Comics Review – April 2015

For a few months i’ve been seeing that Revenger comic poppin’ up in my newsfeed. I was unfamiliar with the artist, but it seems we are friends on facebook. Sometimes, its that sort of thing right there that makes you lose your objectivity. I really struggle to hold myself to what i feel is a classic approach to art. Whether you believe the critic is valuable or needed when it comes to art, it always has been valuable to me to know exactly why i like something, what i hate about something, and what something needs to become an important piece of art. So here it goes, losing friends time.

(Just kidding…hopefully)

Revenger #1 by Charles Forsman

I’ve been trying to figure out what this type of work is. In the last half-decade or so, there’s been a move from some indie artists to move towards what are considered less-intellectual genres. It’s easy to say they are exploitation comics, but that doesn’t really do it justice, because they are no more exploitative than your typical beat ’em up, like a Punisher Max comic. These are the B-movies of comics, where as the B-movies of a publisher like Marvel just has too much sheen and polish to be considered low-budget. Trying to figure out what it is about Charles Forsman that has an appeal, as well as Benjamin Marra, and in a similar-but-different way Michel Fiffe is hard to pin down. By chance, i went through my old comics, and found this:

image (13)There’s this sense in modern-day pulp comics that there is no room for growth. A writer like Mark Millar will write scripts ready to be sold, to be packaged into a potential movie franchise. All the parts are manufactured to exact standards, its not exactly high quality but its definitely the same quality throughout most of a publisher. This is the house style that unites all houses: Marvel, DC, Image, etc. So only an independent creator can go back and find awkward styles that have their own appeal. Check out this comparison:

image (11)

image (12)

Forsman is aping a decidely retro style, but he’s not making a mechanical copy. Instead, this faux-retro style is based on how we remember these comics being. Action-packed, to the extent that i accidentally skipped a page in this Havoc comic, and didn’t notice until right now when i flipped through it again. The story is an afterthought, and awkward anatomy is part of the appeal. Benjamin Marra draws heads that are always too large, but they somehow work to show Chuck Norris-ian style expressions. It’s hard to say that I don’t like this comic, even though my first instinct is to call out its first five pages of empty backgrounds as just laziness, and not a conscious decision. However, as the comic moves along on its one-track mind to kicking ass, the spare lines coupled with a impressive color palette can’t be said to have been anything but deliberate.

In these indie-exploitation comics, its interesting to see an approach to story telling that is normally used for memoir or auto-bio, used for hyper-violent stories more suited to the VHS bargain bin. The terms B-Movie, cult classics and exploitation are increasingly losing meaning, as creators find new value in these forgotten art forms and find new audiences that appreciate them.

Although i was a skeptic when i began reading the comic, by the final page, i was sold. The story moves along briskly, and what would’ve been 80 minutes of boring tedium that anyone is familiar with who watches a lot of bad movies, filled with padding and long shots focusing on nothing, is condensed through the miracle of comic book story telling into a fresh 15 minute read. All the action, none of what makes these stories only bearable with a lot of whiskey and friends to laugh at the film with.

Creepy character actors, Grace Jones as protagonist, a low-budget comic. The story is simple thrills and kills, drawn with a nervous linework that suits a story like this better than trying to see some wimpy English-lit major do their best hard-boiled Michael Mann impression on whatever shitty Punisher comic is currently on the rack.

Marvel Comic’s Presents: The Xmen’s Havok, Black Panther, Triton, and Coldblood by various artist and writers.

Most of this comic, that i mentioned above to compare to Revenger was garbage! Nostalgia is great at leaving out all the bad stuff we’ve consumed over a life time. The Black Panther comic (written by Don McGregor, pencils by Gene Colan) was pretty dope though, cause it’s talking honestly about the strategy of white imperialists pitting tribes against one another just to reap the benefits. Some little boy gets burned, Black Panther races to save him, only to have a white hospital try to be like “nah, we don’t do that” Black Panther isn’t about that shit, so he kicks ass til they help. Being a comic book, he is actually listened to and not shot on the spot. This comic came out in 1989, and i struggle to find any comic with black protagonists actually talking about the struggle. The struggle is real, check out this sequence. Feel that pain.

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“And he cannot stop crying, as if every promise ever given has been irredeemably lost.” That line sums up every year, every day a new tragedy happens with black and brown people, every time you think the future will be brighter, every conversation where someone suggests not talking about racism, because then it’ll go away. But all you see are children who never had a chance to talk about racism, but are still killed. We make a promise to children that they’ll get a better world, then we break that promise when we kill them.

Thor written by Jason Aaron, art by Russell Dauterman, colors by Matthew Wilson

Who is Thor? Who gives a fuck. This comic, although well rendered, goes through a lot of loops and a lot of Thor Odinson making “Who farted?” angsty-expressions just to go nowhere. You can literally squeeze this issue’s entire premise into the before-credits sequence of any movie. Do I really need to see Thor go chill with his gf in a hospital bed, talking to her about why she won’t use super-science magitek to cure her cancer, and then crossing her name off a little list? photo (3)

Just the idea that Thor is carrying around a cute list of girl’s names is way too adorable. I wish this was him trying to find out if New Thor Woman will go out with him to prom, but he doesn’t even know her name!! It’d be like the movie “She’s All That” but with Asgardians. Anyway, besides some nice art, easily skippable.

