Dan Clowes is the cartoonist and author of a considerable number of the most celebrated comics of the past 20 years, including GHOST WORLD, DAVID BORING, ICE HAVEN and THE DEATH RAY, all of which originated in his EIGHTBALL anthology series.  His most recent publication is WILSON, his first original graphic novel published by DRAWN & QUARTERLY and released on April 28, 2010.

WILSON prompted the following Savage Critic round-table discussion, which took place via the internet between May 2 and May 9, 2010.

ABHAY:  Let's start with the premise.  WILSON is a series of one-page comics (mostly, gag comics) documenting the life of an abrasive Clowes-character, between late-middle-age and old age. Wilson is a hyper-critical blowhard with a persistent need to expound at length upon his opinions to total strangers, whose relentless judgments on everything around him-- none really earned by a life of any notable accomplishment-- leaves him increasingly isolated and pathetic.  So, question #1: Is Dan Clowes making fun of me?  What did I ever do to Dan Clowes??  We all fall under the category of "internet loudmouths", as far as St. Peter is concerned, so: did you relate to the Wilson character?  I'm curious to know how much your sympathy for the main character, and/or recognition of yourself in the main character, impacted your enjoyment of the book. That seemed to be the thesis of Mr. Glen Weldon's WILSON review for NPR.  Weldon's review suggested the pleasure of WILSON was recognizing the worst parts of yourself in the main character.  And I think I had the opposite experience, where-- I read it on a night where I was having a little struggle with the ol' self-esteem, and WILSON provided the precise opposite of relief.  I had a "Why did I just do THAT to myself" reaction to it, a wrong-night-to-read-Clowes reaction, on a pure human level, separate and apart from any admiration of craft or what have you.  How did it find you?

JOG: Speaking from my personal experience, Wilson is a nearly-to-a-T reminder of one of my uncles, since passed; we weren't super-close, but I liked him a good deal, we got along well, I think.  He carried himself in much the same way, albeit without Wilson's incessant, possibly fake nostalgia for a time when people really connected to others.  Or his prolonged unemployment, or his failed marriage; like, this guy I knew was a consistent worker, very pragmatic, who essentially understood the disconnects between people - then again, maybe Wilson himself is like that, just not on the page?  In that his sputtering seems characterized as only half self-aware?  I'm thinking of the various bits where Clowes has Wilson going off and yammering toward the end of a page, while his unwitting target just sits there resigned to their fate - it got so that sometimes I wondered if Wilson was even actually talking or if several of his rants are simply occurring in his imagination.  I don't know if that's correct as in-story happenings -- a bunch of the time people WILL react to Wilson, so that would render the technique odd and irregular, not that Clowes might not be interested in that anyway -- but it does isolate Wilson as a real oddball purely by his impolitic nature, rather than for his yearning for a more pressed-flesh kinda existence.  Obviously one of the big running gags is that Wilson is a "people person" who completely fucking hates people, because they don't meet his standard of how people should interact, which naturally implies (to me) that Wilson doesn't understand his own outlook all that well.

As for the effect it had on my reading, I'd say I found it more difficult to process the book as 'pure' humor, which I know is how some people took it, in that it struck me as more of a painful, seriocomic character study.  And it's not just personal recognition feeding into that -- most of the comedy-of-awkwardness Clowes is dishing out is very similar to the humor in Chris Ware's work, where I think it comes off better (just done better, better timed, written; funnier), and anyway some of the page ending 'gags' are straightforward, pretty cheesy dramatic beats (I'm thinking of the part where he asks his dad on the phone if he's been to see the doctor, that'd be the earliest manifestation of that) -- but I do wonder if the farcical aspect of the character would be clearer to someone who might interpret it all as some distillation of the worst part of themselves, rather than a fairly recognizable personality type?  I mean, I agree that parts of Wilson's struggle are supposed to be taken as a variation on universal human longing, judging from his cliché attempts to divine meaning from water and weather patterns, which are acknowledged by the character as being a silly banality, but of course Wilson is a silly character, so in the end it's raindrops beating rhapsodically on the windowpane that leaves him touching something he believes to be divine, so it's more of a look-how-true-and-lovely-these-well-worn-poetic-devices-really-are.  This is immediately preceded by a defiant howl of existence against the uncaring universe, again ironically positioned because it's really an empty cafe, ha ha, not the universe (and the one other guy in there would probably like to leave since Wilson is really annoying), but - it's a lot like a genre comic acknowledging an overused trope before using it.  That doesn't make the writing deeper, it just indicates the writer knows better and did it anyway.

Er, to sum up, it strikes me as a fairly natural impulse on a reader's part to want to identify with a nasty character by recognizing said nasty parts in their own personality, but I don't think that's entirely the point here; I saw Wilson as a pretty specific, wholly-formed character in his own right.  Moreover, my idea of the book's visual concept is that Wilson is a singular character -- "100% Wilsonesque" as the back cover puts it -- that perseveres within and according to himself, while the reader's observational position is aggravated by ever-changing visual styles that I think inevitably color our reading of the action.

TUCKER: Near the end, Wilson refers to Thomas The Tank Engine as Thomas the Train Engine, and I did that once too.

SEAN: I don't think I recognized myself in Wilson any more or less than I recognize myself in any character I read about. You can't help but pivot off of shared experience, and so to the extent that I've ever thought "Jesus Christ what a miserable fucking shithole this world is" then yes, Wilson and I have that in common. But at the same time I can't imagine being abusively rude to total strangers I met on the street or in a cab or coffee house or whatever. (The Internet, on the other hand? Game on, assholes!)

DOUGLAS: Wilson came off as a blowhard and a dick every step of the way to me--an absolute jerk who likes to pretend he wants to connect with other people but can't begin to manage it. He's always a caricature, and I never really believed in him because of it (I can't imagine, for instance, why Pippi got married to him in the first place). The routine of his trying to find meaning in nature had its moments, though--I like pg. 58, "Icicle," although it reminded me a little of Jaime Hernandez's story in Kramers Ergot 7 ("I still don't see it").

SEAN: Douglas--well, Pippi was clearly a mess herself, right? Compared to a situation where getting a tattoo that reads "PROPERTY OF SIR D.A.D.D.Y. BIG-DICK" is the right choice, marrying Wilson doesn't seem so bad. Of course, if you don't buy Wilson, you might not buy Pippi either.

BRIAN: There wasn't anything in Wilson himself that I saw or didn't see in myself, I wouldn't say -- but that's generally true for Clowes' characters for me. I tend to think that Clowes most vivid characters, in general, are obsessed with being right, even when they're clearly wrong. Hm, actually, on reflection, that does sound a bit like me after all...

DAVID: I really didn't feel any degree of association with Wilson - as Douglas said, he's a dick through and through, and basically every incident of showing concern still comes from a deep well of selfishness. He doesn't mourn his dad's death because he's sad he's gone, he mourns it because it's the proper thing to do. I think everyone's known someone KIND OF like Wilson, someone totally involved in other people's behavior, and intensely critical of it, while being a gigantic douche himself. So no, certainly none of myself in Wilson.

DOUGLAS: Note the Washington City Paper interview with Clowes: "Likable characters are for weak-minded narcissists. I much prefer the Rupert Pupkins and Larry Davids and Scotty Fergusons as my leading men." Fair enough; but if you've got a totally abrasive deadbeat as your lead, it's hard to justify claiming that he can function in society without showing us how.

CHRIS: Wilson definitely fit the Larry David archetype for me: a protagonist in a story in which you more readily identify with his many victims. Still, like with most unlikable characters in fiction, I found myself cringing with brief flashes of identification. Then again, I'm the type of person who will suddenly remember a shitty thing I did to another kid in sixth grade, and spend the rest of the walk home feeling like the world's biggest jerk. I don't think that identification or lack thereof affected my enjoyment of the book, for better or worse.

ABHAY:  Like Clowes' DEATH RAY, WILSON leaves a lot of information off-panel, and on re-reading it for this, I was struck by what he chose to leave off-panel.  Namely:  Wilson has friends.  Page 30's Long Distance, possibly Page 67's Housemates, and Page 70's Caller I.D. all involve Wilson on a phone or receiving phone calls from other people in his life that we never see.  By leaving them off-panel, has Clowes inherently made a statement about friendship, that "friendship is meaningless compared to family"?  Such a statement would strike me as notable.  Statistics and demographics will tell you that people are marrying later in life, starting families later in life, relying on having friends more.  On the other hand, I know I can be pretty cynical about "friendship"-- there's a lot of dull comics about how "being friends means something, dammit!" What do you make of it?

JOG: Ha, I took page 67 just as Wilson describes it: that's he's managed to harangue some hapless insurance salesman into a conversation about his life, which is perfectly in keeping with his characterization throughout the book, although I guess he could just be taking a preventative measure against Shelley talking to him.  It's all much more humiliating if it really is a random stranger, though, and anyway the joke seems to be that Wilson isn't very intimate with his housemate, no doubt due in part to his unconsciously abrasive nature as demonstrated for us.

I think the idea of family becomes more pronounced than friendship because the story is in large part about Wilson's mostly crappy attempts to communicate with people -- it's stated on the first page, and it's the engine of most of the gags, Wilson attempting to chat with folks and failing horribly -- and he seems to value this face-to-face ideal of human understanding that flatters the notion of family.  Those are people you should always be able to talk to, and extract wisdom from, as Wilson understands it, given his remarks about wanting to record his father's story, so the story of Wilson pivots dramatically around his even-worse failings regarding family.  I also take the absence of Wilson's acquaintances as another means of keeping the reader in a particularly observational state, really peering at Wilson so that we only ever see him and his purportedly bottomless appetite for the most profound communication, generally failing, so that "friends" and accidental encounters are pretty much the same in terms of demeanor.  I liked how the prostitute gets more than one page, since she's at least getting paid to hang around with this oaf, and I guess sex mandates a little more attention than average.

The big irony of the book is that Wilson is an egoist, and, through the dozens of refracted impressions that are Clowes' ever-shifting art, the book forces the reader to examine Wilson from all sorts of angles, even though he can't know or benefit from that, and the final impact is that he remains the same as a character.  We never discover what he realizes about life in the end - the book makes it a point to conclude right there, so we're not being placed in the position of God, let's not get cocky.  That's only Dan Clowes.

SEAN: Well, Wilson's family relationships are pretty meaningless, too. He starts off estranged from his ex-wife, with a daughter he's never met, and a father he barely speaks to. He ends up estranged from his ex-wife, with a grandchild he's never met, a daughter who notifies him of this grandchild's existence essentially out of a sense of obligation, and a dead father. In between, he goes to prison for his forced rapprochement with his ex and daughter. I see his sudden seizure on the concept of THE FAMILY as part of his generalized fallen-world lionization of various hoary old conceptions of how society is supposed to work, but he's no more able to actualize this than he is to carry on a normal conversation with anyone. Seen in that light, whether he has or doesn't have friends doesn't matter much.

DOUGLAS: Also, this is coming from Dan Clowes, whose Ghost World is one of the great American comics about friendship (among other things). But I think showing Wilson and his friends on-panel together would have required him to make more of a case for the kinds of meaningful connections Wilson is capable of forming with people, which wouldn't make a lot of sense in the context of this story.

BRIAN: Nah, I think you're over thinking it, Abhay. I mean Wilson is about Wilson -- even when he's trying to engage with family, he's never concerned with anything that isn't about him. Hell, look at "Fatherhood" or "Grandfather" or even more so, "The Trail". The few places where Wilson engages with other people outside of his family ("friends" or not) his behavior doesn't change. I think Clowes showed all he needed to of friendship to make the point.

CHRIS: Wilson seemingly tries to befriend everyone he meets, in his own broken way. The fact that "friendship" to him is someone who will listen to him monologue about himself and how everyone else is an asshole, which is presumably why he has so few friends, and why the interactions we do see end so poorly. I'm sure he's met some people who will put up with repeat performances for whatever reason -- maybe because in Clowes's words he's the sort of guy who is "fun to hang out with in short and finite increments", though none of us seemed to have that experience in our short finite increments of interaction with him. Perhaps there was once a less-Wilsonesque Wilson, the same man that somehow managed to court Pippi and (presumably) have some sort of childhood to look back fondly on. Or maybe not, maybe Wilson has always been a terrible person and his friends are equally terrible.  I don't know that Wilson cares any more about "family" than he does about "friends" -- if anything, "family" is just a subgroup of friends who he thinks should feel more obligated to put up with all his bullshit. That doesn't lionize or impugn "friends" or "family" as concepts external to Wilson, just for him. And what else matters, he might ask.

DAVID: The thing about leaving things "off-panel" in Wilson is that the book doesn't just have gutters between the panels, it has gutters between the pages - supergutters. Wilson's structure as a series of discrete one-page comic-strip vignettes leads to Clowes having the ability to, by reordering the pages (something he's said he's done), change the pacing of the story. The best example I can think of this is once Wilson goes on what seems to be a totally blissful family trip with Pippi and his daughter, and then, a few pages later, there's a strip revealing the fact that both Pippi and his daughter were straight-up kidnapped. Clowes doesn't show this moment, and this makes those initial vacation strips that much funnier: "How the hell did this asshole get an actual family vacation?" I imagine he uses the same sort of tactics on whatever friends he has, likely trapping them in his orbit by inducing guilt.

ABHAY:  Jog, in his review over at Comics Comics, refers to WILSON being a "a worthwhile experiment, and sometimes a trying, tedious one, particularly as the comedy [...] gives way to a wholly expected whiff of fleeting redemption."  Did you find the ending predictable?  Or do you find the comic thematically, I don't know-- too simple?  Is the comic saying more for you than "live a decent life, otherwise you'll be sad you don't know your grandchildren"?  I know some of you are pretty punk rock-- is that too bourgeois for you punkers?  What are you even rebelling against, punkers?  Is all the formatting Clowes does tarting up 5-cent middle-class values?  Or do you think it's a more honest comedy about a misanthrope than is normally the case, e.g., the end of AS GOOD AS IT GETS where the Jack Nicholson misanthrope ends up with Helen Hunt.  (As comedies about chubby misanthropes go, I like the BANK DICK more...)  I don't know.  I'm a quiet person, an introvert, a bookworm, quote-unquote "sexual dynamite", so as a quiet person, a story about how a loudmouth suffers in life... That doesn't really conform to how I view the world, I guess.  What do you think of WILSON's themes?

TUCKER: Actually, I didn't find the ending predictable at all, which is a nice way of saying that I didn't like the ending very much. Part of it comes down to me still not being sure if I was supposed to buy the "Daddy Daddy" panel--having Wilson "get" staring at water made me reassess my initial reaction to that earlier scene. The first time through, I took Wilson laying down in the baseball field as a variation on what he'd been doing when he stared at the ocean--imitating the physical act of grief and/or emotional connection in a way to access some bit of true emotion that was beyond him. But at the end, having his "fake it til I make it" trick work made me think that Clowes actually meant the "Daddy Daddy" scene as a sincere one, which I just couldn't buy into. That last page made the book feel like the stock comedy that (I think?) you're criticizing it for being, whereas having him learn nothing was what I hoped was coming.

I disagree with your description of him as well. He's a loudmouth, maybe, but he's very much a quiet person, he's an introvert, he's a classic bookworm, he's all those things. There's very few scenes in there where he's dealing with more than one person at a time, and there's never a lot of stuff where he's doing more than throwing out verbal shitbombs, he rarely actually responds to being corrected or told he's wrong. Part of that is the punchline-dependent delivery, the way Clowes doesn't ever play the scenes out after the final cymbal crash, but I don't see Wilson as a truly confrontational misanthrope, mostly because I don't see the evidence for him being one. He can throw a punch, I don't disagree, but he reads like someone who just throws one and then hurry off to be alone and continue the conversation in his head, where he's certain to win.

JOG: Interestingly, the two-page side-story Clowes did in the New Yorker was, in fact, one scene over two pages, making it twice as long as any sustained scene in the book proper, and it does feature Wilson dealing with multiple parties at once.  He comes off much more clearly as a loudmouth in those pages, if only because Clowes lets the scene play a little while longer, apocryphal as it might be in the grand Wilson narrative.  I prefer the elusive quality of the one-page-only concept, which I think bolsters the flux status of the art.

