Monday, June 28, 2004

Drawn & Quarterly Showcase: Book One - Part II

Issue #259 of The Comics Journal was the "Youthquake" issue, and it featured interviews and critical examinations of several cartoonists who could legitimately be termed "up and coming." If there’s even one loose thread I think we can discern running between cartoonists as disparate as Drew Weing, John Pham and Paul Hornscheimer, it’s a return to a more classically-honed sense of formalism. This would be as opposed to the more intuitive (and sometimes plain surreal) brand of storytelling practiced by the last notable generation of up-and-comers, such as the ex-Fort Thunder crowd and the notoriously anti-craft James Kochalka. (This is a loose generalization, mind you, I could come up with any number of examples to refute it myself.)

In Tom Spurgeon’s introduction to his interview with Kevin Huizenga, Spurgeon proclaims that "[Huizenga] stands as good a chance as anyone working today of being the next alternative comics superstar," and I find this claim difficult to contradict. His work may lack the self-conscious flash of Sammy Harkham’s or the appealing professionalism of Derek Kirk Kim’s, but his stories hide deep layers the likes of which most of his peers have yet to realize.

Huizenga’s contribution to the first Drawn & Quarterly Showcase comes in the form of three interlocking and closely related stories, a triptych focusing on the life of Huizenga’s ostensible alter-ego Glenn Ganges. Huizenga isn’t married, however, and he’s never had to wrestle with an inability to conceive or eat a feathered ogre’s egg. Ganges is merely a conceit, and is used by Huizenga in a manner comparable to the way Philip Roth uses Nathan Zuckerman – as a patsy, a cipher, a keyhole with which to peer through the heart of his stories.

Huizenga tells a story with the effortless exposition of a master autodidact, someone who knows too much and can’t help but let his knowledge seep over the sides of the cup. It’s a refreshing change, given the focus on stringent formalism that has consumed leading cartoonists such as Ware and Clowes (And the many remoras who follow them), to read a story that is actually about something other than the act of being a comic book. Whereas Ware and Clowes use formalism as a cudgel, constricting the circulation in their stories until the constant desire for perfection produces a strangulation effect, Huizenga seems content to produce work that uses a deft touch of formal craftsmanship merely to illustrate ideas, and not to communicate emotional content through the nigh-oppressive use of craft.

(Already I can see the English majors in the audience nodding their heads in pity – "but if he’s not a structuralist then what the hell good is he?" [Hey, I was an English major too, I just ignored the stupid stuff.]) (And I hardly dislike Ware & Clowes, either, I’m not stupid.)

The first story in the trilogy is untitled, and takes place in the space of about five minutes on a clear spring afternoon. Glenn goes for the mail and spends the rest of the strip contemplating the fate of the missing children whose pictures are printed on the back of direct-mail flyers. After a bit he digresses and discusses an enclave of recent Sudanese refugees who have settled in his community. Along the way, he very matter-of-factly drops in the fact that he and his wife have been unsuccessfully attempting to conceive a child for some time.

Huizenga deserves credit for avoiding the obvious thematic touchstones that you would expect to see in a story like this. Usually, if the story dealt with an infertile couple, you would expect to see the world illustrated with an eye towards obvious symbols of fertility or decay – deer with young fawns or rotting roadkill. Instead, he avoids the use of any explicit imagery to nail his thematic context. Instead, he illustrates his narration in a very straightforward manner, using a light and airy brushline to communicate an almost immaterial reality.

Instead of either life or death, the story focuses on the concept of detachment – of children detached from their families, of families detached from the mainstream of society, of immigrants detached from their culture, and of a young couple detached from their own abilities to reproduce.

