Monday, July 11, 2011 11:28 AM
During the final showdown, the arch nemesis usually makes some kind of grandiloquent speech to the hero. This is how comic books and superhero movies work. The villain taunts the do-gooder, narrates his twisted personal history, or brashly reveals details of his master plan.* So many words are spilled, but the inner meditations of both hero and crook remain unknown, except for a few expository thought bubbles. But that’s about to change; the thought bubble just got a radical makeover.
SVK, an experimental one-shot comic written by Warren Ellis (of Transmetropolitan notoriety) and Matt Brooker, has an extra layer of subtext hidden among its pages. Illuminating the comic’s pages with ultraviolet light reveals additional dialogue that belies characters’ most secret thoughts. (Comparison below.) SVK is a cyberpunky crime story “about cities, technology and surveillance, mixed with human themes of the power, corruption and lies that lurk in the data-smog of our near-future.” The comic comes with a small UV-emitting reader, so you don’t need to bring the comic to a rave to read the invisible ink.
“Comics break the rules of storytelling, invent new ones, and break them again—more often than almost any other medium,” explains SVK’s design company BERG. “This graphic novella is about looking—an investigation into perception, storytelling and optical experimentation.”
Co. Design is excited for what the comic says about the increasingly hard-to-pinpoint border between the digital world and the physical one: “Given Ellis’s proclivity for dystopian futurism and BERG’s penchant for weird techno-wizardry, we’re betting the story involves some interesting variations on themes of augmented reality.” A commenter on BERG’s blog has an exciting idea about where the future of comics might lead: “I’ve been wondering myself if there was a way to animate comics by using a Smartphone as a viewer. You could embed tracer objects with the comic frames and the phone would track movement, perhaps even play sound effects and dictate the dialogue.”
*Supervillains can, of course, be women, too.
Source: BERG, Co. Design
Images courtesy of BERG.
Friday, April 01, 2011 4:22 PM
America loves superheroes. Britain, not so much. Nick Harkaway at the British magazine Prospect points out that “John Constantine, the brutal magus anti-hero of DC Comics’ Hellblazer, once observed that Britain is a country where no one would have the nerve to wear a cape in public, even if they did have powers far beyond those of mortal men.”
Meanwhile, Americans, having flocked to films about Iron Man, Spiderman, and the Hulk, will likely do the same this spring and summer for movies featuring Thor (May), the X-Men (June), and Captain America (July).
What’s the attraction? Harkaway suggests America’s fascination with firearms plays a key role in our love for caped crusaders:
The gun, of course, is the elephant in the room in all superhero stories. Despite—and because of—the central position occupied by guns in American culture, superheroes exist in a space where conventional firearms are the tool of lesser men. Superman simply ignores them—in the latest movie, a bullet impacts with the lens of his eye and shatters—and Batman is so adept in his control of situations and martial artistry that he is immune. Iron Man’s armour is impervious, likewise Captain America’s shield, Green Lantern’s ring, the car in Green Hornet. X-Men’s Wolverine heals instantly and has an indestructible skeleton. Their refusal to take up the gun shows their superhuman natures, and sanctions their non-lethal actions. If Batman is going to disadvantage himself in this way, it’s only fair that he break a few arms and legs. Mundane concerns melt away, leaving only extraordinary ones, which are vehicles for questions of identity and about what such power means.
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Thursday, April 29, 2010 2:42 PM
There are multiple levels of parody at work in Village Voice cartoonist Ward Sutton’s “The Band Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb,” an inspired takeoff on last fall’s unlikely comic opus The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb. I’m not sure if it’s the “Stoned Agin” T-shirt worn by God, the patchy stubble on Phil Collins’ head, or merely the appearance of the word “Sussudio,” but I found the strip hilarious.
“This piece was a fun chance to parody both Crumb, the underground comix legend, and Genesis, the ’70s-’80s band recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Sutton wrote in a note to us.