I'm hesitant to break the 'story' and 'art' portions of the work too far apart, because their interrelation is so necessary to the whole experiment; I totally agree that the themes inherent to Wilson's characterization are simple, but there is more going on than Clowes running through these routines in the form of a comic, he's seeking to optimize them in comics form, i.e. using the miscellany of diverse visual impacts to emphasize the subjectivity of observation.  Here we see reflective Wilson, in a lamp-lit world of silhouette.  Now he's a big-nosed cartoon blithely revealing his fantasies about his ex-wife falling into ruin.  Now he's a realist human figure, reflecting while his lover is sleeping, eventually discovering the chill shade of SIR D.A.D.D.Y. BIG-DICK.  Sometimes this approach is facilitative of whatever narrative the current page is trying to deliver, but it primarily underlines the structure of Wilson's life -- as in, the thing he denies on the book's penultimate page -- even if it's only a structure we can see, as observers.  Wilson remains inside himself, forever oblivious; this is the most universally-keyed impact in all of the work, because none of us can glimpse that structure as it pertains to ourselves.  All of us are therefore Wilson, in addition to Wilson being Wilson and ourselves being everyone else - the blend of elements that forms a comic is what assures us.

The problem is, while Clowes' usage is very present, it's not especially rich.  Page by page, the 'gag' setup facilitates a simplistic pace, a boom-boom-boom of similar beats at the end of most of the book's vignettes, which leaves the serious parts feeling mawkish from repetition.  It compares poorly to Clowes' more varied use of the multi-strip technique in Ice Haven, which encompasses a plurality of narrative modes along with the shifting visuals, or something like Jason's Hey, Wait..., which relies on an even more rigid six-panel grid format, one vignette per page, yet doesn't feel the need to emphasize some particular beat on every page.  (I mean, I suppose the approach inevitably forces discreet focus on every page, but Clowes really seems to push the impact of each section, to the point where I found myself thinking "ooh, here comes a serious part" a few panels ahead of the story, which isn't a helpful thing when you're dealing with so simple a plot.)

SEAN: I don't see any redemption here, fleeting or otherwise.

JOG: Oh, he's not entirely redeemed in the eyes of any of his fellow characters, although his daughter is certainly willing to humor his desire for familial connection through the internet, and Shelley appears prepared to put up with his shit for a while; her last page in the book sees one of her hands momentarily touching Wilson's shoulder as he begins to weep, though (of course!) he doesn't notice.  But, importantly, the narrative affords him climax - his Thomas the Train Engine tears lead right into his shout of existence leading directly to his critical epiphany of raindrops.  Then: whiteness.  Clowes cuts off the narrative, so that Wilson is left in a state of grace.  Obviously it could change in the very next second, as it could for any character experiencing any concluding epiphany, but what we're left with is a more (I dare say) romantic character who finally Understands Things.  That's the redemption, via structure.  Again, the very thing Wilson denies existing on the penultimate page.

DOUGLAS: I found the ending pretty irritating too, but I also can't think of a way to wrap up the story that might have been more dramatically satisfying. (Thought experiment #1: what if the last page before the whiteout/"death" were Wilson looking at the rain and saying "I still don't see it," a la that Jaime H. story? That wouldn't really work either.) I agree with Jog that the multiplicity of perspectives/techniques doesn't amount to much, because we never get a look at Wilson that makes us see him particularly differently. (Somehow I keep thinking of the Christmas special of the British version of The Office, where we see David Brent hitting it off with Carol and it's suddenly evident that exactly the same traits that make him the unbearable boss we've seen for the rest of the series could potentially make him a fun boyfriend.) Maybe that lack of redemption, or of the possibility of redemption, or of any particular kind of change in the protagonist, is a systemic problem here--it's a story about how Wilson stays exactly the same, and that means it has to be a series of events strung together until the clock/number of heartbeats/page count runs out. (Because every single comic book has to be exactly like Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, that's why!)

SEAN: The ending reminded me of a cross between the ending of The Godfather Part II and that episode in the final season of The Sopranos when Tony does mushrooms in the desert outside Vegas and yells "I get it! I get it!" to the rising sun, then changes absolutely nothing about his life. I don't see sitting by yourself having some sort of revelation about life but sharing it only with yourself and perhaps the rain on the windowpane as any kind of state of grace. What's weird to me here is that Jog and Douglas seem to agree that the ending is lackluster, but don't actually agree about what the ending constitutes, unless I'm misreading something...

BRIAN: As a technical piece of work, I thought the format worked beautifully -- at first it seems as though you're just reading a series of one-page gags, but then it turns to where you see that they're actually adding up to something. As a reader, I was feeling pretty "OK, I get it, I get it!", then there is the shift around page 19 or so where it suddenly clicked for me that he was, in fact, telling a story, and not just a series of vignettes, and the work really "unlocked" for me.

RE: the ending, Clowes has always had a wobbly relationship with ending his stories, but I think that's more a function of his characters than anything having to do with plot, per se -- people really don't change all that much, even when confronted with something "life changing". My problem with the end is that I think Clowes felt like he needed to have an "end", and that "epiphany" is the best way to do it, but it seemed very OOC for what we were shown up to that point. That is to say that I tend to think that Clowes himself may be an optimist, and he really doesn't want Wilson to end on a bummer note -- but the characters dictate something else entirely...

CHRIS: Wilson seems self-centered and self-deceiving enough that I don't even buy he had any 11th Hour epiphany -- he'd just hit a point where all the other things he thought might validate him have failed, so he opts for the one avenue no one else can take away from him. Then again, maybe I'm just recoiling away from what is on the face of it, a cliché happy, undeserved redemption. But the entire book (save for the Daddy Daddy scene, which I read as primal pre-Wilson emotion overtaking him) struck me as an exercise in performative self-deception, so I don't know why it'd stop at the last moment. At the same time, the book seems like an effort to empathize with, or at least understand where the Loudmouth/Asshole/Sociopath/Wilson type is coming from. So maybe after all that empathizing, Clowes did want to provide a happy ending. I don't know if this addresses any themes other than trying to determine exactly how unreliable Wilson/Clowes are as narrators, but as a book it struck me as far more of a character study/formal exercise than anything with a Theme per se, though those aren't mutually exclusive and maybe I'm not trying hard enough.

DAVID: Honestly, I didn't buy any epiphany Wilson may or may not make at the end either. Nor did I buy the "Daddy daddy" scene, which seemed to me less like Wilson feeling grief and more like Wilson attempting to emulate grief - by that same token, I feel like the ending was just Wilson emulating an epiphany. This is a character where 90% of what he says is total bullshit and self-deception - the guy is, as Chris has said, basically an enhanced version of Larry David, and his first piece of dialogue in the book is "I Love People!". It's obvious he has absolutely zero sense of self-awareness. He's essentially an "honest" loudmouth whose public honesty is really just lying to himself in public.

I also still don't feel that Wilson was intended to be in any way sympathetic - he's pretty much utterly contemptible, a (as the back cover says!) sociopath who isn't feeling things, he's emulating feeling them because he feels like it's the right thing to do. He's perfectly self-centered, and any identification I can have with Wilson speaks badly on me as a human being. That's why the book was funny to me - it was easy to feel nothing but schadenfreude for such a complete piece of shit.

ABHAYI want to quote gentleman and scholar Mr. Marc Singer's description of Clowes: "arid work: unremarkable character-based 'nongenre' fiction, distinguished only because its genre, highly respected in literary circles, was at one point fairly uncommon in comics."  Is WILSON just the sort of "quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story" that Michael Chabon famously bemoaned as being overly abundant in literary fiction, years ago?  Do you think the story in WILSON would be remarkable if it were contained in a short story or novel?  Do you think that's even a thing that matters, if it takes advantage of visual strengths peculiar to comics? 

JOG: Well, I think your last question there answers the one before it: no, it might not be remarkable if it was prose, but it's not.  It's a comic.  Like I mentioned above, a lot of the worth of this book for me came from its interplay between mightily shifting observational perspectives and the "Wilsonesque" consistency of the title character.  I don't think it's been done in comics to this focused a degree, and I don't think it can be so smoothly executed in prose; you'd need a totally bravura and potentially confusing ever-shifting omniscient narrative approach or a whole bunch of observing characters planted in-story and narrating chorally.  Fuck that.  This is comics needling its effect right into your brain, icepick style.  An arctic shit-knife, if you will.

But yeah, Marc's essay on the early volumes of MOME came to mind as I was writing the Comics Comics thing: "just as not all autobiography is solipsistic, not all solipsism is autobiographical."  That's not to say that Clowes is falling into quite the trap Marc declares sprung on most of the debut MOME crew -- a general failure to interface artistically with a world more than a city block or two outside their discreet zones of experience, or even all that curiously as per their experience, if I'm getting it right -- but in the tiny epiphany school, we're not exactly venturing off-campus.

TUCKER: The best Clowes is funny, critical, Clowes. This was funny. It wasn't as funny as the funniest thing he ever did, which is that one or two panel riff on "felix", who spells his name in lowercase letters, but it was pretty damn funny nonetheless.

SEAN: Ugh.

JOG: Heh, is this one of those moments where you identify with Wilson?  Please expand!

SEAN: Hahaha! I've just always found Singer's writing on alternative comics self-evidently ughworthy is all. Did it look like I was "ugh"ing you or Abhay or Tucker? Shit, sorry! No ugh intended. However, look for "Ughing Tucker Stone" in theaters this August.

ABHAY:  I don't know.  Even if Clowes is utilizing something special to comics by shifting visual styles-- well, isn't there a line at which that becomes meaningless?  Say you took the movie BRIDE WARS-- Anne Hathaway, Kate Hudson, brides warring, good times-- and you edited it, with those Hollywood computers they have, so that the scene where Anne Hathaway initiates the Bride War looks all SIN CITY, or the scene where Kate Hudson escalates the Bride War is under a blue filter, Candice Bergen is on that crappy Avatar planet, and so forth.  That wouldn't be the same movie, no-- it might be more interesting than what they released.  But you're still basically watching a movie that's inherently about bride warriors, no?  The formatting might add a layer of interest to WILSON, and I can see enjoying it just for having that layer-- but isn't there still something under and independent of that layer that invites a separate reaction?  Maybe I've badly misunderstood what you're saying (Jog, that is) though, or aguing a point no one cares about, as nobody seems to be defending WILSON as a "story."

DOUGLAS: Sure, and the big non-visual formal device Clowes is using here--organizing the story as a series of one-page blackout sketches that imitate the tone and pacing of single-page gag strips--is also a technique that's innate to comics (you don't really think of prose fiction as being organized on the page level). I don't think you really could turn WILSON into prose without losing basically everything about it other than the rudiments of its plot. And it's definitely not plotless or quotidian, exactly; it just focuses on the quotidian elements of the story.

On the subject of solipsism-into-autobiography: mighty clever of Clowes to have Wilson, on the last two pages of the story, consistently facing to the right and having his gray hair thinning out and getting shorter, and then bam, on the last page, there's the artist's self-portrait, which might even be another style of drawing Wilson.

JOG: Plus, setting aside that Wilson is a tightly-controlled work of vignettes, I don't think a movie could ever really have the same effect, in that cinema is for the most part (and definitely in the case of Bride Wars) a photographic medium, running continuously from one temporal point to another, which implicates the viewer's idea of realism at every turn.  Like Walter Kerr theorized in The Silent Clowns, pre-talkie dramatic pictures are inevitably distanced affairs to contemporary audiences, because technology has gotten so much more efficient at depicting or analogizing realism (via well-established tenants of film grammar) that silent drama no longer looks 'right.'  Silent comedy, in contrast, feeds off of realism being upset to surprising effect, which allows today's audiences to interface with it on a more direct level.  The point is, a movie has to contend with the viewer's perception of reality, and somehow flatter or subvert or cope with it; shifting visual perspectives would upset this, a la the blockbuster smash Natural Born Killers, to which I believe Bride Wars was a crypto-sequel.

With a comic, 'reality' can be instantly accepted as whatever the artist can establish; while there's always going to be some readers who'll complain if the art isn't figuratively tight, there's nonetheless a lot more leeway in accepting a comic's drawn, cartooned, scribbled world as bona fied.  From there, an artist can shift to guide or provoke reactions, although with Clowes here it's more like veering.  But I don't think the same situation is applicable outside of comics.  (And anyway, I do think the technique fits in with the story's theme of attempted communication, as detailed above.)

SEAN: Re: crypto-sequels to Natural Born Killers--I believe you're thinking of Zombieland, Joe.

JOG: And then, y'know, Clowes himself weighed in on the topic with his interview in the (now-)current issue of The Believer (Vol. 8 No. 4, May 2010, conducted by my Comics Comics sitemate Nicole Rudick, full disclosure), which is behind a pay wall online, but I bought a hard copy - "I really was exploring the idea of trying to construct a joke out of every scene in a life in a way that would piece together into a narrative."  (Pg. 66)  There was initially "hundreds of pages" of Wilson jokes in his sketchbook, (Pg. 67), and a terrific influence was Peanuts, and the suggestion from reading a lot of it that an underlying plot might be present.  (Pgs. 65-66)  If you look at his DCist interview, he adds that no one style made sense when it came time to draw the book proper: "It would have to be this kind of mosaic approach where you're seeing kind of different facets of this guy on different days, and kind of separating each strip into its own different universe that's not necessarily related to the others in sequence."  I wonder if there wasn't a strongly facilitative component too - that the book's drawn this way 'cause that's how the book got drawn.

BRIAN: I can't add a lot to the formalism debate you bright minds are having, but to answer the last question of Abhay's, no I don't think it matters all that much -- this is a comics story that could really only be a comics story, and I think it engages you with each page-unit, something that can't be done in film, and would probably be insanely difficult in prose.

DAVID: Yeah, I can't imagine this as anything else. It's totally a work in comics, using the stylistic tendencies therein - the humor is heavily dependent on the juxtaposition of the subject material and art style. It could MAYBE work as animation, but without that contrast it just wouldn't be the same narrative. Wilson is heavily reliant on form for its function.

ABHAY:  Like last year's ASTERIOS POLYP, reactions to WILSON might end up being more focused on the formal choices than the actual content. And I don't think that's a comparison WILSON benefits by-- what I found exciting about POLYP's formal choices was how it added a layer of information to the story, something I don't know that I can say is true for WILSON.  Let's back up.  With WILSON, Clowes is working in a similar vein as ICE HAVEN: each page is a complete comic, and the art style and/or color palette varies from page to page, including how the main characters are drawn.  Which I think raises the question:  to what end? Is it contributing information, for you? And that seems to have been answered a number of different ways so far.  The great Mr. Paul Gravett began his fine review with the following:  "Nothing is left to chance in a Daniel Clowes book."  Jog in his Comics Comics review (and sorry if I've misunderstood) suggests that the different art styles reflect how others see Wilson (others sometime being the reader...?).  The always-worthwhile Blog Flume blog, on the other hand, suggest a number of possibilities, including that the styles might not mean anything: "As Mr. Ames from Clowes's Ice Haven might argue, 'There is no translatable content contained within each style: it is simply an aesthetic mood, and therefore is beyond the ability of words to characterize it.' Perhaps the styles are not about anything -- rather they create a visual rhythm, a kind of plot that overlaps and diverges from the narrative plot."  Where do you come out?

TUCKER: I've been listening to Das Racist a lot, and that's probably ruined me for certain things, and one of those things is that I don't really buy the idea that this "stuff", these choices and varied styles, are being left up to chance. My immediate response to them is that I thought that Clowes was commenting on other comics, on his contemporaries--that he's drawing certain pages similar to Ivan Brunetti on purpose, that his "daddy is dying" side journey is a Chris Ware thing, the little boys in prison page is Peanuts--after I started responding that way, I went looking for it, and now I'm trying to find the Darwyn Cooke's Parker page (blue tones? bedside noir?), and I'm wondering which relationship discussion is supposed to be from Optic Nerve. Whether I'm on any sort of right track or not doesn't particularly interest me, as this obsession has effectively determined how I'm interpreting Wilson for the time being, but right or not, I'm firmly in the camp that Gravett is right, and none of the choices are left up to chance.

JOG: I think I've pretty much said my peace already on this, although I guess I should add that the multiplicity of perspectives on Wilson doesn't represent in-story observing characters, but the reader as forced into the position of different, biased, tilt-headed straining faux-observers, like you're becoming a new 'reader' on every page.  I totally agree that there's multiple interpretations, sure; I think the book benefits even less from Ken Parille's intuitive-shades-of-mood-beyond-description/pure-visual-rhythm option(s) than pairing it up with Mazzucchelli, since that I think that interpretation brings to mind no particular substantive interaction with the writing save for putting the scene breaks after punchlines or those goofy dramatic beats.  That's just one possibility suggested in that post, I know, and anyway I'm not too far from intuitive shades of mood myself, since I'm not convinced that each 'style' as a consistent, coded meaning.  But I don't think intuition's all there is.

SEAN: I say this in my review, but I think the gag is that amid all the varied styles, amid all the mastery of the craft of drawing and coloring that Clowes brings to bear here, Wilson's still the same.

DOUGLAS: The "different style on every page" thing seems like a display of mastery on Clowes' part rather than particularly like an additional layer of meaning added to specific scenes. It's also worth noting that all the stylistic choices Clowes makes here are within a distinct, limited range of visual style.

