I am slightly intimidated.
In my email inbox is a message suggesting that my pre-order of Alan Moore's 1200 page novel, Jerusalem, has shipped early and that I'll actually be "one of the first" to read it. I'm not sure how much truth there actually is in that (particularly as it's coming all the way from England) but the prospect of finally dipping into this tome, split into a slipcased set of three paperbacks, is actually quite daunting. I once knew a guy who bought Radiohead's Amnesiac on the day of its release but couldn't bring himself to listen to it for weeks because he physically just didn't feel ready for it. I always found that more than a little strange, but I think I finally know how he felt...
Anyway, a fun little column this week, I hope, the centrepiece of which is Dash Shaw's recently released Cosplayers. While I think of it, someone should totally cosplay as Alan Moore next Free Comic Book Day : hair, beard, cane, rings and all. Who's up for the challenge?
COMIC OF THE WEEK : COSPLAYERS
By Dash Shaw
Published By Fantagraphics
Annie and Verdi are cosplayers who strike up a fast friendship at a convention. Deciding to make their own movies and become social media sensations in the process, the girls travel to a rural property owned by Annie’s parents but quickly realise that without a script or any other actors, things are going to have to get creative. Going decidedly lo-fi with their costuming, Annie poses as a delivery person, dropping fake parcels off to unsuspecting “customers” and even goes out on an Ok Cupid date pretending to be a murderess, all while Verdi clandestinely films the action. Taking the footage and overdubbing it, their weird little movies are uploaded to YouTube, with little regard for their "supporting cast." Battles with online commenters and encounters with fans at conventions soon follow, with the girls becoming a window into not only the world of cosplay but also the very strange and fickle world of online “fame.”
Easily the most immediately accessible entry in Dash Shaw’s remarkably inventive and varied body of work (including Doctors, New School and Body World), Cosplayers is also the most fun. Essentially a series of stitched-together vignettes featuring the girls, Shaw's latest comic shows real affection for its characters and the cosplay scene in which they inhabit. Fantagraphics Perfect Edition (clearly a homage to collected manga and anime editions/sets) assembles the series in its stylish entirety in a handsome little hardcover and I’m honestly a little surprised there isn’t more immediate buzz about it. It feels very much of the zeitgeist to me -- despite the fact the earliest material dates back to 2014 -- with its two female leads, anime/comics in-jokes and social media satire. It also seems eminently transferrable to indie cinema, like Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World and Art School Confidential before it, and easily capable of being the critical darling those two films were.
The highlight of the book, for me anyway, is lengthy episode focussing on Tezukon, an anime and manga convention the girls attend. Here, a hotly contested cosplay competition and a self-loathing manga expert steal the show and, with the latter, it’s the only time that the book’s generally good-natured humour turns hilariously mean. Our "expert" Baxter, presents a discussion on God of Manga Osamu Tezuka (attended by precisely two con goers). He is pretentious and puffed-up with self-importance but his crippling lack of self-esteem and complete lack of self worth slowly manifest, and brutally at that, as he humiliates himself over the course of an afternoon. Shaw gives Baxter’s dialogue and even his inner monologue extensive space to dig ever deeper and the caricature of the know-it-all anime expert is so sharp you have to wonder just on whom it is based (tiny spoiler: In this week's video, Shaw notes that he actually relates to this particular character the most, proving that he's not above laughing at himself as well as the cosplay scene).
Fittingly, with what would have been his 99th birthday just gone by, the power of Jack Kirby’s work is also celebrated in the book’s other major highlight – a visit to Nostalgia World, an old school comic store run by an old school comics fan, that specialises in comics, roleplaying games and VHS tapes. The store's oddball owner shares his very own secret origin with Annie and Verdi, the story of his accidental encounter with Kirby’s comics adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey which left him metaphysically challenged and his life fundamentally altered. It's terrific stuff.
I'm aware that this all could sound rather glib and shallow -- dopey girls in costume, burnout comic shop owners -- but Shaw's book has a lot to say about the medium we love and the ways in which the form expresses itself in the real world through its readers. It's also created with real affection for not just the medium but also those who follow it devotedly and its all cartooned colourfully in Shaw's distinctive, yet flexible, style. As much as I can envision Cosplayers cinematically, it's important to point out that it is thankfully not The Big Bang Theory, a show that irritates me deeply and endlessly with its facile stereotypes and ridiculous catchphrases. Cosplayers is not for a Middle American TV audience with preconceived notions of what you and I read or say, or even how we as "nerd culture" behave. Cosplayers is for *us* and it asks us to laugh at the things we love even as it reaffirms the reasons why we love them. It skilfully skates around cliché and, even when poking fun, it celebrates those on the periphery of the culture when other somewhat similar "industry" projects (Bagge's Sweatshop, Clowes' Pussey for example) feature those at its centre -- the creators. Celebrated most of all are those immersed in that particularly colourful subsection of comics culture, the cosplayers, as Shaw often draws his costumed characters as if they're at a fashion shoot; posed, colourful and proud, bringing their favourite comics and anime worlds to life through their (admittedly shabby) costuming efforts.
Shaw seems capable of virtually anything right now, pulling off this Clowsian piece with as much skill as he did the Charlie Kaufman-esque Doctors. There's nothing better than a highly skilled, but restless, comics creator and Shaw is most certainly in that particular camp. I can't wait to see where he ends up next.
ALL STAR COMICS COSPLAY CAVALCADE
What better place to spotlight the numerous Cosplay efforts of the All Star Comics crew than right here, right now. I've asked Mitch to delve into the hard drive and pick out some of his favourite efforts from the storied history of Free Comic Book Day events. Let's see what he's pulled out.
|TROY AS DOCTOR DOOM
|ANT AS KRAVEN THE HUNTER
|FRED AS CAPTAIN UNIVERSE
|CAZZ AS SHAZAM
|JIMMY AS SHREDDER
|JEN AS RAVEN
|SEAN AS SKINNER SWEET
|MITCH AS BROKEN WOLVERINE
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : DASH SHAW'S COSPLAYERS
My favourite part of this long and informative exchange between Dash Shaw and Dan Nadel comes when the pair discuss the differences in fandom between the mainstream comics world and the Lit Comics world. Shaw suggests that it’s the cartoonists' fault that they are more famous than their creations- that the more highbrow creators of the medium have not created characters striking enough to really transcend the fame of their authors. Nadel suggests Jimmy Corrigan by way of retort, to which Shaw replies, "Yeah, well I don't think anyone wants to cosplay as him..."
Covering everything from Shaw's upbringing in a home filled with his father's comics, his discovery of manga as an alternative comics source, his emergence into the alt/lit comics scene, the profound importance of Osamu Tezuka's work (and his dismay that not so many Stateside readersseem as deeply appreciative of it as he is) and Cosplayers' similarities to Ghost World (a comparison I actually made in a draft of my own review but cut out as I didn't want to put the weight of expectation on Shaw's book), this is a lively and really fun chat.
See you next week.