Sutton is also still plying the extremely niche trade of illustrated book reviewer. Check out his Drawn to Read site, or the Barnes & Noble Review where his strips appear, if you don’t think comic art and literature are perpetually estranged cousins.
Source: Village Voice, Drawn to Read
Image courtesy of Ward Sutton.
Friday, September 18, 2009 4:14 PM
The new issue of Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies has arrived in the Utne Reader library, and the work of award-winning editorial cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz graces the cover. Inside, Alcaraz, who is the creator of the syndicated comic strip La Cucaracha, talks about his efforts to create images of Obama that would resonate with the Hispanic community during the 2008 campaign:
I was angered by the mainstream/right-wing media's attempt to again divide the brown and black communities by spreading the racist talking point: "Latinos will NOT vote for a black man. ...Obama's national field director Cuauhtemoc Figueroa, who visited forty-two states during the 2008 campaign, reported that he would inevitably find a ... Viva Obama poster in even the most remote Midwestern towns, hanging in the mercado window or an activist's living room. Viva Obama was a grassroots runaway hit. Voters wanted it. Campaign workers distributed it far and wide. Youths would snap cellphone photos of it at my signing events and email the photos to their friends.
Friday, July 17, 2009 11:46 AM
Bikers are such quiet, conscientious people… er, not always. Comics artist Kenny Be has inked them as "Bike Monsters" in the pages of Westword. Check out his snide comic strip and see if you can spot a caricature you recognize. For more discussion on bikers versus the rest of the world, read Bennett Gordon's post about anti-social commuters.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009 4:10 PM
In a clever example of life imitating art, one Flickr group gathers images in which people photographically re-create "The Far Side" cartoons. The results are often accurate, detailed, and humorous.
Image courtesy of Kevin Steinhardt, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008 12:57 PM
French cartoonist David B. takes stock in dreams: For more than 35 years, he has faithfully recorded his brain’s nighttime wanderings. He mines this unconscious material in Nocturnal Conspiracies, a new collection of comics.
The artist continues to hone the surreal style he’s known for, one that’s especially well-suited to dreamscapes. Conspiracy is all weird angles, stark coloring, and unsettling proportions. The text, bare-bones and subdued, allows the beautiful, strange images to do most of the talking.
New York magazine arranged a peek into the book.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008 11:13 AM
The website Garfield Minus Garfield made a splash in the blogosphere by taking the famous cartoon cat out of his eponymous comic strip. According to the blog’s creator, when owner Jon Arbuckle is bereft of his beloved pet, the strip is about, “schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life.” Rabbi Micah Kelber writes for Jewcy that the comic strip could also be about “seeking a relationship with God.”
The boredom, frustrations, and simple pleasures in Arbuckle’s life reveal the highs and lows of a religious life. The problem is that by reading the strip this way, Kelber manages to kill most of the humor from the joke.
Image courtesy of Garfield Minus Garfield.
Thursday, February 28, 2008 9:42 AM
When we were kids, my brother and I spent much of our time concocting stories and scenarios for our G.I. Joe action figures, imagining how they might destroy enemy depots or dispatch opposing commanders. Then my dad got involved. He offered a different sort of narrative, which began with christening our G.I. Joes “Hank” and “Jim,” in complete disregard for their codenames.
Hank and Jim, you see, were normal guys, except they happened to be small figurines with aggressive military bearings. Accordingly, they spent the bulk of their time complaining about their size and waging petty arguments. What I most remember is my dad’s Hank and Jim voices, complaining in a bland, thoroughly non–G.I. Joe manner about which of them merited the privilege of walking in front of the other one (or something like that). Incidentally, Hank and Jim were the names of two of my dad’s philosophy department colleagues.
To re-cast my G.I. Joes as bickering, put-upon little men was funny—albeit frustrating to a budding military zealot like myself. Such absurdly mundane reimagining is also one of the guiding principles behind Mark Russell’s superb Superman Stories, a zine trilogy of which two volumes have been published.
