Tuesday, October 6, 2015

ALL STAR RECOMMENDS FOR OCTOBER 6TH


Afternoon, fine readers! I am far less grumpy this week having settled back into life and routine and (groan) work but let’s not talk about that, because there’s far much interesting comics stuff to discuss instead.

ITEM! Did you guys listen to this week’s “Duncan Trussell Family Hour” podcast in which he dialogues with that mighty cosmonaut of inner space, Jim Woodring? If not, go here and listen as the creator of the Frank comics discusses endless meditation, the creative process that goes into actually making Frank and just what it takes to stay so connected to one’s own subconscious. Woodring’s next book, a 3D Frank book (!!) finally arrives this December, promising a very merry Christmas for us all.

ITEM! Any possible longish-time readers may recall that back in August, I recommended Dilraj Mann’s Queue, a risographed, self-published effort which pretty much sold out a day or two before my column actually went up. Well, never fear, for it was republished, in full and in colour, in Island #3 last week. Although I prefer the grainy, slightly grubby look the risograph printing gave Mann’s initial version, it’s super cool that this thing is now widely available and in that oversized magazine format. Pick up a copy of Island #3 to see for yourself, the pill-popping page alone remains one of the most striking single pages of the year.

ITEM! Glassy eyed young girls wear looks of shock as the contents of their heads spill forth into the world but sterile, bustling factory workers erupt forth rather than brain tissue, diligent box-packers who are just as surprised as they are by this turn of events and struggle to keep their production line going. It’s an incredible image, revealing the plastic, hollow, consumerist thoughts at the centre of the modern collective unconscious. This is the cover to Shintaro Kago’s Ibutsu Konnyu, a collection of short comics full of gruesome body horror and technological concerns. Mind, body and tech frequently meet in Kago’s work, usually in gory unexpected ways, but he’s not above the odd absurdist gag strip either, as we see in “Hatsu-Den” a short that begins as a traditional Western comic but very quickly turns bonkers. Two cowboys challenge each other to a presumed quick draw duel only to pull their genitals from their pants and attempt to zip their opponent’s member up into the zipper itself resulting in a painful, bloody loss for one of these brave souls.

It’s Kago’s Industrial Revolution and World War that’s the real distillation of his obsessions, however. This handsome, oversized black and white hardcover, published by U.D.W.F.G (Under Dark Weird Fantasy Grounds), is one of the comics crown jewels of my trip to Japan. Featuring a wonderful introduction by James Harvey (Masterplasty), which beautifully contextualises Kago’s work for the possibly confused or off put and laments the lack of Kago’s work available in English, Industrial Revolution and World War is otherwise completely silent, requiring no knowledge of either Japanese or English, only a love of strange, compelling and utterly unique comics.

A race of intelligent tiny marsupials, who explore their world by riding ducklings like Tauntauns, discover the numerous bodies of naked young women entombed in a mountain. Freeing them, our cuddly little guys make the most of their discovery by assembling construction equipment from the corpses. Multi-armed earthmovers and cranes enable them to rapidly overhaul their society. Towers are built, freeways erected. Life quickly becomes an industrialised utopia, but when they are invaded by their neighbours, who have transformed the bodies of young naked men into weapons of war, they are forced to abandon their consumerist paradise and remodel their equipment into even fiercer fighting equipment than their foes. Their enemies upgrade their weapons again, escalating things further and world war erupts.

Publishers U.D.W.F.G still have Industrial Revolution…available, so pop over here if you are curious. I can’t speak highly enough about it.

Shintaro Kago is also the subject of this week’s video, which does a far better job of elucidating his work than I ever could, so feel free to scroll ahead if you’re intrigued.



COMIC OF THE WEEK : ANNIHILATOR
By Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving
Published By Legendary Comics

Collected in a hardcover that’s bound so tightly it’s almost as if the book itself is wary of you opening its highly potent, cosmic pages, Annihilator is an absolute mind-melter of a comic, dense, funny and packed with ideas. It’s the best kind of Grant Morrison comic -- his vision uncompromised but still laser-focused, a high-concept potboiler overflowing with imagination. With frequent Moz collaborator Frazer Irving not only illustrating but lifting his already top-notch game even higher, Annihilator is, in my opinion, the best short form creator-owned work by Morrison since The Filth.

