Spring Break Reading Impressions

(Spoiler Alert: Procrastination Rhymes with Gestation)

 

I’ve been a bad, bad boy. In addition to spacing (HONESTLY) on brushing my teeth this morning, I haven’t updated the blog in quite a bit due to a multitude of excuses, primarily the ‘well nobody is reading this anyway’ one that comes up whenever it feels like lounging about doing anything but write seems like the best use of my time. However, in my absence I did get through some fantastic work, and I took a couple minutes to write about each. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be returning to my regular schedule (longer works on Monday, comics on Wednesday and the occasional existential crisis on Friday). Thanks for reading you have, and welcome to the spring session.

 

Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comic: The Invisible Art

 

After reading Scott McCloud’s seminal comic book about comic books, I feel like I’ve grown in my understanding of not only the power of comics, but art in general. One moment that particularly stood out to me was when McCloud defines art as anything that doesn’t concern reproduction or survival. Such a broad definition seems to allow much that does not get accredited as art by posh folks. McCloud makes a brilliant move in using the medium to make an argument for its viability as an art form, going through many different historical styles as well as manipulating his page layouts to achieve diverse effects. When he describes why Japanese manga and their comic art evolved so differently due to the country’s isolationist stance, comics as a field itself up to all new forms of study by historical, literary, and art scholars without not falling neatly into any of those fields. Originally published in the early 90’s, it seems that comics have exploded in the manner that McCloud predicts with the Internet having provided creators with new ways of pushing the form, and comics, or at least graphic fiction, gaining increasing legitimacy in the public eye. Here’s hoping McCloud works up another edition of this wonderful book.

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing Vol. 2: Love and Death

 

The Alan Moore run of Swamp Thing has been on my to-read list ever since I read Watchmen way back in 2007 when my parents got me the Absolute edition for Christmas. However, for a while there scoring a new copy of this book became pretty difficult, and it went to that place alongside Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I was fortunate then to have a friend get them, and not only recommend it but lend me the volumes as he made his way through them. While I enjoyed the stories from the first volume of Swamp Thing, they felt lacking in the sort of narrative innovations I look to Alan Moore for. It was a relief then that this second volume of his run possessed a restlessness in the manner of stories it told issue by issue, an occurrence that Neil Gaiman in his introduction writes is owed not only to Moore, but to the grueling schedules artists are placed on in the medium that requires fill-in artist to step in for a ‘filler’ between major arc issues. In this volume, Swamp Thing first battles his nemesis Arcane then heads to hell for Arcane’s niece, the beautiful Abigail. In the next issue we’re treated to a visual treat wherein Abigail and Swamp Thing profess their love for each other, and through her consumption of a fruit grown from him they meet in the consciousness of the Green for what is sure to have been mind-blowing sex delivered via lush colors. Somewhere within all the madness, is a playful and dark homage to Pogo that feels jarring when placed alongside the rest of the material, but makes for a fun respite from the grueling trials in Louisiana.

 

Brian Jay Jones’ Jim Henson: The Biography

The Muppets have long been one of those entities whose work I have always enjoyed even at its weakest, talking to you Muppets From Space. Amidst The Mario Bros. cartoon and not having network television for the first few years of my life it wasn’t until I was about seven or eight that I caught The Muppet Movie on television as a kid and saw Kermit sitting among a swamp singing “Rainbow Connection.” I was hooked. Years after I discovered that Jim Henson was the man behind all those fabulous characters, and I’d been curious since then to read more about him although I was reluctant as I couldn’t bare the thought of the man behind the epitome of whimsy being a douche in one form or another. However, a dear friend bought me a copy of Jones’ beautifully written biography. It’s a book that spans throughout Henson’s life, tracking his Southern origins all the way up to his mysterious and untimely death. What remained clear throughout reading of Jones’ well-researched book is that Jim was an amazing man, not only in his talent and creativity but in his generosity and concern for the well-being of the world. Although Jones does remark on the instances where Jim falls short of that image, a string of affairs during his marriage being the worst of it, those follies never threaten to outweigh all that he left the world with. He was a man that never thought of his work as work, but play and it’s made me feel more inspired than much of anything I’ve read recently to be a creator.

 

George Saunders’ Tenth of December

 

This is only the 2nd collection of Saunders’ book that I’ve read, the first being Civil War Land In Bad Decline (the first book I wrote about on here), and it’s marvelous how Saunders has continued to write stories that experiment with form while also being entirely comprehensible and not the least bit pretentious. Whether he’s writing the journal-form story “The Semplica Girl Diaries” that chronicles the lives of one near-future suburban family from the perspective of its patriarch, or the eponymous story, a 1st person narrative told by an imaginative, but bullied boy, Saunders manages to make each voice unique with all his characters evoking intense empathy even as they engage in activities that I couldn’t always agree with. Saunders, with just a simple change of our current world in several of these stories, is able to show the lunacy that pervades the world and how ordinary it all appears to those involved in it. If I were an artist, I’d get to working on illustrations on all the gizmos present in Saunders’ future worlds. Get to it, Believer illustrators!

 

Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol

Finishing Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run was a landmark form me as it was the last of the pirated comics I downloaded before my conscience got the better of me. For a time there, I only read it on my laptop whenever I was on the bus going one place or the other, never quite sure what another person would think if they caught a view of my screen and saw the increasingly strange beings that Morrison and his artist’s team conjure up. Infusing a superhero comic with surrealism, pseudo-science, and Dada-like non rationalism, Morrison creates a comic unlike any other one. Rarely is a villain defeated by a punch from the straight man Cliff Steel aka Robotman (a man whose only remaining human organ is his brain). More often the villains of Doom Patrol get their due in the form of blown out candles, flexed muscles, Crazy Jane (a woman diagnosed with Dissociative Personality Disorder-each personality exhibiting a different superpower) shouting key words from giant horses, and one villain throwing a face onto another. This comic could never be accused of predictability and nearly every character presented here, villains included, could easily serve as the basis for a book of their own. As a jump-off point for Morrison’s work with American comic publishers, it’s disorienting how much he was able to achieve early on. So enjoyable was this run that I don’t even cringe at the penance I’ll pay in buying the Omnibus when it drops later this year.

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