SEAN: Yes. Every single one is recognizably Clowes--in fact, I'm reasonably sure he's used every single one before, perhaps in Ice Haven alone. This isn't some chameleonic tour-de-force of mimickry or experimentation. That's not a complaint, mind you, just an observation.

BRIAN: What Douglas said.

DAVID: I largely agree with these - I don't think the styles were part of any grand pattern, or that they're express homages or map out some sort of thematic unity between the similarly-drawn strips. I think it's just Clowes using the style he thinks is funnier or more effective for that particular gag or emotional punch.

JOG: Tucker, I'd be interested in hearing you expand on your idea up above.  Like, over at my Comics Comics thing where I wondered if Clowes was "fucking with us," part of that was wondering if he wasn't mixing in aspects of stereotypical sad, tortured, obsessive lit comics characters as a means of making Wilson-the-character even more abrasive to acclimated readers, not so much as critique but as a rotten Easter egg to stink up the reading for jaded nerds - Clowes knows his comics, so I don't think it'd be out of his reach to play that kind of game as a character thing, knowing that it might not register to casual bookstore browsers.  But are you saying it's a broader, comics-on-comics criticism at work?  What's your theory on how that plays out across the book?

TUCKER: Joe, I know I initially mentioned it to you as a "criticism of comics as comic" kind of feeling I was having, but no, I don't think that's what Wilson is going for. I do think that misanthropic main characters, self-loathing--these are the sort of things that Clowes would know are a well-trod area of comics, especially when he's dealing with readers like us, who have put some time into the Fanta/D&Q strands. Part of the humor in the book is that the guy is a hate-the-world stereotype, and when the jokes don't work (I'm looking at Abhay's "least favorite page" section), often it's because we've seen them before, whether it was in comics themselves or in the conversations surrounding those comics. (Douglas saying he's had enough "Fat chicks" jokes in his time, Abhay being bored with another "fuck super-heroes" riff coming from an alt-cartoonist.) I do think you're right to assume that Clowes is "fucking with us", and he's making sure to deliver the information in a way that riffs on what one might stereotypically expect from the work, and one of the most direct ways to do that is visually. Douglas is right to say that it's "within a distinct, limited range of visual style"--Clowes has said that himself--but I think that might be sidestepping how influential his influences are (Peanuts, for one) and how influential Clowes already is to the last 15 years of comics. He's not operating in a vacuum, and he can trick out what he's doing already and call upon something that strikes a chord with other cartoonists, particularly those "of his generation". And when he tosses in a bit of narrative snark in, it can, and does, read to me as if he's trying to make another statement on top of the one that your "casual bookstore browser" might not grasp. That Boggie page, for example--it's funny, but it's even funnier because it can be made to be a churlish sneer at the characters in Clyde Fans, that is, if you read Clyde Fans. I don't think any of these things are full-on pastiche/satire, but I do think the extra touches are in there to make it a little bit zing-ier, tuned up for the extra-sensitive.

CHRIS: Even before he started doing formal exercises in "shifting style" like Ice Haven and Wilson, I feel like Clowes has been far more of a chameleon than nearly any of his contemporaries: guys like Ware and Tomine may have played with a variety of styles back in the day, but both have gradually whittled down their work to a singular style. Charles Burns, Peter Bagge, Los Bros, pretty much anyone who falls alongside Clowes in the pool of Men of a Certain Age Who Do Comics Michael Chabon Might Have Been Bitching About In The Above-Mentioned Quotation -- they've all chosen to work almost exclusively in a singular trademark style. Clowes has played around with styles enough over the years that he can pull something like Wilson off and still have every page look like a "Clowes Style" as opposed to a pastiche to a foreign style, and you could try to map the pages to "Yellow Streak, Ghost World, David Boring, Pussey, 20th Century Eightball Intro" paths too. I'm willing to believe there's an element of "fucking with us" involved with some of the choices, but I don't think that was a primary goal. I don't think there was any primary agenda to the shifting styles, though I also agree nothing was "left to chance". Going back to the previous question (which I didn't have anything insightful to add to) I do wonder if the direct showiness of this specific creative decision is giving it more attention than other deliberate choice that any creator makes.

ABHAY:  Oh, to be clear, Chabon wasn't complaining about comics or comics creators, but about serious prose short fiction.  Okay.  Let me get bold-faced because it's time for the next question. Setting aside the "what does it all mean" question-- did you LIKE the format choice Clowes made?  Did you think it made the WILSON experience better than it would have been had Clowes maintained a single style throughout?  Do you think "serious scenes look serious, funny scenes look funny" robbed you as a reader of your own authorship, of being able to create your own interpretation / conclusion of events presented?  (To the extent that description is even true-- Page 62's Last Time and Page 49's Polly's House might suggest otherwise).  By insisting to us how we should see Wilson at any given moment, is Clowes in essence doing the same thing Wilson himself is supposedly guilty of, bleating on and ignoring our own possible contributions to the conversation?

SEAN: I don't think that's what's going on, so I have no problem with this. By all means let a thousand flowers of Dan Clowes drawing style bloom.

JOG: No, I don't believe it's coded that way.  A bunch of the really blatantly 'funny' bits are closer to the realism end of the scale, like where he asks the prostitute for a blowjob, or confesses his role in sending the box of shit.  In contrast, the big breakthrough final page is among the more cartoony.  And while the visuals force us into a bunch of different perspectives, I think there's still a lot of leeway for a reader to determine how the style interacts with the text.  Like, is the monochrome look wistful or funny or depressive?  That's up to the reader - what matters is that they're faced with differing situations on almost every successive page.

ABHAY:  Do you have a favorite page?  Mine is Page 39's Boggie, just because it feels transplanted from an entirely different comic.  The comedy in the rest of the book is a sort of one joke over and over-- the joke being, "Oh, Wilson, you lunkhead" or whatever. But in the middle of it is Boggie, where there's this random, baroque joke about a mustachioed antique-collecting detective having his name mispronounced-- it seems a little sillier and more absurd to me than the comedy featured in the rest of the book. Plus, I like how the detective's frustration is just conveyed with the word "Boggie" being underlined in a word balloon.  I'm also partial to the art on Page 31's Taxi Cab-- Clowes's colors just seems especially lush there.

TUCKER: Boggie, shit. That's weird. I'm in your house, Abhay. I'm eating your almonds, I'm kissing your quilts.

JOG: Probably the first prison page (54, "Hard Time"), which I thought was the funniest part by far - that's the one where Wilson launches into a typical, I'd say deliberately-lame-on-Clowes'-part rant, and in the last panel his scary cellmate threatens to rape him.  And yeah, I know: oooooh, Mr. Middle Class Hetero laughed at the gay prison rape joke!  But, it's great in so many ways: (A) how the very setting is an extra punchline for the off-panel confrontation on the previous page; (B) how it's a long-game punchline to the parade of saps across  the entire first half of the book sitting quietly while Wilson goes on and on and on, because here's a dude who's completely not going to sit in a cell with that and he's gonna communicate his position in an admirably succinct manner; and (C) how the dangerous cellmate speaks in this horrible, cartoonish regional dialect, while Clowes draws him in the stiffest, most serious manner imaginable.  It's a lot funnier now that I've explained my feelings.  Also, "so many" meant three.

SEAN: I like the Dark Knight page for its ability to provoke precisely the reaction Abhay has below. Getting pissed off about superheroes was maybe boring like a decade ago when that was still the prevailing sentiment among alternative-comics readers and creators, and, like, the Comics Journal message board was the only game in town. But in this the Every Knee Shall Bow Era of nerd-culture dominance, SOMEONE'S gotta kick people who worship the movie with the second-best movie Joker in the balls. At any rate he's making a point specific to superheroes that doesn't have anything to do with film or screenwriting in general. I also liked the page about fucking hating all religion, because word up.

DOUGLAS: My favorite is pg. 51, "Pure Bliss"--that's the one that cracked me up on my first re-read, because the punch line there is the first time Clowes lets on that he hasn't quite been telling us everything about what's been happening in the sequence leading up to it.

BRIAN: My two favorite pages are probably "FL. 1282" and especially "Agent of Change", because those seem like universal annoyances to me.

DAVID: "Taxi Cab," without a question. It cracks me up every time I look at it - the awkwardness of the entire exchange, the goggle/cross-eyed look on Wilson's face in that fourth panel juxtaposed with that dialogue snippet ("I want the actual kind you can fuck. For money.") -- trying to explain it ruins it, but I find almost every panel of it amusing, and overall it's one of the funniest single-page gag strips I've seen. I love it.

CHRIS: Nearly all the previously shouted-out pages are worthy choices, but to avoid repetition I'm going with "Frankenstein" -- I don't think it's actually supposed to be the same guy as "Table Sharing", but the pair of pages are a cute and concise reminder of just how utterly inessential Wilson's conversational partners are to him, and how memorably unpleasant a lowgrade jerk like Wilson can be. I suppose it's a gentler companion to "Hard Time", but I gently fist-pumped for Frankenstein's gentle rebuff.

ABHAY:  Least favorite page?  I think mine was Page 32's The Dark Knight, the one where a cab driver tries to engage Wilson in a conversation about a Batman movie, and Wilson began to rant about superheroes-- all of which struck me as disagreeable for two reasons.  One, it seemed like a relic from some earlier age of art-comic, where being adversarial with mainstream comics was often (and arguably, incorrectly) seen as necessary.  It again conformed to Mr. Singer's complaints, namely his complaint that "Clowes's work also seems to be susceptible to a problem that has undermined many an alternative comic. He can't escape the superhero comics he so disdains because he never stops telling us how much he disdains them; nor are his criticisms particularly novel."  But also: two, it reminded me of Clowes's own failures as a filmmaker.  I didn't care much for THE DARK KNIGHT, but ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL is as much a piece of shit as any I've ever seen.  And that, in turn, reminded me that... Clowes is a Hollywood screenwriter (with wife and child and beagle according to his bio) seeking to profit here from a story about a possibly mentally ill character.  At what point, is there something cruel about that?  Or just dishonest?  If the vision of life Clowes is advancing is life as tragic-- he's traveled the world, thanks to a life spent drawing pictures of chubby near-sighted girls! Isn't his own biography proof that life is actually more bizarre and weird and hilarious than any "life is tragic" summation can capture?  Rationally, I know what I'm saying is probably too hyperbolic, and that Clowes' extremely limited fame & minor success doesn't mean he somehow surrendered the right to talk about how he perceives life is for other people.  But I know my own weird class resentment is an issue I have with this "genre" of comics, nevertheless.

JOG: Huh, brings to mind Gravett's point that "Wilson" is a partial anagram of Clowes' name.  My initial impression was that you're misinterpreting the scene, since Wilson's a total goon and his speech is therefore meant to be annoying, but then I noticed a little 'out' in the punchline, which doesn't suggest that Wilson is so much wrong as equally guilty in buying in to the evidently idiotic chest-thumping babyman horseshit of superheroes.  Or maybe Wilson just realizes his breach of conduct, given that he needs to get a ride from this guy, and immediately compromises himself in asking about Iron Man.  Same result.  Anyway, it doesn't really bother me, particularly in that The Death Ray exhibited a pretty keen-eyed take on the superhero genre, wherein Clowes lays out his particular interests - it's not a sneering blanket dismissal of the genre, it's a sneering informed dismissal of unfavorable generic aspects.  And while I've never seen Art School Confidential, I don't think Clowes' own screenwriting acumen or lack thereof affects Wilson's commentary, which is focused on broad social-philosophical matters that implicitly acknowledge that a film can be 'good' in a technical/whiz-bang entertainment sense while still being repulsive.  Like, it's not a good commentary, or one I particularly agree with, but I don't feel the same annoyance you do.

SEAN: Haha, I thought he brought up Iron Man just to be a dick!

TUCKER: I took it that his question about Iron Man was actually sincere, that for all of his gooniness, he genuinely wants to know what happened in these things that he's sure are stupid, for stupid people, etc. Sort of a parallel to the way you describe the character above, he's above poppy entertainment but still wants to engage with it. Then again, it would help my case if he'd actually seen Dark Knight in the first place.

ABHAY:  Huh.  I read it as Sean did, that Wilson was being patronizing. I'm not sure how often we were supposed to be laughing AT Wilson and how often we were supposed to be WITH Wilson laughing at the "absurdity" of his world and its numerous nail salons, etc.  I have a harder time with the latter kind of comedy than the former, in general, maybe-- which has always been an issue with Clowes for me since his more comedic pieces have been on that line somewhat often. Late in the book, there's a scene where Wilson complains how much the future sucks, because he doesn't get to read Ellery Queen mysteries anymore, and I wasn't sure if we were supposed to feel sympathetic to the opinions he was expressing or pity the pathetic old man (neither of which I was really willing to do in that case).

BRIAN: "Dark Knight" made me think of, for some reason, "Feldman"

JOG: I also don't agree the Clowes' vision boils down to tragedy; surely he relents in the end that even a dolt like Wilson is capable of momentary peace, which would then allude to his own contented life, if indeed we're hitting on Wilson-as-solipsism.

ABHAY: He seems to surrender his ego for a brief moment, sure, but only "immediately" prior to the total spiritual annihilation of  those white pages.  Maybe it's unhealthy to view death as a "tragedy", instead of a beautiful process of nature, like pollination, but ... guilty!  "This will all end with total spiritual annihilation"-- best Valentine's Day card ever.

JOG: Ah!  You see, I didn't take the white pages as signifying Wilson's death - it was more like a television cutting broadcast to white noise, like: story's over!  You can't see any more than that!  Our POV ventures away from Wilson as he sits and enjoys his revelation on the last page: we have to leave now.  I guess he could die, my uncle sure did, but -- and I realize I'm getting really really really subjective now -- I don't see it as cruel so much as relenting to give the character something nice to have planted in his mind for his last image.

ABHAY: Well, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, I just thought if what we saw in the preceding pages was not Wilson's "body" but his essence, then the total absence of that essence on the white pages was the total vaporization of his soul basically-- the heaven-less afterlife Wilson had been predicting throughout the book, quite accurately.  I can see how "fictional characters all have their souls obliterated when you cease observing them; Merry Christmas" might sound a bit severe, though.

JOG: As for my personal least favorite - um, I guess the one on the phone with his dad I mentioned before (19, "Bad News"), since that's the first and worst of the gag-swapped-out-with-a-honking-dramatic-beat pages.

DOUGLAS: Maybe pg. 17, "Fat Chicks," which is the most egregious example here of Clowes doing Brunetti doing Clowes, isn't particularly funny on its own, and doesn't add anything to our understanding of Wilson--it's just repeating the same gag we've already seen a bunch of times.

BRIAN: "Hard Time" didn't work for me, but that's more from the "look a lot of time passed, and even more stuff happened off camera" aspect of than anything else.

DOUGLAS: See, I liked that one for the reason you didn't!

CHRIS: Wilson and Pippi end up going to see some sort of movie with big explosions and falling buildings in "11 O'Clock Show", so there's definitely a level of hypocrisy to his dismissal of Dark Knight, unless the page was supposed to be a super-meta-critique of comics enthusiasts who think that Superheroes Are For Children but get really excited for cartoonish male power fantasy books if they involve, like vampires or super spies or futuristic journalists or chainsmoking cyborg barbarians or something, like spandex is a mystical talisman that separates the Childish from the Mature. I'm almost certain this was not Clowes's intention.

ABHAY:  Do you think WILSON is a step forward or step backwards for Clowes?  I've seen some reactions online that have suggested many see it as the latter.  How do you figure it in the context of his overall career? Is this a thing you think about?  If Jog will allow me to quote him again "I think the wider critical/(sub-)cultural conversation has packed lit comics stereotypes into a firm enough state by 2010 to wonder freely if Daniel Clowes isn’t on some level fucking with us[.]"  On the other end of the spectrum, you have this quote from the goodly Mr. Timothy Hodler from the comment section: "Clowes is definitely getting more and more Nabokovian (more the authorial puppetmaster, the magician who lets the audience pierce the veil, but only rarely and briefly) as time goes on, and some find breathing that particular kind of rarefied air stifling. (Not me! I love it!)"  What do you think?  Where do you come out on a Jog-Hodler continuum?  Physically aroused? Me, too.

JOG: That's it, Abhay - you'll be hearing from my lawyer.  Fair use?  More like fair I'm suing you.

SEAN: It's not on the level of his back-to-back masterpieces in Eightball #22 and #23, but that's fine. It is what it is. People can step sideways or diagonally or whatever.

DOUGLAS: Yeah, I'm with Sean. I'm not as crazy about Clowes the formalist who makes his characters and plots secondary to Cartooning with a capital C as I am about Clowes the satirist or Clowes the observational character-builder; WILSON is pretty much a misfire for me (so were "David Boring" and to a lesser extent "Ice Haven," but I agree that #23 was a masterpiece, if that helps you calibrate where I stand on him). But the last piece I read of his was that super-compressed story in Kramers Ergot #7, which I really enjoyed; forcing himself to do something new gave it a lot of energy, I thought.

