Siegfried is a comic book adaption by Alex Alice of Wagner’s classic Norse Mythos inspired opera Ring of the Nibelung, it follows the titular Siegfried on his archetypal journey toward destiny. It has been published by Archaia and volumes 1 and 2 are available now wherever fine comic books are sold.
The other day I got into a conversation online a bit about what I see are the intrinsic failures of digital comics despite their huge advantages of accessibility(anything that allows me not to go to the shitty LCS and get treated like a childish idiot is a good thing for my money and sanity). Basically what I said was that for the most part because of the size of the tablets on which most of this work is displayed for the reader, much of the oomph and awe that a comic can produce has been removed. I have a tiny first generation Kindle Fire that I read monthly comics on, and besides it’s questionable reproduction of color, any time there is a two page spread, I can barely read the thing. I have to constantly zoom in to read the words on the page, which removes me from the majesty of the page as a whole, and also can cause me to lose my sense of space. The digital format is largely animus towards the kind of wide square scale that makes up some of the great dramatic majesties the medium can produce.
When I was writing this, Siegfried was one particular book I had in mind. I read volume one of Siegfried on my small shitty kindle, and the experience was…okay. It wasn’t kind of disappointing in some ways, and I couldn’t really understand what the big deal was. Fortunately there was enough there that I did end up getting the first volume and later the second volume in their hardcover large European sized scaled versions—and it is a very very different experience. There is a grandeur and scale to the world Alice has created in these books which is directly tied to the story itself and how it feels to you. The act of physically moving your head to move from panel to panel allows an intense kind of immersion in the work that smaller floppy comics or digital comics have trouble replicating. What’s more, a book at this size when you read it, it is so big that you can literally see nothing else but the book in front of you. The book’s dimensions force you into it.
And what a world.
This is sort of a tough review to convey because obviously my scans are also not really giving you a sense of what it is to really see this art. Besides the colors not really popping as much, you have to understand that the bottom half of this page is as big as your face. The sense of sublime beauty you get at a moment like this in the book where you turn the page and it just opens up in front of you.
The first volume of Siegfried takes place in a more clustered forest area, and a lot of what powers you through that first volume is Alice’s highly expressive character work. But in the second volume, which is the best of the two volumes, the world opens up as Siegfried and Mime come into the world of the gods and giants. Alice conceives landscapes themselves as monstrous sleeping giants, and he is constantly underscoring Siegfried and Mime’s smallness in proportion to these landscapes.
Notice how small Siegfried and Mime are on that middle panel. Alice conveys the sublime terror of nature arrayed against these two. See here, with the foreboding and eerie greens behind the shifting mysterious shadows steaming up from the earth as the Giants begin to awaken. Mime and Siegfried are trapped in a middle ground, as even the foreground arcs up out of the panel pushing them back into the thing which they are running from. They are ON the thing they are running from.
These three bottom panels because of the squared nature of book are given even greater panoramic sense than if they had been shoehorned into a more vertical format. This sequence also points to another strength of this work by Alice, which is that his figure work retains it’s emotive qualities and strength even as it is just a spec in the wider scale of the world around it. The way the Valkyrie sits perched on that cliff, her dress and hair reacting to the lightning crash in front of her. This is something that you also see in artists like Nihei, where the magic of their scale is that they are able to bolt it down to really expressive character work within that environment. The characters have their own weight within the larger panel which allows for a greater feeling of grandiosity. It is our own weight in the face of unimaginable scale, which informs wonder. Without that kind of dynamic figure work, you could easily lose these characters in their backdrops, and a large part of the story falls flat.
The panel with Odin and the Valkyrie that makes up most of the left side of this monstrous page is an experience in and of itself. Alice uses those wisps of storm and wind swirling about both to obscure Odin, and denote him as the force of wrath he is personifying—as well as a way to curve your gaze through the page. This page also illustrates some of the jaw-dropping color sequences that make up both volumes. Look how that red moves down the page, and changes weight and saturation from top of the page to final panel. And those beautiful strokes of white in the Valkyrie’s hair that make her hair almost elemental in nature. There’s also a wonderful shift from Odin as God in the long vertical panel, to Odin as father when he realizes what his daughter has done, and what he will have to do as a consequence of her decision if he is to remain true to his law. The humanity rushes into his cowl. It’s fairly subtle, but it is extremely powerful. And the pages after this are some of the most jaw dropping in the entire series so far.
These are the kind of comics that basically define the side of the medium that is almost beyond imagination. These wondrous books by true masters treated with a real love and respect to their vision—these books that you can’t help but read as an artist, and get even hungrier to improve. As an American who came up on mostly floppy sized format comics that were largely made to be very disposable, these kind of books represent a kind of comic’s culture that I think on some level I fetishize. To read a comic as an artist, and think “never in a hundred years could I make something this beautiful” is a really special feeling. And to think that this work would in some way be reduced or not even attempted because of the need to format for digital is something I have a hard time understanding. There are specific qualities of these things as they exist now. Scale is important in art. A screenshot of a huge mural isn’t the same experience at all. The physicality that art requires from you as it gets bigger, allows for a greater chance of finding a glimpse of true beauty. I once had an ex talk to me about her experience seeing a particular sculpture from Dali in person for the first time, and how the experience was so overwhelming she was reduced to tears. There are many many wonderful things about the digitization of art, and for many mediums the greater access it provides outweighs the slight modification of it’s form(for example music). But for visual art, there is a side to this changes radically by your presence in relation to it. A side that can move you in the same way that an amazing dawn can. And basically what I’m saying is that I’m a fiend for the sublime, and some choices take us farther away from that than others; and Archaia’s decision to reproduce Alice’s work in this form is a choice that takes us closer to that unapproachable ideal.
I wrote this about digital comics elsewhere on Ayo’s facebook. Thought I’d share it here. And I mean, I’m not trying to be “digital is bad!!!” lady. Because in terms of music, movies, and book books I actually think digital works really well. But in terms of comic and fine art for instance, I think digital sacrifices a lot more in these mediums than in others. So blah blah ado:
I don’t think the digital experience is as good, fundamentally. For one, in terms of the audience, how they could be reading your comic digitally could vary wildly in format, and that could really change the experience. A two page spread is almost impossible to read on an iphone for instance. Let alone appreciate.
