I would find these Hipster Barista memes much funnier if he didn't look exactly like me.

I would find these Hipster Barista memes much funnier if he didn’t look exactly like me.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A raccoon, a tree, the guy from Mouserat, Lt. Uhura, and a WCW Superstar walk into a wretched hive of scum and villainy…

I don’t have a unique take on Guardians of the Galaxy or anything to say about it really other than that I loved it.  I appreciate that self-spoofing, tongue-in-cheek postmodern humor has so thoroughly broken through to the mainstream to become the dominant form of entertainment.  I feel like you can chart a direct line from Andy Warhol to Giles Goat Boy to 30 Rock to Die Antwoord to Guardians of the Galaxy.  Everything is at it was predicted in Frederic Jameson’s seminal theoretical text Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

And Chris Pratt gets to be the Barthesian hologram, the hyperreal version of Han Solo, the more-Harrison-than-Harrison Ford of the 21st century.  Approval, be thee stamped!

Quick Burns:

  • Michael Rooker!  I learned on IMDB that he is one of the few actors to have appeared with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, AND Van Damme.  You probably know him as Merle from the Walking Dead .  As Yondu Udonta, he was my favorite character in the whole movie, or at least the most scene-stealingest.  A little bummed that they toned down Yondu’s signature red mohawk so much though.
  • Karen Gillan, wassupwitu?  Are you tired of being typecast as a super hot redhead with a Scottish accent?  Amy Pond melted my heart one thousand times…but this blue space beastie with a rotten attitude?  Not doing it for me.  Is it because everybody loved Jennifer Lawrence painted blue in X-Men?  Because you don’t have anything to prove to Katniss Everdeen — you were a companion.  That is like Bond Girl x 1,000,000.  But I will watch your sitcom with John Cho.  I will watch it hard.
  • How long is it actually going to take to gather all six infinity gems and make them the focal point of the entire Marvel Cinematic universe?  I assume they’ll be in a Doctor Strange movie.  I assume there will be some element of the Illuminati/Secret Avengers storyline, although that will be pretty boring without Professor X and Reed Richards involved.  We know that Ultron is the villain of Avengers 2.  So are we building up to an Infinity Gauntlet story for Avengers 3, which will come out around the time that my as yet unconceived children are getting their learner’s permits for their flying cars?  Just seems like a lot of buildup for six magical stones I guess.  I’d rather see Secret Invasion, Civil War, or (please?) Kang the Conqueror as a cinematic universe storyline.
  • The five core Guardians were perfect.  I could watch this team, with these actors, and this dynamic, in a dozen films.  Zoe Saldana, who has always been close but no cigar, was the full Macanudo this time.  Rocket looked great, had the best lines, and Bradley Cooper sold that ridiculous accent for all it was worth.  Groot, an animated tree, was the heart and soul of the whole movie — and I wish the Vin Diesel haters would shut up.  Dave Bautista was the funniest thing in a movie full of professional comedic actors, and also the biggest, most dangerous looking thing in a film full of computer generated space monsters.  And Chris Pratt…his is the face that launched a thousand (Nova Corps) ships.  He’s just the sweetest.


Arrow and Diggle vs. Dragon - Double page spread from Green Arrow #34.

Arrow and Diggle vs. Dragon – Double page spread from Green Arrow #34.

It’s late and I’m halfway trying to watch Blade while I write this so I’m gonna burn through this whole stack of comics with one sentence reviews of each.

Wild Blue Yonder #5 by Mike Raicht and Zach Howard with Austin Harrison and Nelson Daniel.  IDW, 2014.

This series has been one long sky pirate battle, and in this issue someone finally falls out of the sky.

Update on what’s happening in Blade: Some dude at a rave is about to get eaten by vampires — was it well established that vampires love goth nightclubs before this movie or did that trend start here?

Prophet #45 by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple and Giannas Milogiannis with Joseph Bergin III.  Image, 2014.

In the final issue of this genre redefining space opera by Brandon Graham and his mad-scientist squad of artists, the lengthy and oft-confusing tale of an interstellar war between aliens and clones is, to no one’s surprise, not brought to a tidy or satisfying conclusion.