SEAN: Wow, Douglas, you may be the first anti-David Boring/Ice Haven Clowes reader I've ever heard of!

CHRIS: I wonder if Wilson is suffering from how it's generally being framed as "the first graphic novel from Daniel Clowes after how-ever-many-years since the last issue of Eightball" as opposed to "something that Dan Clowes did". I'm reminded of Evan Dorkin's tear-down of Seth pre-apologizing for Wimbledon Green as a "minor" and "sketchbook quality". If anyone walks into Wilson thinking it is going to be Clowes's Asterios Polyp or Jimmy Corrigan they're going to be disappointed. I don't have a flowchart of Dan Clowes's evolution as an artist -- what Pokemon will he turn into?? -- but as "something that Dan Clowes did" I enjoyed it. It's not his best, but nor does it make me fear he's going to slide into dotage.

TUCKER: There's no location to put this, but Chris is reminding me of it, so I'll put it out there: that whole "first original graphic novel from Daniel Clowes" thing is obnoxious, and I'm starting to wonder whether any of the creators who are getting this badge thrown on them are actually willfully reaching for it. See: Asterios Polyp, first graphic novel. See: Crumb's Genesis, first graphic novel. I could wrap my brain around it more if it made sense to Joe's "casual audience", but it really doesn't when they're casually picking Wilson off the shelf, where it sits right next to things like Ghost World & Velvet Glove, or at least it doesn't whenever those things are in print, which seems to be "occasionally". It's not a label for any of us, as far as I can tell, it's not for the casual browser, it seems wholly created for author blurbs, press releases & pissing off Eddie Campbell. On the continuum question, your real one, the one I can't really be accused of hijacking since I'm adding this at the absolute last minute: it's different enough from his previous works that I can't help but call it a step forward, because I sincerely believe that's the only thing that matters when it comes to comics, etc, anything. A step backwards for me would've been D. Boring Pt. 2, Return to Ice Haven, so on. This wasn't totally my bag of hammers, but I think I'm probably happy enough with it that you'll find me lurking on the Tim Hodler end of the pool. I'm a power bottom.

ABHAY:  One thing noteworthy about WILSON is its publication in a single volume from Drawn & Quarterly, without prior serialization in EIGHTBALL.  Is this the first time since, what, 1986 that he's not being published by Fantagraphics, not counting the Times or McSweeneys or such...?  Does WILSON signal the end of EIGHTBALL?  With LOVE & ROCKETS now an annual graphic novel release, do you see WILSON as just further evidence of a sea change in how we consume comics?  I know one of Brian's recurring themes in his Tilting at the Windmall columns (and I apologize if I've misunderstood or this is me putting words in your mouth) is how direct-to-trade situations are sometimes at the expense of sales that can be generated by serialization.  Is that worth discussing?  Do you feel like some key quality of WILSON would have been destroyed had it been serialized?  If there's been a sea change-- do you like the sea change?  As a comic book fan, I fear and hate all change to anything, ever.

TUCKER: I think it's a good thing, generally, for cartoonists of any stripe to be able to deliver work in whatever format they most prefer. Not having the benefit of facts to draw from, I can only assume that Clowes released Wilson the way he wanted to release it--as a stand-alone, non-serialized work--because I'm of the opinion that Clowes is in a position where he can choose his method freely, due to his previous successes. If that's not true--if he wanted to serialize Wilson, and was convinced otherwise due to financial reasons or publisher prodding--than I'd feel negatively towards the method. As far as I'm concerned, and this is where I might disagree with Brian, I think the artist is the one who should make that decision, and the feelings of a publisher, retailer or reader shouldn't be given much consideration, if any at all. That doesn't mean I think their opinions on the final product are meaningless, but I don't think that sort of stuff should come into play on the creative end of the table when the work is actually being generated. Having comics in multiple formats--annual books, monthlies, web weeklies, archival bricks--doesn't strike me as something that has a lot of negative aspects. I don't believe for a second that limiting creators to the current whims of the audience is in the best interest of creating any type of art. The contradiction to all this pro-art talk is that, as always, it certainly helps to have the things I like be profitable enough that the people involved can make more things that I like, and from that perspective, Brian's general concept--that selling an Eightball version of Wilson 1-10 means Clowes and everybody else might end up with more money when it comes time to release the Wilson hardcover--might have some truth to it. I don't think that's the case with this specific work--the kinda dopey ending aside, Wilson doesn't really lend itself to satisfactory serialization. (Am I wrong on this? Eightball issues would've been purchased and read by me, certainly, but i'm a fucking lifer whose opinion on these things often runs contradictory to normal human beings. Would people have wanted to read one-page Wilson strips every weekday for the two odd years it would've taken for the story to finish? Would any of you wanted to read this over the course of a few years in 20-30 page chunks so that Abhay could fill up his precious longbox?) I'm enough of a selfish prick that I would be totally happy if Chris Ware's current ongoing stories came out in more frequent chunks, but that's because his chunks always read like they're designed to be read that way, that the final brick style collection of Jimmy Corrigan is a pain in the ass to read in a way that the individual Acme chapters aren't.

BRIAN: I don't think that Wilson would have worked as "Three issues of Eightball", or whatever, but I could see it working extremely well as interstitial material between other stories in a periodical -- say, over 10-12 "issues". Particularly because of the narrative shift around page 19 that I noted before. I like work that reads one way in serialization, but then takes a totally different tone when bound together. I think that, too, is something that is really unique and special to comics.

TUCKER: I do like the fact that Clowes bailed on Fantagraphics for D&Q. I think it's high time that the Criterion publishers started openly fighting for each others stables.

SEAN: Chris Ware decamped from Fanta to D&Q too, don't forget. Brain drain! I, I remember Ware and Clowes standing by the wall; the guards shot above their heads and they kissed as though nothing could fall. Anyway, I've actually never read Clowes in serialized fashion. The only Eightballs I've read contained the stand-alone stories Ice Haven and The Death-Ray, I read all his older material in collected form, and I read Mister Wonderful in one sitting over two years after it wrapped up. So this isn't that big a change for me. In general, I tend to think that it's younger artists who'd most benefit from an economic model that still permitted serialization, since in theory at least it would afford them more of an opportunity to experiment, work at a rapid pace, get feedback, and so on. An artist in Clowes's position doesn't seem to have much to gain from it.

JOG: I should note that Clowes himself addressed the publisher issue in the Washington City Paper interview Douglas linked to above - basically he finished the book without a publication deal and decided it should go with D&Q, to which he'd promised a book years ago.

BRIAN: This is me with my retailer hat on now, but I can say that when Eightball was a 3-ish-times-a-year periodical, in the first month we'd sell roughly 200% of it than we would whatever the best-selling ongoing hero book was (Uncanny X-Men then, probably Avengers now), then we'd selling that same number again over the course of the next year. Based on current velocity I'm guessing I'll sell something like 75% of Wilson-as-book compared to Avengers (ugh, what a comparison!) in the first month, then maybe 125% of that in the next twelve months. So the question somewhat becomes "how much does the numerical size of the audience matter to a creator?" I'm of the opinion that the "book market" is going to sell whatever they're going to sell of a work whether or not it was serialized in the first place (from an established creator like Clowes)

For this book, in particular, I think that the $21.95 price tag is just over the $19.95-psychological-barrier that people have for GNs, and that a second revenue stream in the form of serialization could have potentially gotten that price down below that magic number, which would probably end up shifting more units over the course of time, as well.

Of course, I tend to suspect that a number of the members of this round table got review copies of this book, so you're maybe not thinking about the arcane business of pricing whatsoever! (Which, of course, is how it should be; just saying)

The other factor, of course, is that Clowes' last solo work, Ice Haven, was released in June of 2005, which means Clowes has been "off the market" for some five years. Clowes is established enough that this is probably not a dire thing for his career, but for new or emerging creators it is really hard (not impossible) to build an audience if that much time passes between releases.

TUCKER: I didn't think of it when I was responding, but I totally agree that 21.95 is a weird price that hits a certain psychological barrier. I don't think that Clowes is in a position where he needs to get his name out there anymore, so I'm not too concerned about the five year gap.

ABHAY: I don't know if this adds anything, but here is a quote from a recent Clowes interview with Time Out New York that might be of interest here:  "I felt like the whole comic book thing is over. Like we can’t go back to that anymore. Now that you have to charge six dollars or whatever for a comic book it’s not the same thing as it was. It just seems like an affectation at this point in time.  [...] That whole world we were in, it seems so, so lost. The whole world of zine culture and doing your own little comic pamphlets and that stuff. It’s very hard to explain to someone who was born in 1990 what that’s all about."

DOUGLAS: Wow. That's a little disturbing--maybe the problem for Clowes is that the class of 1990 is no longer making zines and little comic pamphlets (or, to be fair, that there's not really a single publisher right now in the particular position Fantagraphics occupied in 1990 with regard to serialized art comics), but I came home from both MoCCA and Stumptown in the last few weeks with enormous piles of homemade comics by people born around 1990 or a little earlier. I don't think WILSON would have been particularly effective serialized a page at a time (I'm imagining it as a web-comic, and I bet I would've thought "get to the point" very quickly); I can't see it working a chunk at a time any more than Asterios Polyp would have. But D&Q is certainly not unwilling to publish eighty-page hardcovers as "issues of ongoing series" (looks like both Acme Novelty Library #20 and Palookaville #20 will take that form this fall. Thought experiment #2: would we be thinking about this differently if its cover said Eightball #24? It'd sure be harder to sell to a bookstore audience, I'd bet.

TUCKER: Yeah, that line from Clowes isn't too far removed from other cartoonists "of his generation" in assuming that zine and mini culture is dead simply because Fanta & DQ barely participate in it beyond a couple of annual floppies. Plenty of new stuff on that front, it's just not something he's bumping into.

SEAN: The folks with more history on this list can correct me if I'm wrong, though, but as best I can tell mini/zine culture now, at least in its most potent and fecund form, treats minis like art objects, not like the "bang 'em out at Kinkos" direct line to the cartoonist that they used to be...and Clowes's use of "zine culture and doing your own little comic pamphlets" aside, the full-fledged alternative comic book from an independent publisher is pretty much dead but for quixotic projects like Alvin Buenaventura's thumbed-nose-at-Diamond line, right? That strikes me as fairly uncontroversial.

BRIAN: This may be one of those "chicken-and-egg" things, but "alt comics" "don't sell" because no one is producing them in critical-mass-enough numbers any longer. The shift, particularly with the "fathers" like Clowes and Bagge and Tomine and Crumb and Los Bros to "annual or less" output means people are no longer walking into stores looking for that kind of material, on a regular basis, any longer. And that drastically reduces the chances that the next, emerging artist can succeed "on the coat tails" (as it were) with periodical releases. What we need is 20-30 cartoonists each committing to 2-3 releases a year, so that "every week you walk in there might be something that tickles your fancy".

The beauty of the periodical is that it encourages sampling, in a way that GN-formats very pointedly don't. The alt-comics reader (to the extent you can pigeon-hole readers, which is, actually, very low) isn't coming into the store weekly any longer, or even monthly. They're making 2-3 trips a year, at best, which further reduces the hard number of readers supporting that work at retail...

But, to get back to the initial question: is there "some key quality of WILSON would have been destroyed had it been serialized?", no, I wouldn't say that at all.

SEAN: It occurs to me now that Wilson could have been doled out a page at a time online as a webcomic in a way that would have worked rather well for the material.

DOUGLAS: Clowes from that same City Paper interview: "I think I’ll go down with the sinking ship that is the publishing business before I re-emerge as a desperate and apologetic Web cartoonist (”C’mon guys—buy some mugs and t-shirts!”)." I don't think we'll be seeing him taking the webcomic approach any time soon. (See also the Berkeley Breathed interview in PW Comics Week, explaining why he's quit cartooning and isn't interested in webcomics: "If you just had to draw every day and you didn't mind not being paid, I suppose you could go back into it... It's atomization personified. There's going to be millions of people doing millions of things for very few readers. And I guess that's democratic, sort of.") There doesn't seem to be much pleasure in making comics or connecting with readers in what either of them are saying about format, and that's fine, there doesn't have to be; wanting to be paid for what he understands as the work itself rather than related ephemera is absolutely fair. (Also, Clowes talks about wanting "the surface to be comforting, inviting and pleasant": it's not like he's sneering at his readers or anything.) But there's a difference between the "I made this for you, my audience, the people who hate the same things as I do" tone of early Eightball and the kind of "well, here it is"--whap--"that'll be $21.95" vibe that comes off of Wilson.

SEAN: Where are you getting a mercenary vibe from this project, Douglas? I'm really not seeing that in the book. I also don't see why poo-pooing the webcomics financial model means he's not enjoying himself doing what he's doing now. If anything, couldn't you infer the opposite? If the argument is just that, well, he sounds dour in an interview--this IS Dan Clowes we're talking about.

DOUGLAS: Oh, I don't think it's mercenary, I just think it's dourer than a lot of his work has seemed to be in the past.

SEAN: Ha, I think my "this IS Dan Clowes we're talking about" still stands.

CHRIS: When Clowes was talking with David Hadju at Strand last week, there was a prepared slideshow of images, and one was a group shot taken at some comic shop in the mid-1980s. Through the haze of three decades I couldn't really hash out the "point" he was making when he said words to the effect of "this was all we had for comics culture back then" -- those mustaches and haircuts and ring tees wouldn't have looked out of place at MoCCA at all -- but I do understand what he was talking about when he described how early issues of Eightball (and Cerebus and Love & Rockets etc.) were shoved in the back of the store in an "Adults Only" box. The whole 'zine/indy comix culture was very much based on on that connection to a far-flung audience that felt a secret bond, like Douglas described. Nowadays, through a combination of the Internet existing and a legitimization of comics and many other 'zine-y topics, the impulse to bang it out at Kinko's isn't really there, unless you're doing it for some sort of artistic reason. Clowes's generation have all gentrified into having book deals and the ability to put out nice looking Books, so it's understandable that very few people (John Porcellino? Anyone else?) go to all that hassle. If you don't have any attachment to the trappings of the 'zine culture, you're much more likely to focus your energies on blogs and webcomics and the like. Do any of us write for APAs? I'm just (barely) old enough to have an affection for the 'zine era, even though it was more my hypothetical-older-sibling's bag that I peeked into before I was really old enough. Still, that sort of thing catches my eye at MoCCA or anywhere else I happen to see it, but these days they often come with silk-screen covers and prices at $5 or more, something that makes me recoil even more than an over-twenty-dollar slight graphic novel does.

Rationally, I agree with Tucker's assessment that it should be the prerogative of the creator. I see Brian's point coming from the publisher/retailer perspective, but personally I am grateful for the proliferation of original graphic novels, as it helps me conserve the space and money that otherwise gets doubly eaten up by my compulsive re-purchasing of things once they're put out in collected editions. This runs directly counter to what Brian and D&Q probably want to hear -- they could've had my money twice! -- but I'm selfish.

ABHAY:  Final thoughts?  Ratings, if you prefer?  Lessons learned?  I learned how art can bring an array of very different people together to discuss, to debate, and even to celebrate -- of course, I'm referring here again to the movie BRIDE WARS.  I learned that internet people can even disagree violently about the meaning of one-page gag comics, that really we're all just one ZIGGY away from an all-out knife-fight.  I learned, based upon the responses to the first question, that apparently, I'm the only one who has enough self-esteem issues and personality defects to relate to schlubby Dan Clowes characters... and that made me feel pretty great about myself. And sometimes, I didn't learn anything, but was instead embroiled in an erotic game of cat & mouse.  But who was predator, and who was prey?  That is one sexy question that may have to go unanswered.

BRIAN: Savage Critic-style, I thought in the end, that the book was VERY GOOD. I'll opt not to discuss your sexiness.

SEAN: I learned that I would very much like to do this sort of thing with y'all again...

BRIAN: I think we should do this at least once a month, each time with a different person moderating and coming up with questions, maybe? Or maybe that's insane...

DOUGLAS: Hey, Brian, is INTERESTING TO WRESTLE WITH one of the official SavCrit ratings? I always forget.

JOG: True.  I'm hesitant to say 'it sparked discussion,' because that's a crummy, overused defense -- I can stand up at Sunday Mass and fart in the collections basket, and that'll spark discussion too -- and I also think there's a hazard in crediting a 'literary' comic with formal investigation on its face, since I think that inquiry is arguably a base component of comics aspiring to a literary quality, if not necessarily to as deliberate a degree as found here.  But - there's a worth in how this book's visual mechanics compliment its themes, even if it only presides over what I thought were pretty facile anxious man insights and not-that-funny jokes.  Still liked that prison page, though.