There are a lot of compositional elements that are much less effective and impressive when you’re reading it in the digital formats as available. The emotional oomph of a highly detailed stunning two page spread is really diminished in the form. There is an interesting middle space if you’re ONLY making a comic for digital, as in Private Eye where Marcos Martin is doing a lot of things with the middle of his spreads that you couldn’t do in a printed comic with a spine. But I don’t think that trade off is much in favor of comics as a whole.
There are things in art which digital does diminish just because of space, and the physical action is different. Like if you read European albums on a kindle, you completely lose out on the physical act of having to move your head from panel to panel, which changes the experience from an appreciation of the details of a particular panel, to the consideration of the page as a whole, which radically changes the experience and impressiveness.
Additionally, there seems to me much more wild fluctuation in terms of how color will reproduce itself than there would be in print. Reading a comic on my kindle vs. my computer monitor produces wildly different experiences of color.
It comes down to the end of the day, comics like some fine art, depend a great deal on scale and reproduction, and digital can and does strip a lot of that magic out for the sake of convenience. You can’t fully appreciate Picasso’s Guernica in a screenshot for instance.
So yeah. I think digital is alright for it’s disposability, but for comics I legit care about, I need to have that in my hands.
Last but not least, you can buy MY digital comics from gumroad. And I’ll have a new digital only Hecate Snake Diaries in August.
Operation Margarine is an iconic motorcycle death trip comic about two women’s escape from the caged world of their surroundings by Katie Skelly published by AdHouse Books available this month wherever fine books are sold
I am actually fairly new to the Katie Skelly game. I first heard about her work after seeing Brandon Graham’s Operation Margarine Pinup.
It was kind of one of those things, the more I looked into, the more it was like, “oh wow, this is very much what I get into”. Skelly has a clever 70s pop comic aesthetic married to deep cut film love style that if you’ve read my writing on Guy Peellaert or like, read any of my own comics, know is very much what I’m about(Katie Skelly has also herself written on Peellaert in a pretty must read article too).
And while I enjoyed Nurse Nurse, which I think operates best as an almost ideas per page kind of book, Operation Margarine was the book I was looking forward to reading the minute I saw the Scorpio Rising jackets, and the cool art house/exploitation film interior panel composition.
Operation Margarine is a powerhouse book when it comes to just power chord iconic shot choices for its panel interiors.
Check in these two panels the directional tension of oppositional panels married to just flat out mean mugging from one rider to the next. That focus on Bon-Bon’s face(dark hair) to survive, and Margarine’s fuck you defiance, shown with just that ballooning eyeball angling back across the page. And then Billy’s(with the glasses and two different colored eyes) surprised look at that defiance. The how dare you of the furrowed brow, the surprise marks, and the exclamation mark—with the block sound effects revving up against the direction of that panel to create the power of the motorcycle roaring through.
In many ways, the core tension which gives Operation Margarine it’s anthemic iconic energy comes from a vacillation between these emotive close-up shots, and it’s open wide shot expanses. This energy is best conveyed throughout the work the more basic the page layouts become. In fact, Operation Margarine is a class in the modulation of dramatic energy through the complication or simplification of page layout. Much of the early pages of the book are pages with greater than 4 panels per page. The last 2/3rds of the book largely open up into a dramatic pattern of the iconic pages of less than four panels and the pages used to distill their impact through panel counts greater than 4.
These early page layouts mirror the restriction and careful planning of Margarine’s caged world. Margarine is because of her gender ostensibly institutionalized by the world around her that wants her to conform to the set out role of her princess-dom. She’s caged up and waiting, and her resistance to that situation is viewed by the world around her as madness. And rather than simply wait to be the prize of someone else’s adventure, Margarine escapes to a world entirely of her choosing.
And to correspond with that, the book opens up into these power pages of four panels or less.
It is these pages where Operation Margarine really sings. The book plays to dual strengths of cinematic panel composition and emotive closeup power to build pages, that could never be as big as they feel. OM gets so much mileage just out of it’s characters eyes, and little sweat beads. But it’s also the modulation of black and white. The white bricks of the top panel match up with the white background of the second panel to underscore the interiority of the third panel which goes to black to underscore Margarine’s internal stress. And that top panel…enough can’t be said about panels like that. The performative qualities of Bon-Bon’s body language toward Margarine, and Margarine’s own conveyed uncertainty with the bike. I’m almost certain it’s a quote from a film, I can’t quite remember. Additionally, that panel sets up the space which the two close-ups exist in. This page construction allows for an almost primordial engagement with the core elements that make up the magic of the comic’s medium—and by boiling the medium down to this kind of minimalist quality—it allows the beauty of these characters to shine through, both in terms of their characterization—but also in terms of their pop-iconic-ness(wordddds).
This page inverts the formula by starting off with the close-ups and then creating an intense panning back. This allows for the emotion of the top two panels to paint the more open and removed bottom panel. Comics are in some ways always about what you drag into the next panel from the last, and every panel is the accumulation of everything that comes before it, even as it powers everything that comes after it.
This is another page that gets it’s power from it’s simplicity. The lower panel count allows for a greater play in terms of scale within the panels themselves. And what we get here are two close-ups that create the space for the bottom panel to feel more immense. Bon-Bon and Margarine’s heads are both as big as the figure used for the bottom landscape, which makes them almost shrink even further into that landscape—and it creates a release, in conjunction with the removal of dialog balloons, which is married to the sensibility of the page itself, which is that of “let’s just ride this forever”.
