Friday, July 31, 2009

Mad Science

The "abstract" comic in my previous post was actually the British town of Thursdyke getting wiped off the map. Yikes. And for fear of devastation by big bombs we can thank J. Robert Oppenheimer's Manhattan Project. In the latest and all-comics issue of Taddle Creek Michael Cho tells Oppenheimer's tale.
When content precedes and dictates form . . . well, I'll just return to "yikes." The writing is anti-complex and nothing you haven't heard before: "In that cloud was contained all of our aspirations and achievements, both good and bad." It conveys information and adds pictures. The trickiest compositions are of the "one panel broken up" kind (I do like the above sequence's hanging time).

A lot of biographical comics are cropping up these days. They're labors of love or homages or corporate commissions. They're useful: we can educate with these comics. They lend respectability to a lowly medium. They reveal to us real and weighty subjects: Nelson Mandela, the Beats, and even the Space Race. No bloody thanks.

Back to the cheap moral ambiguity of the Oppenheimer comic: if the moral is this, then let it be this and be done with it.
(Thank you, Warren Ellis and this week's Ignition City #4. Art by Gianluca Pagliarani.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Abstract Comic

The generous and regular people at Abstract Comics: The Blog are counting down the release of their book Abstract Comics by snooping around for possible and eclectic examples of "non-representational" or "non-narrative" (my empty shorthand, yes) sequential art. I just finished reading Grant Morrison's two Hellblazer issues from 1990 and thought that this page from #26 out of context could qualify.(Art by David Lloyd.)

Just Because

(From The Goon #32 by Eric Powell.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Choreography, Part 2

(Also from Desolation Jones #4.) Jones is prone to hallucination. I won't say much about this page except that it's not as if the grid structure is merely smoked over. It's damn near eradicated at points and replaced by pale orange and distortion ghosts. The 3x3 grid structure itself: the first row is 1 panel divided in 3; the second row bleeds horizontally (4 and 5) and vertically (5 and 8); panels 6 and 7 are anyone's guess; and Jones's marvelous hand cutting through in panel 9 is what makes it!

Coming soon: some Hellblazer, some J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Choreography, Part 1

(From Desolation Jones #4 by Warren Ellis and J.H. Williams III. Click to.) Williams is quite at home creating stylistic battle scenes and his sole issue (so far) on Batwoman in Detective Comics has upped the ante and added red lipstick. Flee here for a preview of next week's hyperhyped second issue.

In 2005 Williams co-created with Ellis the haunted Michael Jones: for one year his eyes were pried open and he endured the wealth of our televised horrors. He is then a desensitized wreck, a hardburned detective.

Here's the bottom half, just over the crease, of a two-page spread. Jones on the floor waits and listens. Williams gives us a moment of pause: the silhouette of the crowbar is raised and looks like an image found in an instruction manual for how to use a crowbar. "Step 3) Swing downwards." The pause is scientific: the crowbar in space is matter and there are sound waves or molecular vibrations swerving away from the space the crowbar occupies. The pause is for emphasis: everything depends on when and where this weapon will strike.

Downwards and THWANK.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


(From Boody by Boody Rogers and edited by Craig Yoe.) Always-smoking Jim Teapot travels to Possum Holler to recruit smoking-hot girl pitcher Babe Boone and is really red-hot impressed with what he sees.

Sometimes a cigar.

Why have I been reading more than a little about baseball this summer? In The Great American Novel, Philip Roth creates and quashes the Patriot League, a third big league, by pitting its desperado players against ruthless HUAC in the forties.

The not-a-biography-but-kinda-historical comic Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Strum and Rich Tommaso is about official white baseball's erosion by unsanctioned black skill. Paige brings out the crowds but since he's an entertainer he's counterfeit, so the poor reasoning goes. The tale is told in Seth-like throw-back images but breaks away nicely to capture the idiosyncratic movements of Paige's pitching. See left: the silent zoomed-in panels give us his deliberation and poise, the detail and process.

All three see doppelgangers of baseball as intrinsic to baseball: Boody's local bumpkin Babe, Roth's misfit Patriot League, and Strum and Tommaso's exploration of the Negro League. Who dares storm this Bastille of American sport?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Heart of America

I made this after my jaunt through customs on the bus ride back from a trip to New York. In blue Bic Soft Feel ink. Click to enlarge but beware the formless bag in the third panel.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Balloons, Part 4

(From The Man of Steel #4 by John Byrne and Dick Giordano. Click to enlarge.) This panel's not the most representative of Byrne's Superman work but typical of Byrne's style. The caterpillar word balloon at the top of the panel creeps to the right, walking forward for Lois because she's drawn in mid-step. The balloons act as her eyes, each sitting above and taking in a different section of Clark's bachelor pad. The connective white line just before "Very nice" is her pure, silent gaze.

