Poplife: Issue #19

Thu, June 13th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Matt Fraction, Columnist

POPLIFE is a collection of excerpts from my work journal. There is no specific form or function the column serves other than to allow the reader to see what my experience in my first year as a comics-writer is like. Some weeks I get work done, so I talk about work. Some weeks I don't get any work done, so I ramble incoherently. POPLIFE's purpose is to provide a glimpse behind the curtain of my specific process.

PABLOTIME

I think I violated the prime tenet of Columning last week in that I complained about a lack of reader response. In most instances, doing such a thing is a desperate cry for help, a plea for attention, a quest for some sort of validation. I myself was just complaining, but was hammered by responses nevertheless. Oddest still, I was hammered with responses to what I though were the most irrelevant parts of the column. Goes to show how much I know, yeah?

Believe it or not, and I'm not entirely sure I buy it myself, I wasn't looking for help, attention, or validation, but receiving it-- even through gritted teeth-- was interesting.

My stomach is better, thanks.

One of the complaints I heard the most, aside from those of you who took it upon yourselves to question the legitimacy of my birth, was that in the column in question, what I was looking for was perhaps a little vague. I think this is a case of over-complicating things. I wasn't looking for anything specific.

In that column, I picked apart some of my favorite single issues of comics and talked about the appeal of the physical format that a 32-pp comic holds for me, personally, as I had recently come around to thinking about writing in that particular format instead of in Original Graphic Novels. I think some folks thought I was looking for people talking about the same thing-- the physicality.

Not really. There are only so many ways you can talk about ink smells and saddle stitching. I was wondering what it is about comics that compel people to read them, what it is that compels you to plunk down cash for the damned things ever week, month, year. So, in the interest of clarity, and to let the issue drop finally (because at this point I've got more important stuff to worry about), I'm going to go through my pile of new books this week and figure out why I blew money on them, and what about them appeals to me. If for no other reason than to better define my own personal demographic. Not quite reviews, but impressions. I've not sat and read any of these cover to cover. I've at best skimmed them.

Next week, I promise I'll get back to journal-y writing stuff.

100% #1


Paul Pope


DC/Vertigo

[Cherchez la femme.]
Cherchez la femme.
The new VERTIGO trade dress is in effect now; that atrocious covermauling stripe down the spine relegated to the annals of Shitty Design History. The first thing I notice about the little VERTIGO file tab thing is that, beneath the VERTIGO logo it reads: 100% A GRAPHIC MOVIE. Nice. Pope's showing his rock star teeth again, even a little.

I've certainly heard worse.

The cover design is striking, urban; the logo, an unobtrusive opaque overlay across the image, a close-up of a mystery woman one of the characters gets wrapped up in. Staring at her face, we become as intrigued as John, the academic-turned-busboy (complete with existential crisis) who meets her at his job.

The story crosscuts starts with the discovery of a dead body behind a dance club, and crosscuts between various different lives therein and how this death affects them. Striking image on the first page, iconic: a long and gangly dead girl leg sticking out of the trash, tennis shoe still on. John declares himself ready to live life to the fullest before his death; Kimberly decides to buy a gun for protection and her friend Strel goes along. Cinematic moments abound, from John pondering over the mystery girl's left-behind diary-- cherchez le femme; Kimberly easing her hand towards the pistol in her purse as she and Strel get cruised by creeps. The bag turns transparent for us, the reader, and we see her hand inching towards the pistol's outline.

Broken up into scenes, too. 8 pages here, 12 pages there. Panels arranged in little bricks of four atop a bleed-bursting half-page panel. Grey tones swirl and dance around Pope's kinetic brushwork, never overpowering. It's a thick, slick book. Weighty and more real somehow than other comics. Undeniably, self-consciously cool. Beneath it all beats Pope's romantic heart. Already it feels like a love story.

The Amazing Screw-On Head


Mike Mignola


Dark Horse/Maverick

[There's been some trouble at the Museum of Dangerous Books and Paper.]
"There's been some trouble at the Museum of Dangerous Books and Paper."
This is a few weeks old, actually, but I missed it the first time around. The cover is black black blackity-black, a humble portrait of the titular Screw-On Head surrounded by ink. Nice.

My pal Xtop said it best this morning that Amazing Screw-On Head is exemplary of everything that's both right and wrong about comics today. Right, because it's so hysterically inventive and weird, and wrong because it's such a singularity. It reads like Mignola spoofing himself, and having a lot of fun doing it. Every page has a giggle, or something else weirdly fantastic. Abe Lincoln speaks the first line of the book. Beat that, Micronauts. The art is, as always, to die for. If you like Mignola.