These middle open spaces of Operation Margarine also serve to create the dramatic space on which it’s apocalyptic ending gets so much of its power. The net effect of Operation Margarine, and the reason I wanted to write about it, is that dynamic pop power of 70s film aesthetic married to the core principles which make comics such a dynamic and powerful medium. It is a pure kind of comics. And for someone often times mired in the complicated layouts of Guido Crepax, a nice refresher course on the benefits of this approach. I read Operation Margarine on a PDF, but my sense reading it was that I could have read it in a book as big as newspapers and it would still not feel big enough. Operation Margarine is a testament to the creation of space within the comics form, and how that space can be used to create a complex nuanced drama. Also, uh, leather, sex, death, and motorcycles.
So yeah. I went to my first con ever this weekend. Like period, no comma. This was Emerald City Comic Convention C C C in Seattle, which I guess is like the third largest con in the country. I figure things like your first convention and impressions both on the artist side and on the wandering around looking at things side are the kinds of things writing is made for. So 10 years from now when I’m rocking spaghetti brains, there will be a record, sort of thing. Plus while I took some pictures I didn’t take a lot of pictures, so this is more like about all of the things between the pictures, which is everything.
That I went to ECCC was in no small part due to Brandon Graham keeping up on asking me if I was going to it, for like a year, and telling me how I really really needed to go, and making me feel bad for missing the one last year(where I missed out on Alison Sampson and Emma Rios for example). Not enough good can be said about Brandon. It would be impossible to even begin to say anything. I got to room with Brandon, Robin McConnell(Inkstuds), Simon Roy, Amika(Amy Clare), amongst others(like for instance Shannon, without whom Amika and I would still be lost somewhere in downtown Seattle). And as crowded as that sounds, it never was. Besides making really dope comics, one of the things that has been consistent throughout Brandon’s whole comics career has been this amazing ability to put houses/communities together. He is probably the most inclusive guy I’ve ever met. He is constantly trying to bring people together in comics and help build a newer doper more diverse place for dope comics to come from and go to. While some people sit up thinking about what boyhood fantasies they want to put in their X-men book Brandon I think sort of dreams of teaming of all of the different people he knows into the dopest books he can think of. It was really motivating to watch him work at the con and make legit time for everyone. Even though by the end, I swear his eyes were shifting in and out of focus like some kind of weird doppler effect.
I got in earlyish on Thursday which initially seemed like it was going to be a really awkward thing because I wouldn’t be able to check into my room until the Brandon/Simon and crew made it down to check in since the room was in their name. Initially I think my plan was just to chill in the airport for a few hours and then maybe hideout in the Sheraton lobby. But thankfully, because of the magic of twitter, I got in touch with Sandra Lanz who I’ve been friends with on the internets for minute, and she let me store my luggage in her room and hang out with her and Shawn. It ended up being a super big deal, because Sandra and I basically became con homies through the rest of the weekend. It’s one of those things that you can make a certain level of bond with someone through instagram photos and 140 character tweets, but when you actually get to meet them, you end up becoming serious friends. Sandra was kind of doing the same thing as me, which was kind of chilling a bit with friends who were working a booth but mostly interested in kind of roaming around at the con and going to panels and things. It was really great over the course of the weekend to talk to her about her comics and art, and what she wants to do with all of it. She’s an artist who has serious strengths in a lot of the areas where I’m really really weak, so I learned a lot picking her brain.
These are the cover and then an interior page from the webcomic she drew called Yonderling, which you can see ten pages of here. She’s mostly worked with other writers, but talking to her about her ideas artistically and what she wants to do, I really want to see her write some stuff too. Anyways, besides palling around for the rest of the con, the first night we roamed around the Oni Party with our sad hustle game of “Hey, I think that’s someone I know from the internet”. Fortunately this guy showed up:
That’s me, Ian MacEwan, and Sandra.
Ian besides introducing large swaths of the modern comics world to deep heavy Moebius love through his old tumblr airtightgarage(which sadly is no more), and running the corpse project Think of a City with (friend of the show) Alison Sampson, is a really talented artist in his own right. His Study Group Comic with Jason Leivian(who I also met along with the predictably fantastic Zach Soto(comics bio: runs shit)) The Yankee is really good. Evidence:
Ian was there to run the 2000AD booth, which despite really only having the stuff that’s been released in America from 2000AD was pretty much empty by the last day of the con. There’s a real thirst for that material I think, so hopefully more of it gets brought over. Or at least more of those Judge Anderson Arthur Ranson books. Ian is also just one of the nicest most knowledgeable comics people you’ll run into. Anyways, met him at the Oni Party. Also met Andy Khouri who has been my editor at ComicsAlliance for the last two years. It was really cool to meet the flesh suit behind all the thousands of words I’ve thrown at him over the years. I also met Dennis Culver who in addition to writing all kinds of things, was just a super dope dude to me.
The other main thing that happened at the Oni Party was when these dudes rolled in:
This is Jen Vaughn, look how tall I am, and Jacq Cohen. And unfortunately the only picture I have with either of them despite both being highlights from the weekend as a whole. Jen and I were born in the same hospital and with Farel Dalrymple and Sterling Gates and a few others make up the super secret Oklahoma Comics crew who are quietly taking over prominent positions all through your comics industry. Jacq I’ve dealt with the last two years mostly on the critical writing side of things. She sends me great books and then I write about them, basically. She was also really encouraging about my comics as well. It was really cool to talk with her over the course of the weekend and hang out a little bit. She falls under the category of people who made the weekend feel way too short to spend as much time as I wanted with the people I dug. But I got pictures of baby bunnies in my phone, and went to this really great dinner and drinks she invited me and others to:
I like how this was just supposed to be about the Oni party, and now I’m all over the map in terms of time. This will be a special kind of hell to try and read through. Pace yourself.
Anyways. Eventually Brandan and the Canadians made it to the hotel, and I got my luggage shifted.
Day 1: Con Air
So like I said, because of the room situation, I got to use the Prophet table as a kind of homebase which was cool because there were a lot of cool people sort of around that table. Ed Brisson was over there, Johnnie Christmas, Michael Walsh, Corey Lewis, Damon Gentry, Aaron Conley, Joseph Bergin III were all over there in addition to Brandon and Simon. The dude who was running shit though was Con-Boss-Rick Ross Robin “Mr. Inkstuds” McConnell.