SEAN: I laughed hard at this thing, man!

DAVID: Yeah, I stand on the VERY GOOD side of this fence myself. I enjoyed it and had a lot of fun reading it, and it's a great Art Object to have around - I can pretty much open it up at any time and enjoy any given string of pages, and sometimes find some narrative hooks between the pages that I hadn't noticed before. It's also wonderfully made by D&Q, and it's nice to buy a $23 hardcover that isn't bound with glue and hollow cardboard.

TUCKER: I'm comfortable with GOOD on this one.

CHRIS: We're in this Low Self-Esteem battle together, brother -- I was self-conscious enough to make a point of wearing my contacts the day I went to see Clowes for fear someone would think I was cosplaying as [slightly] Younger Wilson. I was surprised at how little I found myself thinking about Wilson after I finished it, and how little I had to say about it to my circle of Comic Friends. I still think it was GOOD, but at a certain point I wonder if that reaction isn't just because I like getting more Daniel Clowes comics.

Douglas’s note on the domino effect

[This is a reconstructed post from Google Cache; originally posted by Douglas] I love the tightly knit week-to-week continuity of the Big Two’s superhero serials, but its potential downside is that a single stumble can do strange things to the direct market. According to Diamond’s new shipping updates, the final issue of Siege has been bumped three weeks, from April 21 to May 12. (Siege: Embedded #4 has moved also moved to May 12, but from April 7.) Which means that the final issues of Dark Avengers and Avengers: The Initiative, which were supposed to come out that week, have also been bumped to 5/12. And New Avengers Finale, which was meant to follow Siege #4 by a week on 4/28. Meanwhile, Fallen, originally scheduled for 4/7, is also now due 5/12. That’s six Siege-related books, all hitting the same day. (Which is also the same day as Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1!)

Now we move into the realm of idle speculation, and I hope people who know better will correct me if I’m wrong.

Not yet officially rescheduled: a lot of other stuff that was supposed to come out after Siege ended, like the final issues of New Avengers and Mighty Avengers, both currently scheduled for 4/28–perhaps those will have to get bumped too. Possibly also Invincible Iron Man #25, which is scheduled for 4/28, launches a new storyline, and I’m guessing from context happens after “Siege” and potentially spoils its ending. (But, of course, if Marvel holds that one until 5/12, they miss having it out in time for Iron Man 2’s opening 5/7.) Thor #609 and Thunderbolts #143 are both Siege tie-ins that are still on the schedule for 4/28, which means they were planned to appear after Siege ended.

Then there’s the current 5/5 ship dates for Avengers #1 and various other titles billed as Heroic Age tie-ins, which I assume can’t roll out unspoilerishly until Siege is over: Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1, Captain America #606, Enter the Heroic Age #1 and Heroic Age: Prince of Power #1. (Age of Heroes #1 has already been bumped from 5/5 to 5/19.)

Titles that are currently listed for 5/12 include Amazing Spider-Man Presents: American Son #1, Atlas #1, Black Widow #2, Secret Avengers #1 and Web of Spider-Man #8, all of which are billed as Heroic Age tie-ins.

Obviously, the plan was that Siege would end April 21, the triple Avengers finale would be April 28 (right before Free Comic Book Day), and the new Avengers #1 would come out as the flagship of all the Heroic Age stuff the first week of May, just in time for Iron Man 2 to open. That really was a cool idea, and I’m sorry things apparently won’t run that way. As a reader, I’m not complaining that all those comics aren’t going to be in my hands exactly when I expected; I’ll read ‘em when they’re ready. But I do think it’s a peculiar symptom of the current state of superhero comics that one deferred issue can make so many other titles run late, and I’m curious to see Brian’s (and other retailers’) take on what it might mean for their business.

In search of the Marvel completist

There's a lively discussion going on in the comments to my last post here, but I wanted to carry one thing that's been brought up there over to a new post: How many "Marvel completists" are there right now? According to the estimates over at The Beat, November's issue of "Marvel Adventures Super Heroes" sold 3,308 copies in the direct market (one of them was to me). The final issue of "Omega the Unknown" sold 7,591 copies in the direct market. "Dominic Fortune" #4, a mature-readers title, sold 5,657. "Amazing Spider-Man Family," which was actually in continuity (at least in part), hit bottom at 7,289 copies with #4. If you assumed that everyone who bought a copy of each of those bought it only because they buy every Marvel comic (or Marvel non-all-ages comic, or Marvel in-continuity comic)... well, you would be wrong, but you still wouldn't have accounted for the existence of a lot of completists.

So here's my question: Does anyone who reads this buy a copy of every Marvel comic for yourself? (Do you read all of them? What keeps you buying them all?) Is anyone who reads this a retailer with at least one customer who buys every Marvel comic? While we're at it, are there DC completists out there?

(And one additional question for the number-crunchers: anybody want to cite a number for the lowest-selling single issue of a non-reprint, in-continuity, 616-universe Marvel comic book?)

Douglas vs. Siege #1

SIEGE #1: I've enjoyed "Dark Reign," and particularly Brian Michael Bendis's fuming, coffee-nerved Dark Avengers, and I wanted to see how it all ended. I've got no quarrel with superhero event comics, obviously. But this is just a distressingly shabby piece of work, and it fails to deliver the goods in nearly every way it might have. [Explanation under the cut...]

Here's a bit from a scene where Ares is addressing the super-types under his command:


What a scene like this calls for is spectacle--something like a cast-of-thousands George Pérez freakout, or that bit in Final Crisis where every possible Superman shows up. The way Olivier Coipel has drawn this page, though, is just about as unspectacular as this sort of sequence can be made to look: a close-up of Ares' face, a long shot of Ares with a tiny little Iron Patriot and a huge but vaguely sketched-out mechanical thing in the background, a reverse angle of Ares silhouetted with a handful of roughly rendered costumed folks in the far distance, and finally Ares silhouetted from behind again, with a bunch of little blob-people and some faked-up scaffolding taking up most of the panel.

Ares' speech--and why are we watching him cheer on the troops for a page? we're not supposed to be getting revved up for Osborn's team, are we?--is followed by another tedious page of monologue. This one's set in the Oval Office, and goes through ludicrous contortions not to depict the guy who sold half a million copies of Amazing Spider-Man a year ago: establishing shot of White House, interior shot with the POTUS silhouetted in the extreme distance (with a bunch of random people sitting around the Oval Office just to fill space, as far as I can tell), the same but as a down-shot, and a little scribble of a dropped receiver, accompanied by the unnamed president explaining that Osborn is "out of control" and that therefore there's going to be a full-scale American invasion of Asgard against the direct orders of the Commander-in-Chief. Given that one big theme of post-Civil War Marvel comics has been the relationship between individuals and the state, shrugging and dismissing the state immediately before the climax is a serious fumble.

Coipel's "widescreen" layout on both of those pages may be intended to get across the idea of scope, but there's no horizontal action in any of their panels, so it just forces the figures on the page to be tiny and diminishes their dramatic impact. The same thing happens in the big fight at the end of the issue: the Dark Avengers' takedown of Thor is seen, for some reason, entirely in the far distance, which makes sense in the panels where we're seeing it on TV but makes what should be a dramatic high point dull. Or maybe it's just covering up for the fact that Thor is apparently being brought down by "okay, everyone hit him with... stuff." In fact, all those sequences are so awkwardly staged that they bumped me right out of the story: the last thing a would-be blockbuster entertainment can afford is a failure of craft.

There are infelicities scattered all over this issue (Maria Hill drawn way off-model, the jumbled layout of the Balder/Loki two-page spread, the habit Coipel's characters have of grimacing toward the reader instead of interacting with one another, the out-of-nowhere "Medical Journal Update" shoved into a single panel for the sake of exposition...). But the bigger problem is that Siege, so far, isn't making much progress toward resolving the stories it's supposed to resolve. It has no internal tone of its own, no resonance beyond "and then Norman Osborn decided to invade Asgard"--it's just a big hand reaching down and shoving various pieces to where they need to be by Free Comic Book Day.

After this issue, there are 66 pages, give or take, left in Siege proper. The tightest plotter in the world would be hard-pressed to wrap up even the major outstanding threads and thematic arcs from "Disassembled," "House of M," "Civil War," "Secret Invasion" and "Dark Reign" in that space, and tight plotting is not generally one of Bendis's strengths. There's a certain amount of forward momentum in this issue, but it's not the focused series of shocks of the best Bendis comics--it comes off more like a handful of thrown gravel, a rushed checklist of plot points, a loose early draft. Also, this is one of seven Bendis-written titles coming out this month; is there anyone besides Stan Lee who's been able to maintain that rate of comics-writing productivity without letting things slip badly somewhere or other?

The back-matter is even more frustrating. First is Joe Quesada's recap of "the Mighty Marvel mayhem that's been unfolding for seven years," beginning with "Avengers Disassembled," which was... five and a half years ago. For some reason, the whole thing's in the present tense, which means it includes passages like "Where are YOU the day Cap dies? I sure remember where *I* am..." It also hints that the Sentry will once again be the plot-hammer that gets the conclusion where it's supposed to go.

That's followed by another illustrated text piece, the "Ares War Plan Transcript"--uncredited, but written either by Bendis or by someone who's absorbed his tics. ("Yeah. See... he is the god of war. And there's just one of him. And I am now shutting my ass up. And I am a badass man. I'm known, specifically, as a badass. And one of them, just one, got me to shut the hell up." Evidently, nobody looked at it for more than two seconds before it went to press, or they would have noticed that the text intended for its third page is missing, and the text on its first page is repeated instead. If I really wanted to give that the benefit of the doubt, I'd call it a homage to "Blood from the Shoulder of Pallas," but I don't, especially since the third and fourth pages include reprinted maps of Asgard that are entirely different.

Finally, there's a brief preview of Hulk #19 that appears to end in the middle of a sentence. Given the general sloppiness of this issue, I'm amazed Marvel didn't just print the Siege #1 preview again at the end. AWFUL.


Savage Critics on the Reporter!

It is a Savage Critic Four-fer (is that a word?) as Tom Spurgeon interviews Jog on Death Note, Douglas on Invincible Iron Man, Tucker on Ganges, and Sean on Blankets!

All of them (as well as all of the non-Savage Critic interviews as well!) are definitely must-read pieces!

Spurge initially asked me to do an interview, as well, but then he suddenly decided to do this one-critic-one-book series, and he asked if we could do our general survey of the business of comics later in 2010. I'm certainly looking forward to the chances of doing that sometime in the next month or two, I hope!


Douglas looks forward to 2010

I'm putting together a list of interesting-looking comics-related books that are coming out in 2010--what I've got so far is under the cut. Note that this is only book-format projects (so e.g. no "Joe the Barbarian," which reminds me: whatever happened to "Warcop" anyway?), and only things whose release dates have been announced either by the publishers or Amazon. Everything, as usual, is subject to change. I welcome additional suggestions for this list from anyone who doesn't work for the creators or publishers of the things you're suggesting.

January: Eddie Campbell: Alec: The Years Have Pants (Top Shelf)

Jan. 12: Dash Shaw: The Unclothed Man In the 35th Century A.D. (Fantagraphics)

Jan. 29: George Herriman: Krazy & Ignatz in "Tiger Tea" (IDW)

Feb. 2: Michael Dowers, ed.: Newave! The Underground Mini Comix of the 1980s (Fantagraphics)

Feb. 9: Jock: Hellblazer: Pandemonium (Vertigo)

Feb. 28: Jason: Almost Silent (Fantagraphics) George Herriman: Krazy & Ignatz 1916-1918: "Love in a Kestle or Love in a Hut" (Fantagraphics)

Mar.: Lewis Trondheim: Little Nothings vol. 3: Uneasy Happiness (NBM)

Mar. 3: Ben Schwartz, ed.: The Best American Comics Criticism of the 21st Century (Fantagraphics)

Mar. 16: Kevin Huizenga: The Wild Kingdom (D&Q)

Mar. 29: Al Capp: Li'l Abner, Vol. 1: 1934-1936 (IDW)

Mar. 30: James Sturm: Market Day (D&Q)

Apr. 1: Frank Young/David Lasky: The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song (Abrams) Jaime Hernandez: The Art of Jaime Hernandez (Abrams)

Apr. 6: Jacques Tardi: It Was the War of the Trenches (Fantagraphics) Gilbert Hernandez: The High Soft Lisp (Fantagraphics)

Apr. 13: Peter Bagge: Other Lives (Vertigo) Jillian Tamaki: Indoor Voice (D&Q) Dash Shaw: BodyWorld (Pantheon)

Apr. 15: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files vol. 15 (Rebellion)

Apr. 20: Jim Woodring: Weathercraft (Fantagraphics)

Apr. 27: Daniel Clowes: Wilson (D&Q) John Stanley: Nancy vol. 2 (D&Q)

Apr. 28: Chris Onstad: Achewood vol. 3: A Home for Scared People (Dark Horse)

Apr. 29: Various: The Golden Treasury of Klassic Krazy Kool Kids Komics (IDW)

May 1: Dan Nadel, ed.: Art In Time: Unknown Comic Book Adventures, 1940-1980 (Abrams)

May 11: John Broome/Murphy Anderson: The Atomic Knights (DC) Various: Wednesday Comics HC (DC)

May 25: Megan Kelso: Artichoke Tales (Fantagraphics)

Jun. 8: Frank King: Walt & Skeezix book 4, 1927-1928 (D&Q) Showcase Presents Suicide Squad vol. 1 (DC) Greg Rucka/J.H. Williams III: Batwoman: Elegy (DC)

Jun. 15: Judge Dredd: The Restricted Files vol. 2 (Rebellion)

Jun. 22: Meredith Gran: Octopus Pie: There Are No Stars in Brooklyn (Villard) George Chieffet/Stephen DeStefano: Lucky in Love (Fantagraphics)

Jun. 29: The Creeper by Steve Ditko (DC) Kathryn & Stuart Immonen: Moving Pictures (Top Shelf) Ernie Bushmiller: Nancy's Aunt Fritzi Ritz (IDW)

Jul. 6: Paul Karasik/Mark Newgarden: How to Read Nancy (Fantagraphics)

July 13: Matt Kindt: Revolver (Vertigo)

July 20: Jason: Werewolves of Montpellier (Fantagraphics)

August: Jess Fink: Chester 5000-XYV and We Can Fix It (Top Shelf)

Aug. 15: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files vol. 16 (Rebellion)

Aug. 18: Robert L. Bryant: The Thin Black Line: Perspectives on Vince Colletta, Comics' Most Controversial Inker (TwoMorrows)

Aug. 29: Cliff Sterrett: Polly and Her Pals: The Complete Sunday Comics 1925-1927 (IDW)

October: Alan Moore/Kevin O'Neill: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century vol. 2 (Top Shelf)

December: Pat Mills/Kevin O'Neill: The Marshal Law Omnibus (Top Shelf) Alan Moore/Steve Parkhouse: The Collected Bojeffries Saga (Top Shelf)


Douglas Vs. Write About Comics All Day Day 2009, Pt. 3 of it's looking like 3

Under the cut: "Ten Thousand Things to Do" and this year's issue of "Love and Rockets." TEN THOUSAND THINGS TO DO #5: This is Jesse Reklaw's enormously charming diary comic--he's apparently just finished the sixth and final issue, but this was the latest one that was at SPX. I suspect I'll be pulling it out decades from now to show people what bohemian life was like in the Portland of the late '00s. Reklaw's got a pretty interesting day-to-day existence, as bohemia goes, and he cherrypicks it for the funny/interesting-to-draw bits:

That lower-right-hand image, incidentally, appears with variations on every page: a diagram that indicates Reklaw's mood, energy level, pain levels (head, shoulder and lower back), and how many caffeine and alcohol drinks he consumed that day. He pretty much sticks to the format, although there are a few guest strips--his life drawn by other people!--and a couple of sidebar "diaries" of his cats. This is the sort of diary that's about discovering patterns in the diarist's life, not isolating individual moments to aestheticize them (like, say, James Kochalka's or Lewis Trondheim's), but it's been a consistent pleasure all year; it's VERY GOOD, and I'll miss it when it's over.

LOVE & ROCKETS: NEW STORIES NO. 2: Man, I've been grappling with this one since I picked it up at Comic-Con back in July, and I still don't entirely have a handle on my reaction to it. Both Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez are permanently on my must-read-everything-they-do list; they both still draw like the hand of God; they're both wandering away from the kinds of work I treasure most by them, but I admire the fact that they're not just playing the greatest hits over and over. The two-part superhero story Jaime's done last issue and this issue ultimately falls into the same category for me as his wrestling stories--I enjoy watching his characters talk to one another more than I enjoy seeing them throwing each other across the room, and I kept wishing I could find out what's going on with Hopey and Ray and so on instead of tracking the convolutions of the goofy sci-fi scenario here. (Also, it took me until halfway through this issue to realize that "Ti-Girls" was supposed to rhyme with "hi, girls" and suggest "tigers" rather than, er, "T-girls.")

