Poplife: Issue #1

Thu, February 7th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Matt Fraction, Columnist

I Think He Looked Down Your Dress

I'm taking a cold medicine that has something in it called Schizonepeta.

Is that good for me?

So, let's get this shit over fast: this column is my work journal for

the year 2002. My name is Matt Fraction, and I'm starting to write comics

professionally. The first books with my name on them came out at the tail end

of 2001 and this year I should have an actual output polluting the shelves of

your Local Comic Shop.

Then again, this here's a real fickle medium, so who really knows?

As of this writing, there remains one final issue of Double Take (from

FUNK-O-TRON press and the inimitable

Robert Kirkman-- inimitable quite literally, because he's from Kentucky

which is really sort of the Scotland of the American South; thus he's practically

incomprehensible), which features everyone's favorite-well, almost

1300 of you, anyway-super ape spy Rex Mantooth; some time later will see

my contribution to Night Radio,

an anthology masterminded by Warren Ellis

to showcase new writers from Avatar Press,

and then my first Original Graphic Novel Last of the Independents from Larry Young's superlative publishing house AiT/Planet Lar later this year, to

be drawn by Kieron "I draw Avengers and, when no one's looking,

boobies" Dwyer.

I will assume that, if more gigs happen, then there will be Things I Can't

Talk About, too. I have no idea how that's gonna work with a work journal

format. Poorly, I'll guess, but who knows? I can be like Kerouac, and I'll

write about my friends and books with completely fake names for no discernable

reason other than to be clever, and then when it's all over I'll have

to publish a key so it'll all make sense.

Which it wont, because I will be a horribly overrated alcoholic with delusions

of Proust-level grandeur and I'll die in my mom's living room, fat

and alone.

I'm also extremely self-conscious of the fact that people will be reading

this. I don't like talking about myself. Or even worse, I DO like talking

about myself and refuse to admit it. Oh, the faux humility...

I'm kind of a nutjob. Fuck it.

This is a document of my first year in comics. Hi.

About to board the fourteenth plane I'll have been on in the last month;

fear my mad intra-continental dating skillz. Going to New York to visit Kelly

Sue, of course, and we're going to be hitting Joe Quesada's 40th birthday

bash tomorrow night. I'm told that it's invite-only and Kel's

listed, so there you go.

Today's the first day in a week that I've felt even remotely 'well'

after getting air-fluenza from being trapped in that Atlanta snowstorm airport

shutdown clusterfuck of holiday misery last week. What's it called when

you feel like someone's shat in your lungs, baked your eyes, replaced your

thoughtpeach with a worm and you've grown thumbtacks where your tonsils

used to be?

I had that.

I did get 'em to move me up to the bulkhead though, and thus completes

50% of my traveling knowledge. The other half is never check a bag. Live like

a castaway with your kit packed and get the fuck in and then get the fuck out

as quick as you can.

[Lee, with Hat]Oh, right-sick. I got fuck all comics work done this week. Did some Artbomb

stuff, hurrah, and the intro-well, two intros, actually, as the first one

was rejected-for Larry Young's upcoming True Facts collection.

The rejected one was about bear semen. The accepted one... well, isn't.

Got nothing done on ANODYNE (my part of the Night Radio anthology) and

sketched out a scene for Big Hat. That's all, that's it. Couldn't

keep a thought in my head for more than five minutes.

Plane's boarding now. Fuck you St. Louis.

God help me. So there was a woman I found stupid, so monumentally stupid

that I was actually glaring at her after each and every stupid thing she said

(which was often and at everything she said, which consisted largely of repeating

whatever loudspeaker announcements had just been made). I was dreaming about

driving her eyes into her skull with my thumbs.

Now it's sorta looking like she might be mildly retarded.

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I'm going to hell. Life goes on.

Airports are the opposite of Los Angeles. In LA, I was so full of contempt and

cynicism that I made sure in every meeting I took (with another cat from my

company MK12) I looked as if I'd just

come from sleeping under a pier. As a result people treated me very well. They

were all dressed to impress; I looked like I needed spare change and some tough

love. Best I could figure was if I looked like shit, then I must not CARE how

I look and therefore must be SOMEONE (Bellboy in elevator: "So, are you

a director or a producer?"). And client meetings were great to take, too,

because we were treated like eccentric boy wonders. "Funky," as one

middle aged producer-type described us as. Whatever. It was fun.