(Robin, Corey Lewis’ back, Damon Gentry’s Back, and I think an obscured Sandra Lanz)
I don’t know how anything would have gotten done without Robin. I think he was the only reason people knew when they were supposed to be at signings or panels. He organized what was a really small space, that could have easily ended up a complete mess with books and art getting stepped on and things spilled on. I figured out the first day as well that if I wanted to get any good comics at this con I had to follow Robin around. The first day I came back with like a vampirella and some esteban marotto zatanna comics, which…alright. Robin rolled back with these gorgeous Hermann Western comics and basically put me to shame. It’s safe to say me getting the comics I wanted at ECCC is almost entirely due to Robin’s almost supernatural ability to spot dope comics. Like I swear one time he saw a long box that had dope shit in it from like three booths away and through a crowd of people(there were 80,000 people at ECCC I think, I heard somewhere—it felt like that when you tried to walk or use the escalators, weirdly no one ever uses the elevators, so yeah). I’ve been listening to Robin’s podcast Inkstuds since maybe 2007? I first came across it looking for Paul Pope interviews to listen to, and I’ve been listening ever since. I think I’ve listened to almost every episode since I started listening, many from before. I’ve never really had a comics community or anything, so Robin gave me this window in this whole diverse world of people in comics, and what’s more the historical value of these documents through time can’t go without enough emphasis. For some of these artists this is the only real historical documentation of their lives that will be done with this level of sincerity—and it’s impossible to overstate what that is and what it means. I’m really excited for the big inkstuds roadshow that’s kicking up soon, even as I marvel at how these dudes(besides Brandon I think Simon Roy and Shannon Lentz are going too) find the reserves on top of the conventions, and just the normal work of making comics. And life. It is spectacular dedication to this comics thing. Beyond just the art form, it’s about the people behind that art form and the flesh and blood that makes it all possible. It is hard not to get hugely inspired by interacting with that kind of passion and intelligence. And I was really happy to do so.
The first day Sandra and I basically sat down circled some cool sounding panels and then did our best to find them through what was an almost labyrinthe designed convention. Over the course of the convention one of the things I began to notice was that almost 90 percent of the panels we ended up being interested in and going to either had David Brothers moderating or as an unnamed guest. David, besides being far and away the best dressed dude at the con, was basically like watching what it was like if a human being tried to be tweetdeck in real life. Like so many lists and columns scrolling through that dude at any given moment that it was like being next to the ECCC matrix watching him carry on intelligent conversation while downloading images for panels he would then go and moderate. His skills as a moderator really shown by contrast to the panels I saw that he didn’t do. It seems like part of a panel going well is having this good balance of targeted discussion and the spontaneity of audience conversation. The problem with the audience part is that it can be just about any kind of ill considered weird thing you can think of, and if a moderator doesn’t know how to handle that situation both strongly and politely, you end up with a situation like with the Self-Publish or Die panel which morphed into a strange and awkward digression through a very generalized discussion on Manga and Anime vs. Big Two Comics. But as good as his moderation was, I think it was his work actually ON the hiphop and comics panel that was the best.
I didn’t know what to expect with the hiphop and comics panel. I like both of those things. But the panel didn’t list the guests or the moderators, and I generally find there is quite a laughable sentiment between both hiphop and comics toward each other, with both being pretty stupidly basic in terms of their attempts to use the other. With hiphop perhaps handling comics better than comics has handled hiphop. So I kind of went in there with the idea that it was going to be terrible, and I would have something to laugh about later with Brandon. But I get in there and see David is on the panel, and if you follow David on the internet, you know one of the joys is whenever David writes about music, because he does it from such a personal vantage point that it’s always really cool to read. One of the things that the panel made me think about was about whether hiphop is in 2014 an aesthetic sensibility or if it is a mindstate. And I think I lean heavily on the latter. A lot of the aesthetics of what we might call “hiphop” at this point, are just antiquated pastiches that are goofy at best, offensive at worst. There was an interesting tension on the panel I think having Jim Mahfood who has kind of built his comic thing on pasting graffitti tropes over a fine arts lean, mostly situated around painting said aesthetic on attractive women…on a panel with two women graf writers who had just got back from a trip to Israel where they had been writing. And while I do really like Mahfood as an artist, it is actually probably like the klimt-edges of his work moreso than the hiphop/punk angles. I do think it’s interesting to think about his work as the idea of performing the idea of hiphop for a comics audience that is largely pretty dumb when it comes to hiphop. One of the highlights on that front was when Mahfood was talking about the role of style, and saying how if you didn’t have style you weren’t anything. And then the writer 137 chimed in that having no style was itself a style, and a thing unto itself. And while I don’t think it was supposed to maybe come off like a shot, in my head I definitely went “oooohhhhh shit”. So I don’t know. I think that selling hiphop as an aesthetic isn’t the same thing as BEING hiphop, or doing hiphop. Which brings us back to David Brothers, who isn’t a visual artist.
David talked about how for him hiphop was about ethics, way of living, way of approaching things, which helped him overcome mental health demons to go out and do the damn thing. Which I basically wanted to stand up in cheer. Because he put it into words pretty much exactly how I feel it. I mean…I’m writing this article write now while listening to Big K.R.I.T. I always write to hiphop. Why do I do that? I do that because even though many of the lyrics and ideas in hiphop are on the surface arrayed against me as a traswoman, the empowering swagger of hiphop and the ideas about ones community and art, are the only reason I am alive today, and the only reason I can write this, and the only reason I am the way I am about everything. Hiphop taught me moreso than any one other thing, how to live. And yeah…it was fantastic that David was on the panel to represent that point of view, because I think it is how it is with anyone who have lived a life through a backdrop of beats and rhymes. Style can be anything. Hiphop isn’t what you carry, it’s HOW you carry it. And it’s not something you can just fake. You’re either doing it or you aren’t. And it’s easy to see when someone doesn’t understand it and is just being a poseur to try and make a quick buck or get fake credentials in whatever it is they do.