Autumnlands – Tooth & Claw 5 written by Kurt Busiek, art by Benjamin Dewey, colors by Jordie Bellaire

Did you read that title? Autumn. Lands. Tooth. And. Claw. Five. If you think that is too many words, that really is trying to cram as much atmosphere into every syllable, then topped off with two different fonts for just the logo alone, that gives you an idea about what reading this comic is like. God damn, its a beautiful book. I have a soft spot for talking animals wearing human clothes in a fantasy setting. These animals are drawn with such personality while not becoming ‘cartoony’ and the story still makes you feel like you’re reading a conversation between a rabbit and a cow. No, i don’t mean anthopomorphised rabbits and cows, i mean actual animals. You will have no fucking clue what this book is about.

There’s politics, allegiances, double dealing, magic that might just be science, and it made no sense. So often, comic writers have the horrible habit of overwriting, as if complexity equals quality. I remember having the same problem with Brubaker’s Winter Soldier comic, half formed ideas are treated like mysteries to be solved but you know it’ll probably all be solved with someone getting a cosmic cube dropped on their head. I am too used to this style of writing, that builds and builds but then the writer doesn’t have the skills to pay off. I’m just trying to satisfy my talking animals fetish, why you gotta write each character like you KNOW they got a british accent? Overwritten, well drawn. Ignore almost 90% of captions and word balloons, will make the same amount of sense, probably more sense.

DAYGLOAYHOLE by Ben Passmore

No one ever knows what “hipster” means. Go to MOCCAfest this weekend, and you’ll see so many hipsters that your dick will smell like kimchi and beer by the time you bounce. But if you asked any of the attendees or creators, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who admits they are a hipster. Even though self-publishing indie comics are one of the most hipster affectations there is, that is probably also it’s most defining characteristic: the inability to own their passions, to own their limitations. Individuality means never having to say you’re anything.

While reading Dayglo Ayhole, I couldn’t help but feel like every page, every joke had to have the same disaffection. On the store page, it is described as such:

“Half naked and cranky, a man stews in the heat and fumes of the apocalypse, but more than that he’s stewing with his failures pre-apocalypse. Sounds lame right? Don’t worry there’s weird monsters, an damaging oogle and his rubber dog, polar bears, and some sort of ham-fisted social commentary that would be preachy if its conclusions weren’t so schizophrenic.”

Its a comic that attempts to be meta but then backs off, is unsure if it wants to poke fun at genre tropes. It is pages of a character wandering a wasteland, saying they are bored, overanalyzing their own narration, trying to poke fun at feminism and capitalism, but then even backing away from that. It’s like the guy who’s drunk at a party, trying desperately to prove he’s a white cisgender ally, but still wants to be edgy enough that he can maybe convince you to give him a handjob. “Just a rub and tug, no biggie. Hahahaha, no no no, i was just poking fun at everyone else trying to get laid. Lol, but people ARE uptight about sex in America right? Where are you from, you look exotic.”

I’m from New Jersey.

Anyway, the comic has boss art, and in a few years, the dude might be funny, but these jokes need work and commitment. Everyone complains about ‘outrage culture’ now, even Patton Oswalt. Motherfuckers are just boring, and if you’re a comedian who’s upset that they can’t use a fat joke, then you need to work on your set. Comedy needs to be fresh, and i really wanted Dayglo Ayhole to crack me up, but i didn’t even smile once. The art pushed harderthan any of the jokes, where there’s more humor in the art-style alone. One sequence i thought WAS successful, was the street preacher with the bag over his head. “SINCE ALL THAT’S LEFT IS SELF PRESERVATION, SUICIDE IS THA ONLY REBELLION!” He kills himself, but then his body begins to transform.

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Ha. That was a good one. I was happy to be introduced to this artist, despite wanting more. The expectation to be impressed is ever-present, and it makes reading anything a struggle. When you read something that is impressive, in a way its effortless. You turn every page, devour the art, and when you’re done you feel transformed yourself. Then you want to read it again, or find more work by the artist. Ben Passmore is a talented cartoonist, but the comic would be better if it didn’t seem to stop and wink at you every minute, “That was funny right? But not really funny, i’m not trying to be funny..Thats the joke!”

Oh, go fuck yourself*, tell the fucking joke.

*The general You, not you Ben Passmore, I don’t know you, but i’m bored of losing friends i haven’t met yet.

End of Review.


Furious 7 Review

Sequels are infamous for diminishing returns. The tired formula is to simply takes what worked in the last film, throw more money at it, cook for 120 minutes, leave still feeling hungry. Often times, characters morph into caricatures of themselves. The plucky comic relief turns unbearable, the angsty main character becomes masochistic. By the end of the franchise, you are so turned off by these films, that you usually gotta pretend the last one didn’t even happen. Think of the Terminator franchise, which has been unable to figure out what the fuck it can do that’s new, “Oh, how about a robot with like a liquid metal skin but robot parts inside?!” The new upcoming Terminator film, with the mid-90’s esque title, “Genisys” is doing exactly that, completely forgetting that there already was a robot like that in Terminator 3. A franchise’s biggest enemy is creative fatigue, and it often has to be killed and rebooted for the property to thrive. Batman, Spiderman, James Bond – very few can decide to go out on their own terms. Furious 7 is a marvel, because not only has it not lost momentum, each sequel has improved upon the previous formula.

