Poplife: Issue #36

Thu, October 17th, 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.

Reanalyzing assumptions about Pop Comics. If you're bored, you're boring. And boredom creeps deep around the edges when and where it shouldn't. Bored with the stuff I'm working on, stuck on an airplane with nothing to do but stare at it. Stories replaced with formulas, a lifetime of garbage like a deep crease. Comics in the western world are being suffocated by the tropes they've generated. A nation of children are crying out in complaint of boring thoughts and tired entertainments and a medium that failed them; the best and the brightest have gone off to be sexy somewhere else, somewhere with a restless throb and pulse to it. And they've done it as loudly as possible, by spending their money quietly somewhere else. Grant Morrison calls them Dad Comics, and what self-respecting teenager wants to hang out with their dad? It's anemic because it sucks. It's anemic because it's not made for vitality.

Kids didn't stop reading comics because they were too expensive, or because they got interested in girls or cars or drugs: kids stopped reading comics because comics never grew up with them, not like it really mattered. Comics got more expensive, I got interested in girls and cars and drugs and I kept reading the good ones that I could find. And for everybody else, video games win because video games work better. Comics killed off the interest of its youthful readers by committing the cardinal sin of being capital-B Boring.

It's a sophisticated audience and you can't keep repeating yourself. The ideas have to be bigger, stranger, faster, and drawn prettier than they were last month. Pleasantly repeating science-fiction tropes will get you through about sixth grade because there quite frankly isn't a comic out there that sparkles and crackles like the chemicals in your head when you're 13, 16, 18, 20, 22, 25. The rush of the real world is only found rarely in comics pages. Comics can't compete with sex because comics aren't sexy. Too many comics are about big nerds.

Comics need to kill its darlings, to leap out of the murk and mire that seventy years of repetition have inflicted. Kill the Neurotic Boy Outsider. The real life lovable loser neurotic superheroes have done nothing but cultivate real life loveable loser neurotic superhero readers. If Peter Parker wasn't Spider-Man, would you want to hang out with him? Fuck no. That guy has a different sweater vest for every day of the week. Take away the voodoo bullshit space machines and stretchiness of Mr. Fantastic, the only thing worthwhile Reed Richards has going for him are those dope-ass sideburns. Superman's kept nice and safe because we wouldn't want to piss off Hollywood. And on and on and on. Go to your comics store, and you'll find miles and miles of yawning stagnation, waiting to reset itself to Just Like Things Were Last Month.

Where are the comics about the people you'd actually want to hang out with?

The American comics industry caters to itself. Fans making comics for fans, who will sell comics to more fans, who will make more comics for more fans. A cycle of Nerd, plain and simple. The flipside of that is true, too-- the two biggest bookstore successes comics have seen in the last few years were Ware's < a href="http://www.artbomb.net/detail.jsp?idx=6&cid=142&tid=140">JIMMY CORRIGAN (artsy, yet brilliant, book about a loser) and Clowes' DAVID BORING (same). The glasses wearing, pilates teaching, NPR funding boho chic geek, the distant cousin of the middle-western basement sloth, are but a few genes away from being the same beast. The intelligentsia will forever wait for Chris Ware or Dan Clowes because they can relate. Grace calls it JIMMY LOSER and she's right. I mean, it's gorgeous, but Jesus. Grant Morrison is exploding and inverting all that stuff in THE FILTH right now, which just keeps getting funnier. Joe Casey is working all his SUPERMAN work out Tourette's-style in AUTOMATIC KAFKA.

I'm tired of comics being a medium of exceptions. And I got a little tweaked when I saw those jackassed and braindead tendencies creeping into my work. Comics about losers breed more losers. And they're lousy to write.

The triggers for these thoughts, and for feeling that addressing them was of some importance came while reading OFFERED by Kazuo Koike & Ryoichi Ikegami as published over here by Comics One. The story was so wildly inventive and unpredictable that I couldn't put the damned thing down, half out of actual interest and the other half out of an almost morbid curiosity and fascination.

Adi, who knows more about this stuff than I, says that like in America, most longform Japanese stories are published serially. Their creators are keeping their eyes on eventual collected editions, as (just like over here) that's where the real money is. Adi tells me it's common practice to try and keep the story moving as long as possible, to keep the narrative more and more twisted so that it may gradually, across thousands of pages, untwist.

I'd be willing to bet too that these stories, serialized in the weekly manga phonebooks Japan is infamous for, have to compete for attention with one another. That when you're 30 pages surrounded by 400 other pages of comics, you'd need to pull every trick in the book to stand out, to be outrageous, to be memorable and surreal. So you throw in Hitler's granddaughter. You throw in Gilgamesh's frozen semen. You throw in everything you can to not get lost in the shuffle. You make it as different, as outrageous, as surreal as possible to avoid being forgotten above the churn.