Gilbert's two stories aren't what I was expecting him to do at this point (although, again, I'm kind of glad that they're not), aside from prominently featuring women with enormous racks. The brief, super-condensed "Sad Girl" is effectively a continuation of the post-Palomar stories he was drawing in the L&R vol. 2 era: the Kid Stuff Kids are all grown up now ("Killer" is Guadalupe's daughter), and the story even ends with a little heart, like most of the stories collected in Luba. "Hypnotwist" is the centerpiece of this issue, a 42-page silent story that's much more in the vein of Gilbert's New Love/Fear of Comics stuff--a grotesque dream-logic narrative that strings together a bunch of unbelievably creepy images, most of which appear in several permutations, then ends. (The dialogue in "Sad Girl" suggests that "Hypnotwist" is adapted from a movie in whose remake Killer appeared, in the same way that "Chance in Hell" is adapted from one of Fritz's movies.) Both pieces have the visual crackle and sparkle that appears in Gilbert's work when he's pushing himself into uncomfortable territory, but--again, I find myself wishing for the depth of character writing that he did so well in Luba and the first volume of L&R. At the same time, I don't think he could have made the leap from "Poison River" to Luba without the stretching phase of Fear of Comics, and maybe the same sort of process is happening here. This issue seems like a document of a transitional period for both brothers; I'll call it VERY GOOD, but I think I'm much more interested in what comes next than I am in these stories themselves.


Douglas vs. Write About Comics All Day Day 2009, Pt. 2 of Several

Two I didn't like so much, under the cut: "Logicomix" and "Dark Entries."

LOGICOMIX: AN EPIC SEARCH FOR TRUTH: This is a comics biography of Bertrand Russell (preview here) that's been getting a lot of exceptionally enthusiastic praise lately: Bryan Appleyard of the Sunday Times called it "probably the best and certainly the most extraordinary graphic novel I have ever come across," which makes me suspect that he has not come across very many of any kind. It's by a relatively large cast, which is fine: Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou are credited with "concept & story," Doxiadis with the script, Alecos Papadatos with "character design & drawings," Annie Di Donna with color. All four of them actually appear in the story (Di Donna with an outrageous French accent: "It's life zat is building zat!"), as does Anne Bardy, credited with "visual research & lettering" in smaller type (alongside two inkers).

The biographical part, as it turns out, is framed by the lazy device of the book's creators themselves chatting about how exactly they're going to represent Russell and the mathematical and philosophical innovations in which he took part. When the ostensible subject of the book hits dry patches, they return (repeatedly) to quibble about what it all means, discuss how to illustrate the themes they conveniently spell out, wander around, and finally attend a performance of part of the "Oresteia," which appears in lieu of any kind of real dramatic resolution.

It's not as if they haven't sacrificed plenty to drama already: an end-note indicates that "our book is definitely not--nor does it want to be--a work of history," and that therefore most of its biographical details are telescoped, simplified or outright invented. There are ways to make that work in historical fiction, of course--ask any biopic--and it can be done well in comics (see, for instance, Chester Brown's Louis Riel). But what's actually present on the page here suggests that it is a relatively faithful work of history, if you don't know better. There's a sequence in which the young Russell goes to visit the elderly, deranged Georg Cantor ("Try and imagine a young painter being received by Michelangelo. A composer meeting Beethoven," declares Russell-the-narrator). He has a horrible experience, and goes on to have nightmares inspired by the meeting; the afterword notes that "it is safe to assume that Russell never met... Cantor in the flesh." In other words, that scene is only there to make a dry subject more exciting to look at.

Which raises the question that often comes to mind when I'm reading a "source-based" comic (as the panel at last weekend's SPX put it) that isn't creator-driven like Louis Riel or From Hell or Crumb's Genesis, for instance: Why is this comics? What is there to gain by explaining this with drawings? What can a handmade visual interpretation add to this? The art team is just fine--they've got a low-friction sort of post-Hergé kids'-comics style that only really gets in the way when they try to get fancy. But the only way to turn abstract mathematical concepts like the ones this book deals with into comics is to have a character explain them, and the only way to illustrate how revolutionary and surprising they are is to have characters recoil in shock at the explanation. In the framing sequences, the creators pat themselves on the back a bit for being clever enough to make a comic book about this stuff, and some reviews I've seen have echoed that congratulatory tone: Rob Sharp at the Independent claims that it "challenges the traditional character of the superhero or detective... It has been critically acclaimed as a welcome subversion of the graphic novel genre." If graphic novels were a genre, then it might be. But they're not. AWFUL.

DARK ENTRIES: Speaking of books discussed in the British newspaper pieces linked above: this is one of the first two books from the new Vertigo Crime imprint, a John Constantine story written by crime novelist Ian Rankin and drawn by Werther Dell'Edera. (Notable quote from the Independent piece: "Bizarrely, he never met the book's Italian artist, Werther Dell'Edera; in fact, as he was only liaising with him via DC, he was unaware that the book was eventually going to be published in black and white.") You would think that a book selected for to launch a new crime imprint would be, you know, a crime story, rather than a numbingly by-the-book supernatural/horror story in which a popular reality-TV show turns out to be run by demons DO YOU SEE and the inhabitants of the Big Brother-oid house are actually in "Gameshow Hell" DO YOU GET IT YET, HUH? You'd also think that it would be wiser to launch a new imprint with a book that Dell'Edera had time to make look as imposing and menacing as his work on Loveless, but whether it was or not (I have no idea), a lot of the book's second half appears to have been drawn in one hell of a hurry. AWFUL.


Douglas vs. Write About Comics All Day Day 2009, Pt. 1 of At Least 1

It's 24 Hour Comics Day, and it's also Read Comics All Day Day, and I figured I might join the festivities myself. I'm not going to be reviewing comics here all day--I have some things I need to write for other places--but figured I could mention a few worth-seeking-out things I picked up at SPX, as well as some other stuff. Below the cut: three of my favorite things I've read lately, "Woman King," "Driven by Lemons" and "Ganges" #3.

WOMAN KING: This is a small, self-published book by Colleen Frakes that knocked me for a loop--an understated but sharp-fanged fable about a human girl who becomes king of the bears during a war between bears and humans. (There's a 30-page preview of it here.) The basic setup (cute little silent girl + bears) and four-panels-a-page pulse remind me a bit of Chris Baldwin's "Little Dee," but its tone is fascinating and really original: Frakes plays with the reader's sympathies constantly, and keeps feinting toward the way things can be expected to happen in fables, then pushing the story somewhere else. Here's a great panel lifted from Rob Clough's review of it:


Now, that's a total Calvin & Hobbes sort of image there, but what's happening in the scene is that some other bears have just killed a pretentious artist dude (who's sketching the big human-bear battle, noting that "I am not interested in drawing action as much as the quiet spaces in between"). Off-panel, of course. Quiet spaces! Frakes has done a lot of clever design work here, too--her bears are, like, eight lines and two dots, and their personality comes out in the subtleties of her brushstrokes. It's EXCELLENT, and it makes me really excited to see whatever she does next.

GANGES #3: One of the many, many things I like about Kevin Huizenga's work is that a lot of his comics are about things that are not likely candidates for visual representation, and he manages to make them fascinating to look at anyway. Most of this issue is about the process of perceiving one's own consciousness--the sort of hyperconsciousness of your own mind that happens when you're trying to get to sleep and can't--which is potentially the least interesting thing anybody could draw. And it looks fantastic: here's the second page, which is just about the least ambitious page in the issue and still gorgeous and full of smart ideas. (Jog has a couple of my favorite pages embedded in his SPX writeup.)


Huizenga's Glenn Ganges (image lifted from The Balloonist) is vividly aware of the workings of his mind--what's happening here is that he's thinking about having seen a newspaper earlier (a footnote hilariously reminds the reader that it happened back in issue #1, 3 1/2 years ago), and the image is rising through the flat, rippling substrate within his mind from which thoughts emerge. (It's a little bit like Larry Marder's map of the Beanworld.) The joke of this issue is that that sort of self-awareness is mighty frustrating when you're trying to get to sleep; the "big action scene" on the last page is a perfect punch line. EXCELLENT.

DRIVEN BY LEMONS: This one, though, was my favorite book I picked up at SPX--a reproduction of a medium-size Moleskine that Joshua Cotter filled start-to-finish with something that keeps shifting between not-quite-explicable narrative and not-quite-non-narrative abstraction. It surprised me to realize that there are only a few pages that would really fit in that Abstract Comics anthology Fantagraphics just published, and most of them actually serve the story in their context. Like this one:


It's scribbly in an appealingly fanatical, graphomaniacal way--look closely at that first page, and the way the blue part starts out as a mass of minuscule triangles. (In fact, there's a running theme in the book about blue triangles and red squares.) Even a sequence where Cotter fills the better part of six straight pages with black doodles looks like it's actually specific forms overlaid on one another until they fill almost all the space on the page; a lot of those forms look like parts of the bunny who's the book's main character. One of the longer sections--laid out in a helpful "table of contents" that kind of corresponds to the actual contents--is called "The Get Better Factory," and it centers on a bunny-in-the-hospital sequence that is close to the same "lying in bed, not going anywhere" problem that Huizenga plays with. Cotter draws it a very different way, though: a repeated, static, 16-times-a-page image of the hospital bed, with its details shifting along with the psychological state of its occupant (including incursions from the terrible pain that's always nearby in a "get better factory," impossible to escape), until mental noise overtakes and devours the entire scene. Anyway, it's an EXCELLENT book, and I feel like I'm just beginning to look at it--I want to come back to it and think about it more. I'd also kind of love to see some other cartoonists take on the fill-a-Moleskine-and-publish-it challenge. (Dirk Schweiger's Moresukine kind of counts, I suppose, but not as much as this.)


It really was a kitten, after all: Douglas vs. 9/23

DETECTIVE COMICS #857: The Batwoman serial is my favorite thing happening in superhero comics at the moment, and it keeps getting more luxuriously inventive with each installment. I actually went back and reread all four parts after reading this one, and there are a handful of earlier scenes that open up in the light of later ones. One of those later cues is Alice's final line of dialogue this issue--I believe it may be the only thing she's said in four issues that isn't a quotation from Lewis Carroll's Alice--which sure makes Kate's hallucination in #855 a lot more interesting. The Question backups still aren't clicking at all: I suspect an eight-page story needs to be much more densely packed to work as a serial. But the Batwoman stuff is so far ahead of the pack in terms of immersive storytelling, layout and composition, color-as-content, you name it--I really hope other mainstream comics creators take it as a call to step up their own game. EXCELLENT. SPIDER-WOMAN #1: I know this series has been in the works forever, but it feels very strange to be picking up a high-profile Marvel title this month and have the plot revolve around ferreting out hidden Skrulls--that one got beaten into the dust a while back, and at a moment when the Marvel universe is almost all driving toward the end of the Norman Osborn plot, it feels positively retrograde. There's also a lot of telling-not-showing going on this issue, maybe because only three characters have significant speaking parts; there's some other wobbly writing, too, as when Abigail Brand gives Jessica Drew what she says isn't a "Skrull detector watch" but is functionally exactly that (it's drawn, in that panel only, as Jessica's iPhone, for some reason), or when Jessica's narrative voice reads exactly like Jessica Jones's used to in Alias. I admire the fact that Alex Maleev is crediting Jolynn Carpenter as his model for Jessica Drew, although I wish he'd just made up a way to draw her face without photo-ref instead; I always enjoy Maleev's chemistry with Bendis, and even though not a lot actually happens this issue, it works well as a mood piece. If this had come out the week after Secret Invasion ended, it'd probably seem better than just OKAY. But it didn't, and it doesn't.

WEDNESDAY COMICS #12: I loved this series in theory, and God knows it was pretty to look at. But this issue augmented the problem it's had all along--that writers who are used to the rhythm of 22-page stories can get whiplash when they try to write for a single big page--with the problem that Sunday-paper adventure serial strips aren't really designed to wrap up neatly. Only a few strips manage to avoid the "...yeah, okay, we're done now" effect, especially the two that were the most pleasant surprises of this series: Ben Caldwell's Wonder Woman ends in a totally appropriate way, and the Kerschl/Fletcher Flash serial was so good and so clever that I really want to see what they do next. GOOD, and I'm looking forward to Wednesday II or whatever it ends up being called.

My brother the ape: Douglas reads some 8/11 periodicals

MARVEL ADVENTURES SUPER HEROES #14: No grade on this one--I feel a little hinky about grading comics written by my neighbors (Paul Tobin, in this case)--but I will say that I enjoyed this issue immensely and wanted to call it to people's attention. It's a Hawkeye/Blonde Phantom team-up (what are the odds of two Blonde Phantom stories coming out in the same month?), a done-in-one detective story with a couple of action set-pieces and a lot of lively banter. It earns its "all ages" stamp: it's a very 10-year-old-friendly funnybook, but it's got a bunch of Easter eggs for people who've read a billion Marvel comics already, including a cute "Civil War" riff and, actually, the fact that it's got the Blonde Phantom in it in the first place. It's also driven by the longstanding friendship of two characters who may not even have appeared on panel together before, and it's pretty convincing on that front. DOMINIC FORTUNE #1: Yeah, it's a Howard Chaykin comic, all right: aerial dogfight on page 1, Jews in tuxes on page 5, anti-Semites in tuxes on page 6, blowjob on page 9. GOOD.

RED HERRING #1: First issue of a David Tischman/Philip Bond/David Hahn miniseries for which I've seen virtually no advance press; that may have something to do with the fact that I've read the first issue a few times and still couldn't tell you quite what it's about. It's overloaded with ideas, some of them pretty good, but none of them given enough room to breathe. There's a bunch of X-Files pastiche (particularly an alien-corpse-in-1951 flashback that leads nowhere in particular), a little cheesecake, some ridiculous name-based gags (the protagonists are Red Herring and Maggie MacGuffin, and other characters include Meyer Weiner and--this is a bad one--Afi Komen), some nasty violence, etc. There's iffy second-person narration for a lot of the story that disappears, then gets awkwardly replaced by third-person omniscient narration. Bond's art is really effective, as always: his characters usually have a sort of bobblehead look, with slightly oversized heads, but that gives him & Hahn more real estate for the facial expressions that are their strongest point as a team. OKAY.

WEDNESDAY COMICS #6: Halfway through the series, and I'm surprised by what's working and what isn't. The most welcome surprise is Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher's Flash, which is taking advantage of the Sunday-page format in increasingly clever ways; the most unexpected misfire is Gaiman and Allred's Metamorpho, whose formal play not only doesn't serve its story very well but is keeping the story from happening much at all. In any case, I find myself looking repeatedly and with delight at almost every page of this series--I have to adjust my gaze for Ben Caldwell's crammed Wonder Woman (the vertical layout this week slowed me down even more), but so what? I would buy a $4 Sunday newspaper whose only comic strip was Ryan Sook's Kamandi. VERY GOOD.

The mortgage on the cow: Douglas looks at some things from last week and earlier

FINAL CRISIS: LEGION OF 3 WORLDS #5: I get the feeling that this OKAY conclusion changed direction somewhere between its conception and its execution--there are a bunch of subplots set up in the earlier installments that either go nowhere at all or get resolved very quickly and for no particular reason (hey, Sun Boy feels good again! There we go). Various new statuses quo are hammered into place (the White Witch has turned into Morpheus or something, the one remaining Triplicate Girl has turned into Madrox or something), Blok gets to say "But at what cost?" twice (there's also a "But for how long?"), Kid Flash and Superboy strike some heroic poses, and you'd think given half a year of lead time Geoff Johns and George Pérez would've bothered to make their ending dovetail with Final Crisis proper. I sometimes wish Pérez would let his interiors breathe as much as his covers, but complaining that there's no blank space in a team-up of three gigantic teams would be missing the point. We do, however, get an absolutely spot-on coda--the punch line to the years Johns has spent setting up Superboy-Prime as the ultimate bitter, entitled fanboy who wants everything to be like it was in the comics he grew up with. Having already punched the universe, Prime does get to break whatever walls he wants, including the fourth one. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #600: Dan Slott's lead story here actually reads a lot like some of Stan Lee's Marvel annuals from the '60s, for good and ill: it never stops moving, but a lot of that motion seems like wasted effort. There are a lot of Lee-like touches: gratuitous cameos by the Avengers and Fantastic Four and Daredevil, heaps of expository dialogue, Spider-Man running his mouth to add some text to sequences where John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson's artwork is already providing all the necessary information (that's also a credit to the sturdiness of Romita's storytelling), and a big wedding at the end. It doesn't have any particular resonance beyond "Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus have a big fight," but it's a perfectly GOOD piece of very light entertainment. As for the backups, Lee's own contribution is pretty negligible: at this point, honestly, he scores whatever points he's going to score just by showing up. The rest of the rotating Spider-Man writers toss in short pieces that are awfully filler-y. (Joe Kelly's portentously foreshadows the big "Gauntlet" storyline that's already been advertised; Mark Guggenheim's sort of duplicates and sort of contradicts a plot point in Slott's story.) But 100+ pages of new material for five dollars? I can get behind that.