Update on Blade: the sprinkler system in the goth nightclub went off and covered everyone in blood.  Absolutely vivid gore.

Zero #9 by Ales Kot and Tonci Zonjic with Jordie Bellaire.  Image, 2014.

Ales Kot continues to bring a wholly different sensibility to each issue, this time using a tale of a twice-timing arms dealer to revisit the Bosnian conflict of the ’90s and the horrors of sexual violence during wartime.

Update on Blade: Wesley Snipes showed up and blew away a lot of vampires, then the next time I looked up some boring doctors were talking about boring hospital stuff.

The Wicked + The Divine #2 by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie with Matthew Wilson.  Image, 2014.

After the visual splendor of Young Avengers I’m a little perplexed by McKelvie’s rather staid layouts, but still think this series shows a great deal of promise.

Update on Blade:  Blade just through one of the boring doctors out of a window!

Satellite Sam #9 by Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin.  Image, 2014.

This is my favorite monthly book right now.

Update on Blade:  boring doctor has been taken to some old biker dude’s garage.  If this movie were made today, I’m sure said biker dude would be played by Jeff Bridges.  I’m not actually entirely sure he’s not played by Jeff Bridges.

Batman #32-33 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo with Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia.  DC (Warner Bros.), 2014.

#32: This is what it might be like if DC Entertainment employed a more Marvel-like sensibility to a Batman movie.

#33:  Batman vs. The Riddler in a head-to-head, face-to-face game of wits that satisfies on every level.

Update on Blade: Has Wesley Snipes said anything yet in this movie?  I know I’ve only barely been paying attention but it seems weird that twenty minutes into this thing the title character hasn’t opened his mouth.

Green Arrow #34 by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino with Marcelo Maiolo.  DC (Warner Bros.), 2014.

Ties a bow on Lemire’s entire run on the title so far, and features the best hand-to-hand fight sequence I’ve seen in a comic in ages.

Black Widow #9 by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto.  Marvel (Disney), 2014.

Did the Black Widow just kill the Punisher?

Secret Avengers #6 by Ales Kot and Michael Walsh with Matthew Wilson.  Marvel (Disney), 2014.

Bet you didn’t think you’d ever see a Jorge Luis Borges reference in a Marvel superhero comic, huh?

Update on Blade:  Stephen Dorf’s bangs game was so crucial.

Saga chapters 20 & 21 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.  Image, 2014.

20: Just a lot of dressin’ up like wrestlers, doin’ drugs, and stabbin’ robots.

21: If Prince Robot is holed up in your sex-lair tryin’ to forget all his worldly problems, it is probably best that you don’t yourself become one of his worldly problems.

Update on Blade: How is it that this doctor woman is up walking around like nothing happened when she got thrown out of a skyscraper like three scenes ago?  Is she a vampire too?  I’ll just assume all of the characters are vampires from here on out.

Rat Queens #7 by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch.  Image, 2014.

And then there were Lovecraftian nightmares.

Manifest Destiny #8 by Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts with Owen Gieni.  Image, 2014.

Half the crew is trapped on land and half on the boat with an impassable river full of flesh-eating monsters between them.

Harbinger Vol. 1: Omega Rising by Joshua Dysart and Khari Evans with Lewis Larosa and Ian Hannin.  Valiant, 2012.

This is one of those Harry Potter/Ender’s Game things where a wayward youth is suddenly revealed to be a chosen one and sent to the most awesome magnet school ever where he is instantly the most successful and popular student while still being rebellious and independent.

Update on Blade: Blade just told someone to “suck eggs.”  Maybe it was better when he wasnt saying anything.

modok conspiracy wall

Comic-Con was last week.  I didn’t hear anything about any comic book news coming out of it.  “Comic books” are a mainly a genre of TV and movie now, in case you didn’t know.  This *could* actually be good for some creators — Mark Millar has shown one way to create a sustainable model in which he’s able to put out creator owned books on his own terms, pay his artists a living wage*, and fund it all on the back end with movie rights.  So if you’re creating the kind of comic book that could conceivably be transformed into a summer blockbuster or a multi-season ensemble TV spectacle, hey, there might be some money in that for you.