The story features two distinct "movements." The first, which begins with Glenn’s musings on the missing children and the wonders of age advancement technology, ends with Glenn’s comment about his family’s infertility. It’s a poignant, painful moment, made no less so by the fact that he slips it in very subtly. After a short pause (about the time it takes to turn the page) the story picks up steam again, this time on the subject of the Sudanese immigrants. Glenn’s thoughts follow the Sudanese as their story unfolds and he contemplates their cultural remove. After two pages of extremely dense exposition, Huizenga finishes the story with another long pause, an almost wordless two-page sequence in which Glenn closes the mailbox and brings the mail into his wife. After the extremely dense content of the preceding few pages, these panels seem almost barren, filled with empty lawns and cloudless skies. Again, Huizenga’s light brushwork lends the story a sense of delicate melancholy that a heavier technique would not have communicated so easily.

The final page is set-up to the story’s virtual punchline. I won’t give it away (because it would be meaningless outside the story’s context) but in one gesture Huizenga does a brilliant job of communicating Glenn’s rootless despair and the helplessness of their situation. It sounds heavy, and perhaps it is, but it actually reads remarkably light. There’s a remarkable melange of contradictory and conflicting emotions here, just as in real life. You don’t know whether to smirk or to frown. As a reader, you don’t know how to react, and it’s just this ambiguity that makes the story such an interesting achievement.

The next story, "28th Street," is the focal point of the two shorter pieces that buttress it. It’s based on an Italian folktale called "The Feathered Ogre." Basically, after the Ganges have tried everything they can do to have a child, Glenn is told that if he can steal a feather off a feathered ogre, he will be allowed to conceive. So he goes on a strange quest to find the feathered ogre.

In terms of atmosphere, I see a lot of similarities between Huizenga’s approach to the story’s fantastic elements and Matt Brinkman’s treatment of similar concepts. Stylistically, the two artists couldn’t be further apart, but in terms of the way that they both present bizarre fantasy elements matter-of-factly in the course of their narrative, there’s a lot of common ground. When Glenn finally meets the feathered ogre (pretending to be Satan by wearing a bag over his head and taking his pants off – don’t ask) the ogre doesn’t have any great and solemn pronouncement, he merely says "Let’s eat – I’m starving," in the curt tone of a busy urban professional.

In terms of the way Huizenga tackles urban cityscapes, he shares a lot with the aforementioned Clowes. Pages 24-25 are mostly focused on showing off the town as Glenn drives around looking for the ogre. It’s basically the same type of suburban mid-sized townscape we’ve all encountered more times than we can count. But whereas Clowes’ and Wares’ precision can be ominous and alienating, Huizenga’s very naturalistic view of urban scenery is more familiar. Of course, the best part is seeing the typical cityscape melt into a Marc Bell-meets-Ron Rege, Jr. nightmare when Glenn dowses his eyes in magic gasoline in order to find the ogre. Scenes like this suggest that Huizenga has a lot more visual dexterity under his sleeve than his more formally restrained work might suggest (no fair if you get to peek ahead and read Little Sammy McSkinker!)

The final story in the triptych, "The Curse," features a brief history of the starling in North America. There are two passages herein that really stand out. The first is page 42, which illustrates groups of starlings moving across and over the countryside. Interestingly, even though Huizenga illustrates the starlings in flight as tiny folded lines, he still manages to communicate emotion and intent on the part of the birds through their motions and their aggregations.

The second sequence of note, and perhaps the most interesting sequence I’ve yet read this year, occurs on page 45. After Glenn scares a flock of starlings from his tree with a firecracker they take flight, swooping and curving through the air with no seeming shape or purpose, until finally aggregating into a recognizable flock and disappearing over the horizon. It may not sound like much on paper, but it’s a startling sequence in terms of the utter simplicity with which Huizenga can ably and affectingly illustrate a very complicated visual maneuver.

(I will also point out that page 47 also features a rather blatant Crumb swipe.)

In any event, Huizenga’s contribution to this volume ably illustrates why he must be considered at the very top of his incoming class. There are few cartoonists working today who would be so comfortable juggling so many different genres and performing across so many emotional registers within the scope of only forty pages. The ambiguity and emotional engagement with which he imbues his stories foreshadows the coming of a truly monumental cartooning talent. Let us hope that he can live up to the promise within these pages.