Perhaps representing the “LA-ifciation” of Moz’s own recent life and career, Annihilator’s protagonist is a Hollywood-based writer, specifically a screenwriter, the hedonistic, largely-washed up Ray Spass (pronounced “Space”). With his self-destructive tendencies, a pharmacy worth of illicit drugs, a vast (if struggling) imagination, a creative arrogance worthy of his own real world writer and large sexual appetites, Spass has holed up in a supposedly haunted LA mansion to finish his latest work, “Annihilator,” a script about Max Nomax, a space genius-master criminal who’s imprisoned on a space station at the edge of a massive black hole.

Shortly after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, a suicidal Ray Spass is visited by Nomax himself, who claims that the tumour is in fact not a tumour (read that in your Arnie voice), but a “data bullet,” fired by Nomax across the universe into Ray’s brain. This “data bullet” contains Nomax’s entire history – which Nomax himself cannot remember – and spills out as the Annihilator screenplay itself. The more Ray writes, the more his tumour supposedly shrinks, but this odd couple will have to script on the run as intergalactic hunters are hot on Nomax’s trail.

There aren’t many artists who can draw a black hole in the backyard of an LA Mansion and then cut to cosmic entropy swirling in a coffee cup, but the always fantastic Frazer Irving is up for anything that Morrison throws at him, from drug-addled orgies, to creepy oversized Space Teddy Bears designed to bring emotional comfort, to complete mental breakdown, Irving is arguably one of the finest artists working in the mainstream today. Tweaks from artists such as Bill Sienkiewicz and Jack Kirby infiltrate Irving’s own gorgeous style, signalling illustrative takeovers of his art that echo Nomax’s own infiltration of Spass’s imaginative space. It even appears that Irving’s own fingerprints are frequently integrated into the pages, literally stamping them as his own even as he shows exterior influences.

As things get increasingly apocalyptic, Irving’s backgrounds slowly turn to static, as our world draws ever nearer to non-existence. In fact everything in general looks as though lit by cathode ray, like we’re watching the story unfold though some old TV with its contrast and colour setting broken, a machine unable to properly transmit the intensity of what it broadcasts.

Morrison’s having a ball with this one, filling the book with visual gags and crackling dialogue, and offsetting the conceivably pretentious meta-ness, apocalyptic vibes and the cosmic existentialism with a tonne of jokes. Annihilator is his funniest work in a long time, with Spass ordering escorts, “Send girls. All kinds—it’s me, Kitty, make at least one of them a boy,” Nomax commanding Spass to “lift off” in his car before Spass is forced to remind him that earth cars don’t fly, and (again) Nomax ordering Spass to bring his “...writing equipment and anything else you might need,” as they make their getaway, with subsequent panels showing a laptop, flash drives and then all manner of drugs disappearing into a laptop bag. The writer and his tools in all their glory.

Such scenes constantly undercut the seriousness and grandiosity of the typical “cosmic” comics superhero and inject a real sense of fun into the proceedings. Morrison seems to be poking fun at the kind of material he himself often creates while simultaneously creating a typically compelling idea-burst of a narrative in a rare display of having-your-hash-and-smoking-it-too comics.

As you can likely tell, Annihilator is my favourite kind of Morrison, unburdened with sticking in umpteen years of DC continuity into his cosmic epic. Taking the grandeur and energy of The New Gods and, even with the potentially played-out “I’m not a fictional character, this is real life” plot device, he and Irving create something whole and original from all that incredible Kirby-stuff.

There’s a scene early on where Ray’s agent tells him to get it together or the job will be given to “the younger guy.” Some of the new crop of up-and-coming “edgy” comics writers raised on vintage Morrison back issues may nip at the old man’s creative heels, but they still can’t catch him. Stumbling on through their own idea landscapes, littered with the discarded pop cultural refuse of yesteryear, they scrounge for a reference or two from old Japanese films or Terrence McKenna’s theories on psilocybin to make themselves seem edgy, but the artifice of their work, when compared to books like Annihilator, just becomes even more apparent.

For my money, Annihilator is “canon” Moz, up there with the best and most assured of his work. Ray and Nomax’s mad, constantly comedic race against Ray’s literally apocalyptic imagination unspools with page after page of stunning sequential art and world(s) building, some truly punchy dialogue and the confidence of a writer still very much at the top of his game even after a decades long back catalogue of brave creative choices, constant envelope pushing and even the odd failure or two amongst the classics.



WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : CLUTCH
By Sloane Leong

I came across this at Joe McCulloch’s “This Week In Comics” over at tcj.com linked into his mention of Sloane Leong’s debuting From Under Mountains with Claire Gibson and Marian Churchland. Clutch feels very much like a terrible fever dream, which is appropriate, because that’s exactly how Leong herself describes it. She also says that it “may not be suitable for readers sensitive to insects or depiction of disease,” although I’d be more worried about those sensitive to dental mutilation. Anyway now that both Sloane and I have made it sound way more shocking and intense than it actually is, go take a look – it’s a striking piece of comics, worth a read for the increasingly experimental page layouts alone.




COUNTDOWN TO MOZ METAL: FEBRUARY 1978

Flashback with me, O reader, as we learn that the battle over sexism and the representation of women in comics goes back quite a way, as evidenced by the letters column in the February 1978 issue of Heavy Metal. In response to a letter from reader Lynn Reynolds asking for the publisher to reconsider their response to another, earlier, letter accusing the periodical of sexism, I quote this paragraph from Associate Editor Julie Simmons:

“I can offer no ready explanation of why so often ‘the woman is portrayed as the weakling,’ and although I’m not condoning it, it’s been going on for a hell of a lot longer than Heavy Metal can take the blame for. So let’s calm down – after all, it’s a comic book.”

Wow.

Julie also offers Corben’s “Den” as example of leveling the playing field, but it’s hard to see that Corben’s nude, muscle-bound character and his gargantuan member, constantly flopping about, balance the gender-empowerment/gratuitous nudity scales.

Julie also offers this shocker: “…when you start reading feminist politics into comics, well, it really becomes a drag.”

Astonishing stuff from editorial there, who likely alienated any female readership they had after those comments and foreshadowed the creative decline into female objectification and horny man-boy wish fulfilment that HM would degenerate to in the years ahead. A far better rebuttal would be to have cited Chantal Montellier’s terrific “1996,” which (as I keep mentioning) is just about as bitingly anti-patriarchy a strip as you’ll ever find in comics.

At least, content-wise, this issue is yet another classic. Once again I can heap praise upon Philippe Druillett, whose lacklustre work of recent issues is totally erased by Part One of “Urm.” The tale of a deformed outcast who’s visited by demons that proclaim him to be the future “King of Earth,” Urm’s up for the challenge of finding a talisman that will lead him to his royal destiny, but also begs the demons to give him a new face. His new overlords refuse, saying, “all those who kiss you upon that face shall give you their sign of submission.” Druillett’s world-building is once again superb, with the satanic-architecture of The Black City at once ornate and sinister and poor, tumorous, twin-headed Urm himself, puppet of these demons who seek a return to glory and religious prominence, is a visual grotesquery. Welcome back to mind-bending form Mr Druillett. Bring on Part Two.

There is just so much great stuff here – More “Den,” more “Airtight Garage” and another Moebius classic, “Free Fall,” included alongside the returning Macedo, whose “Telefield” recalls “Psychorock’s” concerns with transcendentalist harmonics but blasts the reader with full lush colours, more “1996,” and “The Burial of Death” a beautiful double-page spread by Alex Nino depicting some sort of celestial-primitives on the march to war accompanied by space-jellyfish and ships with snail antennae and more than I have space to discuss.

But it’s the “new” adventures of Jean-Claude Forest’s iconic Barbarella that’s likely the major draw, with our heroine being transported into the mind of a comatose cosmonaut in order to rouse him from an endless sleep. Forest’s pages are dense but intricate pieces of comics business and you can immediately see the influence the work had on, amongst other things, Matt Faction, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s Casanova. More next issue, as Barbarella travels from the depths of the cosmonaut’s mind out into the cosmos once more to discover the real reason she’s been tasked with reviving her target.


COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : PARKING PARKING

Following up on the above chat about Shintaro Kago, here’s a little animation short by the man himself that displays the odd obsession with body horror in a fairly palatable manner (by his standards). Parking Parking is more Monty Python-era Terry Gilliam than full on Japanese gross-out and functions as a short, sharp primer of what to expect should you delve further into his startling, unsettling body of work.



See you next week. Love your comics.


Cameron Ashley spends a lot of time writing comics and other things you’ll likely never read. He’s the chief editor and co-publisher of Crime Factory (www.thecrimefactory.com). You can reach him @cjamesashley on Twitter.

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