If you’re creating a comic book that is designed to be a comic book and take full advantage of the beauty and flexibility of the form, doing things that can only be done on the illustrated page,  I recommend the restaurant industry, freelance technical writing, or house/petsitting as ways to make extra money on the side.

Regarding this year’s Eisner Awards: congratulations to Los Bros; the fine folks behind Saga, Sex Criminals, Battling Boy, The Wake, and The Fifth Beatle; and Hall of Fame inductees Irwin Hasen (Dondi), Sheldon Moldoff (Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Batman), Orrin C. Evans (All-Negro Comics), Hayao Miyazaki, Alan Moore, Dennis O’Neil, and Bernie Wrightson.   Here is a link to a full list of the winners.


southern bastards 2 cover

Southern Bastards #2 by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour.  Image, 2014.

I was a bit harsh on the first issue of this series.  I had been stoked about a JA title set in the deep rural south, especially after what he did with the North Dakota reservation setting of Scalped.  But Southern Bastards #1 just read like one long cliche to me — more a parody of the South than something derived from lived experience there.  Issue two shows that some of those broad strokes were necessary to set up where this first story arc is going.  It seems like the idea is that Craw County is not just another chicken-fried locale where High School Football rules and the sweet tea flows freely.  It is all that, but much worse, because the football culture is linked to a culture of corruption that pervades the entire county.  By digging a bit deeper, Aaron and Latour have turned cliche into metaphor, with much success.  I should have known that they just needed a little time to get going.

star spangled angel

The Star-Spangled Angel by Scott Roberts.  Self-Published/Ubutopia Press, 2014.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to read the origin story of Captain America or the Hulk in the form of a highly abstracted, nearly wordless indie comic?  That’s basically what this is, and it’s totally awesome.  The story of Star-Spangled Angel is pretty simple: two childhood friends join the army and then sign up for a science experiment in order to avoid the worst of the combat.  The experiments transform them both beyond recognition, nearly killing them in the process.  They develop superpowers.  Later, a robot designed by one of the pair loses control and goes on a killing spree.  It’s kind of like the short-short-short version of the first few years of The Avengers.

But it’s also a really gorgeously hand-printed three color risograph featuring truly absorbing artwork and imagery.  Roberts really uses the artwork to get deep inside the mind of someone undergoing a profound and frightening transformation.  There are only about 125 words of text in the entire comic, yet there is more nuance and psychological realism here than in even the most ambitious mainstream versions of similar “science gone awry” origin stories.

Roberts created this comic for Brain Frame, Lyra Hill’s long-running performative comics series that has been a focal point of the Chicago alt comics community for three years now.  You can watch Robert’s performance on Vimeo.  There is didgeridoo involved.  Sadly, Brain Frame is nearing its end, but there are still tickets available for the last ever Brain Frame, to be held at Thalia Hall in Pilsen on August 9. (Conflict of interest report: I work for the company that owns and manages Thalia Hall).

wonder woman 111

Wonder Woman #109-112 by  John Byrne with Patricia Mulvihill.  DC (Warner Bros.), 1996.

My big goal at C2E2 was to find as many of the ’90s Wonder Woman issues with Brian Bolland covers as possible.  I fantasized that a few hours of crate digging would lead to a complete set, but what I found was that very few of the vendors had any Wonder Woman from this, or any, era.  What I did find was a complete run of John Byrne on the title.  In 1995, Byrne came on Wonder Woman with issue 100, in the hopes that he could do for the title what he had done a decade before for the Man of Steel.

The results were…mixed.

Byrne doesn’t seem to have much of a feel for the character, the biggest disappointment being the somewhat retrograde portrayal of gender roles.  Byrne’s artwork is decent but hardly belongs on the same shelf with his best work — the inking is sloppy, the layouts are jumbled and sometimes barely readable, and many of the character designs seem to be lifted directly from Byrne’s own Next Men series.

