Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Under Da Sea

Note: The following column has been subcontracted to a red-haired mermaid

So, like, ohmiGAWD I am so totally STOKED to be here with ya'll today! This is, like, a total honor, or something, I am totally, totally sure.

So, uh, we're talking about what? Comic books? Um, I, like, don't know anything about those, except, like, I was in one of those things once, I think:

It was, like, totally grody. It looks like we're having, like, such a fun time but really there were all these old men just, like, looking at me while I was on panel. They said they were, um, editors or something but they just kept their hands in their pockets and were just, like, really interested in me. It was super creepy.

So, um, you're probably wondering what I've been up to all these years. Well, like, it's just been one long and crazy roller coaster ride ever since my movie came out in 1989 (or whenever it was, I am such a total ditz!). Just one thing after another! I love going around and meeting all my fans across the world, even in the Middle East where I usually get stoned and heckled! But I know that's just their way of showing their appreciation for the magical world of Walt Disney.

This, as you know, is my, like, total best friend in the whole world, Sebastian the crab. Well, he wants you all to know that he has, like, never been happier these last few years since he finally came out of the closet. I was, like, so totally proud of him for being brave, you know? Even if it meant he couldn't ever set foot on Disney property again, which it kinda did.

But he's working for Sandals in the Caribbean, he's, um, the musical director or something for one of the resorts down there. He's been living with a handsome mullosk named Dave for about two years now and has never been in better shape! You should, like, totally see his abs, they are just to die for.

That's Dave. Isn't he just a total super cutie-pie?

Aw, weren't they, like, so perfect for each other? They were just a super couple, weren't they?

But those were, like, happier times, back before the drugs and, like, before he cheated on her with that total slut Pocahontas.

Let me tell you something . . . like, a total secret: when she was singing about "painting with the colors of the wind" or whatever, she was totally ripped on PCP. Everyone, like, so totally knew but they didn't fire her because her and Eisner had, like, a thing going on there for a while. But when he got bored that ho was so totally on her ass, it was not even funny.

Last I heard she was doing Chinese-language soap operas, or something, in Taiwan or Hong Kong or Mekong or one of those oriental countries.

Um. Oh, I am so totally going to cry! I can remember exactly where I was when I heard . . . I was sitting in the living room watching, like, 90210, and then I get this call, and it's Belle, and she's totally crying and I can't understand what she's saying and then she says, like, "Simba's dead," and I'm like, "No!" and she's all like, "Way!" and I'm just "No way!" Apperantly, he was shot by poachers or something, I still don't, like, know what really went down. But I do know that those faggots at E! who said he had that vial of Coke on him were so totally full of S-H-I-T!

Isn't he just a total hottie? I so thought so too. But he was such a freaking prima-donna, let me tell you. He was, like, all "You cannot address me, you brazen harlot, cover yourself in the name of Allah" and I was like, "you are so totally not talking that way to me," so I left that party. Like, I, um, respect his religion and stuff, but he was just a total prick about it. So, um, no-one was too surprised to hear about what happened after 9/11.

But, like, the parrot took the money he made from the movie and opened a deli with two of the Aristocats. I've been there but, like, I so totally couldn't eat anything on the menu because, like, I'm just a total anorexic! I mean, I am so fucking fat, I'm like, just totally repulsive!

Now there's an honestly happy person! He is just, like, one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. They found him, like, living in a trailer park in Florida for circus freaks and he was just totally stoked to be in the movie, he says he was blessed by God to be able to bring joy to so many children, or something like that. It's, like, almost creepy, hes so damn happy.

I got an e-mail from him, like, a couple months back said they were putting together, like, a total package tour with him, Corky from Life Goes On, the Elephant Man and that guy who played Urkel.

But that Esmerelda was, just, like, a total flaming bitch, and a mega-whore to boot. I don't care what she tells you, I was not in the car with Hercules at that party. I don't even like Hercules, he is so totally gay it isn't even funny.