Not to pressure him or anything.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho

First off, I’d like to thank Master Shake, Garfield the cat, Ariel the Little Mermaid, Robert Smith of the Cure and Lee Iacocca for filling in for me last week. They all stepped up to the plate and did a terrific job!

But I would like to point out that it’s not every day we get big-time celebrity guests to come and share their wisdom with this here blogosphere. You people need to show some appreciation for these fine upstanding citizens for sharing their hard-earned time with us.

We were going to have a telethon to raise money for you sense-of-humor impaired people but we realized that we would ultimately need too much money because no one seems to have a sense of humor anymore.

I mean, good Lord, I say anything that dares impugn the superhero, everyone gets all up in arms and talks about it for weeks. But try to spread laughter and joy to all the children of the world? Damned if I don’t hear crickets chirping.

Speaking of which, I was quite surprised to find myself enjoying the new Mike Millar Spider-Man book. Sure, it’s nothing really new but I think this book should serve as a nice rebuttal to anyone who sees Millar as a cynical craftsmen with no affection for these characters. He’s got a good handle on just about all the major players, and that’s no mean feat. It is a bit darker than I think most Spidey books should probably be, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s still handled well: this is exactly how I think Spider-Man would act in such a dire situation. I wouldn’t give the book to an eight-year old Spidey fan who just saw the movie but it would probably be perfect for a 12-14 year old.

One problem, and I know I can’t be the first to notice this. Why does Spidey have any problem getting into Avengers Mansion? He has an ID card. He has his retinal scans on file with the Avengers’ computer. Hell, even if you forgot that he’s been an Avenger since the early 90’s, they covered this in last month’s issue of She-Hulk. Its not enough to make me dislike the book, because it is fun, but little things like that just rub me the wrong way.

Be sure to check out my new reviews posted at Popmatters – including my take on Uberzone’s excellent contribution to the Y4K series as well as Theo Parrish’s fantastic Parallel Dimensions album. If you like my review of Parallel Dimensions, please feel free to check out my Amazon link to the left of your screen . . . hey, it’s not like I get paid to do this, so I can’t afford shame.

Tomorrow we’ll continue our look at the first Drawn & Quarterly Showcase book, this time focusing on Kevin Huizenga’s superb contribution. Buh-bye!

Travels With Larry Part XII

Couscous Express

Will Eisner aside, there aren’t very many comics being made out there, in any genre, that have successfully attempted to communicate the cultural plight of the immigrant in America. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that most cartoonists are WASPs (with some Jews thrown in to the mix as well).

Couscous Express gets some points for trying to tackle these issues head on. However, I’m afraid to say that there’s not much else I can find to recommend this book.

The book details the adventures of Olive Yassin, a fast-food delivery girl in New York City, working for her parents’ award-winning middle-eastern restaurant. First, Olive is perhaps the least likeable protagonist since Leatherface in the first texas Chainsaw Massacre. I know that writer Brian Wood isn’t stupid, I realize he made a conscious decision to portray her as an irredeemable brat. But as with many things, there are two ways to make an unlikable protagonist viable in a your narrative: the way that works and the way that doesn’t. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. She’s a self-absorbed brat who complicates and endangers the lives of everyone around her.

The story is supposedly built around an arc of character growth on her part, but it’s an unconvincing transformation. At the end of the book, despite all the danger and destruction, all the main characters are essentially unscathed. Olive has had some bad times but the fact that everyone came out OK in the end serves only to reinforce the essentially solipsistic nature of her character. At the very end of the story she says she’s learned her lesson, but at no point does Wood actually show this. Just having her say she learned and grew is hardly enough. Show, don’t tell. People lie, and we have no reason to believe that Olive is any less of a bitch on the last page than on the first page.

Brett Weldele’s artwork doesn’t do much for me either. I can tell he majored in design, because his pages are full of cool design elements and trippy Photoshop effects. The one thing his pages lack, however, is the ability to tell a story clearly and succinctly. There are many times throughout, especially during longer action sequences, when the reader is basically left to their own devices in terms of following the narrative thrust. Perhaps the years will reveal Weldele as a rising star, but his work in Couscous Express is very, very raw.