The Fast & Furious films are the only movies to rival Marvel Studios in franchise building, but more importantly, they show a future for blockbusters that Marvel hasn’t even considered. In Furious 7, it is probably the first film i’ve seen on this scale, that has an entirely minority cast, with the exception of Paul Walker and Jordana Brewster. Almost every cast member can be said to be at least half or partially black in some way, except for Paul Walker. Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are both half-black, and although Vin Diesel found his early career in acting to be difficult, due to his “not too dark, not too light” racial makeup (See his early film “Multi Facial”, for an honest look at his own fledgling career), it is partially because of their multi-racial background that i believe they’ve found such success. As a kid, my mostly latino highschool always considered the Rock “one of us”, he might’ve been puerto rican or latino or black, but as the Rock would yell “IT DOESN’T MATTER!” This film the closing of a chapter, referencing its own history throughout the story, and one thing that impressed me, is seeing a film go from this:

to this:

It is extremely uplifting to not only see a film that was all about street culture, evolve into a film where you see black and brown, men and women in tuxedos and beautiful gowns. It is so rare to see a mainstream film treat any minority cast as not only being powerful, but also beautiful. Minorities in films are left to be sidekicks, or the kids who need that powerful teacher, or a criminal kingpin, anything but the SUPERTEAM OF GOOD GUYS. Justice League gets their token Cyborg, Avengers gets Falcon and War Machine but never at the same time, that’d be too many black guys. In a way, these other franchises are afraid of alienating a white audience, while Furious 7 ignores that and starts the summer movie season with a record breaking $143 million opening.

Furious 7 knows its roots, and it never shies away from them. Unlike other franchises that reboot once every 3 movies or less, it knows that its power still lies in its history. The film opens with this film’s new villain saying “If you want to know the future, look to the past,” which perfectly encapsulates this movie’s themes. Although retooled into an Ocean’s 11 style mega-heist film with cars, it never leaves behind the street sensibilities that make it unique. Its simply not enough to have a POC character in your film, when that character can be played by any person and nothing would change. When talking about race-lifting famous characters, Spiderman for instance, we like to say there is nothing about Spiderman that says he can’t be a different race. That’s true, but we often don’t examine the fact that a chinese kid from Queens will make a much different Spiderman than a vaguely jewish boy from Queens. POC have histories, styles, roots and cultures and it does a disservice to ignore and treat those stories as interchangeable. I would love more minorities in popular fiction, but I think its absolutely necessary that we have people creating these stories that don’t paint every character with the same suburban brush.

When Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) confronts Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) there’s no quips about him being a fancy Englishman or Dom being some poor hood-trash. They are on equal standing, they come from different parts of the world with different mean streets, but no matter where they go, they command respect. Having a film treat urban culture as legitimate as any other culture is remarkable. Having a film know that this is about urban culture, but they can still glam up and hang out amongst Abu Dhabi princes and never shy away from this, is inspiring. When Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and Dom share a quiet moment in a hotel, it’s beautiful to see them remark on their self consciousness, and Letty does the small gesture of buttoning up his top shirt button for him. POC have lives and feelings that matter, and being working class and urban aren’t just stories reserved for punchlines.

The action sets the bar for this upcoming movie season, with Avengers: Age of Ultron probably being the only serious contender in terms of pure spectacle and delight. But while that film will be a CGI FX-splosion, Furious 7 still maintains some semblance of reality by its car-fu constraints. These cars can’t transform, the drivers don’t have special powers, so in this film, the cars ARE the special powers. There is something just slightly more satisfying to me, about seeing an actual physical car with a driver in it being dropped out of a plane versus the overcomplicated transformation porn that is seeing Iron Man suit up.

Don’t get me wrong, i love seeing both, but Furious 7 has a distinctive classic feel, eschewing fantasy and science fiction gimmicks. Its just a good ol’ fashioned bacon cheeseburger and fries. There’s no gods, no eye-patch wearing head honcho. Instead we get the original eye-patching wearing badass, Kurt Russell, who charms his way through his few scenes. Standing amongst the relatively young faces of the Furious 7 cast, you can really get the sense of a B-movie superstar. Furious 7 exists in the same way as so many old B-movies did, at the time they were considered trash and forgettable, but now are the nostalgia fuel for today’s creators. Its strange to even call a film a “B-movie” when today’s blockbusters wouldn’t be possible without yesterday’s trash. Dime novels to billion dollar properties.

But the film has probably the most solid emotional core of not just the series, but of any current franchise. Despite the fact that there’s always a booty-shaking male-gaze montage in every film, Furious 7 succeeds in finally making a leading man who’s neither functionally asexual like Steve Rogers or a hedonistic playboy like Tony Stark. Men in action films are neutered emotionally either way, and the women in these films often only serve as receptacles of the main character’s limited emotional emissions. Beyond that use, they are almost entirely ignored. Consider that the only woman with agency in all of the Marvel Universe has been the go-to female sidekick in now three films. That is three films, and they didnt find it necessary to ever have a new character with new motivations besides Black Widow. In the films without Black Widow, Thor for instance – his girlfriend is a literal receptacle for an infinity gem, Sif becomes her escort and exits stage-left, and his mom gets killed. Not to pick on Marvel, but i wish they made their films with a Letty, Giselle, Mia Toretto, Elena and newly introduced super-hacker Ramsay all kicking ass and taking names.