Just remember, like, next time you watch Hunchback: she's a total ho and she'd suck a toad if she thought he had some coke in his pocket. Like, totally.

I always thought Mulan was, like, totally pretty. But, like, after she did her movie she cut her hair, why did she do that? Like, I totally respect her not wanting to make the whole Disney thing her life, and stuff, and I totally understand wanting to go to college and get a degree in, um, feminist studies or something? But she sent me this book for Christmas two years ago that, like, I just don't understand at all . . .

And now I hear she's working for, like, the Mayor of San Francisco or something. I dunno.

And, like, that's just about it for all of the "old crowd" . . . we've kind of, um, drifted apart the past few years, because we've all got jobs and stuff, but, like, it's always fun to get together and stuff, you know, talk about the old days.

I don't know much about these new kids, especially, like, the Pixar guys . . . they're kind of, um, weird, and they all seem really, really serious when they're not performing. I don't know, I met Mike from Monsters, Inc. at a company party and he looked really nice with his glasses on and his hair combed back but he was kind of, um, what's the word, condescending to me . . . he was talking to that toy guy, um, Buzz Light-Something about this book he read by some guy, like, Noah Chauncy or Chompsy or something . . . they were having this total deep and meaningful conversation about, like, government and stuff right in the middle of a cocktail party. I mean, Donald Duck was fucking throwing up in the guest bathroom and they didn't even notice. Kind of stuck up, I think.

The worst part is that now that I'm getting older Mike doesn't answer my calls. I still do Disneyland events and mall openings but, like, I'm going to start working with Bob Eisner now, he kind-of does things cheaper than Mike. He gave me some scripts and I don't know if I want to do Jeepers Creepers 4. I don't know, should I?

I mean, work is work, right?

Drawn & Quarterly Showcase: Book One - Part I

The first of hopefully many editions in the Drawn & Quarterly Showcase series features the work of two artists, Kevin Huizenga and Nicholas Robel. While neither artist could accurately be described as "new", they have both just recently entered the first real phase of their careers as up-and-coming cartoonists: the phase where people start to notice and to care.

Future volumes of the D&Q showcase promise to follow in this tradition by premiering new work from artists perhaps just one major story away from breaking into the "big times." The second volume promises work by Jeffrey Brown and Pentti Otsamo. In the first case it's a bit late for me, because after reading the knockout combo of Unlikely, Clumsy and Be A Man, I don't really need any more convincing that Brown is one of the best young cartoonists currently working today. But I don't know who Otsamo is, so that's definitely something to look forward to. (The multinational balance of the Showcase seems refreshing as well - the fact that a domestic and a foreign cartoonist are featured in the first two volume bodes well for the future.)

The book is split in half, with 41 pages allotted to Huizenga and 45 to Robel. Both acquit themselves well but I believe that Huizenga's is the more interesting specimen, so I'll tackle Robel first.

"87 blvd des Capucines" is slightly maddening, one of those stories that takes a seemingly malicious glee in obfuscating the reader. It's one of those stories that rewards a patient reading, and you will find yourself flipping back and forth through the story multiple times in search of answers - "who's that?", "what did he do?", "is that still the same character?", and so forth.

Of course, this problem is a result of a rather sneaky maneuver on Robel's part, one of those slight-of-hand tricks that almost seem like showing-off on the part of the cartoonist but isn't, not really.

The book begins normally enough, with a young couple looking at an empty apartment owned by the type of mothballed old lady you see in movies all the time. But after only a few pages of the young couple walking around the apartment, things get weird. At first you think that maybe the young lady, Isrine, is flashing back to her childhood. Later on, certain storytelling conceits of Robel's clue you in on the fact that she's actually dreaming, and when you realize that the entire story snaps into sharp focus.

Or rather, it doesn't: it doesn't become a whit less opaque in certain areas. But most importantly, the fact that by the story's end you know you're not supposed to make sense of everything is one of its strengths. This is obviously not a Freudian dream fantasy: there are things that make sense as we learn more about Isrine's background, and there are things that remain obscured and apparently meaningless.

Dreams are scary by their nature. I don't believe that dreams can really "tell" you anything. There's something ominous and anomalous about the act of thinking while you're not supposed to be thinking, of visualizing and cogitating when everything up top is supposed to be resting. But the shock of unexpected juxtaposition and amorphous reality that characterize dreams can be one of the most elusive feelings for a storyteller to conjure. Unlike in the movies, dreams don't usually involve dwarves or backwards-running clocks. You don't know you're dreaming while you're dreaming - or at least not most of the time - and the feeling of reality slowly falling out from under your feet is one of the most vulnerable experiences in the world.

"87 blvd des Capucines" somehow manages to achieve the strange and bizarre texture of an actual, honest-to-God dream, or at least what you would reasonably expect a dream to look like if it crawled out of your head and drew itself on the paper. (Most dream comics don't make it this far, simply reflecting how the conscious mind wants to interpret the act of dreaming.)

The dream is composed of a number of vignettes culled from Isrine's unhappy childhood - the divorce of her parents, her first kiss, the death (or disappearance? abandonment?) of her sister. The most effective and affecting moment comes toward the end of the story, and acts as the ostensible climax in a story with no discernable structure. Isrine clutches her abdomen and rushes up many flights of stairs to the bathroom, and it is there we see the spot of blood on the crotch of her dress. She strips and steps into the tub, until the water becomes red with the blood from her menstruation. Over the red water we see her parents arguing about their painful separation. After they leave, Isrine gets out of the tub, throws up in the toilet and lies on the cold tile bathroom floor for a moment before she puts her dress back on and goes hunting for her boyfriend.

If there is something a bit false about this, it would be the fact that I think male creators never quite get the act of menstruation to ring true. There's a good rule of thumb that whenever you see a story with some sort of woman being drowned in blood, like some sort of metaphor for the terror of menses, it was written by a guy. This says a lot more about the stereotypical (if somewhat accurate) fear of women's bodies that many men have, than anything about what women actually feel to the process of menstruation. But, given that caveat, it is a remarkable passage, with the shameful bloody adolescent menstruation set against the family turmoil of her childhood to illustrate the character's deep seated unease and detachment.

Earlier in the story, before the beginning of the overtly "dreamlike" body of the story, Isrine is berated by her boyfriend for being immature, callow and irresponsible, a perpetual adolescent in an adult's body. We don't get any sort of hollow maturation on the protagonist's part, but we do get a deep and abiding sense of just who Isrine actually is - not who she wants to be or who she was, but who she is. The perpetual present-tense of the dream-like fugue creates an insistent sense of now, the awareness that dissembling is useless - because lying implies an awareness of the past and the future. Time doesn't exist in dreams.

Stylistically, Robel evokes the best of both Richard Sala and Ron Rege, Jr. From the former you can easily see the sketchy, flat shapes playing against a background of awkwardly placed dry brushstrokes. With Rege he shares a sense of size and shape evocative of the Cubists, an almost sardonic awareness of three-dimensional space as perceived on the medium of flat paper. The overall effect of his style is slightly disassociative, but very much European. Here is someone who obviously pulls from a rich multicultural cartooning heritage that doesn't just include representational figure work and bigfoot cartooning.

But what about those clouds, you ask? Ah, the damn clouds. Everyone and everything in this story interacts with the clouds - whether they look like wind or errant word balloons or the sound from a spinning record player or wailing poltergeists. It's a smart motif, one of those irresistibly clever visual metaphors that mark the presence of a master craftsman, someone who takes full advantages of the infinite metaphorical opportunities open to the cartoonist with every line he draws. "87 blvd des Capucines" is a hazy fever dream of a comic, and one of the most interesting works I've read in ages.

But, of course, I still liked Huizenga's contribution better - and it is to that I will speak either tomorrow or Friday.

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