Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Notable Links for 03/17

So, its official: "Captain America" is moving back out of the Marvel Knights stable, and Robert Morales is getting the boot. Can't say that I didn't see it coming. Sad fact is, I have the feeling that this decision was made a long time ago, because in two years (with various late issues and countless creative team shuffles) Cap under the Knights imprint just didn't set the world on fire. You know that if a Chuck Austen run is your highpoint, you're in trouble.

Oddly, I think Morales' run really came into focus with this last issue. I don't know whether this can be blamed on Morales or editorial, but the first part of the storyline turned out to be basically a MacGuffin. Introducing all that stuff with Guantanamo Bay and Camp X-Ray seems to have served no real purpose, when the story was really about Cap in Cuba tracking down rare bioweapons and hobnobbing with Castro. The last issue's cliffhanger actually had me anxious to see the next issue, which is a rare sensation for "Captain America" fans.

New writers sometimes make missteps on new titles. Hell, I don't think Morrison caught his stride on "New X-Men" until two-thirds of the way through his run - sometimes it takes a while for perfectly good writers to get the feel for their assignments. Time will tell whether the half-dozen or so issues Morales that has left reveal as much of an improvement as his first few issues did. I hope so, because we can't forget that he is responsible for one of the best Cap stories ever, "The Truth", which is the closest thing Captain America has had to a "Dark Knight Returns"-style reinvention. If this turns out to be the case, and he puts the early stumbles behind him, Morales' removal might just turn out to be a big mistake - not having seen half his run yet, I dunno. I will say its somewhat grating to see Marvel changing horses in midstream... again... but perhaps my complaints will prove unfounded. Maybe the rest of Morales' run has Cap turning into a werewolf again.

I look forward to the last remaining issues of Morales' Cap but remain guardedly optimistic that, in this instance, change might just be for the best. Of course, Marvel still hasn't made an announcement about who's taking over the relaunch... so we shall be wary.

Man, do you think I can be anymore ambivilent about this?

* According to The Pulse, cartoonist Martin Emond has died, apparently of suicide. It's worth noting that they originally ran the story with the headline "Cartoonist Martin Emond Commits Suicide" (or something similarly mentioning suicide) but in the space of about five minutes it was changed to the much more palatable and considerate "Martin Emonds Passes Away". Congratulations to the Pulse for showing some restraint and consideration in this matter.

* The US Attorney General, through various and sundry machinations, has apparently voiced a complaint regarding the most recent edition of Tony Millionaire's "Maakies" strip, published nationwide in finer college weekly papers. Read about the flap straight from the horse's mouth here, and read the strip that caused the fuss here (which Millionaire has already changed, from the looks of it). Link courtesy of Mr. Millionaire and the Journal board.

* The weekly Panel over at Silver Bullet Comics takes a look at "Cerebus" #300 this week. They got quite a few more creators than usual to reply to this one, and almost all the praise was genuinely glowing.

What's that? Did someone say something about "Cerebus" #300? Keep reading...

* ICV2 has their look at this month's Diamond numbers - surprise, surprise, Marvel sells a lot of comics. Read all about it here.

* The cancellation of "Raijin Comics" as well as the rest of Gutsoon's slate is still causing an uproar. I don't think manga as a whole is in any danger of imploding but we're going to see some pretty harsh competition in the next little bit here as the initial explosion begins to fade and the market corrects itself to more reasonable proportions. Or... the current proportions aren't even big enough, and it's just that Gutsoon didn't sell their product well enough the first time? I don't know yet, and anyone who does claim to know is full of that stinky stuff. Newsarama has a more detailed look at the Gutsoon implosion here. Meanwhile, Heidi MacDonald looks at Manga's still-growing sales presence here, and Douglas Wolk takes a look at the popularity of "How-To" manga here. Both links courtesy of Publishers Weekly (subscription is required for full content - and while I usually try to avoid linking to "subscription only" content these are just too juicy to pass up).

* "The [Durham] Herald-Sun's John Cole has won first place in the 22nd-annual John Fischetti Editorial Cartoon Competition, besting 75 other national newspaper cartoonists." Read more here, courtesy of the Durham Herald Sun.

* "Cyberosia Publishing has reached an agreement with Spanish publisher Alecta/Recerca to bring comics produced in Spain to the Direct Market. For many years, Spanish artists have been working on US comics, and they still do, often with outstanding results. Now readers in the US will have the chance to enjoy titles produced entirely in Spain in both the English and the original Spanish language editions." It's a press release, but an interesting one, courtesy of Comic Book Recources.

* The New York Times examines the current phenomenon of prose writers - such as Michael Chabon, Greg Rucka, and Brad Meltzer - jumping into the comics field here.

* The New York Press's DVD column reviews what has to be "the best comic book adaptation to date" - Jack T. Chick's "The Light of the World". Read the review here. You can buy this absolutely essential piece of comic history here.

* Comics gadfly and all-around stand-up fellow Steven Grant has been in a car crash this week. Thankfully, he's relatively uninjured, and additional thanks that he's got good insurance and that it wasn't his fault. I've been in more than my share of car accidents - its gotten to the point where I just flat-out dislike driving because I know other people drive like morons - and I can certainly sympathize. It takes a lot out of you to live through something like that.

Anyway, he's got a truncated column this week, but there are still a couple good bits, particularly his review of the second compilation of John Ney Reiber's "Captain America" run. I agree with him on every point, that arc was a damn mess. Thankfully, as I've said before, I think the first year-and-a-half of the Marvel Knights Cap is going to have about as much long-term impact on the character as "Spider-Man: Chapter One". It started off strong but just fell apart as badly as we have ever seen any title fall apart in the history of comics.