Letty stands out as Michelle Rodriguez’s most fully developed character. Beyond using her one-note “Tough Chick” persona in every film, she is finally allowed to be vulnerable and scared but never loses an ounce of power. She stands besides her forever dedicated Dom Toretto, and is fully his equal. Not only as a love interest, but as a functioning part of the team. Vin Diesel, for his part, is also shown to be more than just a gruff voice, showing a range of gentleness that quickly reminds you of his effectiveness as Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy or the Iron Giant. Dom Toretto, despite his forcefulness and fearlessness as a driver, is cautious and patient with the still amnesiac Letty. When she asks for space, he gives it. He is given power in the relationship, not by dominating or pursuing, but by submitting and loving without conditions. It is a wonderful love story hidden in this dumb movie.

Despite the testosterone-laden pyrotechnics, the film is not afraid to be soft where it should be. A scene where Dom Toretto meets Agent Hobbs’ daughter shows a dimension to the characters that we rarely see in action films. That these men are more than rock-em sock-em action figures, but are caring and warm individuals. When you’ve seen as many action movies as i have, its refreshing to finally not see the main character who is not a divorced or soon to be, alcoholic, wild card, sonuvabitch, balding, getting-too-old-for-this-shit, antisocial asshole. The good guys are all just good guys more or less, they even make sure not to run over the bad guys when they throw them out of trucks.

A lot of the criticism of the films is often, “They are still making them? Lol,” but in a world where I have Star Wars, Star Trek, Avengers, the inevitable Justice League films, and in these cast of dozens I can usually only count one woman or one POC in each ENTIRE franchise, I insist that they need to keep making these films. Maybe you don’t like car movies, and that’s fine. But there needs to be more than one movie every two or three years that has women and minorities as something more than an after thought. But for now, all we got is Furious 7, and it delivers every single time. If its gonna stand alone, at least it stands tall.

The Story on the Edge of Forever

I’m standing on the subway platform, its late in the evening. In front of me is a poster of Furious 7, in a few days i’m gonna watch it. For a moment, I am acutely aware that Paul Walker’s death is real. There’s nothing advertised about the movie, that makes it relevant that Paul has died, but the story is now touched with this tragedy. The show must go on.

This isn’t really a review, because I can say everything that i love about Fast & Furious forever. I can describe how it shows me a future where its unremarkable if an entire cast are people of color. I can describe the breathtaking, jaw-dropping over-the-top car-fu scenes. That one of the best knock-down drag out fights was between two women in beautiful dresses, and it manages to be just as much of a brawl as any of the leading men would have and not treat them as “Here’s your sexy cat-fight.” By now, you’re either on board with what Fast & Furious has done right as a series, or you’re still stuck in a world where the franchise hasn’t grown since 2001. If you want to catch up with how the genre’s changed, or why it’s an important film franchise, you can read everything i can say about it here, here, and here.

When The Fast & The Furious debuted, I was fifteen years old. I am now almost double that age. None of the individual films are my favorite movies of all time, instead they exist as a whole. I watch them like i’m hanging out with an old friend. They sound like me, they come from where I come from, they look like my family, they look like my friendships. Now one of my friends has died. When does a story transition from a piece of fiction you consume, to a piece of fiction that you participate in? Where is that line that we all cross, where a story becomes woven into your own life? Where it no longer is fiction, because it’s changing who you are. When do we finally transition into the aether, and become a story ourselves?

I lost a friend to cancer. I saw her crying on the floor, I spoke to her about dying. I miss her, and so sometimes I go online and look at my last facebook conversations with her. I finally threw away a dress of hers that had somehow been packed with some old clothes of mine. Once, a human body fit into it, stretched it and pulled it in different ways. Now, it is just fabric that i have no use for. But it’s harder for me to delete a conversation online than to discard a dress, it is the last story i have of hers. I didn’t believe in an afterlife, I don’t know if i do, but i can’t shake this undeniable feeling that she exists. Maybe she exists simply cause she existed, so always is somewhere on a timeline of this universe. Chemicals burn, pages turn, cameras flash, and our existence is etched forever in infinite ways on the universe. But more importantly, the people we meet and love and miss, make a timeless mark on our souls.

I left Furious 7 feeling like i left a wake. Somewhere, without ever meaning to, after watching these fake characters do the most fake stunts possible, somewhere in there, the actors in this series gave a part of themselves away and i gained a part of them. I’ve never seen a film break kayfabe. Kayfabe is a wrestling term that refers to the staged events you see during a match, the characters, the events, are all “true”. It is wrestling, this strange entertainment, that regularly straddles a very fine line between what the audience knows is fake, what the audience knows is real, and what the audience knows is fake but will accept as real. It is a complex and unique way of telling and experiencing a story, that actually leaves most people unable to understand how it works. “You know it’s fake, right?” is the common criticism, but reveals the strange unexamined borders in our lives where suspension of disbelief begins and ends. Even when films may be intentionally meta, even if they break the fourth wall, there still remains another wall. The fiction of the film is maintained, even if its making a commentary on fiction. In this way, Kayfabe is 100% in other fictions, one never has to question where reality begins and ends.