The one standout storyline buried in the middle of this morass is the four issue arc starting in issue #109.  Wonder Woman encounters The Flash, who is running rampant and carelessly destroying the city.  Even more shockingly, it’s not Wally West (who was the Flash at the time) but Barry Allen, who was supposed to have died a decade early during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Soon, Diana also runs into Sinestro and Doomsday, who are acting similarly out of character and, of course, leaving trails of destruction in their wake.  Needless to say, there’s a mystery to be solved and a hidden actor pulling the strings.  It’s a pretty hokey story, and Byrne’s understanding and depiction of computer and videogame technology are particularly laughable today, but it’s a very nice self-contained arc that makes for a really fun and satisfying read.  Recommended, but skip the rest of the Byrne run and treat yourself to some vintage Fantastic Four or Uncanny X-Men instead.

clap for modok

Secret Avengers #5  by Ales Kot and Michael Walsh with Matthew Wilson.  Marvel (Disney), 2014.

Oh, Ales Kot from Zero is writing this?  Mmmm, Tradd Moore is doing covers?  M.O.D.O.K. is one of the main characters and there’s a big ‘ol conspiracy wall with M.O.D.O.K. at the center of it?  Whoa there, you can stop sellin’ cuz I’m ready to sign on the dotted line.  HAWKEYE AND SPIDER-WOMAN ARE IN THIS TOO?  Are you serious?  Take my fucking money, here please just take this $20, keep the change, okay thank you bye.


* That’s straight from the horse’s mouth, of course: “I’ve started having all my artists sign on to not work for other publishers while they’re working with me, because creator-owned can not be part time,” he added. “The rates I’m paying are better than the rates at Marvel and DC, generally, so I say, ‘You have to commit to this for six or 12 months.”   What I don’t know is whether Millar also shares any of the profits from his Hollywood licenses with the artists behind the books.   I’m pretty sure John Romita Jr. did get a fat payday for Kickass — if you can confirm or deny this, leave it in the comments!

Hot take: this film is polar-izing.

I enjoyed just about everything in this movie from start to finish. The thing that gives me pause in my reaction is that some media outlets whose taste I rarely share loved this movie, while some whose taste I definitely do share kind of slammed it.  Have I been blinded by the offbeat premise, the wonderfully realized sets and art direction, and the sweet action set pieces (snipers shooting at each other from different train cars, the axe vs. fire axe fight sequence, ¨they have no bullets!¨)?  Is this a Pacific Rim scenario — a slightly-above average genre piece that gets labeled a masterpiece because it’s not as bad as the popcorn fodder we’ve been surrounded by for weeks?

There seems to be a strain of thought regarding this kind of film that goes something like this: the political metaphors are presented on the surface and are not subtle, and therefore as a piece of political commentary the text is co-opted and not valuable. This is a view that is most commonly espoused by Slate, the home of online smarm and smugness, but it crops up everywhere. Basically, it boils down to: I think someone who is less smart than me would also understand what this movie/book/comic is getting at, therefore I have nothing to gain from it and it sucks.

Pretty shitty way to be, imo. Here is a list of significant 20th century works of political allegory that are not subtle:

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Dr. Strangelove, dir. Stanley Kubrick
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

You may not be a fan of all of those.  I don’t much care for either the style or the content of Ayn Rand, for example, but it’s hard to deny that she’s had a huge impact on political thought, working largely in the medium of the allegorical novel.

So why should a film like Snowpiercer, which deals with the dramatic stratification of society and the self-reinforcing nature of class and caste systems, be dismissed as trite?  Is it not true that one percent of the people control 90% of the wealth, land, and goods?  Is it not true that when a new person rises to power, they are more likely to perpetuate the old system than make radical changes?  Is it not true that the everything the ruling class tells us is a lie and if we could see the truth we would throw off our shackles and revolt this very minute?

I think the real reason some people, especially here in the US, don’t like Snowpiercer is that they can’t relate to the protagonists.  Because the protagonists are the real global poor who face real struggles for survival.  And you, and me, and everyone you know in Chicago or Brooklyn or Silver Lake or wherever?  We’re the ones in the middle of the train who are just following orders, keeping those below us repressed and those above us well fed.

thor-0003 captain america

There’s some pretty big news in the comics world this week and in case you haven’t heard about it, I just want you to mentally steel yourself before you read the next sentence:

(this is where you do your mental-steeling)

Some fictional characters are being altered in ways that are neither novel nor (likely) permanent, for the sake of telling stories that will be slightly different rather than exactly the same way they have been for thirty, forty, or fifty years.