Also Mahfood and Matthew Rosenberg were both wearing Bad Brains shirts.
After that panel, the first day ended, and I ended up going out to eat with Brandon, Simon Roy, Adam Warren, Amika, Joseph Bergin III, EK Weaver, and her husband voice actor Brett Weaver.
This introduces my other comic homie for the weekend Amy Clare or Amika. Amika is another vancouverite artist, who I knew through Brandon and the internet. I had only seen her illustration work to that point which is pretty amazing in it’s own right:
But I got to see her sequentials as well this weekend, and talk to her about what she wanted to do with comics…and yeah. She’s stupid talented. And I’m really excited for people to see comics from her. There’s this like really amazing two page spread I saw which, I can’t really describe, but I think everyone I forced it on while it was out had to double take the thing.
Beyond that, she’s just a really cool person to hang out with. With her only main vice being that she has a terrible sense of direction. Almost as bad as mine. Which I found out the first night when we tried to get back to our hotel and if not for randomly running into Shannon Lentz, we’d have ended up…well we’d probably still be somewhere in Seattle downtown today. We roved the con a ton the second day, and not because we went to a lot of things, but because we kept getting just amazingly lost. Like we crossed the damn sky bridge like 6 times in an hour. Did you know there’s a lower level at ECCC where there’s a sci-fi speed dating room? I didn’t either, until the 8th or 9th time we passed it like “hmm I think we’ve been here before”.
Amika also built this really amazing Princess Fortress in the room under one of the tables where she slept, and would sometimes talk like wizard of oz style as a disembodied voice. Also she had a sword, which she had to tell the ECCC people she wouldn’t use for evil. They tied this green tie thing on it, which made the sword, and I guess Amika by proxy “peacebound”. I don’t know why I didn’t take a picture of any of this. You can see Amika sitting next to me in the picture up toward the top of the dinner. Here she is with me and Damon Gentry:
Also at this dinner was THIS guy:
Joseph Bergin III. I know him mostly for the amazing job he does coloring Prophet. Which he was sat back looking like a proper artist all weekend hand coloring prophet artwork he had done. I got to sit next to Joseph at a few dinner party’s and have lots of cool conversations with him. He might be the nicest most thoughtful and considered dude I met at the thing which is saying something. If I get off my lazy butt, I will probably interview him for my website, because he’s really interesting in how he thinks about particularly color, and I have personally learned a lot the last few years from following random things that leak out about how he thinks about coloring in comics. He kind of reminds me a bit of some of the interactions I’ve had with Dean White in terms of the depth of consideration of art as a whole. Really cool and interesting dude.
As you can see the days are kind of a blur to me and hard to seperate out. It isn’t helped that I pretty much slept maybe 4 hours a day, while being up and with people for the other 20 hours of the day. Plus if I wrote everything about what happened the way I did all of the above, it’d be like a novel. So some other highlights: talking about monorails with Farel, meeting and talking to Sterling Gates. I finally got to meet Sloane Leong in the flesh. She’s definitely way deep into that category of people I didn’t get to spend enough time with. It’s funny probably she and Brandon are the two people I spend the most time with on the interwebz, maybe, but I really didn’t hang out with either for as long as I did other people. I think it’s just like, I’m comfortable with both them enough, where it’s like, I dunno—we’re going to talk about it later kind of thing or something. I don’t know. I also finally met Ales Kot. I gave him a copy of my comic, which he seemed pleased with. It was cool to meet him finally. He’s a really happy positive dude. I also met Rory Morris of Wolfen Jump fame, who had to deal with me aimlesssly trying to find Esteban Morotto comics. I also met colorist/artist Marissa Louise who I am excited about talking with more. I also met the very talented James Scott and had a cool conversation about Berserk comics. Also showed him Abara which I’ve been carrying around in my purse for the past month.
I got to talk with Adam Warren about comics. That was cool. I think I knew he read my tumblr or something. I was still surprised when he was like excited to meet me. His process posts, particularly on lettering are pretty much my school. He also makes dope comics himself, and one of the real panel highlights was when David Brothers had him and Brandon Graham breaking down Shirow fight scenes. I’ve always wanted to do that with artists. I’m not that interested in listening to artists speak about their own work—but I love to hear how artists see work that is important to them, because it’s almost like it’s own kind of projection of their perspective through a very focused prism. One of my favorite things this weekend was watching Brandon hang out with Adam Warren and EK Weaver. Even though he’s done all of these cons and been in the game a minute, and even though he’s basically exhausted and in a daze for most of the thing—the joy he has about meeting the people behind the comics he loves is amazing. And it’s cool too because Adam and EK I think were both very happy to talk with him as well. So it was just really adoreable, and just kind of speaks to a general vitality about how exciting great art is, and how important people are, and it sort of underscores that despite all of the best efforts of the comic’s industry to be a giant boot stamping people’s faces in, this thing is still all about people.
My sense about the whole convention is that while the booths and panels and everything are about at the end of the day making money, the real reason people come to this over and over, is because of the connection. Comics can be a very lonely pursuit. But every night I went down to the lobby and bar of the Sheraton and it was overflowing with noise and love. I don’t think I was alone in a lot of days just counting down the minutes till the con was over, so the real deal could start up again. The real deal was like being up until the lobby staff literally had tell everyone to leave so they could clean with a lobby full of happy to be around each other comic book people. People so tired they could barely keep both eyes open, probably sore all over from a day of standing and running around under various stress and pressure, but who basically still had to be pried out of each other’s company. There’s some sense of that kind of thing on twitter and facebook, but not to this extent. And that and how apparently I basically need to move to Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver concurrently was my main takeaway from the convention. I didn’t really find a bunch of amazing comics I couldn’t have found otherwise. But I did make stronger relationships with a lot of really amazing people, which was supremely amazing and flattering. I work and sort of live generally in such isolation out in Oklahoma, that it’s easy to forget that I can kind of do the people thing too, and sometimes people are okay too. Man, even my cab driver going back to the airport was like “you need to move here!”