* "Standing on the deck off the third-story studio at his Berkeley home, Khalil Bendib tries to match his pose to that of the Statue of Liberty. Oversized pen in one hand and a fez on his head, he checks an old newspaper photo of the statue to make sure he is holding his head in the right place and stretching his arm up high enough. Like everything Bendib does, he is in the process of creating a spoof by re-imagining a well-known scene and making it his own. That’s why Bendib is a cartoonist, the profession for which he is best-known. That is often complemented by the native Algerian’s lesser-known and more serious side—that of a fine artist." Read more here, courtesy of the Berkeley Daily Planet (sniff - I is getting homesick now...)

* Everyone seems to really like "Sleeper", so I'll link to this interview with Ed Brubaker (courtesy of Comic Book Resources).

* The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal talks to Greg Evans, cartoonist behind the popular strip "Luann" here.

* The SF Site has a new comics review column up, focusing on left-of-center mainstream and alternative offerings. Its called Sequential Art and its right here (link courtesy of Matt Peckham at the Journal Board).

* You cannot make a living being a cartoonist. Furthermore, if you try you will have to torture small animals to pay your student loans. Read the grisly details here, courtesy of Stars & Stripes.

* One reason why Gene Deitch is cooler than you: have you ever had John Lee Hooker perform in your living room? Read all about it here (its the third item down), courtesy of Billboard.

* Rizal Solomon, writing for EMedia, reviews the recent "Losers" compilation, "Ante Up", in addition to a few other recent releases, here.

* Ummm... OK, this is not exactly pressing news but man, would I have loved to see that movie. Courtesy of Zap2It.com.

Cerebus #300

Well, well, well.

“Cerebus” is quite possibly the most demanding reading experience in the history of comics. I think I can say that without fear of contradiction. Nothing even comes close.

It’s a singularly unique series in that it requires the reader to become an active participant in the storytelling process. Very early in the saga, by the time you reach “High Society”, you realize that Dave Sim is one of the most sophisticated, and also one of the most maddening creators in history. He exults in showing you only half the story, of giving you just enough information to continue through the book without becoming totally confused. It’s the height of irony, considering how much room he had to work with, that Sim rarely told the whole story. You have to think. Sim understood very well that the best way to engage the reader was to challenge the reader. Sure enough, “Cerebus” succeeds in challenging everything you believe or think about comics and the world around you. You may, as I have, eventually reject Sim’s conclusions, you may reject his methodology and his prejudices and his idiosyncrasies, but at every step of the journey he will force you to confront and question your own.

In a lot of ways, I think it would be impossible to extricate “Cerebus” from Sim. “Cerebus” is Sim’s story, the story of his personal growth and intellectual expansion. Where he ends might not be where you or I would necessarily have gone, but he is never anything less than rigorously honest in his portrayal of his own mind. There’s nothing more you can ask from any cartoonist, or any other artist.

As I said, reading “Cerebus” is far from a spectator sport, You can’t just read it, put it down when you’re, and expect to walk away with total comprehension. It doesn’t work like that. Taken in total, “Cerebus” is more about asking questions than providing answers – and given the fact that Sim gave himself the greatest, widest canvas in the history of cartooning, its ironic that he still left more questions than answers when all was said and done.

There’s a tradition in “Cerebus” that every storyline always ends with a jackknife. Somehow, in the last few pages of every phone book, you can depend on finding a total reversal of some kind. My personal favorite would be the last few pages of “Melmoth”, wherein Cerebus had basically been catatonic and incommunicative since the cataclysmic events of “Church & State”, some forty issues prior. He had been a passenger in his own book for a long time, ceding the stage to Jaka, Rick and even Oscar Wilde, in their turns. Suddenly, before the reader even knows what’s happening, Cerebus is up and about and knee-deep in blood!. Sim loves these kind of “Gotcha!” moments, and it’s no surprise that #300 ends on a “Gotcha!” too.

The only difference here is that there will be no #301.

I’m sad to see the little gray fellow go. I can honestly say with no hesitation that of all the works of art I have ever consumed in my adult life, nothing has given me as much food for thought as “Cerebus”. Nothing has lingered in my thoughts as often, tickled my brain more at odd and inconvenient times, or roused my passions more for good or ill. Not Tolstoy, not Joyce, not Fellini or Mahler or Beethoven. Does that mean that Dave Sim is on a par with those masters? I dunno, I seriously doubt it. But it does mean that there’s something about “Cerebus,” something so irreplaceably unique and doggedly fascinating that it has stayed with me. It will stay with me. Even the parts I hate, hell, especially the parts I hate.

There have been times when reading “Cerebus” has been almost a physically painful process, long periods where I was left totally adrift by Sim and his ideologies. But I never considered dropping the book. I never considered not reading “Cerebus,” even when what I read inside made me so angry that I fell into black moods for days at a time after reading the new issue. I stayed with it because I wanted to know what would happen next. For better or for worse, Sim got my money the “old-fashioned way”: he earned it, every damn penny.

So, it’s over. Charlie Brown has kicked the football. Superman has stepped into the gold Kryptonite room. Alfred E. Newman got braces. Robert Crumb has moved to the south of France where he lives happily with his wife and child. Even Harvey Pekar got a movie.

And Cerebus the aardvark fell out of bed, broke his neck, and died on the floor of his bedroom (but not before he got out one last good fart). He died alone and unmourned, forgotten by his followers and dismissed by his family, alienated from society and anathematized by dubious progress.

He flew into the beckoning light, only to realize, too late that it was a mistake . . . or was it?

I dunno. I imagine I have the rest of my life to figure that one out. Good one, Dave.

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