Lots of non-comics people like Mignola, I've noticed.

I have no idea what the story is about. I keep getting lost in the artwork and obvious gag captions: "Mister Dog, I need Emperor Zombie's current location," or "It's not a jewel… it's a dirty old piece of crap," or what I am determined to use as my epitaph, "FREE AT LAST FROM MY VEGETABLE PRISON!" Lines like that tend to negate the plot, anyway. If Tim Burton made comics and didn't suck, it'd feel like this, I think.

Mignola seems relaxed here, playful-- not only with his own self-imposed tropes and gimmicks but with himself as a storyteller. He's riffing, having fun. Thank Christ. It's like Jodo's work without the melodramatic surrealism, without the operatic earnestness. Xtop is right. I wish HELLBOY was this fun all the time.

If you read only one comic about severed robot heads fighting… I dunno, some damn thing or the other at Abraham Lincoln's behest, that comic should be THE AMAZING SCREW-ON HEAD.

BLACK WIDOW #3


Greg Rucka/Igor Kordey


Marvel MAX

[People are doing naughty things to this right now.]
People are doing naughty things to this right now.
I dunno what this is about really. Keywords I know from covers and cursory flip-throughs. I follow Rucka. I haven't read the first two parts, because I prefer reading Rucka's stuff in one go. Reads better, I think, or at least doesn't frustrate me as badly. This is probably the most comicy-comic I picked up today. Girls fighting. A lot. Boobs. What is this? I think it's a murder mystery set in an S&M club? Appears to be.

Kordey's work reminds me of someone, but I can't place whom. I like it, though. Messy, dirty. Feels antithetical to Marvel styles. And I love Rucka. QUEEN AND COUNTRY is probably my favorite book going right now. I don't read the Batman stuff, but most everything else he does I'll follow at least for a while. So him doing a grownup story about what appears to be spies, sex, jealousy, perversion, and Russian people seems at least worth a look. The coloring, by Chris Chuckry, is quite nice as computer coloring goes. He understands light-sources, which is fairly novel.

Probably the first Marvel comic with an enema bottle in it, though. Viva la eBay, savvy collectors. The EXPLICIT CONTENT label (if the bondage cover wasn't enough of a tip off, parents) is bigger than the UPC code. How is dumping the CCA a step forward, then? It looks like an advertisement. HEY KIDS! BONDAGE!

The cover's a cute gag but looks embarrassingly horrible. It's some sort of CGI/photo-paining mix. Ugly. Can't find who did it. I bet when this book is listed in a price guide, they'll say that it's a 'bondage cover'. The idea that someone is looking at this terrible image right now with a hard-on upsets me greatly. This would be the comic most likely to get me a seat by myself on a bus or a train.

I love Greg Rucka, and do not hold him responsible.

La Perdida #2


Jessica Abel


Fantagraphics Books

I'm hot and cold on Jessica Abel's stuff. Moments of it I quite enjoy and others not so much. LA PERDIDA excites me because it's such a departure from the work she's collected in MIRROR, WINDOW and SOUNDTRACK.

Even If for no other reason than some of the story takes place in Mexico…

LA PERDIDA is a small little square of a book. I like this size. I like any format that washes the bad taste of regular comics out of my brain. Thick cover, with an alright painting by Abel more evocative of a mood than a successful painting. Pages are good and pulpy white. Abel's style has gotten more confident, too. Her figure-work is improving and her composition is sharpening up, too. I wish she didn't feel compelled to do so much line-fills, but even Jaime Hernandez used to do that. Lettering's too thick. Fills up the panels with more noise than they can handle. Blur your eyes and whole pages go gray.

Superficially scanning through the issue-- it seems like it's been more than a year since the first one came out, and I don't remember too much about it and would like to reread it before this-- it looks like she's doing less Mexico and more Urban Youth Angst, which I'm sort of tired of. Just have to read it and see, I guess.

The format's great. Book looks good. Any other week it'd be the coolest-looking thing I picked up, but there's too much competition this time around.

LOVE AND ROCKETS #4


Los Bros. Hernandez


Fantagraphics Books

[Goddammit.]
Goddammit.
Hot damn. Great cover. Kung-Fu stock, a screaming yellow. SCREAMING. And a guy, face badly beaten, swollen, eye bloody, clutching a briefcase to his chest with an expression that could read as an almost-grin, from the right angle on his face. The epitome of something called 'Love and Rockets', I suppose. It really depends on how you look at it-- from one position the guy looks exhausted; from another he looks giddy. Strange. Nice interplay between this and the 100% cover, too. Faces.