Each volume, which is written by Russell with his own occasional cartoons, recounts the travails of Superman in a world that more closely resembles reality than a comic book. For example, Superman and Lois Lane argue over his emotional impenetrability. Or, in another vignette, a judge dresses Superman down for not obtaining an extradition order before apprehending a mad scientist operating out of the Amazon rain forests. In Russell’s re-imagining, Superman bears the burden of mundane reality, with its humiliating arguments, its romantic difficulties, and its disputes with Aquaman over the political legitimacy of ruling the seas as a monarch rather than an elected official. Ah, relatability!
Aside from the parody and the kidding, Russell does bring a certain seriousness and poignancy to the notion of Superman-in-real-life. Lois and Superman can’t have children, for instance, so they struggle with the possibility of adoption. Superman Stories also returns again and again to the question of how we can imagine Superman without pondering the damage he would wreak on humankind. At one point in Superman Stories 2, which is at times downright earnest, Superman attends an anti-Superman rally where protestors read a list of names: Each individual was accidentally killed in the course of Superman’s superheroic exploits.
For me, Russell’s Superman joins Hank and Jim as avatars of one’s cluelessness in the face of expected heroism, forthrightness, and reliability. In fact, I feel moved to re-christen him. I hereby dub Superman “Mike.” Look, up in the sky! It’s Mike! He’s wrangling with Hank and Jim!
To check out Superman Stories in print, contact Mark Russell.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008 8:55 AM
The two latest issues of John Porcellino’s King-Cat Comics just fluttered into the Utne office, and I kidnapped them before anyone else noticed. If you haven’t encountered him already, Porcellino—whom I interviewed for Utne.com back in October—writes lovely little stories whose plots focus on everyday incidents like two squirrels facing off on a power line. King-Cat touches you more than the small scope of its stories would suggest. The comic manages this, I think, by preserving small moments of personal beauty, like a strip from the latest issue (#68) which shows nothing more than the author and his cat lying on a couch together, listening to the birds chirping outside.
Don’t think that King-Cat is all flowers and kitties, though. While the comic revels in the beauty of the everyday, it can’t shake off the feeling that those redemptive moments are escapes from an otherwise crazy world. “I’m convinced,” Porcellino writes, “that there’s a way to live in this world—this insane world—in a sane way, with one’s integrity and naturally given good sense intact.” The newest issue also has a series of comics on the Greek cynic Diogenes, and even here Porcellino manages the impossible: He makes the crusty Greek philosopher seem cute!
Wednesday, January 09, 2008 4:34 PM
Anyone who’s cracked open a supposedly groundbreaking graphic novel in recent years and found themselves bored silly by panel after nearly identical panel depicting an endless parade of young-adult ennui: You’ve got an ally in Ted Rall. In a recent commentary, Rall hauls Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, and other darlings of the art-comics world to the woodshed in an acerbic takedown. Describing how the New York Times’ foray into art comics, The Funny Pages literary supplement to the New York Times Magazine, has been a flop, Rall summarizes Ware’s serialized work “Building Stories” thusly:
“Anticipation yielded to disappointment as Ware, in his typically mannered and obtuse style, rendered the paint-drying anti-drama of a dowdy middle-aged, one-legged . . . spinster wallowing in self-inflicted depression in a hundred thousand earth-toned squares. Unless you count phony, plot-less, generalized angst, nothing happened in ‘Building Stories.’ Ever.”
Ouch. As a syndicated editorial cartoonist himself who is unabashedly topical and political, Rall is of course wide open to the charge that he just doesn’t get it, that his hit-you-over-the-head style is itself flawed and unfunny, or that he’s simply swinging back after the art-comic tastemakers at Comics Journal called him an “utterly worthless political cartoonist.” But at its core Rall’s critique must sting because there’s a bit of truth to it. “When a reader doesn’t understand a cartoon, it isn’t because he is stupid,” he writes. “It is because the cartoonist has failed.”
Now that’s something for a comic artist to be depressed about—and to turn into a novel, of course.