Specifically: starting in October, Thor, a fictional celestial being who can fly through outerspace at physics-defying speed, control all weather phenomena, and has a telepathic relationship with a morally-judgemental hammer, will be portrayed on the page as…a female version of same.  Also, Captain America, a one hundred year old man with the ability to make a metal disc the size of a manhole cover bounce an unlimited number of times before returning to its original starting position at its starting velocity, will be replaced by the man who has been his assistant and sidekick since 1969.  This comes after Captain America was replaced by his previous sidekick, also nearly one hundred years old, who spent the years between 1945 and 2005 as a cryogenically preserved superweapon with a robot arm who served the USSR — a storyline which, by the way, everyone loved.   Only, this new guy Sam Wilson, he’s (wait for it) not a white guy with blonde hair.

Needless to say, there has been backlash.  Thanks to The Internet, any time any event of any type occurs, there are people who will make very horrible sexist, racist, and otherwise -ist comments about it.  This time around, I was heartened to see that the backlash-to-the-backlash, people coming to the defense of Marvel’s decision to include more women and persons of color in its core titles (albeit as fictional characters, not as real life employed creators because that would have actual consequences in the actual world) was so much louder than the initial backlash that the initial backlash essentially disappeared.  Which I guess means there are more people out there in the world who are sane and level-headed than there are total bigots who can’t fully distinguish comics from reality.  And that’s a good thing.

Super Special Bonus Feature: When Reboots DO Go Wrong

So Thor’s going to be a woman and Çap’s going to be the Falcon and that’s fine.  But there have definitely been a few times that Marvel and DC have gone too far in their attempts to update classic characters.  Here are five of them:

feral wolverine

Feral Wolverine

1995: Also known as Pirate Wolverine, this is what happened after Magneto ripped all of the adamantium out of Wolverine’s body (which was pretty awesome).  For reasons that were totally unclear, this caused Wolverine to start smelling worse, walk around with a horrible ape-like posture, speak in barely legible chicken scratch, and wear a tattered zorro mask.  Most worryingly, it almost made Logan’s nose appear to disappear completely into his face, not unlike that of an adorable pug.

guy gardner

Guy Gardner: Terminator, Mixologist, Pro-Wrestler?

1994: Guy Gardner, whose bowl haircut was the funniest thing about the very funny Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League International, became much less funny (at least less intentionally funny) when he lost his Lantern ring and had to look abroad for a new superpower.  He found it when he drank from a chalice full of Warrior Water (not kidding) which gave him the ability to shapeshift his body parts into any type of weapon, T2 style (not kidding), because of previously-unmentioned alien DNA that was implanted in his ancient ancestors (not kidding), which inspired him to not only return to crimefighting but to open a Planet Hollywood-esque superhero theme bar* (nope, not kidding) called….Warriors (STILL NOT KIDDING BUT MAYBE ACTUALLY DYING BECAUSE MY BRAIN JUST EXPLODED ALL OVER THIS WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE). 

Any resemblance between Guy Gardner Warrior and Wrestlemania Vi-era Ultimate Warrior is, I assume, purely coincidental

Any resemblance between Guy Gardner Warrior and Wrestlemania Vi-era Ultimate Warrior is, I assume, purely coincidental


Espectacular is right, my friend

Espectacular is right, my friend

Superman: Reign of the SuperMullets

1993: Much ballyhooed to this day, the reports of Superman’s death were, to borrow a turn of phrase, “greatly exaggerated.”  After being savagely beaten for seven whole issues by Doomsday, Superman didn’t die so much as go into a Kryptonian Kush Coma, emerging just a few short issues later as the same ‘ol Man of Steel.  Albeit with one very significant difference:  a beautifully flowing Kentucky Waterfall, all business up front with a rockin’ party bus ’round back, a mane like a Triple Crown winning champion….that is to say, a thick’n’hearty jet black man mullet.  Frankly, I’m surprised it took Clark Kent so long to update his ‘do.  After all, look what it did for these icons of style:

Lionel-Richie-Moustache acslater

 Ronnie James Dio Comedian Joe Piscopo


Old vs. Nu Harley Quinn illustration via Comics Alliance

Old vs. Nu Harley Quinn illustration via Comics Alliance

New 52/Arkham Asylum Harley Quinn

1998: I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about the sadomasichistic-nymphomaniac-undead-juggalo-schoolgirl look that Harley Quinn has been wearing lately just seems off.


