank-driving demon Nazis. When Yara is kidnapped by these militant hellspawn, faithful Rowlf makes his way back to one of Yara’s suitors and a local wizard to rally the troops and get her back. The wizard, convinced the frantic Rowlf has done something terrible, attempts to transform the dog into a man so that he can be interrogated. The wizard, however, is not particularly gifted at his chosen craft and Rowlf ends up a kind of dog-man going on the hunt solo to rescue his beautiful owner. Thumbs way up - both of them, just hoist those guys up high.
The ever-tremendous Charles Vess shows up for “Homer’s Idyll,” a short four pager concerning a headless humanoid’s stroll through an odd but quite attractive landscape – it is a Vess comic, he may very well be incapable of drawing anything unattractive. It’s a real treat to see some Vess work in black, white and grey, with the artist flickering back and forth between a lovely inkwash and some beautifully sharp hatching. A very pretty diversion.
Chantal Montellier’s “Shelter” returns (yay), expertly dialling up the tension in her radiation-proof shopping mall. Opening in a communal female bathroom – naturally handled with far more taste than one would expect from such a sequence in HM – our female protagonist and friends discuss how odd it feels to be living in a consumerist hub and not paying for food or clothing. “This could be happiness,” the ladies muse, in a rather cool, intellectual way rather than the joyful shopping frenzy you may well be picturing, suggesting a casual, working socialism. Things turn dystopian again quickly, however, when our protagonist, working in a former bookstore turned public library for the occupants, begins to suspect that the security force, stripped of names and given designations like S-46, S-17 and so on, are taking all philosophy and political texts from the library and not returning them in a deliberate effort to stifle thought and begin a full takeover led by the mall administration. I am running out of superlatives for this story and we are only three chapters in. It is absolute genius in premise, expertly constructed, lovingly drawn with hints of Tardi and Crepax and I cannot wait for the next chapter.
“Airtight Garage” by Moebius gives us another pair of sumptuous pages and Frank Brunner’s middling adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s legendary Elric also continues. Howard Chaykin wraps up his work adapting Alfred Bester’s award-winning “The Stars My Destination” with assistance from Bryon Priess, turning in the customarily sharp, smart and fully painted images you’d expect. It’s easy to forget that Chaykin, with his ongoing love of mid-century noirish stories, really could draw the hell out of some SF, as this curious experiment proves. Chaykin really tries his damndest to inject as much energy and flair to his pages possible to offset the fact that his art is surrounded by so many blocks of Bester’s text. Great work.
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : BACK TO THE GUTTERS: ROBBI RODRIGUEZ
Yes, more Back to the Gutters, sorry, it’s Easter and I’m feeling lazy. But with Jamie S. Rich interviewing Robbi Rodriguez as this week’s video I don’t know why I’m apologising. Informative and revealing, as usual with Rich’s webseries, Rodriguez discusses his work on FBP and Spider-Gwen as well as his battles with depression, his incredibly unfortunate eye condition and how working exclusively digitally has prolonged his career. I understand he’s quitting comics at the end of the next extended Spider-Gwen arc, and whatever the reason, the loss of such a craftsman and visual stylist is a terrible shame. He’s a little hard to understand at times (and this is filmed in a bar, making things even murkier), but stay with it – it’s an incredibly candid interview and forif you’re like me, watching Robbi work on his tablet – going from scratchy layout to inks – is akin to comics sorcery. He’s a unique dude. I have a feeling he’s got quite a story to tell one day.