In airports, if you're young and well dressed, you're treated well,

inexplicably. At least I am. Maybe I've just got traveler's luck on

my side today. I'm too young looking and just scruffy enough not to be

some business-class jackass, and yet I'm dressed like I could be. Kind

of. I am being treated well. Accommodated, some might say. Apparently, traveling

with a backpack full of t-shirts and condoms is not the dead giveaway I presumed.

So I'm writing a western called Big Hat -or- How The West Was Won and

What It Got Us. The name (aside from the song title ripped off from REM)

comes from a thing DC and I used to talk about (that he and this guy Jim used

to fantasize about), which was leaving film school, disappearing into Mexico,

and anonymously making 'Big Hat' movies. Big hat. BIG HAT! Say it,

motherfucker. Say it.

[Lee, with Hat, again]Lee Van Cleef always had the best hats in westerns, you ever notice that? One

day I'm gonna open a goddamn haberdashery called VAN CLEEF'S. We will

offer Hats. For MEN. To get inside, you'll have to hold your fist over

a candle-flame for sixty seconds like G. Gordon Liddy. Once there, you will

find a startling array of hats. All black. All for MEN. Even the women's

hats. They too shall be for MEN.

Anyway, Big Hat should be done by now and I've barely even started.

It's a western and the through-line and spine all landed in my head at

once. That's where I'm at now, trying to figure out What It All Means,

but it's really just a stalling tactic. I know, algebraically, most of

the beats I need to hit and that should be enough for me to get moving on, and

yet-nothing. Well, I wrote the bit where the gambler gets shot, which leads

into the father/son thing in the street.

What's tripping me up is that I don't want to write fucking Silverado

or Young Guns-a western that's vapid and vacant of anything

other than bits from other westerns you've seen a million times over. And,

I know, okay, it's a genre piece-a pastiche is really sorta all you

get. I don't want to write anything that's just perfunctory, you know?

This is not to say I'm expecting to have Unforgiven waiting inside

of me to come out, because I don't. I just don't want it to come off

like some fucking Syd Field exercise.

The Western IS a milieu of images and ideas and scenarios-- but that's

not necessarily bad. I'd like to think, in my more pretentious moments

where I sit alone in a corner scribbling away in my little notebook about the

retarded and the contents of my backpack, that westerns are SO ingrained in

our national-- hell, international-- mythology that its symbols exist in our

collective subconscious innately, waiting to be used the proper way, waiting

to be assembled into the right sequence and elevate the genre into being something

more than just the sum of its parts.

Maybe this is because I feel like I should actually start saying something,

in light of my comics output to date? Talking Ape Guy, that's me. Ah, the

delusions of pretentious grandeur start here...

Look at something like Dead Man, which I liked as a film but dislike

as a western. All the ideas and symbols were there, but the story was SO not

Story continues below

the point that we were forced to endure bits like the scene where, after the

two bounty hunters were gunned down (halo of hay and twigs radiating around

their bodies), someone finds the bodies and says something like "Looks

like a goddamn religious painting."

I know. We get it.

But then Lance Henrickson shows up and steps on that one corpse's head,

so that's alright. I wish Lance Henrickson was on a fucking stamp, or a

coin. I wish Lance Henrickson was the 51st state, had his own flag, his own

quarter. Screw Guam.

We're trying on dresses for the Thing. Okay, I'm not trying on anything,

I'm sitting with the bags and a bottle of water while horrible, chirpy

and burpy club music is being inflicted upon on me over invisible loudspeakers

while Kel's in the dressing room.

I'm looking at some of the women in this store and-- no.

My girl is small. Tiny, even. Clothes from this particular place look great

on her. But some of the women shopping here have-no. Honey, no. It's

just not gonna work. Ever. I'm sorry. Put the low-rider stretch pants back

on the rack and go home. It's just gonna make you feel worse about yourself

if you buy it.

Someone should update Shampoo only make it where it's a guy working

in a place like this, surrounded by chirpy music and lithe women (largely, anyway)

eager to wear next to nothing and pay well for the privilege and they all sleep

with the guy. None of the boyfriends or husbands ever suspect the guy, because

what kind of hetero male would work in an upscale woman's boutique?

Hetero men are fucking stupid.

[Hat, with Lee]The thing about comics is that they don't allow for passive consumers.

I mean 'consumer' in an observer-way, and not in a purchaser-way because,

let's face it, comics allow for nothing BUT passivity as far as that's

concerned. What I mean is that as opposed to film, where you're presented

with someone else's sensibilities of timing and rhythm, comics put it entirely

in the lap of the reader. Take five minutes or five hours to scan a page or

a whole book, it's wholly up to you. Even in Manga where decompression

is the rule, and in theory it should take longer to read, it all falls on the

reader to decide how fast they wish to process the information.

I remember reading an interview with Frank Miller once and he was sort of negating

the comics/film thing; I recall the conceit he used was breaking the axis works

in comics but not in film (thereby disproving, I guess, the comparison). The

axis gets broke all the damn time in movies. Look at Michael Bay, right? I think

the grammars are nigh identical, but the key difference is there's no passivity

in comics. You can lay it all out in front of your audience and hope they give

it the proper attention, but it's the same at its core-it's words

and pictures in a sequence that the audience imposes their point of view upon.

So exactly what you lay out there is all you can do. You don't have music,

or presentation, or anything else to aid you. You write it, right? The best

you can, you get it all down, you get someone to draw it up the way you planned

it and fucking pray, I guess, that it all comes off alright.

The proper attention is, of course, a unique and unqualifiable thing. But there's

gotta be more than just surface, right?

Three dresses, none right. Off to the next store.

What I Know About Dressing Up for an Event: try to look as though it's

the third Event of the night you've attended, or better yet, that you've

not slept since the day before, as you've had SO many Events to attend

that there simply hasn't been the time to get home and change.

This "look" allows for a dress shirt to be un-tucked and a tie to

be totally absent if not just untied.

I don't know how to tie a tie.

This strategy helps cover for that embarrassing gap in my education.

This is the only way to travel. Bleary-eyed, weary and angry, smelling like

Story continues below

my girl. It's dark and we're weaving through Brooklyn blindly. I think

my driver just had a heart attack. He made a funny sound, and then dug through

the glove box for a bottle of pills. He grips the steering wheel harder and

swerves us off, then back on, to the road as we swing around the curve at 57

MPH. It's 5:38 AM and I am listening to the sound of my own demise.

Apparently, I'll die to the Strokes song BARELY LEGAL. Good to know.

Fellas: there is a difference between Joyce Leslie and Layne Bryant. You would

do well to learn them.

The Gothy Lady comes up to me and asks for a light. The bar is loud and crowded

and no one can really talk to anyone. Oh, sure, I say; find my lighter, light

her supergirly cigarette. Next time, she scolds, try not to look so bored.

I wanted to say that I was afraid she was going to read me poetry.

Cosmic Coincidence Theory: my life has, at certain points, been saturated completely

by coincidence. The world I live in is very, very small. From the utterly trivial-riffing on a washed up sitcom star we'd not thought of in years to hearing, the

next day, it was that self-same star's birthday-to the big and weird:

We're at Quesada's thing, and we're talking with Darick and Meredith

Robertson. Meredith is, as it turns out, from Kansas City (my current stomping

grounds). Her father runs the poetry department in the building we're looking

at holding the wedding in.

Also, my former boss' wife from my days as Retail Superman at Heroes Aren't Hard to Find in Charlotte, NC, was at the Birthday Bash. It was through Heroes that I first met Quesada, when he was a guest at our convention. She was there for no reason I found credibly explicable. She was just... there.

Coincidence usually follows me around, but it's been particularly thick lately; it's become meta-coincidental, actually, where on top of whatever synchronicities are noticed, the fact that there are so fucking many of them become coincidental in and of themselves.

It occurs so often that I've chosen to analyze the events for any sort

of deeper meaning, a tarot-esque message from the unseen world, subconscious

lay lines attempting finding connections between random components. Usually,

I can, and usually, it helps. If I look hard enough, I can find connections

and patterns and hints towards... well, towards whatever. My life is odd.

I guess it all goes back to symbols.

So, the big time scoop from Joe Quesada's big 40th Birthday bash:

I have seen your comics heroes, yes. And I have seen them dance.

Welcome Matt to CBR on the Poplife Forum.

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