Superman 2: Electric Boogaloo

I basically don’t think people should care what happens to comic book characters.  I mean, if you really don’t like the new direction they’re taking with Thor, there are more than 500 issues of the previous version of Thor already so you can just read those (watch out, though, he also turns into a frog and a horse-lookin’ alien a few times).  But don’t mess with Superman.  Superman is a really, really boring superhero, but he’s kind of great as a mythological figure representing the age of American prosperity and the pursuit of truth, justice, and the ability to wear your underwear on the outside if you want.  Go ahead and give him a stupid mullet, a canine sidekick, a love affair with Wonder Woman, a kind of different origin story, or a movie in which he plays the role of Goku in Dragonball Z: The Frieza Saga.  But don’t turn him into a bolt of blue lightning.  Because that, that my friend, is Fucking Stupid.


*I would rank Warriors  somewhere between Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon and Cyberdelia on the list of Fictional Bars You Must Drink at Before You Die:



I struggle with the apocalypse.

I can’t wait for it to get started, for one thing.  Floating cities.  Thunderdomes.  Roving bands of cannibals.  Time enough at last.  Mutants.  A lot of people say that they were born too late, that they were meant to live in Victorian England or ’60s Paris.  I was born to early.  I was meant to live through the End of Times.


I still think we might get there, sooner than a lot of people suspect, but that doesn’t solve my most immediate problem:  how do I make the Apocalypse into my Apocalypse?

See, I’ve been writing this story.  In my head for years, and with actual words on screen for…years.  It’s a novel, maybe, called For A Dying Planet.  Or The Herald.  Or something better, I hope.  And it’s pretty post-apocalyptic.  Awesome, because that’s one of my favorite settings.  Not so awesome, because the post-apocalypse (or dystopian civilization that rise from the ashes) is definitely the most popular setting for science fiction stories these days.

How am I going to come up with a take on it that hasn’t been done and done to death?


I have a few tricks up my sleeve.  Godlike artificial intelligence (which has been done).  Terrifying genetic experiments (done).  Borderline unlivable alien planets (done, done, done).  Youthful female protagonist (so done, but probably still not done enough).  A post-Rapture Catholic Church that’s barely recognizable yet still stubbornly the same (yes, done.  In other news, done.)  So yeah, a lot of ideas that maybe aren’t brand spanking new.

But what is new anyway?  It’s the Hip-Hop era, ya’ll, also known as Postmodernism (Modernism, we hardly knew ye), and there’s nothing original under the sun.  So say we all.  Now that the internet exists, creativity means sifting through the rubble, shaking off the dust, and reassembling the pieces into something shockingly new.  Basically, I’m hoping to create the upside-down urinal of post-collapse space opera science fiction novels.  That’s cool, right?

Yeah, that’s what I tell myself when I rock myself to sleep at night wondering if I’ve ever had an original thought in my whole life.



The unnamed protagonist of Ben Passmore’s Daygloayhole (issue 1, issue 2) is much more mellow about the whole affair.  A spiritual nephew of The Dude, our hero eases into the end of the world like an old man into a hot bath.  His apocalypse is full of tropes and cliches, to be sure, but they’re dismissed with a shrug.  What else would you expect from a culture that gave us so many American Idol ripoffs and NKOTB clones?  Even the apocalypse is another consumer good dreamed up by eggheads at Proctor & Gamble.

Diametrically opposed to this world view is No Limitz, an oogle for whom the new world is the ultimate punk rock challenge to be conquered, one giant cybernetic death worm at a time.

Even though the setting of this comic is deliberately unoriginal in many ways, the characters are refreshingly new.  And that was the biggest lesson I took away from Passmore’s book: the most lavish and mind-bending settings are deathly boring without interesting fully-realized characters to inhabit them.  By the same token, even a setting that has been used a thousand times can come wildly alive when a character reacts to it in interesting ways.