As the movie finishes, the characters watch Paul Walker’s character, play on the beach with his son and wife. Then they stop playing characters. Dom Torretto just becomes Vin Diesel, Brian O’Connor just becomes Paul Walker. But because Paul Walker is dead, you are hit with the sad truth, you are watching a ghost. He’s laughing, and we can see him forever on the beach, this ghost formed out of story, but he’s not here anymore, he’s not there, where is he then? Vin Diesel eulogizes him, but there’s no separation between the plot of this film, and the reality that Brian O’Conner isn’t ‘retiring’ in the film, Paul Walker has passed away.. We are left with this final scene; Paul Walker/Brian O’Connor, driving away down a road, as the camera pans into the sky. Dom Torretto drives away, leaving Brian O’Connor on the beach to his family. As he waits at an intersection, a car pulls up, and we hear Paul Walker’s voice, “You know i couldn’t let you leave without saying goodbye, ” Vin responds “It’s never goodbye,”
We live on in other people’s stories, we live in memories and fictions about them. We don’t fall into oblivion, but exist on the edge of forever. If you love a story enough, it becomes real. When you love someone enough, they become a story. I felt sad after Furious 7, i truly felt grief for Vin Diesel, he lost his close friend. But i felt joy, i was given and will have forever, a little bit of what they lost. There, encased in celluloid, smiles a not-terribly talented actor, not a legend or a game-changing artist, but just this man who was loved by a lot of people.

I really love stories, but i only can miss people.

RIP Paul Walker.

Dull, Repetitive, Completely Expected, Mundane “SHOCKING ART”

Today one of the first images I saw on Facebook was a drawing of Batgirl with her shirt torn open, exposing her breasts, rope strangling her, a bare foot and torn knees, and a bloody hammer next to a face covered in her tangled hair. Instead of sharing it, because so many ‘supporters’ of art already have liked it, and shared it, including some well known artists, i’m gonna share images of Batgirl that aren’t about her being brutalized.

art by Murphy Anderson (correct me if i'm wrong)

art by Murphy Anderson (correct me if i’m wrong)

Every time this subject comes up, and now its like twice a year, I see so many male cartoonists that have never experienced rape that decided everyone needs to know their many lofty opinions and thoughts on their right to draw rape, write rape – in any comic, at any time, regardless of tone or necessity.

I believe everyone has the right to draw or write or say anything they want. I also have to write to respond to them and call them assholes. I’m fine with their right to draw anything, that is, if I was actually having this debate with creators that had half an ounce of taste, sensitivity and intelligence. Or more importantly, any kind of experience with rape and brutality in their lives. The problem is I am fully aware of how completely separated, isolated, and ultimately SAFE from assault they are and have been, and yet they lecture about how others have to be less sensitive and exposed to their scum. They are a cowardly and suspicious lot, because they use the language of artistic freedom to cover for their inhumane juvenile obsessions.

We might feel tempted to just cry out about how this is such distasteful art!  That it should be removed! But I don’t even feel that anymore. I’m resigned.  It simply reinforces my belief that comic professionals and to a larger extent, comic conventions are hostile to women and minorities. It’s not all the T&A and pin-ups and rapey comics I want removed from the industry, although I wish there was a lot less of it. Its the old timers who are out of touch, their legions of fanboys that support any bone-headed move they make, the bullies and the creeps, the dick pics and the soft men, the pale faces and the sweaty palms – that I want removed. More specifically, I want their culture that they protect and defend and promote to be removed. There’s a myth of Nerds, that these communities are open to all, especially the marginalized. That myth has been totally debunked faster than you can say “PWNED!” The Nerd community recreates the power dynamics of the larger society in miniature, and in its isolation, has mutated into a caricature of the worst facets of racist and sexist America. Old timers, reveal opinions from 35 years out of date, evidence of a community that has nothing challenging it for decades, except now in the real time democratic reactions of twitter and tumblr. Although these social streams of anti-oppressive consciousness tend to fuck up almost as often as they help, it’s probably the first situation of its kind where the “vocal minority” can actually prove that it’s not a minority, its a rightful participant in this culture, same as all the gamer and comic nerd fuckboys.

We’d like to believe, i’m speaking as a comics professional, that when you see fanboys going into fits supporting some distasteful art, that THOSE are the vocal minority. Comics as a whole, IS liberal and does pretend to be progressive. We like to maintain this myth that an Old Timer is just one of a few. That one republican comic artist or writer you know, he’s just naive! But the creators of these nerd past-times created the culture of hate along with it. I don’t believe a video game makes you go out and shoot someone, or that a bad comic cover makes a rapist out of a man. It is simply images that reinforce a culture that says some horrible acts are more permissible than others. Every time you can drive your car in GTA blasting at sex workers after you fuck them, thats just one more troll online deciding its cool to blast verbally at a woman, telling them they’ll forcibly fuck them. We can argue that GTA is fiction and must be protected, and i’d agree with you. But then what argument do you make when an anonymous teenager says he’s playing a character on twitter, and that he must be protected as well. His is a fiction that has become real, but since no one is having an actual intelligent conversation about the limits of fiction and also the responsibilities, we are left with our dick in our hands. The culture doesn’t kill people, people kill people. I believe that’s true, but its the culture that forgives them and permits it to occur.