Ultimately, Couscous Express failed for me on a very visceral level as a direct result of the casual violence and gun fetishism throughout the book. Maybe I’m a "square", but I don’t think guns are very fun. Guns are dangerous. A bullet can shatter an arm, a leg or a life. Every time a shot is fired, the potential exists to permanently damage or destroy someone’s life, as well as the lives of everyone they know and love.

Violence is a very real and very unpleasant part of life. I don’t like art that glorifies or fetishizes or in any way puts across the notion that violence is an acceptable solution. I can handle it in a superhero comic book or a horror movie, because they’re fantasy. I can handle it when used in satire (as in The Punisher) or realistically (The Wild Bunch springs to mind). But I don’t like action movies. I don’t like heroes who shoot first and ask questions later without any thought to the pain and havoc they wreak with every bullet. I don’t like these things portrayed in a straightforward and essentially uncritical manner. I don’t like seeing the lifestyle of the young and criminally inclined glorified in the manner that Couscous Express glorifies the group of violent criminals, the self-proclaimed "urban warriors" at its core. Where are the police? Why is there no acknowledgement of the fact that these people live lives of meaningless and inescapable violence?

The book ends with a figurative "happy ever after", on the assumption that simply because enough people have died the violence is over. But that’s not how it works. Violence begets violence begets violence. Our culture is awash in art that attempts to convince us that casual, sexualized violence is OK, when it’s not.

Art has no external moral prerogative, but it must remain true. Couscous Express reads incredibly false to me, the product of having seen too many bad action movies and maybe having lived one of those rare and privileged lives that is never darkened by brutal violence. As someone who has touched the barest perimeter of overwhelming violence, and felt the uncontrollably pain and suffering it inspires, I can’t help but find this book sorely lacking.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Master of Industry

Note: The following column has been subcontracted to a world-beating captain of industry

Well now, what’s this here comic book blog I’ve been given to write today? Well, quite a propitious circumstance it is indeed. It looks to be time for an important announcement from me,

Lee Iacocca,
Master of Industry!!!

You see, I’ve made the decision to buy comics. Not just a few comics, or a few comic companies, but all of comics.

Why, you may be asking yourselves in tones of hushed wonder? Why is such an important, handsome and enigmatically charismatic living legend bothering with such a pissant little industry as comics?

Because it pleases me to do so.

After all, they said I couldn’t bring the American automobile industry back to the forefront of world business.

It was supposed to explode. Somehow the advertising people didn’t get that part across.

They said I couldn’t make a successful artificial butter spread with an old man flavor.

People love the old man flavor – they come up to me in shopping malls and at rodeos and tell me "Mr. Iacocca, Sir, this artificial butter canola spread tastes just like you!!!" It doesn’t even explode. When I see the joyous gleam in the eyes of a small child, there is no prouder moment possible for . . .

Lee Iacocca,
Master of Industry!!!

They said you couldn’t start a nationwide franchise of strip clubs with preteen boys as entertainment, and then they watched as my Lee Iacocca presents P.J. O’Cucumber’s chain rose to become the number one pre-teen sex-club franchise in the country.

So why comics? Simple – looks like an easy target. You got all these pissant companies vying for pieces of an ever-smaller pie – sounds like Detroit in the 70s, doesn’t it? Who else but . . .

Lee Iacocca,
Master of Industry!!!

. . . could possibly save this benighted industry?

Man, I love these gummy fish I got down at the Shaw’s. They were in the clearance basket for seventy-five cents a package, I think I’ll go back and grab the lot of them. After all, a penny saved is a penny earned. I may be diabetic, but I never turn down a gummy shark!

So, we’re going to see some changes around here. I don’t like this Spider-Man fellow having his name so big, so I’m going to change "The Amazing Spider-Man" to . . .