That’s why I’m going to stop worrying so much about whether the technology, settings, and even plot mechanics of my novel have been used before ad nauseum, and just focus on getting deeper inside the brains of my characters.  Because there’s no chance that my take on a desert planet in a state of decay will surprise and astonish anyone, there’s a good chance that exploring the choices and emotions of a realistic character in that environment will surprise even me.


Special thanks to Ben Passmore for sending me the links to his comic and giving me a few minutes of his time at CAKE this year.  You should go buy some comics from Mr. Passmore’s store, or check him out at the upcoming RIPExpo in Providence, Rhode Island.


If you ever find yourself on the south side of Chicago with an hour or two to kill, skip the MSI and check out the Oriental Institute, aka Indiana Jones’ day job. It’s full of artifacts from Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Persian history. Particularly impressive is the room devoted to Persepolis, the capital city built by the Achaemenid King Daryush and his son Xerxes in the 4th and 5th century B.C. The temples, treasuries, and palaces of Persepolis were built on a raised stone platform, such that the entire city was raised above the earth, a testimony to the power of human ingenuity and technology. Though the city was sacked by Alexander the Great in the 3rd Century B.C.E. and then gradually abandoned, the magnificent grey limestone terrace and many limestone and marble columns and statues remained virtually intact into the 21st century, far outlasting the culture that originally constructed them. As we were leaving this gallery, I noted to my companion “say what you will about monarchy, the concentration of 99% of a civilization’s resources under one person’s control sure leads to some amazing architecture.”


In The Boy in Question by Michael DeForge (Space Face Books, 2014) two soldiers stumble upon a third person in a strange, undulating landscape. They radio their base for help and are told to sit tight. They do so. The sit tight for thousands of years. Their children and grandchilden and great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren sit tight. Novel forms of agriculture are developed. They build a massive interconnected city that is raised above the ground.  A Persepolis. The radio to base becomes the center of a cult of esoteric worship, along with the original mysterious corpse. Help from the base never arrives. But in the meantime, civilization was created.


DeForge recently tweeted

This seems like a reaction against critics, myself included, who may have tried to use DeForge’s comics to decode aspects of his personal life.  That type of criticism runs counter to all the best practices of the twenty-first century critic.  But it’s also the easiest form of criticism and the prevailing one in today’s media climate.  We no longer seem to care that much about art, and are much more concerned about artists.  This is not a trend that has been created solely by lazy critics, however.  Artists feed into it.  Artists who spend more time self-promoting on social media than creating principal materials encourage us to view them as quasi-celebrities and brands first, and the art takes a back burner.  In comics, especially indie comics, the problem is exacerbated by the diary/journal nature of so many self-published comics and comic tumblrs.

DeForge’s body of work has largely been a reaction against all of that.  The questions that he tackles are metaphysical even as the subject matter in his books is often shockingly corporeal.  This approach reminds me of another wave-making cartoonist of late, Julia Gfrörer, who has been on a campaign to bring seriousness back to independent comics:

The internet is a fun place to do whatever you want and it’s true that there are no rules for making comics or writing about them.  But I do feel, and I think Gfrörer and DeForge may share this sentiment*, that there aren’t enough people legitimately trying to push the artform forward now.  After a decade full of nip-slips, listicles, Ryan Gosling memes, anal sex jokes, Jimmy Fallon, and reality television, isn’t it time that we stop being “Cutesy,” not just about feminism but kind of about everything?  Comics critics may be among the worst offenders; as Tom Spurgeon has been pointing out lately, no one ever offers any real criticism of comics these days:

Comics critics are scared to make waves by calling out bad art or retrograde storytelling.  The only time indie cartoonists get criticized is if they say something offensive on twitter or fail to deliver a Kickstarter on time.  It’s the very definition of preciousness.  It’s time to look, LOOK, at that pile of metaphors over there.  It’s time to stop waiting for the approval of our gods and build our own Persepolis.

*Which basically makes me guilty once again of the same kind of “putting words in authors mouths” thinking that my deconstructionist college professors would spit in my eye for


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