Babs Tarr

Male, often white cartoonists and their fans continue to complain about artistic integrity, artistic merits, and artistic rights. These are all concepts that they actually haven’t properly explored. So many of them are non-artists and shouldn’t even be participating in this conversation, but such is the result of a free internet. The concept of artistic integrity, artist merit, and artistic rights, are these comfortable struggles that they love to champion. They love to say #jesuischarlie as if they are fighting ISIS on the frontlines. They love to say that they alone are holding up the 1st amendment in the USA. But they don’t even realize that they are making up fiction as they speak. A drawing of brutalizing someone does as much for free speech as telling a young girl or young boy that they are ugly and won’t amount to anything. These free-speech patriots do more damage to growing artists and creators than any gov’t agency. The only censorship that occurs is the one where minority and female and trans voices continue to remain silent in our nerd communities because of these culture wars. I’m sorry I value someone’s right to feel safe over your juvenile interpretations of centuries old artistic arguments. I’m sorry I value someone’s right to feel welcomed and encouraged to make more work, over your defenses of the same demographic to keep making the same type of work.

If shocking art is something you enjoy and defend and has a place in comics, why is it always in the least shocking way, in the way we always have seen before. Male on female violence. White Male on POC violence. White Male on POC female violence. Exploitation comics written by the same demographic, read by the same demographic. Tom Neely telling me that i was once amusing, but now he’s tired of my complaints when I discussed Fukitor negatively.

Why is shocking art only pushed in one direction ever? Why are the exploitative elements in comic art so perfectly aligned with the power structures in society? Why do underground comix perfectly reflect mainstream comics worst qualities? If art is about shocking people, why do artists in comics only like to shock women and minorities? If shocking people is about bringing awareness to a subject, through ridiculousness and over-the-top parody, why does it never bring any new awareness? Why is the take away never “Men use their dicks as knives and it kills people,” but usually its “Men use their dicks for fun. This is just a comic, get over it!”

I often focus on whiteness, white culture and white males because when you’ve spent enough time in bars and hotels and cons and you see these same arguments manifested, perhaps more politely, with the same group of people, and whiteness and maleness is what they all have in common, it seems way too gracious to then censor myself and say #notallwhitemen. They’ve dug that grave, now i’m burying them. 

I am a fan of Eric Larsen’s work, and I actually feel that for the most part, he was taken a bit out of context. He still has some out dated ideas, but they aren’t nearly as revolting as his supporters. He was the weird uncle at thanksgiving who says colored person instead of Person of Color, unfortunately he brings along with him and entire contingent of weird uncles. Unfortunately, he allows that contingent to reinforce the worst of his beliefs and in term, he sanctions even worst beliefs. What could’ve been a neutral discussion of older costume designs vs. modern costume design, something any artist would enjoy reading, ends up tripping over its own points because he can’t separate comic design from the ever-present male gaze. That is unfortunate, but now check out all the gamergate dudes who are hanging out on Erik Larsens facebook page. Who are crying “CENSORSHIP!” and don’t know the meaning of the word. Who are the same types of dudes who like a photo of Batgirl with a bloody hammer next to her face.

Bruce Timm

Ask yourself, do you think they didn’t exist before? What responsibility does Erik Larsen, but more accurately, all creators in these industries have for creating the culture that has allowed this rot to fester. I leave you with this quote, from actual art, hundreds of years ago, HAMLET:


Have after. To what issue will this come?


Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.



Comics Review

The last time i reviewed comics was about a year ago? I’m not really sure, i mostly stopped reading comics after reviewing comics for a bit and when i actually began thinking about what i was actually consuming, felt deeply dissatisfied. Reviewing comics is exhausting, but more so it really began feeling like i was trying to find the critical value in cereal box literature. Lately though, i really began wanting to read a comic again, not anything significant, just anything i can find. Something short and sweet. Maybe it was because i’ve been making more work for myself again, feeling happier just doodling comics and telling stupid stories. When you think about taste, we don’t perceive our own perception as part of that taste. In the same way as when you take a bite from a piece of food, you don’t account for the flavor of your own mouth to see if you like it.

Maybe criticism is useless in a stagnant medium, like ice cream losing its flavor after many bites, and just tasting vaguely sweet. The comics i purchased were 3 old comics, and 2 brand new ones, all of which seemed to share a common DNA – junk food. But not all junk food is created equal.

Guardians of the Galaxy Team Up #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Art Adams

I only buy comics based on art nowadays. For the most part, i believe the writer in most american comics is almost completely unnecessary. I don’t know of any writer that i’d choose to read their work if they weren’t being carried by a fantastic artist. I don’t know of any of my peers that actually look forward to reading any comic writer’s work if its just prose. As an artist, most scripts i receive i treat mainly as blueprints or suggestions, the final form is something they aren’t aware of.