Image from the New York Times, by Daniel Clowes.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007 11:52 AM
Many young men, myself included, have spent countless hours worrying about who would win if Superman fought Batman, if Batman fought Wolverine, if Wolverine scuffled with Cyclops, if three Velocoraptors locked claws with a single T-Rex. Tackling important questions like these, Kevin Cornell and Matthew Sutter set up the blog the Superest. Each day a superhero with superpowers vanquishes the superhero from the day before. Recent highlights have included the infamous “Mr. JellyHead” (seen left) who “can absorb any impact,” and “The Old Schoolmate” who can easily destroy “any self-esteem built up since high school.” —Brendan Mackie
Monday, October 29, 2007 11:28 AM
By Brendan Mackie
John Porcellino has been churning out the seminal comic zine King-Cat for nearly two decades, making him one of the longest-running self-published authors out there. Over that time, the zine’s honest sensibility has garnered Porcellino armies of fans. Though the plots of King-Cat are underwhelming—memories of teenage crushes, stories about taking a walk on a beautiful night, dreams, illustrated Zen koans—Porcellino's simply drafted panels belie an inner weight. They’re more about expressing a particular feeling than they are about huge life-changing events. "The thing I was always interested in was this thing called Real Life," Porcellino explained during a recent talk at Minneapolis' Big Brain Comics.
Because of the zine’s personal nature, King-Cat has changed as Porcellino has matured. When King-Cat first started, Porcellino was a rambunctious young punk-rocker and his strips were wild. But somewhere along the line Porcellino started slowing down. He began meditating and reflecting more intensely on his life. Eventually, a more conscious tone resonated from King-Cat’s pages. Porcellino has just released a collection of the comic from 1989 to 1996, King-Cat Classix. Utne.com fended off a line of awkward hipsters clutching their own zines at Big Brain to talk to Porcellino about making comics, meditation, and “doing King-Cat.”
You've been making zines for more than 30 years, and King-Cat for 18. What do you attribute your longevity to?
Making zines is exactly what I want to do, not only the content of it, but the format, too. I just love the connection with people. And to a certain extent I'm just stubborn: I started something and I want to see it through as far as I can.
In your talk, you spoke about how the business side of King-Cat—the photocopying, the distribution—was as important to you as the actual writing of the zine.
To me, the process of writing isn't complete until this [zine] is in somebody else's hands.
How did you get into meditation?
When I was in my mid-twenties I came down with some health issues, and like a lot of people in that position I suddenly started taking a look at all these things I had taken for granted—my life and what I was doing and how I was doing it. I probably picked up a few books on Zen, and it made sense to me. The way I describe Zen, Soto Zen in particular, is that it's kind of like finding an old pair of shoes in your closet that you forgot you had. You put them on and they're beautiful, a perfect fit for you; they're all worn in, and you're ready to go. It connected with these interior feelings, these ideas that I'd idly felt below the surface but could never give voice to. Zen helped me fit those ideas together.
So much of your internal life is portrayed in King-Cat. As you started to change, did the comics change?
The change is reflected in the comics themselves. I was at a point in my life when I was naturally slowing down and paying more attention to things. To a certain extent I went through a period of withdrawal; I went into a more interior world about the same time when I was looking around at different ways of practice. The comics show that slowing down, and hopefully they show that I've been paying more attention. But you can also see it in that kind of unified approach that I have taken to King-Cat: For me, standing here talking to you is doing King-Cat as much as drawing it, writing it, putting it into the mail is. Doing the dishes or going for a walk can be doing King-Cat. I don't know how much of that shows up to the reader, but for me it's a big change.
How did your readers react to this change?
I heard that some people didn't like it, but I never really talked to a lot of them. There's a continuity and an underlying approach that's been consistent in King-Cat, even though I was a very different person back when I started it. I'm sure there are people who appreciated or enjoyed those older comics more, but at the same time there are a lot of people who have gone with it for the whole time.
Can comics be Zen?
There's probably something Zen to anything.
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