Just imagine yourself a child again, for a moment, in the beautiful world of childhood where everything is so grand and wonderful and optimistic. Say you’re flipping through the comic book rack with your greasy stubby peasant fingers looking for a comic book to waste your mind on . . . what will appeal to you? A picture of a fruit-loop in tights or a picture of me,

Lee Iacocca,
Master of Industry!!!

The choice is clear.

And that’s not all!

Tokyopop is unfortunately going to be put out of business, and all the employees pink-slipped. There’s a very simple reason for this: Courtney Love ran over my dog.

There I was, walking Puddles down the side of the street (or, to be more correct, my manservant Ezekiah was doing it) and Ms. Love comes blazing down the street in a 1972 Grand Tourino and leaves Puddles as nothing more than a bloody stain on the pavement. I think she was hopped up on the wacky tobaccy as well.

Anyway, Tokyopop has gotten into bed with the sinister Ms. Love, in the form of this forthcoming comic book:

I don’t know quite how it works: whether they have some sort of gun that shrinks her down into a comic strip character, or whether she has magic powers that enable her to somehow exist simultaneously on two planes of existence . . . but I do know that if I buy Tokyopop and burn the place to the ground I will finally be rid of that meddlesome shrew!

On the ashes of the Tokyopop compound I shall erect an enormous memorial to my dear Puddles, the greatest dog in the world. The only thing that makes it easier to get by from day to day is the knowledge that even though my Puddles is safe in Dog Heaven, the first Puddles will live forever in my heart and on newspaper pages all across the world . . .

So, what else? Well, we’ve got these smaller independent companies that seem to exist merely to bother the real entrepreneurs. The problem is that they have some lucrative properties, if they’d only know how to exploit them.

Take Eightball, for example. I am sure this Clowes fellow is a nice guy, but nice guys just don’t cut it in the world of business. One issue every three years isn’t going to send the stock through the roof. So, as of next October, Eightball is going monthly, with a new creator behind the helm, Chuck Austen. I’m told this kid is really hot – never misses a deadline. I’ve seen some of his drawings and his work looks a lot better than that Clowes guy in any event – he works with computers! It’s got to be great! There will, in any event, be more explosions, more violence, and a return to the characters from the popular Ghost World movie – only now they’re bounty hunters in a scarred post-apocalyptic wasteland where they have to fight dinosaurs and giant robots. Plus, they’ve got really big hooters now.

I know what the youth of America want, for I am

Lee Iacocca,
Master of Industry!!!

I don’t think we’ll be publishing those Archie comics anymore, I met the men who owned the company and they had some green beans in their teeth. I realize they had probably just returned from lunch but I will not have such immoral and unsanitary characters in my publishing enterprise. So, the Archie properties will be folded into Fantagraphics’ existing Eros line. They should be able to get sales up. Kids will eat it up!

Most importantly, I want there to be more Insane Clown Posse comics.

Yes, I realize that they already have a few comics on the market, but soon they will be the number one franchise in the world. I feel my deep roots in the town of Detroit, the heart of America . . . and the ICP remain Detroit’s - and by extension America’s – greatest living troubadours.

We live in a day and age when the American Dream is a living reality. What else speaks to the primal urgency of the American Dream like two men in clown makeup spraying fat people with Faygo brand soda pop?

They’ve already conquered the world of movies:

It’s only a matter of time before America’s children are all screaming to own all the Skinny J and 2 Shaggy Dope merchandise and artificial-butter canola spread that we can produce.

But first I’m closing all the comic book stores and I will personally go around and put my fat Cuban cigar out in the eye of anyone who speaks ill of these plans on an internet message board. I swear to God, you miserable punks, I don’t know what a fucking Heroclix is, and if you tell me you bought three cases without getting a "Bat Sentry" one more time I will ensure that Congress passes legislation banning you. You personally. From breathing.

Because at the end of the day, you don’t fuck with

Lee Iacocca,
Master of Industry!!!

Thursday, June 24, 2004


Note: The following column has been subcontracted to a somber black-haired post-punker

So, eh, wot's this then? 'Ere I was about to sit down to a nice cuppa and some chap calls me up and says: "See 'ere, Robert, would you mind doing me a terribly awkward favor now and filling in on me comic book blog?" And sure as I said "yes'n" 'e was orf the line doin' a jig or sumpin', I’m sure.