Arthur Adams is a really gifted cartoonist, and Bendis is a talented writer in as much as he is an extremely capable writer. He knows how to cross the street in the fewest steps possible. But reading this comic was probably the least exciting of all the books I purchased. It was so “by-the-numbers” that it read as a mad libs for superheroes. Vague cosmic threat, generic skull-faced aliens, quippy witty bantering superheroes. Bendis is one of the pioneers of the over-saturated ping-pong style of dialogue, he fills the same role as Joss Whedon did for television, and Tarantino does for film. It is absolutely boring at this point. Sometimes it feels every writer in mainstream comics writes in some variation of this style.

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Occasionally, Gamora, the green female character speaks in the haughty ways of a space warrior, similar to Drax the Destroyer, the muscle bound green fellow. But it’s handled completely inconsistently. This is a criticism i have for this style of writing at its worst, its always at the mercy of being quippy, even if it means the character switches from Thor-speak to Gilmore Girls on the same page.

Reading this comic, i wonder how bored Bendis and Adams must be with these stories, but i also wonder if they aren’t bored at all, and believe this is great work. It reminded me of the disappointment i always felt when i was reviewing comics on the regular, so many hours are being spent around the country, so many artists and writers and conventions and airplane rides, based on so many vacuous empty ideas that say nothing new and are fully satisfied in their mediocrity. Guardians of the Galaxy Team Up #1 was made by a machine, its components happen to be humans. It is a well made product, be sure to buy the slightly different variation of this product next month.

Some Beautiful Panels:

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I actually thought the above panel was some fine cartooning. Its simply a sequence where the space ship is twirling about, and so the panels themselves being flipping in circles. It is disorienting without becoming confusing, so i gotta give props to the artist for handling it with style.

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That expression is awesome. Its such a cute little moment, that it reaffirms my hopes that these aren’t completely soulless automatons churning out products. A lot of Art Adams work reminded me of one the last comics i read and enjoyed, Elias the Cursed.  Elias the Cursed, is a fairly typical sword and sorcery comic, but as a total piece of work, just has a bit more vitality and heft to it. I would love to read a Guardians of the Galaxy comic that was treated as a bit less disposable. I think that’s a feeling that i experience a lot reading new comics.

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Ms. Marvel #9 by G.Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

Ignore that cover, its straight up terrible. Medusa, the long haired woman sitting in the throne is well rendered, but Lockjaw has a strange lecherous appearance. Some artists are great at rendering one thing, like pretty women, but drawing giant bulldogs, not their strong suit. It’s okay, sometimes i’ll get a cover job, and i don’t got time to do it, but i really need the dough, and i just wing it. I’ve made some garbage covers, and i just think “Oh well, i gotsta eat.” So Jamie McKelvie, i understand and forgive you. Please read my comic “Pug Quest” for some tips on how to draw cute smushed face doggies.

But this comic was great! Super fun and the writing WAS whip-smart and cute without trying so damn hard to seem whip-smart and cute. This was like the Tina Fey of comics, where that Bendis comic was the girl on OkCupid who insists she’s JUST LIKE TINA FEY, OMG. This is a comic where i feel like the artist and writer are not only in tune with each other, but also are working towards making a really great project, not just getting it done and cashing the checks.

It’s harder to say why something is good, versus why something is bad, so i usually spend less time on things i like. Hey, maybe i suck at telling my parents i love them too. Don’t hate me cause i have trouble handling emotions.

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The way Ms. Marvel’s stretchy powers manifest is drawn with such cartoony imagination, that her powers aren’t just this neutral feature of hers, but actually reflect the character’s personality. Imagine when we thought about how Superman flies, or how Spiderman swings, artists really thought about how those characters would do those activities. Oftentimes it seems Superman flies just like every other character flies. Their is so many little moments in Ms.Marvel that the writing and art really is inspiring. Compare the stiffness of Lockjaw on the cover of #9 to the interior art from issue #8, where he is a goofy bouncy huggable giant pug.

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“Hey girl hey,”

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The Saga of Crystar – Crystal Warrior by David Simons and Ricardo Villamonte

I bought this because the cover was dope, but this was pure junk food. The thing with junk food is quality still matters. You can go deluxe and get Ben & Jerry’s ice creams, or you can be a broke ass homie getting that fake vanilla stuff for 2 dollars. I did a little googling, and Crystar was supposed to be Marvel’s shameless toy cash in. I had a feeling it would be, because the comic goes through the motions of introducing and giving a brief synopsis of almost a dozen characters. At least 4 of them are superfluous. But it’s a cash grab, and these are all dope action figures. Story-wise, even for a clearly commercial property like this, there’s way more plot packed into this comic than the Guardians comic above. This thing took me like 5 times the amount of time to get through. At some points, i was like “THERE’S MORE?”

But yo, check out these dope panels.

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“I AM SATISFIED” What a smug dude answer. The villain is the twin brother of Crystar, who both inherited the kingdom, and villain walks in and is like “Yo, technically, i still am also the rightful ruler of this place too, even though i’m like evil now.” And their advisor dude uncle actually finds this to be a very reasonable argument, and exiles Crystar. How he made the mental leap from “You two chill out and just rule together,” to “Ok get out Crystar, you weren’t being fair so now you get nothing,” escaped me. But I really found it hilarious that evil dude’s grand plan was arguing on a technicality. I love evil dude’s design too.

I really wanna go on ebay and buy the toys now. Merchandise advertisement = successful.