These are the comics that I most obsess about these days, these are the comics that keep me awake at night:
Oyasumi Punpun by Inio Asano
Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano
Children of the Sea by Daisuke Igarashi
Witches by Daisuke Igarashi
Abara by Tsutomu Nihei
Blame! by Tsutomu Nihei
Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
Emmanuelle by Guido Crepax
Anita Live by Guido Crepax
Dracula… by Alberto Breccia
Blade of the Immortal by Hiroaki Samura
Pretty Deadly by Emma Rios, Kelly Sue Deconnick, Jordie Bellaire, Clayton Cowles
These are the movies:
Cries and Whispers
Person of Interest
I like lots of other things. These are just the things I obsess about currently.
This review would be more interesting and I would give it more value if it were about Nymphomaniac and not presuppositions on Lars Von Trier. I fail to see how one can conclude anything about any other human being through such a limited and manipulated prism as a singular film. And what’s more, there are so many elements in a film that are out of the control of the director. Do you believe Von Trier has some kind of mind control over Gainsbourg and she is merely a puppet on his hand? She is giving a performance. She is interpreting, not merely translating. The same with everyone in the cast and crew. The notion that a director or writer is the singular vision is completely flawed.
So I dismiss your premise that by examining Nymphomaniac we can know things about Von Trier, which allow us to make judgements on what he thinks about this or that.
Instead, focus on the film itself and what it has to say. Much of the things you accuse Von Trier of thinking, can also be described as things that the film is saying about us as an audience. Or western culture as a whole. We must accept that a film is a film, and look at it as a film. Not as the avatar of a therapy session, for which you are ill informed, and most likely poorly qualified.
I see this kind of thing often in criticism, as if simply talking about a piece of art is too boring for you, so you have to transform from critic to arm-chair therapist. It is a hack move because what it is principled on is that in order to make this writing noticeable, you need to elevate someone behind the work into the form of a celebrity, and then go TMZ gossip on their motives and mindstate.
Insight is traded off for a position that will get the most webhits.
This kind of thing has lowered the discourse. The auteur theory allows us to see some things, but as a predominant critical movement of the general populace it is wildly destructive to our ability to perceive art fully.
True Detective was a great example of this. A show that was powered by beautiful visuals and clever visual references, mixed with powerful performances by it’s two male leads. But so great is our desire to have this art king that somehow the weakest component of the whole show, the writer, became the emblem of the show. His voice overrode all others, and his take and his words were all people discussed. People lacked the ability to discuss the visual metaphors and performance choices that made up the work as a whole—and instead devolved the work into it’s basic plot and theme elements. This is a limiting way to see things.
This is all another example of why you cannot replace the art with the artist. You can learn things in examining an artist, but it is a mistake to think that art has a one to one relationship with it’s artist. Even if an artist were to try, art is not the artist. It is the relationship of an audience to a wider experience that sits between them and the artist. It is a separate thing.
It is like when you are in love, love is a seperate thing from the person you love. The person may change. You may end up hating them. But that love is still an experience that happened. It exists separate from the evolving things of identity and person. It lingers on. And you as a person are defined going forward by your relationship to that love. It is an experience that makes up your life. Just like seeing a favorite piece of art, or a despised piece of art. There is no difference really.
An interview I did with Alison Sampson is up on CA today
Since it’s the first interview I’ve ever run, I thought I’d talk about the experience. Many interviews I read, particularly those with artists, I find fairly empty, and they’re mostly sort of biographical PR in nature, and beyond influences, they rarely really get into what it is the artist is actually doing on the page, what is the thought process behind different choices—or just conveying a strong sense of point of view in terms of the artist. With writers this is slightly less of a problem, because for the most part, writers, no matter what they’re being asked, say what they want to say. But with artists, sometimes not so much. Art is harder to put into words. I don’t know. Neither of those things are probably anything like partially accurate.
My point is, that a lot of artists interviews, even with artists I am really really interested in, I find pretty boring, and I usually don’t leave with that strong of a sense of things.
Beyond that, obviously one of my big focuses critically is hewing as close to the bone of the actual work as possible. On some level, I’m not ever overly interested in the artist as final word on a work. But I am interested in exploring work with them, and sort of trying to understand how they see things. Mostly for my own purposes to see if anything resonates back in terms of how I do my art, and if I can evolve my own thing. So maybe my interview style is inherently sort of isolated, or isolating?
I think one of the interesting things of going through work with an artist—-and I don’t think it per se has to be the artist’s own work, is that it is another kind of criticism, another way to find different points of view on a work. I don’t think for instance that Alison’s take on her own work is any more authoritative than mine or anyone else’s, even though she created it. But because she created it, it is a different take on the work, and maybe it makes you see the work differently or try different ways of approaching the work, and then evolving your own way of seeing the art? It is just an aspect of the discussion. And I dig that.
I also really tried to limit the geography in play for the interview. Perhaps not entirely successfully, but I’m really interested in zooming further and further into a work, to the infinitesimal. The micro is the macro after all.
I’d actually like to try some more interviews on my website particularly with colorists, I just have to get over my nerves and laziness. I was comfortable interviewing Alison because I felt like I had a really strong handle on her work. But there are other people I don’t have a full grasp on, so I’d have to research more to figure out where to focus. Maybe not though. I dunno. We’ll see. I feel fairly confident that anyone I would want to interview, I could get, even if it’s just for my website. It might be a good way to sort of fill in the gaps between the intermittent critical writing I do.
Once they started cutting holes in the walls of buildings to get at Banksy art, you should’ve known something was wrong with this viewpoint. Yeah that’s right. Should have.