WILL EISNER'S THE SPIRIT ARCHIVES VOL. 26: The final volume of DC's Spirit reprints collects most of the Eisner-drawn (or at least Eisner-overseen) Spirit material from after the end of the Spirit section in 1952. It includes a handful of stuff I'd never seen, particularly a short, silly piece drawn for the New York Herald-Tribune and a set of splendid portfolio plates from the early '70s, as well as some pieces from the same era where Eisner is trying way too hard to be underground-y. There's a lot of ephemera, too, like the incomplete Spirit stories that were in process when the weekly Spirit section was cancelled, and some cute but negligible crossovers with The Escapist and Cerebus. Most of what's here, in fact, is Spirit art (covers, pin-ups, incidental pieces) rather than Spirit stories--although the 50-page "last Spirit story" that Denis Kitchen rejected for publication isn't included, which is fine. (Another omission: there's a page of a Spirit story Eisner drew for the never-released Someday Funnies anthology that appears as part of Bob Levin's fascinating article in The Comics Journal #299.) All the covers from Kitchen Sink's Spirit magazines are here (including some fantastic wraparound paintings), mostly reproduced from the magazines themselves (with fold marks and a few visible staples), but the Warren magazine covers Eisner drew are excluded; we get the three Eisner pages of the 30-page Spirit Jam, but not the rest. It's a GOOD collection, but not quite satisfying as either a reading experience or a comprehensive wrap-up.

An intimate sitcheeation: Douglas v. June 24 and such

DETECTIVE COMICS #854: As I was at the comics store this past Wednesday, a gentleman going through his very full pull-box announced that he wanted them to stop reserving Detective and Batman for him, because he "didn't think it was right that Renee Montoya was the Question now," and was going to "boycott the Batman titles until they bring back Vic Sage as the real Question." Dude was twice my size, and I try to avoid adding to the general poor behavior that comic book store clerks have to deal with. But I wanted to ask him: just what do you read superhero comics for? Do you actually not like enjoying them? Seriously, this is the best-looking superhero comic book there is right now--I will bet you that people are going to be talking about this in a few decades the way they talk about Steranko's Captain America. It's "fun" and "pulpy" and "thrilling" and tightly constructed as a story, and it hits its engaging-action-adventure marks in a way I wish every mainstream comic did. And you know why you don't get to read it now? Because you want some character to be exactly the way he was twenty or forty years ago. (By this point, I was not really asking inaudible questions so much as inaudibly haranguing him. I realize I'm setting this guy up as a straw man, but I did hear him with my own ears.) Is there something wrong with your old Vic-Sage-is-the-Question comics? Can you not go back to them and read them if you want to squeeze out a little more of what you think in retrospect that they made you feel once upon a time? Or OH WAIT did you slab them all or something? And so on.

Anyway, I also like the fact that both Batwoman and the Question have older men as their "filthy assistant" types, I admire how unobtrusive all the deep-continuity stuff is (Mallory showed up back in 52 #11; guess she wasn't Kate's girlfriend after all!), and I wish Ask the Question were an actual Web site. EXCELLENT.

PAPERCUTTER #10: This Greg Means-edited series is a consistently interesting-to-better-than-interesting bridge between the minicomics and bigger-than-minicomics worlds--Means has a great eye for emerging cartoonists, and Papercutter seems more tilted toward storytelling than some other anthologies of the moment. This issue, actually, has a center-spread by the emerged-and-then-some Jesse Reklaw, whose Ten Thousand Things to Do is my favorite minicomic of this year so far and makes me wish I were as productive and self-observant as he is. But its two main stories, 15 pages apiece, are by Damien Jay and Minty Lewis, who've mostly been minicomics people so far (although Secret Acres has just published a book of Lewis's PS Comics). Jay's "Willy" is a companion piece to his recent mini The Natural World, a surprisingly compassionate little supernatural story set in a medieval village. Lewis's story "Hello Neighbor" has basically the same premise as her other Fruit Pals stories: the interactions of lonely, depressed characters made weirdly hilarious by the fact that they're all drawn as ligne claire pieces of fruit with arms and legs. This one's about a slightly maladjusted, too-helpful apple who gets invited to dinner by one of his co-workers, a kiwi (whose family are all named "Kiwi" too). The whole thing's VERY GOOD, and like most issues of Papercutter, it made me want to seek out more comics by everybody in it.

CEREBUS ARCHIVE #2: The title isn't exactly accurate--this is, more specifically, the Dave Sim archive, and its first few issues are apparently going to be going through his professional career before Cerebus. This one takes us through about half of 1975: a six-page sci-fi story, a five-page horror story, a few letters from Gene Day, a caricature of Cher, and rejection notes from Marvel, Warren and Playgirl, all annotated by Sim in a gently self-mocking mode. (He notes that "hopefully at some point in 2009 I'll be able to release the complete Comic Art News and Archives 1972-1975 as the first volume of Cerebus Archives" ...yeah, I'd sort of rather see that anthology of all the uncollected Cerebus stories, if you don't mind.) I find it fascinating as a self-portrait with 35 years' worth of hindsight, and I bet I'd feel that way about any successful cartoonist's early-years-of-bitter-struggle collection. But I can't imagine many people who don't care about Sim's work as much as I do wanting to bother with his combing through his juvenilia. It's OKAY so far, and I hope he gets to the good stuff soon.

Croonin' into the beer of a drunk man: Douglas vs. 6/3

BATMAN AND ROBIN #1: I love just looking at Frank Quitely's art for this comic. The little details are the most immediate pleasure: the evenly spaced blobby teeth in Toad's mouth, the cutaway diagram of Wayne Tower, and most of all the utterly indignant, entitled expressions on every single iteration of Damian's face. And the in-art sound effects are a particularly nice touch, a subtle riff on the '60s Batman TV show that Morrison and Quitely are rehabilitating here. Going back to re-read it, I'm noticing more of Quitely's layout tricks, especially the preponderance of extreme closeups and long-shots; almost every page is composed as a cascade of pagewide panels, with the prominent exception of a couple of sequences that are all about vertical motion. (There are also not one but two scenes in which characters are climbing vertical ladders while holding something away from the ladder in one hand.) I don't know about the weird pixelated colors Alex Sinclair is using for a lot of the backgrounds, although I like the dominant-color-in-each-panel scheme he uses for that Geoff Johns-style "preview of coming attractions" page--yes, okay, these are all going to be different storylines! A VERY GOOD start. SEAGUY: SLAVES OF MICKEY EYE #3: Yes, I am a Morrison stan. But this is one of the most purely delightful comics I've read this year, from Chubby da Ché on the cover to the Silver Age-y expository dialogue ("If he's Doc Hero, let's see him prove it by picking up those ten-ton chains"). I think I laughed aloud at almost every page, sometimes at particular gags but more often from how dead-on the whole thing is and how neatly it milks whimsy out of bubbling existential discomfort. Cameron Stewart seems to have drawn this issue in bolder strokes than he has before (literally--I can't remember the last non-kids' comic with contour lines this thick), and it's appropriate for the fabulistic tone of the story. Also, the conclusion to the big revolutionary showdown, in which everything is Disneyfied right back to old-fashioned consensus reality, and our hero gets offered the chance to serve the game now that he's beaten it--"S.O.S. the status quo!"--is a nice corrective to the excesses of Morrison's familiar "why destroy your corporate masters when you can become them?" rhetoric. The X that Jog pointed out on the last page also stands for EXCELLENT.

CHEW #1: First issue of what is apparently an ongoing Image title by John Layman and Rob Guillory, and I can scarcely think of a concept that's seemed less likely to sustain an ongoing series since The Mundane Adventures of Dishman (where the narrowness of the joke was kind of the point). Our hero, Tony Chu, is a "cibopathic" detective--he can eat anything (except beets) and get psychic images of its entire history. (He's kind of a cross between Matter-Eater Lad and Josie Mac, if anyone remembers her.) On top of that, the series is set in a near-future scenario in which bird flu has caused the U.S. government to pass an amendment outlawing chicken, which is only available in "chicken speakeasies"... and so on. This is a premise for a one-off comedy sketch, not an open-ended epic. So there's an odd dissonance between the ways in which Layman and Guillory are taking it seriously (the book's tone and, in some ways, its color schemes have a lot in common with Fell, and there are some impressive bits of storytelling, like a two-page spread in which Chu is overwhelmed by hundreds of tiny panels' worth of psychic impressions of a spoonful of soup) and the ways in which they're playing it off as a goof ("nutty" dialogue, the super-broad caricatures of Guillory's character design). It's highly OKAY--at the moment, I find it promising much more for Layman and Guillory as creators to keep an eye on than for itself as a series, but I'm prepared for it to surprise me.

The old hat routine: Douglas on a couple of 3/25 comics

THE MUPPET SHOW COMIC BOOK #1: I had some conflicting expectations for this one. I would not have expected a comic book based on a TV variety show inspired by stage vaudeville (and notable for excellent puppetry and famous guest stars) to be up to much good. On the other hand, Roger Langridge, who's writing and drawing it, has never to my knowledge made a comic book that's less than worthwhile--I even kind of liked GROSS POINT. It turns out to be VERY GOOD, I'm happy to say, because it reads less like a solid cartoonist servicing somebody else's trademark than like somebody had the bright idea to let Langridge have some fun with the Muppet characters. It's a Roger Langridge comic through-and-through, even within the strictly formulaic confines of the Muppet Show format--a friend pointed out that almost all the Muppets are only seen from the waist up, puppet-style, although Robin the Frog's eyebrows levitate a couple of inches into the air, comics-style. A few sequences (especially the ones involving rhymes) are straight out of Fred the Clown territory. Which is to say dry, bubbly whimsy: there's something at least kind of amusing in nearly every panel.

It's pretty impressive as a juggling act, actually: there's more of a narrative through-line here than there usually was on the TV show, but Langridge manages to cram in a Muppet News Flash, "Pigs In Space," a climactic musical number, a Statler-and-Waldorf routine, and even some guest stars: an aged pair of "Zimmer Twins" (who seem to owe a little to Dave Sim's Mick 'n' Keef). He also nails the Muppet characters' speech patterns so well you can hear their voices--particularly in a Swedish Chef sequence that's arguably even funnier for having its dialogue written rather than spoken:

Schtaij pujt!

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #31: This might be a first: in-story spoilers for a comic that hasn't even been solicited yet. This issue was sold as dealing with "the fallout from FINAL CRISIS," which it does, sort of. But it also follows up on some threads from JUSTICE LEAGUE: A CRY FOR JUSTICE. What's that, you ask? Well, it's the James Robinson-written Justice League series that was announced a year ago, and has now become a miniseries, "coming this July," according to a footnote. Whoops: now we know some of what happens in it.

We also now know what happened in the scenes of FINAL CRISIS where story logic (and visual logic) dictated that Hawkman and Hawkgirl died: they didn't, they just got roughed up a little. Apparently, this was a decision made after those scenes went to press. Dwayne McDuffie posted last month that "I wrote a scene set at their gravesite that I recently had to quickly rewrite into something not very good." He's right; it's not.

As for the rest of the issue, the premise is that the Justice League is failing to accomplish its objectives, which are... Right. So Hal has started another group, to do things more proactively, which is a problem, because the League can't have a situation like, say, Batman with the Outsiders, and... Anyway. Wally, the world's greatest multitasker... Never mind. So they have to disband, because... wait, that was the plot of the end of the previous JLA series... Oh the hell with it. This is not even a story: it's a set of mandated beats to which these characters can't even be tacked without stretching them until they rip. AWFUL.

Vaporware: Douglas exhumes the absent past

I picked up a bunch of old Amazing Heroes Preview Specials a few months back. They were published twice a year in the mid-to-late '80s--fat saddle-stitched things, with more or less extensive writeups of nearly every comic book series that was supposed to be published over the next few seasons. Jog's mention a little while ago of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's perpetually in-the-works City Lights reminded me of my perverse fascination with comics projects that are officially announced and maybe even produced but never actually published at all. (I also recently ran across a French site with fairly extensive lists of aborted Marvel and DC projects--mostly pitched or planned, rather than formally announced, although I would still love to read Peter Bagge's Incorrigible Hulk.) Anyway, the Preview Specials include a bunch of them, as well as some other gems, like Kim Thompson's absolutely correct declaration that "I don't think any one of our 20,000 plus readers gives a flying damn who is doing Sectaurs, what's coming up in it--or anything else to do with it, for that matter," and Denny O'Neil noting that "if there is ever a backup character in Detective, it will be a new female Bat-character, but she won't even be created until maybe next winter"--this was 1986 or so. The preview for the last few issues of Watchmen begins with Alan Moore apologizing that it had shifted from monthly to every five weeks (!), and ends "Current plans call for the entire Watchmen saga to be reprinted in both hardcover and softcover book formats for release through bookstores once the story is completed, and Moore is optimistic about the eventuality of a Watchmen film."

A few highlights from the Imaginary Library, under the cut:

"Alan Moore's Comic," a.k.a. Dodgem Logic, a Fantagraphics-published series with rotating artists; the first issue was going to be a comedy set at a comics convention, and the second a biography of Aubrey Beardsley.

A Thriller Summer Special, to be written by Robert Loren Fleming and drawn by Keith Giffen, along with a Superman/Thriller issue of DC Comics Presents. (Thriller, initially written by Fleming and drawn by Trevor Von Eeden, was a very unusual, very promising series that flew totally off the rails partway through its first year--it seemed particularly creator-driven for its time, which was why it seemed doubly weird that first Von Eeden and then Fleming were replaced by creators who seemed to not get it at all. But these were announced after the original series was gone.)

Speaking of Giffen: Keith Giffen's Tattered Banners, a monthly series from Lodestone that was supposed to be whatever Giffen felt like doing that month (it appears to be completely different from the Alan Grant/Giffen miniseries of the same title from 1999).

Brainstorm, an Eclipse flood-benefit anthology series, assembled by Mark Evanier, in which every story was supposed to be "a possible springboard for a series"; there was work completed for it by John Bolton, Sergio Aragones, Alex Toth, Howard Chaykin, Chris Claremont, Mike Mignola, P. Craig Russell, etc.

A second issue of Cerebus Jam, featuring stories by Dave Sim in collaboration with Colleen Doran ("The Applicant," which finally appeared in Cerebus #91), Dick Giordano, Mike Grell and Barry Windsor-Smith (those never came out, as far as I know). By Amazing Heroes Preview Special #4, Sim's comment on the nonappearance of the second issue was "I don't push creative people for the sake of reviewers."

Cheap Shoddy Robot Toys, initially announced as a one-shot written by (my old boss) Beppe Sabatini and drawn by Fred Hembeck, to be published by Eclipse. That was later revised to "illustrator undecided," and Sabatini mentioning that "we do have future issues planned. Issue #2 will cross over with Joe Kubert's Redeemer series, while issue #3 will guest star Ms. Mystic in a story that ties in to her sixth issue..."

A four-issue miniseries by John Byrne, adapting Edmond Hamilton's City at World's End.

A two-part Frank Miller/Walt Simonson Daredevil story.

William Messner-Loebs' "Journey: Wardrums," of which two issues came out, was to be followed by a miniseries called "Western Follies." (Speaking of which: I really need to reread Journey now that it's in those two fat IDW books. I saw a review of it recently by somebody who didn't seem to realize that Jemmy Acorn was a goof on Johnny Appleseed. Do kids today still learn about Johnny Appleseed? I AM OLD.)

A six-issue series of The Liberators by Grant Morrison and John Ridgway, to be published by Quality for 75 cents an issue (a few episodes of this saw print in Warrior #26 and Comics International #76).

A Mr. Monster/Swamp Thing one-shot by Alan Moore, Michael T. Gilbert, Steve Bissette and John Totleben. (A preview image was the cover of Amazing Heroes #77.)

If anybody happens to know what happened to any of these, I'd love to hear it.


Then we didn't come to the end: Douglas on GaimanBats, pt. 1

Goddamn: this site just got even more fun to write for. Welcome, Wave Three! I'd be very surprised if the title of "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?"--the story that begins in BATMAN #686--had been created any way other than editorial fiat, as a companion to "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" (Whoever came up with this one apparently failed to notice that there was a joke in Alan Moore's title.) So I agree with Brian and David: points to Neil Gaiman for coming up with a different way to spin it. (More beneath the cut.)