Also, I love the suggestion that one of Clark's superpowers is superspellcheck.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Balloons, Part 3

(From Paul Pope's Comics from Mars #1. Click to enlarge.)

What looks like Goofy the dog's absurd brother dog short circuits atop an elaborate tricycle. Unseemly tiny repairmen emerge down below. Pope makes fine use of white space in the fifth panel for a sense of scale. The cracked words of the robot keep repeating in the top left corner of panels three through six, moving in and out of clarity. In sequence and in story, we descend to the level of gremlins and remain aware of the skipping record high above.

Paul Pope's Adam Strange is without a doubt one of the best Wednesday Comics comics. Paul Pope is without a doubt.

Up next: maybe John Byrne Superman? Desolation Jones? Gawrsh.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


(From Kieffer #2 by Toronto comics maker Jason Kieffer.) I've stuck with this guy ever since I picked up a grim and schematic comic of his called Downtown Toronto. Tomorrow I'm off to this city for a few hot days. Enjoy the double-tailed word balloon. Enjoy the two thick speed lines of surprise. Enjoy the Sloan.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


DC's Wednesday Comics premiered this week and it was a newsprint blast. And big! Full of "bright, kinetic fabulism" (to quote David Hajdu on late 30's comics), with only a couple of duds. It carried me back to a book called The World on Sunday edited by Nicholson Baker and Margaret Brentano, also big, which collects the garish, aesthetic treats of Pulitzer's Sunday World from 1898-1911. I chuckled at this comic called "'Teddy' Roosevelt in War and Peace" by Walter Hugh McDougall. Apologies for the just okay scan. Click to enlarge.

I'm on a BIG COMIC kick right now thanks to DC. Gearing up to read Seth's George Sprott.

Friday, July 10, 2009


(From CAJINY. Click to enlarge.) Our Bell surrogate in each panel is neither fully outside nor fully inside. Her head peers out the window at another half-being. (I like how the "Hey!" dangles less violently than the toy.) In the fourth panel she's dressing, slipping into another inside before she sets out.

I will use no silly words to describe this consistent phenomenon.

Recall Bell's chair transformation: she turns herself into an object on the side of the road ripe for domestication. She is quickly taken in and when nobody's around she transforms out into her new home. In another story Bell is imprisoned by a behemoth. In another she flaunts the police to hide inside a drain pipe. I don't read this motif as a women-are-always-trapped or return-to-the-womb thing. I think Bell is keen on showing us that there are benign insides, that there's a choice of insides, that certain insides are maneuverable. "Cecil and Jordan in New York," the title story, is about a relationship souring into indifference; in reaction, Bell wills herself into a chair. Being in New York is where it begins. You're in New York, okay, now where in New York to go? Where else? What have we gotten ourselves into?
Teddy Roosevelt's next.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Balloons, Part 2

(From Ex Machina #11 by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris. Click to enlarge.) Tony Harris models his panels on photographs and traces over. Each panel comes to life in discretely unfrozen chunks; the panel thaws at different speeds. This is of course not unique to Tony Harris comics. I'm not concerned here with stylistic word balloons like in my previous post, so much as the activation of particular segments in a panel when one reads and enunciates the dialogue. Ex Machina is a "book about conversations," according to Harris, so often two speakers in the same panel will be speaking simultaneously, each mouthing words on pause. Above, it might be easy to see Mayor Hundred's hands move along with the beginning of his interjection, "You know what, I'm going to stop you there." But are Commissioner Angotti's hands up in defense or resignation, up during her speech or the Mayor's?

The panel is unstuck in time, much like Captain America, much like Lost, much like that Billy Pilgrim novel people have by now forgotten.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Balloons, Part 1

(From Tom Phillips' A Humument.) Phillips painted over each page of a random book he bought at a used bookstore called A Human Document. Look at the bulk of it here. This page, page 20, turned out all comic book like. These word balloon flagellates are the only untouched windows back into the original text. They are created by isolation, truncation, and concealment. Gabrielle Bell employs a similarly snaky word balloon:
(From CAJINY. Click to enlarge.) Felix's dialogue is uniquely curved, uniquely isolated. "No" says something but offers nothing; "castles... / spaceships / suits of armor / ..." is hodgepodge, filled with gaps. He gives hesitant replies, half replies, and the tiny windows into his artistic life are afterthoughts, bottom right corner, not quite fit for a gallery. The adult introductions for the most part conceal true transparency.
Brief detour to Ex Machina next, but then back to Gabrielle Bell for a final hurrah.