Only problem is, see, I don' know much about these 'ere comical books, least not wot you Yanks is used to. 'Ere on the Islands we read good proper boys comics, like Beano.

Now that’s a right cracking good comical book, guv'ner! None of this "bam and pow" rot like on your bloody Yank books, although we 'ad our fair share of those bleeders as well, right right. Sent over as ballast, they were, in the 'ulls of cargo ships.

That’s 'em and all. I wonder, 'ave Oy ever been in a comical book such as 'is?

Bloody 'ell! I guess I was an' all!

Anyways, I figures to sit down and 'ave me a spot of tea while I write this 'ere blogument on the subject of comical books, so Oy’ll just put some music on in the background, like this, see . . . ah, yes, if it ain’t me favorite group, the Cure. I quite fancy the fellow wot sings for them, he’s got 'imself an 'andsome face, yes he does. 'Ets put on some Bloodflowers, 'cause someone's got to listen to that one, I say, an' it moit as 'ell be me since no one else is nickin' it, roit?

Anyways, where was we? Ah yes, me old pal Biffo:

Jolly old chap 'e was, always bumblin' into some jolly fun mischief, was 'e. Splendid fun, roit.

Now, I do say, wot since a fellow loiks bein' seen in makeup an' frizzy 'air, everyone sees fit to call 'im a ponce! Now, see how, chaps, but that's not quite roit. It's a sartororial choice, it is, an' I don't see your manly visage on the posters on the walls of America's yout', now do I?

Now wots this we 'ave 'ere?

'Ell, now, looks as if we’ve got us a big black chap and a pink fellow doin' some ballroom dancing, loik, "step one two" and all that rot. Looks like the pink fellow even put 'is top 'at on for the occasion, idn't dat noice?

Wot's this then? Looks like 'ere’s a cock on this here comical book cover! If 'at don’t just beat all!

It 'ould appear to be everyone’s favorite space monkey, Alf, wit' 'is very own comic book. Looks a bit dodgy, though, as 'e seems to possess three diff'rent noses in this par’ticula picture.

Now, why exactically would a ghost be partic'ulaloy 'appy? It boggles the moind, it surely does. I mean, if I was a ghost, why Oy’d be dead now wouldn’t Oy? It seems to stand to reason that Oy would be if Oy was, which I aint’ but if Oy was it would not be too much call for chipper cheer now, would it? I doubt I’d be right down to the pub for a pint and a silk cut, now would Oy? Oy’d probabably be pretty un'happy about the whole thing, all thigns considered.

Well, now, if it isn’t the Great American Pastime itself, wot it is, but baseball. Ain’t a notch on the bum to cricket, sad to say, but that’s just the way of it now, idn’t it?

Mmmm. I do loik me a nice spot of tea, some Earl Gray really quenches the spot, now but it does.

But bloody 'ell, it looks to me loik a comic telling the wee young lads that takin' drugs is the way to be. Well, now, let me tell you it ain’t, an' all, that’s just the way of it now.

So don’t be lookin' at dis 'ere comical pamphlet and sayin' "bloody ’ell, but it looks loik methampetatatamoines is cert’unlly the way to be goin’ now." That’s sure’n not the way to be gettin’ along in loif. Take it from me, Robert Smit’ o’ the Cure – Drugs is bad.

Well now, if that don’t appear to be nuffink else than moy smilin’ vis’age on the cover of this here comical magazine. Oy wonder how they did that. Ain’t I gots a lawyer no more?

As Oy ’ave been known to observe, boys don’t croy – but seein’ my likeness nicked by some barmy comical book manufacturarers makes moy blood boil suffink black, I tell you!

Well, but I guess this her blogomat is over and all, seein’ as I ’ave been mortally offended and all. But remember, now, buy lots of Cure CDs, wot wot?

Tip top tally ho, young chaps an’ chappettes!

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.