As David pointed out, Gaiman's got a habit, these days, of making sure that we know he's Telling Stories, For He Is a Teller of Tales. A lot of Morrison's parts of Final Crisis were about stories-as-told too, but its narrators provided the surface of the story, or emerged from and sank into its surface (like the false and true Alfreds in 682/683). Here, there's a distinct frame for a pair of embedded stories, and I assume the second half is going to have a couple more. "WHttCC" seems to be about the ways in which the seventy-year Batman narrative might have been unsustainable but wasn't--as a tragic romance (Gaiman kind of gives the game away by citing "The Death of Robin Hood" by name), or a horrible lie (although "the Joker was really Alfred" is a less scary/nagging version of the "the Black Glove is really the guy with the white gloves" payoff that Morrison feinted toward throughout his run).

Still, that's a fun idea for a piece of meta-ish fiction, and it sits fairly gracefully on the page thanks to the updated '40s vibe of Andy Kubert's artwork. (Gaiman barely suggests the period he's dealing with in the dialogue--really just Catwoman's line about "listen[ing] to George and Gracie on the radio.") I like the little circular panel Kubert threw in on one page--you don't see those much in post-1955 comics; I like his designs for everybody's cars, too, especially Two-Face's, and the way he riffs on early Batman artists' designs. Interestingly, Kubert's sketches and pencilled page, seen at the back, are prettier and more interesting than the inked artwork--that Jack Burnley-style sketch of the Penguin has so much life and playfulness in it.

It's an OKAY comic--probably better than that on its own--but something is disconcerting about the way it works within the seventy-year narrative it's addressing. Mostly, it makes me think about how DC's squandered a resource nobody even thought it had until it was gone: the capacity for any kind of actual dramatic closure.

It was once the case that one version of a character could pass on his trademark to another, or even die, and it could be more or less expected to stick. (Was anyone in the '60s demanding that THE FLASH should be turned over full-time to Jay Garrick, the "real" Flash?) But now the DCU has an official mandate that Green Lantern is really Hal, that the Flash is really Barry, that the Legion is really the Levitz-era Legion. No threat of change can be effective any more; the gravitational force of How It Was in '83 is impossible to escape, and growing stronger all the time. Any change, any breakup, any death, any exploded planet will revert to its early-'80s form sooner rather than later. Superman says "pray for a resurrection"; we know one's coming--the only question is when. It seems like some kind of backfiring corporate-psyche-repression that DC's most interesting villain of the moment is literally a furious, bitter fanboy who wants everything to go back to the way it was when he was reading DC superhero comics in the mid-'80s.

This time, there was briefly the pretense--the scantiest veil imaginable--that Batman was ending. (The return of the Batman family of titles was officially announced before this issue even appeared, but it was never even faintly in doubt.) Morrison's "Butler" two-parter was one kind of "final Batman story," and Gaiman's is another. (The O'Neil and Dini stories between them: less so.) THE SANDMAN had a fine string of closing fanfares; why not BATMAN, too?

Because it's not ending--even in the way that the pre-Byrne Superman ended. This story acts like a conclusion, and in fact it'd be a lot more effective if it were the final Batman story: a last curtain call, with all the old favorites coming out for a bow to the audience before it's time to go home. This is a curtain call with all the old favorites coming out for a bow to the audience before they leap back into position for the next scene of the play that never ends.

Where Batman ends--the only way Batman ends--is where you stop reading Batman, which is how Batman has actually had hundreds of thousands of endings: dissatisfaction or boredom, walking out of the theater (past a dark alley?), cutting losses and wondering if it would've gotten better again. That's not what I'm doing yet; I'm already psyched for Morrison's return in June, and the Quitely rumors make me more enthusiastic, and those Rucka/Williams DETECTIVE pages look fantastic. But I also long, a little bit, for the kind of genuine conclusion Gaiman is pantomiming here but is forbidden to give us for real.


Why I loved Final Crisis

I've been enjoying the online discussion of Final Crisis, especially as the last three parts have been coming out over the last three weeks. But one thing I think is particularly interesting about the reaction to the series is that a number of people who disliked it seem angry about it, or convinced that people who "actually enjoyed" it have somehow been duped. And even though I've been posting notes on every issue, I realized that I haven't actually said much about what I thought of the series since the first issue. I really did enjoy it enormously--as much as I've liked any superhero comic in the last few years. I thought it was problematic in a lot of ways, although I might not say "deeply" as many times as Jog did. But I love a lot of art that's seriously flawed, as long as 1) it's sufficiently ambitious and 2) it does some stuff very well. I found myself looking forward to every issue of Final Crisis, and reading and re-reading it with pleasure. So here's what I liked about it:

*It's incredibly densely packed. There's a lot to mull over in every issue--including a ton of plot--and earlier parts of the story reward re-reading in the context of later ones. A few people have commented that Morrison's writing style here seems like a puzzle or game; I don't think it's that, exactly, just a bunch of cues that let the story unfold in the reader's head. I think #7 is the only issue that's seriously non-chronological, and there the organization works really well dramatically: that opening scene is fantastic (and beautifully timed for a periodical coming out right now), and much more effective than picking up with #6's also-excellent cliffhanger would've been. The outcome of the great big physical fight is a foregone conclusion--by the time we get to it, it's not just past-tense narration, it's literally a bedtime story being told to children ("and no one was hurt").

*Morrison's dialogue is pitch-perfect. He juggles a gigantic cast, but he's great at establishing who they are and how they think about things with just a few lines. (Green Arrow and Black Canary get barely any on-panel time, but their characters and relationship are totally there.) The dialogue also delivers a lot of exposition that doesn't read like anyone's stopping to explain the plot. See, for instance, the conversation between Turpin and the Question in the first issue: "Didn't the Question used to be a guy?" "Lung cancer. From smoking." If you're meeting these characters for the first time, that reads as "you're not the person I was expecting"/"yeah, fuck you too," and also opens up the idea that we're in a setting where characters' identities are roles that can shift from person to person. If you know the Question from his appearances on the Justice League animated series, it clarifies why the Question's a woman here. If you know the characters well already, it's following up on a plot thread from 52, and showing the way Charlie's sensibility has rubbed off on Renee. And, in any case, the conversation sets up the position the Question will occupy by the end of the series--a kind of liaison between the human and superhuman worlds, who's tight with the law-enforcement community but isn't really one of them any more.

Speaking of which:

*It's a massive event comic that's totally self-contained. I realize that could sound odd coming from somebody who's been annotating every little extratextual reference in FC for nine months, but I'm serious: every essential part of the story is right there on the page of Final Crisis and its five Morrison-written tie-ins (Superman Beyond, Resist and the Batman two-parter--and I also think not including Superman Beyond in the collected edition sabotages the project). Everything else is just Easter eggs--and there are a ton of them. But, for example: there are a few sequences (in the first and last issues) involving a caveman. Is it fun to know that this particular caveman had his own series for six issues in the late '60s? Sure--but all you need to know about him for the purpose of this story is that he's a caveman. And, just on an analyzing-craft level, I enjoyed seeing how Morrison introduced all of this story's important characters and ideas for the benefit of readers who hadn't encountered them before.

*The art is mostly really good. (Aside from the dreadful sliver cover for the last issue.) I mean, yes, it would've been nicer to have an all-Jones (or all-Mahnke) project, but I enjoyed the look of almost all of it, and Alex Sinclair consistently hit the color out of the park. The coloring on Superman Beyond, in particular, is just fantastic--even the 2-D scenes stick to a color scheme that looks cool with the glasses on.

*It invites a whole lot of ways of reading it. Sean T. Collins has a really interesting post here about the elaborate light-as-information/darkness-as-dogma motif going on in the series, and how that was ultimately less interesting to him than the "crazy-ass superhero story" aspect. (And under the circumstances, I'm surprised that there wasn't a prominent Lightray analogue in this story.) I also share his frustration with Morrison's "why aren't there right-brain comics?" quote--but I think it'd be fairly on-the-mark if it were phrased as "why aren't there more right-brain superhero comics?"

Another good quote, from amypoodle of Mindless Ones: "the symbolic/thematic reading is just as important to [Morrison's comics] as the literal one." I think that's true, and in Final Crisis those readings bleed together: parts of the story are more or less literally about internal and ground-level struggle against darkness (Batman, Submit), others are grand symbolic treatments of the cosmic "what stories do you tell?" question (Superman Beyond), and they become the same thing by #7. There's a deus ex machina ending, of course, but only in the literal sense; it's been fastidiously set up from the very first scene, with its divinely inspired technology turning will into reality.

*It's totally entertaining, panel-for-panel. Final Crisis tosses an amazing number of fun ideas out into the idea-space of the DCU; you know, if Lord Eye only gets two panels, so what? Somebody else can play with that later. Frankenstein on a motorcycle with a sword in one hand and a gun in the other, quoting Milton as he kills Justifiers, is my idea of quality entertainment. Morrison writes great endings, too--not a surprise coming from the writer of the final scene of We3, the last page of "Batman R.I.P.," the conclusion of his Doom Patrol, etc., but Jesus did this series ever have some killer cliffhangers. The story accelerates steadily, from its police-procedural opening to the insane fireworks of the ending ("what the hell, let's throw in Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew. And the Host of Heaven, too"). And when Final Crisis cranks up the volume, it really cranks it up. Superman's entrance in the final scene of #6? It's like having three symphony orchestras in the balcony that you didn't know about suddenly join in with the two playing triple-fortissimo on stage.

*It opens up a lot of possibilities for stories, and doesn't close many off. That's something an "event comic" should do, I think. I don't know which of those possibilities will actually be fulfilled--and even Morrison seems dubious about the prospect--but they're there.


A preview of 2009

I've put together a list of some interesting-looking comics-related books that are scheduled to come out this year, and figured other people might find it useful too. DISCLAIMER: This list is mostly ganked from Amazon listings, which is why it's heavy on a few publishers--notably Fantagraphics, DC and Top Shelf, which list things way, way in advance. It is not anywhere close to comprehensive. It is not anywhere close to reliable. The entire publishing industry could crumble in the next week, in which case none of this stuff might come out at all. JANUARY:

Lewis Trondheim: Little Nothings: The Prisoner Syndrome (NBM) William Messner-Loebs: Journey vol. 2 (IDM)


Boulet/Joann Sfar/Lewis Trondheim: Dungeon Zenith vol. 3: Back in Style (NBM) Greg Sadowski/Jonathan Lethem: Supermen! (Fantagraphics) VA: Korea As Viewed By 17 Creators (Ponent Mon) Gilbert Hernandez: Luba (Fantagraphics) Miss Lasko-Gross: A Mess of Everything (Fantagraphics) Koren Shadmi: In the Flesh (Villard) Grant Morrison/Tony Daniel: Batman R.I.P. (DC) Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely: All Star Superman vol. 2 (DC) Larry Marder: Beanworld vol. 1: Wahoolazuma! (Dark Horse) John Wagner et al.: Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files vol. 12 (Rebellion) Bryan Lee O'Malley: Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe (Oni) Nicholas Gurewitch: The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack (Dark Horse) Harvey Kurtzman et al.: Humbug (Fantagraphics) Pascal Blanchet: Baloney (Drawn & Quarterly)


Ronnie Del Carmen: And There You Are (AdHouse) Gabrielle Bell: Cecil and Jordan in New York (Drawn & Quarterly) Lynda Barry: Nearsighted Monkey (Drawn & Quarterly) John Stanley: Melvin Monster vol. 1 (Drawn & Quarterly) G. Willow Wilson/M.K. Perker: Air vol. 1 (Vertigo) Showcase Presents: Ambush Bug (DC) Larry Gonick: Cartoon History of the Modern World Pt. 2: From the Bastille to Baghdad (Collins)


Captain Britain by Alan Moore & Alan Davis Omnibus HC (Marvel) Jim McCarthy/Steve Parkhouse: Sex Pistols: The Graphic Novel (Omnibus Press) Gilbert Hernandez: The Troublemakers (Fantagraphics) Yoshihiro Tatsumi: A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarterly) Jeffrey Brown: Funny Misshapen Body: A Memoir (Touchstone) Ariel Schrag: Likewise (Touchstone) Paul Hornschemeier: Life with Mr. Dangerous (Villard) Showcase Presents Doom Patrol vol. 1 (DC) Tony Millionaire: Billy Hazelnuts & the Crazy Bird (Fantagraphics) Tom Spurgeon/Jacob Covey: Comics As Art: We Told You So (Fantagraphics) Alan Moore/Kevin O'Neill: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910 (Top Shelf) Gene Luen Yang/Derek Kirk Kim: The Eternal Smile: Three Stories (:01) C. Tyler: You'll Never Know, Book 1: "A Good and Decent Man" (Fantagraphics)


Len Wein/Berni Wrightson: Swamp Thing: Dark Genesis HC (DC) The Best of Simon & Kirby (Titan) Brendan Burford: Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays (Villard) Doug Wright: The Collected Doug Wright Vol. 1 (Drawn & Quarterly) Seth: George Sprott 1894-1975 (Drawn & Quarterly) Kevin Cannon: Far Arden (Top Shelf) Andre Molotiu, ed.: Abstract Comics: The Anthology (Fantagraphics) Jaime Hernandez: Locas II: Maggie, Hopey, & Ray (Fantagraphics) Jason: Low Moon (Fantagraphics) Fletcher Hanks/Paul Karasik: You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation! (Fantagraphics) Ben Schwartz, ed.: Best American Comics Criticism (Fantagraphics) George Herriman: Herriman's Humans (Stumble Inn/Us Husbands) (Fantagraphics)


David Mazzucchelli: Asterios Polyp (Pantheon) John Stanley: Nancy vol. 1 (Drawn & Quarterly) Tove Jansson: Moomin vol. 4 (Drawn & Quarterly) Ben Jones/Frank Santoro/T. Hodler: Cold Heat (PictureBox) Kurt Busiek/Mark Bagley: Trinity vol. 1 (DC) Grant Morrison et al.: Final Crisis (DC) Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon: Preacher vol. 1 HC (DC) Showcase Presents: The Creeper (DC) VA: Final Crisis Companion TPB (DC) Marguerite Abouet/Clement Oubrerie: Aya vol. 3: The Secrets Come Out (D&Q) Peter Bagge: Everyone Is Stupid Except for Me (Fantagraphics)


James Jean: Process Recess 3 (AdHouse) Eddie Campbell: Alec: The Years Have Pants (Top Shelf) Neil Gaiman/Andy Kubert: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (DC) Alan Moore/Curt Swan: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Deluxe Edition (DC) Warren Ellis et al.: Planetary vol. 4 (WildStorm/DC) Showcase Presents: Bat Lash (DC) Jeff Lemire: The Nobody (Vertigo) Sandman by Kirby & Simon HC (DC) Charles Burns: Skin Deep (Fantagraphics) Michael Kupperman: Tales Designed to Thrizzle (Fantagraphics) Zak Sally: Like a Dog (Fantagraphics)


Pat Mills/Kevin O'Neill: Marshal Law Omnibus (Top Shelf) Matt Kindt: Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers (Top Shelf) Alan Moore/David Lloyd: Absolute V for Vendetta (DC) Showcase Presents Eclipso (DC) Los Bros Hernandez: Love & Rockets: New Stories #2 (Fantagraphics) Willy Linthout: Years of the Elephant (Ponent Mon)


Alan Moore/Kevin O'Neill: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century #2 (Top Shelf) Kathryn & Stuart Immonen: Moving Pictures (Top Shelf) Joshua Cotter: Driven By Lemons (AdHouse)


Jooste Swarte: Modern Swarte (Fantagraphics) Gary Panter: Dal Tokyo (Fantagraphics) Mats Jonsson: Hey Princess (Top Shelf) Simon Gärdenfors: The 120 Days of Simon (Top Shelf)


Walt Kelly: Pogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Strips, vol. 1 (Fantagraphics)


The Don Rosa Library Vol. 1: 1987-1988 (Gemstone) VA: AX Vol. 1 (Top Shelf)


R. Crumb: R. Crumb's Book of Genesis (Norton) Paul Pope: Battling Boy (:01) Paul Pope: Total THB (:01) Lawrence Klavan & Susan Kim: Germantown (:01) Lawrence Klavan & Susan Kim: The Fielding Course (:01) Farel Dalrymple: The Wrenchies (:01) Paul Guinan & Anina Bennett: Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel (Abrams Image) Glenn Eichler/Nick Bertozzi: Stuffed (:01) Will Eisner: The Spirit Archives vol. 26 (DC)

Corrections are welcome in the comments; so is accurate information on other books you, as readers, are looking forward to.