There was an interesting discussion today on twitter that I mostly caught the Ales Kot end of, where he was talking about how critics that are ending their criticism with buy this or buy that are devolving their viewpoint to become advertisements. There was some kind of snap back on that, because well…the dominant mode of criticism in every medium right now IS to talk about art as product. You review art, like you review refrigerators. If something is good, people need to “vote with their dollars”. If something is bad, or someone does something bad, their art needs to be boycotted. Our dialog with art has become poisoned by our inability to see things outside of the capitalist framework our lives have become dominated by. We speak like ads because everything in our life is an ad. And people say this is the only way. This is how artists justify becoming hired hands for the corporate art that inundates our lives. This is how audience’s justify talking more about the box office returns than the cinematography. We talk about things in terms of how they are hyped. How they are promoted. Are they over promoted, are they under promoted. Are they rated, overrated, underrated. We see art as a series of ratings 1 to 10 thumb stars.
And my thing is that what is the logical endpoint of this line of thought? That hole in the wall up above is the endpoint. You want to make art a thing, you want to make it money, then what you are going to end up with are these literal holes in the community. This line of thinking is self-annihilation. It takes away our ability to see art, because we can only see money. And if all we see is our world in terms of money, then we ourselves become measured by money, and then you end up with the wealthy betting on our lives. People become numbers, they become statistics, what’s 5 dead, what’s six million(godwin all up in here).
But it hasn’t always been this way.
Art existed BEFORE money. Money is an idea. Money is not a real thing. Money is a representation of power within a particular kind of social arrangement, which you can exchange for goods and services in place of say, bartering or sharing those resources. Economics is a way of seeing, it is not all-time.
And here’s where we get into it, because what people say is that art is a product and you buy it. But what I say is that that insidious viewpoint is the improper, unhealthy, encroachment of an economic viewpoint That seeks to subvert the power of art to shape and change our communities, by bringing it under the almighty power of money. The moment they got you talking about how many basquiats you can hang on your wall, is the minute you’re not talking about what is in those basquiat paintings. What’s being said.
Money is not a real thing. I said that. I say it again. Money is an idea. That paper in your wallet is the antiquated representation of a system that fluctuates wildly beyond your control and awareness. You think prices go up or prices go down? No the value of your money is going up or down. And by value I mean the idea of your money. How much worth your money has is totally dependent upon faith in your government. Money is church. Money is religion. And I’m not even saying money is bad. The society we live in, you need money to get by. But what I’m saying is that you need to realize, money is not real. And you can define it’s boundaries.
Art is not product. Art is not for sale no matter how much you buy it for. When you buy a comic book, for antiquated sake, let’s say you don’t buy a digital comic, but an actual comic on real legit paper. You owning those pages—that doesn’t mean you own art. You can’t own art. You can have every square inch of your house wall papered with Klimts, and all that is is wallpaper.
Art is a relationship between you and an experience beyond yourself that has been created by the third party which is sometimes called the artist. When you buy a piece of art, the relationship of money isn’t to that art you have bought, it is to the person to whom the money is going to. Art is not something you buy. Art can be seen for free, it can be seen for more money than you’ll ever see in your entire life—but it is not something you buy. Art is a relationship like love. It describes an induced state of mind.
This state of mind which is one of the most amazing and sublime things our wretched stupid thing called humans can do—you telling me you own a piece of art is like me running up into the nearest church telling them I own God because I bought a bible. It is absurd. But it is accepted. It is accepted because corporations and governments have conspired to subvert art by confusing you. Confusing the experience. In the same way that the pastor passes around that collection plate, and what you tithe is somehow something to do with the divine and not just you putting coin from one man’s pocket to another.
We’ve confused our relationship to money, and that money’s relationship to the artist, as a relationship to art.
And here’s my thing, you can do what you want. This is just my viewpoint on the thing. Both as a critic and as an artist. But understand that the way you’re doing it is a choice. It is not an ineffable truth that art should be viewed in terms of money. That is an imposed truth, and it is a rubric you as a critic or audience member decide to use. And in a world with a greater disparity between the wealthiest among us and the poorest of us, consider the endpoint of what you’re pushing. If you write an amazing piece of criticism of a piece of art, and in the end you don’t call for people to act as consumers to the work you’ve talked about—I mean—do you think people who value what you have to say are for some reason not also going to be interested in buying the work? The notion that if you don’t tell people to buy the work you’re talking about, that it won’t get bought, is a false imposed notion. And this whole long stupid screed I’ve written here, that bless you if you made it through the thing, is my most likely futile attempts to rail against that notion and point out that we don’t have to be like this. We don’t have to cut holes in our community. It doesn’t have to be like this.
These are the two things I’m talking about:
1. Saying that when an artist makes corporate art so they can put a roof over their head, that excuses weak art, or the stifling of greater creativity because of an unhealthy corporate system.
2. That the only way we can talk about things is in terms of whether the reader should buy it or not.
3. That art is successful if it sells.
I want to find the code of words and art that breaks down the system that those are a part of.
I know the way I wrote this comes off like I’m trying to tell people what to do, but it’s really just the way I write. I say ideas out loud to think about them too. I like discussion. I change ideas on things all of the time. That I write like this is mostly the result of listening to too much hiphop in my formative writing years.
My soundtrack to this whole thing was “Gotta Have It” off Watch the Throne. So maybe you play that that’s what this sounded like coming out of my head.
Nijigahara Holograph is a comic book by Inio Asano published for the first time in English by Fantagraphics. It is currently available for pre-order and will be available soon at whereever fine comic books are sold. This is second of a three part series on the book. The preceding section covered the role of memory. The last section will focus on beauty and the characters of Arie Kimura, and Maki Arakawa.
One of the things that I have always found interesting with Inio Asano’s work is how Asano depicts emotion through physicality. His works are so tied up in their emotions that it ends up permeating into how characters stand, how they move, and how they physically interact with one another. From the muted depression of the sex in Girl By the Sea, to the pulled back violence of Nijigahara Holograph, Asano’s work is constant in communicating its emotional themes. And I mean, this kind of thing has been part and parcel of successful comics going back to Eisner and beyond. Body language, and how you depict movement in unmoving frames is a huge device both in terms of characterization, and in thematic mood.
I wanted to focus on these things specifically in the violence of Nijigahara Holograph, and maybe sometime later in the year I’d like to write about the sex of Girl by the Sea or the molestation in Oyasumi Punpun. But for now, it’s enough to focus on the violence of Nijigahara.