Jaime and Beto are each playing with eight panel grids in their main stories. Mario and Beto's ME FOR THE UNKNOWN is more freeform, but the MECHANIX and FRITZ stories are done in straight-eights. I wonder if that's deliberate on their part? I wonder what it's like to have your favorite cartoonist be your brother, who in turn is your biggest fan.

The pages are a pristine, slick white that really lends itself to presenting the artwork. Jaime has never seemed so elegant, so precise; Beto's work was never so earthy and expressive.

Jaime wraps the book up with a straight riff on old Romance comics. Six-panel pages, narration at the top. Poor doomed Ray obsessing perfectly over a stripper he calls Frogmouth. Doyle's back, having found his true self, he says. I started reading LOVE AND ROCKETS when the characters were around the age I was; now that I've caught all the way up I think they're a bit older than me now. I like seeing them age. Let's me know where I'm heading in a few years. Hopey with her eyepatch. Doyle with his cane. Of course. And Roy, poor Roy, finally taking his relationship with Doyle that one step further. I won't blow the ending for you.

You know, I finally figured out who Los Bros. remind me of as storytellers (beyond the obvious Marquez and Carver.). Sergio Leone.

Not in any of the obvious ways-- because those don't make sense. Leone's films were content to explain themselves to the audience organically, to not force exposition or explanation in the way of plot. The Brothers work the same way. Weird shit pops up, strange questions, unknown motivations. Stay tuned; they'll work it all out for you. These books are as much fun to read and reread as they are to look at.

Someone should give the Hernandez brothers a big fat grant.

PULP #6.7


Various


Viz/Pulp Comics

[Ha ha ha!  She is coming for your penis!]
Ha ha ha! She is coming for your penis!
Ahh, PULP.

This is the best book that no one read. A manga anthology, fat and nasty. 128 pages for six bucks. Rotating features of varying quality and sanity. This is its penultimate issue. No giant robots and not enough panties, I guess, to really crack the Amerimanga Fanbase, I dunno. There's a cover fuck up, too: advertising a serial no longer present in the book. Oh well, I guess everyone's moved on.

Worst case, PULP always carried at least two stories I dug, let alone the editorial features. I digress.

Junko Mizuno has the cover. Her hellspawn Rainbow Bright CINDERALLA stares open-eyed and open mouthed at the viewer. What is it with faces on covers this week? I love Mizuno's work. Seriously deranged cute. Menstrual explosions, dentata daydreams. In a few years, every hipster worth the weight of their goatee will have Mizuno prints on their walls.

The most effective horror comic I've ever read is Junji Ito's UZUMAKI, and it's been serialized here for what feels like a few years now. Horrible, unreal stuff. Unlike anything you've ever seen. Compulsively addicting.

Others have written much more and much better about PULP than I, so I'll keep this short. It's like finding a mix tape in another language, and I'm going to miss it greatly. I can't understand how this didn't catch on. I would like to blame the direct market, as I can't imagine a teenager kid that wouldn't want this in their backpack.

Transmetropolitan #57


Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson


DC/Vertigo

[Warren Ellis.]
Warren Ellis.
Again with the faces. Spider Jerusalem turns over his shoulder, letting us in on someone's joke: he's reading his own obituary in the newspaper. Cover looks gorgeous. Gene Ha did it, I think. Nice painterly feel going on.

This is the Kent State issue, which always seems to send a chill up my back. My folks were students at Kent State; my mom dropped out after the shootings there and never went back. Big violent bursts. Mary comes back. Mary, who got me reading the book in the first place. Everything's wrapping up.

Transmet's gotten more and more open as it's stormed down its final stretch this last year. Part of it is Ellis has been very deliberately-- well, I can't say for sure as I've never asked him, but it sure feelslike it-- writing his book for collection and not for singles. The single issues of late have been fast and furious, but by their very nature unsatisfying as by the time Ellis and Robertson get your blood pumping, the book is done with. Like Rucka's stuff, TRANSMET reads best in trades. As it was intended, I suspect. Ever since Spider's brain started melting, it feels like Ellis and Robertson have opened up the layouts. The book feels looser, more open. Adds to the speed of consumption, too. I like going back over this book every six months or so, see how it ticks.

I have a feeling, too, that if someone was reading over my shoulder, the fact that it doesn't look like a typical six-panel grid type comic, they may not dismiss it quite so quickly.

I hate the cover stock DC and Marvel are using as default nowadays. Touch it and the paper starts to curl.

That's it. That's what I bought this week, and what my superficial impressions of them were. These things appealed to me for these reasons; this is why I read comics.

Discuss this column on the Poplife Forum or on the Matt Fraction Forum.

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