Poplife: Issue #12

Thu, April 25th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Matt Fraction, Columnist

JAMBOREE NOSTALGIA

Adrenaline and energy really going this week. Piss and vinegar, the old folks say. Sat out on the porch the other night until midnight, writing the Chuck Dixon draft on ANODYNE 2 (short and fast descriptions, the rough-sketch draft of the script) and plotted out-ha ha-three and four. Want to wrap it up over the weekend, maybe, show it to my co-NIGHT RADIO peeps and hammer it around one last time.

Had a completely insane idea that I just can't seem to shake, and I want to start clearing shit off of my desk so I can get to it. Listening incessantly to Brian Wilson's aborted masterpiece Smile and can't believe that, at twenty-six, I find myself a Beach Boys fan.

[Hey, Dick-you're ruining a MASTERPIECE.]
Hey, Dick-you're ruining a MASTERPIECE.
Mike Love is a dick.

One thing of interest this week was the start of an interview with me for a comics news sort of thing. Good questions, too; heavy and interesting in that 1)no one's ever asked me before (that I wasn't sleeping with) and 2)someone, somewhere, apparently thinks there's an audience for what I think who isn't Jonah Weiland.

I'm gratified, to say the least.

Part of the interview, which I'm certain is novel in part because I've never really been interviewed before, asks lots of questions about how I got interested in comics. And as I started to answer, I realized a lot of strange stuff happened to get me in-coincidences and confluences and a lot of pig ignorance.

I was two years old when my Mom and Dad took me to see STAR WARS. And, regardless of how I feel about the films now-and no, I don't want to fucking talk about it-I remember it clear as a bell. Two years old. I remember everything about the entire day, from the nuns at the Catholic Day-Care telling me to shut up about the stupid movie to my Mom explaining that movies were sort of like big TV sets that you watched with a whole bunch of people to FREAKING THE FUCK OUT at those little bastards with the glowy eyes that killed the trash-can looking robot.

[It was like this, only more glorious and it actually existed.]
It was like this, only more glorious and it actually existed.
The most interesting bit that I can recall happened as we were walking out of the theater. I turned around to see the droves of people coming out behind us, and through the crowd the credits on the screen. I told my father that, wow, I want to do THAT when I grow up.

Be Luke Skywalker, he asked?

No, no-I want to make those.

The idea hit me like a bad metaphor that someone, somewhere, was PAID to tell stories that people would get together and watch. Make-believe was someone's JOB. Flipped my switch, right then and there. And that's what I was going to do. I was going to tell stories.

The attraction between film and comics are self-evident, but I'll go over them anyway. Comics is a bastard medium, its syntax and grammar cobbled together from a myriad of other art-forms. It's roots in the unglamorous and shallowest forms of fiction-but, lest we forget, even Shakespeare wrote for the people in the cheap seats-it stands today as an almost anachronistic art-form, the physical byproduct of former societal elements that no longer exist, be they newspapers or commuter train culture or a world that actually read for entertainment. Its roots were in popular and low entertainment.

One part fiction, one part pulp, one part advertisement, one part fine arts. For my money, Comics biggest burglary comes from the world of film. While that's a column or fifty in and of itself, what I'm getting at are the similarities of grammar. Comics and film move alike to me, they feel alike a lot of the times.

But, shit, man-you ever tried making a movie?

It's a nightmare, a logistical and expensive nightmare. It requires massive amounts of time and levels of dedication hard to find if you're not paying people for it-and even then, look at what people paid for shit like PEARL HARBOR. I love film, and I love making movies, but I can think of a hundred better ways to chase myself into an open and early pauper's grave.

Comics, though-they're just movies on paper.

I remember when I was a kid I would make comics, huge, 200-page epics on reams of loose-leaf my Mom would bring me home to draw on. They were comics, but I called them 'movies'. Weird, huh?

When I was a little kid, I knew about comics and liked them, but they weren't something that I followed regularly. They would just sorta show up every now and again, but the idea that they were something continual, that they were something episodic never seemed to get its hooks into me. Some of my favorite comics, anyway, were those great old black and white paperbacks Marvel would put out of movie adaptations-not because they were movie-based in origin, but because they were thick, fat, mean little books that felt great in my hands and were something more substantial to read.

MAD, I remember getting more often than anything else. I was a weird kid.

[Panels like these, and many others, enticed me to read CHANGEY-ROBOTS]
Panels like these, and many others, enticed me to read CHANGEY-ROBOTS
Flashforward a few years, I'm nine or ten or so; I remember picking up comics when my Mom was in the hospital. The CHANGEY-ROBOTS ones I liked, because I played with Changey-Robots a lot and watched their show. And YELLING TOYETIC ARMY MAN, I dug on those too-again, the toy connection. And Michael Golden did a story that I loved, loved, loved to look at. Still do, to this day. I wanted to tear his drawings off of the page and eat them, they looked so great. So the months that Mom was in the hospital, I would buy comics at the giftshop. She was in a while, and so… each week there'd be more comics. Huh, episodic, whatdyaknow?

Came the day a friend of mine found a comics shop there in town. I couldn't believe it. A whole STORE that just sold comics? Is it big, I asked?

Apparently such things existed once upon a time.

[And other such profound works.]
And other such profound works.
I went in and picked up whatever looked interesting to me, not knowing that superheroes were the standard, that capes and fisticuffs were the norm. To me, it was like being in a video store. There were all kinds of weird shit. I picked up strange Japanese books and cartoon based books and all that. I remember going to the library and looking for comics. As it turns out, on the shelves were those old Marvel trades, BRING ON THE BAD GUYS and ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS and so on. Reprint books. I devoured those, too. I liked Spider-Man a lot. He was a huge dork that I could get behind, and I liked the old, weird comics more than the new ones. The new ones seemed slicker and more predictable, the old ones had a berserk energy to them; they made no sense and rarely tried to. I loved those almost as much as the weird samurai comics with all the guys getting their arms chopped off. Or the ones Bill Sienkiewicz drew, which I couldn't get my little brain around. How did he draw like that? I remember he did a cover for JOHNNY QUEST that was beautiful.

I was young.

[Butts! Shooting!  Talking Cats!  Perfect!]
Butts! Shooting! Talking Cats! Perfect!
But that was it for me and my adoration with Sienkiewicz. I'm STILL trying to shake years and years of looking at Sienkiewicz out of my drawing-hand, and I just can't do it. I got anything of his I could find. I got anything that looked weird and strange and cool, anything that didn't make sense, or anything that was old. Remember those WHO'S WHO books, or MARVEL UNIVERSE and MARVEL SAGA? I loved pouring over those for some reason. JUDGE DREDD? Sure-who knew they had comics in England? Spooky horror comics from the fifties? Right on. GRENDEL? Those Pander Brothers sure draw creepy. LONE WOLF AND CUB? It's got chopped-off heads and a dude split in half-I'm in. AMERICAN FLAGG? Look at all them ladies' butts!

I remember shortly thereafter… trying to explain to my Dad that some comics were for grownups, and he might like to read this one-and then sitting next to him on the couch all Sunday evening reading WATCHMEN one at a time. Dad picking me up DARK KNIGHT, too. Hell, my old man STILL reads any Frank Miller I put under his nose.

What I'm getting at was that I didn't understand that there was really just one section of the video store for a while. My first years in comics, when I was disconnected from the subculture and the history were the most formative. Lots of kids grew up reading SUPERMAN and BATMAN and SPIDER-MAN-and that's great, so did I-but I'd follow it with SABLE or SHOCK SUSPENSE-STORIES or whateverthehell caught my young eye.

I get asked what I have against superhero comics. Nothing, really-a good comic is a good comic, but Christ almighty, am I the only person that gets so bored with the same thing over and over again? It's like in Hollywood, when a certain kind of film catches fire and you've got a million copycats. The Extinction-Level Event Disaster Film of a few years ago. The Post-Ironic Gangster. The Gigantic CGI Historical Epic. The Renee Zellweger Canon. I get bored, I get antsy.

Especially if they're just the same goddamn thing over and over again.

[Your fault.]
Your fault.
When I was a kid, when I didn't know any better, comics were great. Those were the years that hooked me as a comics guy as much as I am a film guy. They were the same thing to me. Better than TV, and weirder than movies were a lot of the time. They were little movies on paper, cheaper and stranger. They just felt filmic to me. Cuts, shots, angles. I'd follow creators like directors, I'd glean rhythm and pace, intuiting my way in and out of the stories. I think that's one of the reasons I love anything Bendis writes, that be-bop hum and crackle he puts on the page. I get so wrapped up in Bendis dialogue and the way he and his artists have laid out a page, I'll completely forget to look at the art. Like any great filmmaker, really, who tells their story so well you just get gobbled up in it and forget to pay attention to what's going on.

But… ANYONE can make a comic and not bankrupt themselves; can avoid worrying about logistics or physics or whether George The Grip is too stoned to run cable. It's you, the blank page, and the potential of an audience.

When I was a kid, there seemed like there were a million stories out there.

Today, not so much.

This month's PREVIEWS sees solicited from Funk-O-Tron press the MENAGE A TOOTH THREE-PACK, which collects the DOUBLE TAKE issues that feature, alongside Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard's CODEFLESH, the me-written MANTOOTH!

Shipping in July and a steal at twice the price of $7.95, the order code is MAY02 2126.

Discuss this column on the Poplife Forum.

Poplife Home | Poplife Archives

Poplife

Send This Article to a Friend

Separate multiple email address with commas.

You must state your name.

You must enter your email address.