Violence is an important theme in Nijigahara, because one of the core aspects of the book is the constant repression by the community of prophecy, and the violent feeding of the monster who lives beneath that said community, in the tunnel at the Nijigahara embankment. Nijigahara Holograph is a world where emotion is something that is expressed without the expectation of being heard. Which is to say, it is emotion that can never find release. Nijigahara is a kind of purgatory time loop of horrors visited continually from one generation to the next. Many of the principal actors of these horrors appear over and over through time. The concrete block. The unbuckled belt. The cast aside umbrella. The pocket knife. In some ways, it’s a very morbid joke by Asano to create this hellish game of clue where every room is a crime scene, but there is no investigation.
Violence in Nijigahara Holograph has no difference from screaming, or saying something brutal to emotionally harm someone. The physical and the psychic have no barrier both in terms of what goes in and what comes out—and what is more, neither is given more importance over the other, which gives both their effectiveness. To see how this works, I thought I would break down a few pages so you can see how this works, particularly in terms of physical violence because I think there are some lessons in that which have application beyond this particular kind of book. Even though Asano’s comics aren’t action comics per se, when his characters throw punches it is always with bad intentions. The brutality of the violence in Asano’s comics is extremely affecting.
I wanted to start with this segment because it’s one of the more extended sort of fight scenes in the book, and shows really well how Asano creates the brutality of this world. With Asano the action is typically shown in either long or medium shot. He chooses similar distance when characters are saying hateful things to one another. It is effective in both instances because of how often Asano uses close-ups for everything else. The shot is far enough away here that Asano hasn’t even drawn in the faces of the perpetrators of this violence. This speaks to the dull impersonality of the violence in Nijigahara Holograph. The violence in Nijigahara Holograph is rarely personal, because it all stems from an inability to express the horror of the world they’ve been cast into and feel unable to escape from. Which on the other hand is where a lot of violence happens anyways. It comes from a lack of options in terms of expressing one’s own internal horror. Notice in this scene Khota’s friend says “He just wants to hit someone”. There’s a loading up here when the knife is introduced. As I mentioned, the knife actually pops up all over Nijigahara Holograph. Not only does it pop up in scenes like this where it’s utility to try and cut another person, it also shows up with Amahiko Suzuki’s step mother, who is always shown with her back to Amahiko saying something about how she hates him, while cutting carrots. Which again speaks to how Asano has mirrored violent action to psychic action.
Anyways, once the knife is introduced on this page, there’s a tension in the next two panels of a new level of danger—no longer is this simply kids playing at violence, this is about inflicting long term pain and agony. The stakes have been revealed, and those two panels create a buffer to this:
Those two panels allowed this medium shot top panel to hit harder—and what’s more the barriers between friend and enemy have been completely broken down now, because no longer is Khota beating up on Takahama who he has always bullied, but he has turned on his partner in crime Hayato. This is narratively important too because Hayato actually was part of the group of kids who pushed Arie down the well which put her in a coma, so in a way Khota is now directly acting against those responsible for his misery—even though he is himself unaware of this. And what’s more is that the scar he gives Hayato will follow Hayato into adulthood as a reminder of his own burden. We see the loading up device again here as Hayato grabs the concrete block(which re-occurs several times, like the knife—it may even be the same exact concrete block—it might as well.) This is the musicality of action, it’s something I’ve talked about in terms of Hiroaki Samura and the silent loudness of his action scenes in Blade of the Immortal. But this type of technique is firmly entrenched in Japanese comics and fighting video games. The notion that one action precedes another more violent action—this escalation is integral to making the punches have weight.
The sound effect is almost unneeded. And again we’re back at a long shot. Which gives the hit a kind of lonely isolation. There’s also some really nice things in the composition with Hayato and Khota forming the top part of a triangle, but also how the left to right counter clockwise spin of the action, bends you back to the kid trying to push himself through that wall and disappear from the trauma. With Asano trauma radiates out like a grenade embedding it’s shrapnel in all who happen to be near it.
This sequence shows these similar compositional elements:
Again here we have the long shot, and we also have the triangular composition. We also start with a low angle which makes the hit seem more elevated. The best thing about that panel though is the spiraling top of the broom and how Takahama is watching the broom head from behind his mother, and Amahiko’s teacher, Ms. Sakaki is also following the arc of the broom handle. Their aversion from the actual violence adds to its impact, because it makes the reader want to look away as well. We again have the child witness to the trauma in the right of the panel, the girl Arakawa Maki. It actually wasn’t until I started writing about this that I even noticed that that was Maki. If you read Nijigahara Holograph and JUST pay attention to Arakawa Maki in the book, it is quite an experience. She absolutely haunts Nijigahara Holograph. Also interesting because Maki in Oyasumi Punpun, who is drawn in a similar way, also haunts that book, even though neither book is directly focused on either character. Arakawa Maki is arguably the most important character in Nijigahara Holograph though. Her and Arie Kimura are the books two most singular influences.
Anyways, we get that lovely second panel of the broom handle hovering in mid air, which underscores its attention in the first panel. Asano is underlining the impact, by the time you see blood coming down Narumi’s face in the bottom row you can see how this entire page has been constructed to underscore both the brutality of this page—but also it’s trauma. The page operates as a reflection. This is one of the events that happens in these people’s life which will choose the direction their life heads in. Which is of course one of the central themes of Nijigahara Holograph. That the horrors we are exposed to or create as children are perhaps unfairly navigatory in the horrible lives we end up living. The fragility of children in a horrible world, and how it predisposes them to perpetuate an eternal hell from which there is no salvation. Wire Seaon 4, ya.
Yeah so as I’ve mentioned quite a bit, I don’t tend to write about a wide variety of different books so much as I focus in on a particular artist, and then write a ton about just them. To that end I’ve been going through my website and updating the categories sidebar so that more of the artists I fixate on the most are accessible from the main page.
Thought sharing the list would be interesting for those looking to read a lot about a little: