Friday, August 13, 2004

Various and Sundry

Oh boy! It’s been an eventful day here at La Casa Del O’Neil. If you have been paying attention you might have noticed that I’ve had some computer troubles lately. I couldn’t use explorer and was forced to use my wife’s computer for anything that involved accessing my hard drive – that is, writing, blogging and everything but checking the e-mail and a modicum of web-surfing.

So, I was resolved to the grim prospect of reformatting. I’ve done it before. It’s not fun, but it sure beats the alternative – i.e., nothing.

But while waiting Windows XP to arrive I decided to do something strange: I actually went to Microsoft and downloaded the updates for Windows 98. There were over 60 updates, since I had never before bothered to do this.

Now, my computer is working fine. So I take back everything I’ve ever said about Evil Bill. He’s fine by me – he can watch my kids anytime. OK, I don’t have kids but you get the idea.

It’s Time For Letters!

Lil’ Chris Allen writes:

I read your review [of Eightball #23] and mostly enjoyed it, but I'm wondering if your feeling that the issue marked a creative decline for Clowes is in reality just that he's doing a type of story you don't like. Yes, that's absurdly simple, but what I mean is, if one choose to tell a story of an alienated sociopath becoming a serial killer when he's given ultimate power, isn't detachment and a lack of warmth a valid creative choice? I understand your reasoning, and yes, Clowes has perhaps lost some endearing qualities as he's refined his artistic skill--no more starring in his own stories like "I Love You Deeply"--but as you point out, the detachment was starting as far back as Velvet Glove, so could it be you two have just hit a fork in the road? There was a part in Ice Haven where he takes some very easy shots at comics critics and fans that I saw as a warning sign (and if Ware does a full-length Rusty Brown GN, that could be trouble as well), and yet I think The Death Ray is nearly as good. I think it's clear that the choice to depict the superhero adventures briefly and awkwardly (nice Tallarico image) is because there really is no joy for this guy, no matter what happens to him. He can't even fantasize right. I agree Clowes probably has no love whatsoever for superheroes (I noticed in Spiegelman's intro to City of Glass he says Mazzuchelli was so good he "almost made superheroes interesting"--thanks, boss) but I don't think Clowes really intended to make any kind of statement about them specifically; they just made a good, ridiculous symbol for a story of power corrupting. To me, the detached tone was countered by what I felt were personal elements of Clowes in the character of Andy. He's a collector of old music, has old-fashioned values, and some shameful sexual energy he tries to rise above through his chosen task/field of endeavor. Anyway, I'm off, but look forward to hearing from you.

Chris Allen

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Chris. I have always appreciated your columns, even when I haven’t agreed with your opinions. I am sorry to see you’re not contributing to The Shoot anymore – and so is Ryall, I think – but I am glad you still have a home at Comic Book Galaxy.

I am very aware of the possibility, as you mention that "it’s not him, it’s me". There are certainly enough people who are absolutely in love with Eightball #23 for me to think my opinion might not be exclusively valid. But I considered my opinion with great deliberation, weighing the pros and cons very carefully before I wrote a single word on the subject.

I have no problem with depressing or cynical or downright mean-spirited stories. Brett Easton Ellis is one of my all-time favorite writers, and anyone who says that American Psycho isn’t a stone-cold masterpiece is just flat wrong in my opinion. But it seems to me that Clowes’ stylistic rigidity and moralistic rigor are basically strangling the life out of his art. He’s already explored alienation and psychotic disassociation. He’s done these things before, and done them very well, so to do make the case for doing them again requires the kind of quantum leap in artistic conception that we saw between the completion of David Boring and "Ice Haven". I just don’t see that kind of growth here. It seems to be almost a retread, with just the added bonus imagery of superheroes to confuse the issue.

Because, let’s face it, there’s no profound statement on superheroes to be made here. I don’t think that Clowes is interested in superheroes even enough to mock them convincingly. Ask Evan Dorkin – to truly loathe something, you have to love it. The only time Andy becomes The Death Ray, he looks very silly in that homemade thrift-store costume. That’s kind of Clowes’ attitude in general towards superheroes, I think: just sort of a shoulder-shrugging silliness.

If you subtract the superhero imagery, you’re left with stories, characters and situations that strike me as very similar to stories, characters and situations we have previously seen in Clowes’ previous work. That’s my problem with Eightall #23. As I said, it’s a beautifully produced piece of work, but it’s nothing new from an artist who has practically made a career out of outdoing himself with every successive project. If he wants to explore these themes for the rest of his life, more power to him – God knows some truly great artists have done a lot more with much less in the way of preoccupations – but if he does, I want to see something more than Rebecca and Enid with testosterone and in superhero drag.

Despite all of this, I will admit that I could very well be biased here. We won’t know for sure until Clowes produces a new issue - and I wouldn’t hold my breath for that at this rate.

I Hate Memes!

It’s a fact of life: if everybody is doing something, I try to do what they’re not doing. But, you know, sometimes I can’t resist, and since everybody else has already done so, I don’t really fear the ridicule of being the only kid in class wearing a purple ascot:

  • The Smithsonian Books of Comic Strips & Books - I don’t actually have the strips book but I imagine if it’s anywhere near as good as the damn Comic Books book it is just as essential.

  • The Collected Palomar & Locas - Together they will weight in at, what, 1300 pages or something? Indispensable, but you knew that.

  • Stuck Rubber Baby - Has anyone mentioned this one yet? Howard Cruse gets overlooked too damn often.

  • From Hell - Well, damned if it doesn’t just blow away most everything else ever done.

  • Louis Riel - If you read this blog you already know I think Chester Brown is our Greatest Living Cartoonists – this is his greatest work to date, so it’s a no-brainer.

  • The Frank Book - For advanced study only. This book will swallow the weak.

  • The R. Crumb Library – Volumes 4 & 15 - I can’t pick between them, can I cheat and have these count as one? Crumb’s two peak eras gloriously represented.

  • That Big-Ass Krazy Kat Hardcover - I don’t know the exact name – you know which one I’m talking about.

  • Read Yourself Raw - I don’t even own a copy of this one myself, but sure enough I know what’s in it.

Yeah, no Maus. Trust me, you’ll live.

Finally . . .

Courtesy of Achewood, the funniest panel in the history of comics:

Th-th-th-that’s all, folks.

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