The end results are comics unlike anything being done in America, that's for sure. American comics exist serially to maintain status quo, to remain movie-ready and toyetic, not too offensive and not too evolutionary. The lynchpins of American comic books are brands seventy-some years old now. Ford dropped the Model-T, but everyone remembers it still. Alas, comics just aren't that bright. Here's the new Model-T, same as the old Model-T, because, oh lord, please don't forget us.

A while back, me and big brother Darin came up with a list that defined what we started to call Man Movies. Running this here is guaranteed to make Jamie S. Oni Press Rich go apoplectically snitty, but here's how it went:

  1. All great films in Man Country are defined by the following axiom: All Great Films are about Great Men who are Fucked Up.

  2. All Great Men are usually one, if not more of the following: a) fucked up b) prone to violence c) drinkers d) lovers e) seeking redemption or f) recording an album.

  3. No Great Man is beyond redemption. No Great Man is above being violent. No Great Man is beneath recording an album.

  4. The Men in Man Movies are not defined by healing. They have not a wound that needs repair, nor a spiritual quest that needs completion. Man Movies rise and fall on this axiom: I am Fucked Up, and I shall Win because of it. Man Movies are not about growth-- they are about the exploitation and encouragement of that which may be defined as a "flaw."

  5. If a Great Man does indeed find redemption, it is not because he sought to become a better person. Indeed, Great Men are redeemed by the very nature of being flawed.

  6. Man Movies are not restrained by length, or by being about redemption. They are, however, usually about men, but not always.

  7. No Nazi was ever a great man.

  8. Man Movies can be funny.

  9. Big Things are funny. Small Things are funny, too. But not as funny as Big Things, which are funnier. If you're going to do something, do it full-assed, not half-assed. And so, Big Things are funny, manly things.

  10. Repetition is funny. Big Things are funny.

  11. Killing a room-full of Germans with a thousand grenades is one thing. But dumping gasoline on them first is something else entirely. This is a variation on the Big Things axiom, but illustrates a more glorious point: Don't Just Fuck the Germans, Fuck them Well.

  12. A Shit-Talkin' Man is a beautiful thing; a Shit-Talkin' Woman is the Most Beautiful Thing in the World.

  13. Some Great Men have worn hats. Others have driven fast cars. Others have been British. And others still have dressed as women: regardless of how Great Men spend their idle hours, they are always Men of Action.

  14. You can wear a hat, drive a car, be British, or be a woman. But it takes more than a hat to be a cowboy.

  15. Most women just need to be spanked. Most men just need to be punched. Deal with problems swiftly and decisively, because stewin' is for eatin'.

  16. All Great Men who are Fucked Up wrestle with their demons. Some win, and some lose. Most importantly: they wrestle.

And yeah, fuck you: I'm talking in broad strokes, not about everything, in generalizations, and offensively so. Because clichés become clichés when they happen so often they become our default expectations.

Of course, anything different would fail in the direct market. Today's comic reader wants nothing to do with people of interest. Today's comic reader doesn't want comics relevant to modern life. They want the escape fantasy revenge pap that makes them feel something other than pathetic. There's a chillingly stupid defensiveness that runs through this medium, a kind of animal intelligence that functions on resisting the evolutionary curve, a lizard brain reaction against anything that pushes forward or pushes away from this near-century of dead weight, dead brained history. God forbid we demand an intelligent, sparkling medium.

And speaking of forbidding anything intelligent or sparkling, THE ANNOTATED MANTOOTH! is solicited in the current PREVIEWS. This collects the three MANTOOTH! stories from Funk-O-Tron's DOUBLE IMAGE series as done by me, Andy Kuhn, and Timmy Fisher. Aside from the stories, all gussied up and perfected, it's got an Introduction bv Warren Ellis, a Preface by Joe Casey, and a Publisher's Note by Larry Young, and some other surprises in there from marketable names you may have heard of. It's got the scripts and annotations to those scripts and all sorts of dumbass behind-the-scenes sort of things. It's got a pinup gallery featuring Jeremy Love, Carla Speed McNeil, Steven Sanders and more. And it's got a new-ass cover by Hector Casanova. It's 96 pages of Rex Mantooth Awesomenicity, available for preorder now with the following magic number: OCT022287. It's $12.95, and will lift you, separate you, it'll turn you into a nine year old Hindu boy. Step right up.

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.