DEVIL DINOSAUR #5 and #8 by Jack Kirby

Save the best for last. Sometimes i find Jack Kirby comics boring. Like you open them up, and it’s like the moment you become an adult and fireworks no longer impress you. But every once in awhile, you hear the boom-pop-fizzle and see the brilliant lights of a fireworks display, and you become a kid again and you can’t look away. Devil Dinosaur is like that. Its such a silly idea, where Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy are practically a Sherlock Holmes and Watson arrangement. Moon Boy does all the talking, but you really get the feeling like Devil Dinosaur is the brains of the outfit. One comic was about some cavemen trying to steal Devil Dinosaur, the other one was about some giant robotic aliens have kidnapped Moon Boy. The Result – Devil Dinosaur just tears shit up. The whole book is just an excuse for action, and its pure and you really understand why Jack Kirby is so universally adored. There’s so much energy and fire and power in each panel, and it just hurtles forward. There’s no ego, no self-satisfaction, no “Look how clever and topical i’m being,” dialogue. These comics exist in their same powerful form now as they did decades ago, like a radioactive isotope with no half life, all killer.

Check out some of my favorite panels:


A lot of times i hate that we call Jack Kirby “The King”, not because the title is undeserved, but because now sits an empty throne, everyone seemingly too humble to attempt to take it. But everyone’s not reeeeally humble, they are just too fake to admit they want it, and too scared to think they’d deserve it. But greatness doesn’t come to cowards, you can’t make great art unless you see the heights that can be reached and try to go higher. I wish more artists and writers would strive and fail to be as productive and unrestrained as Jack Kirby, imagine what comics would look like if we all believed we could be like him or even better.


We are all making junk food, but i feel like Jack Kirby was like Willy Wonka, asking questions like ‘What if we made a football helmet out of brownie dough and then drove our cars into dipping dots ball pits?” meanwhile, Bendis is like ‘Here’s a chocolate chip cookie with precisely 9 chocolate chips, the optimal amount of chips for this cookie,”
Anyway, read Ms. Marvel, it does a body good.

A History of Violence

I watched a movie yesterday named “Boyhood”. I don’t know what post-traumatic stress disorder is like, I imagine what i felt is probably only 10% what PTSD must be like. Sometimes when you feel things too strongly, you feel even more isolated when you think “Well, i bet others have it much worse” because you don’t know how much worse it can be. When you’re hurting, you live in a black hole of pain and you can’t see past the event horizon.

Anyway – there was a scene in the movie, where the children were hiding from a drunk violent father. Wait, no, it started before then. There was a scene in the movie, where the mother was on the floor, it was unclear if she had been hit. I thought “Please, I don’t want the movie to go in that direction.” But it was going in that direction, in the same way as i could detect when a family fight was about to spark off. Then there was the scene with the children hiding in their bedroom, and i begun to cry. Afterwards, i was discussing the feeling, and it’s not like normal “oh, sad movie scene” tears, which are ultimately cathartic and just pass you by after the credits roll. My stomach hurt, i felt sick, i felt like i was having a panic attack, i almost had to leave the theatre. But i felt silly for feeling this way, so i stayed. But as soon as i left the theatre, it all came out. Even now, thinking about it, it comes back.

This morning i read about Ray Rice and his wife who he punched in the face, the past few weeks i’ve read about harassment online, women who are threatened out of their homes, i’ve watched a lot of rapes on Game of Thrones. A lot of stuff has been on my mind. But mostly, i’ve thought about how alone seeing violence makes me feel. People only seem to care about victims after there’s proof, a video, etc. No one believes a bruised face is proof, no one wants to see proof, and people who are hurt, they don’t want to share it often. Being a victim feels like a cage. Why don’t abused women leave? I don’t know, but when you don’t leave physically, some other part goes.

I often feel very broken inside. I thought i’d write a short history of violence, i think it might make me feel better to just see it out there.

– Age 3 or 4 . My father throws a vase across the room at my brother. It breaks in a million pieces. It was my stepmother’s mom’s vase. It was a gift. My father didn’t care. I was hiding under the bed. My brother cursed in school.

– Same age, maybe older. My mother (my stepmother, but i don’t refer to her as that) comes out of her bedroom with cigarette ashes all over her face. My father threw an ashtray in her face. Later on, i learn, my mother told my father she would leave him if he did that again.

– 6 years old? I see my mother (biological) at an mental asylum. There are shambling people on the grass. My mom is pretty calm. We play checkers. I feel disturbed by the environment, when i leave, she stays where she was sitting. Later on, me and my brother agree we probably shouldn’t have seen her like that. Later on still, my sister reveals to me how she was abused by the orderlies there. I feel angry, but she’s never told me about it. Many of her schitzophrenic delusions are of men coming after her. Its her reality.

– A family joke, but disturbing to others, my brother hits me in the eyeball with a toy crossbow gun. My father breaks the toy crossbow on my brother’s head.

– Younger than 10, i throw up on myself and my bed. I have to sleep on a bare mattress.

– Younger than 10, i didn’t eat my food. For some reason, i didn’t change fast enough before being hit, so i had to sleep naked. It was cold. My parents think i made that one up. I don’t think i did.

– As i get older, the violence goes away, but the intense fights don’t.

– Around 11, i’m still playing with stuffed animals and my sisters, and my sister’s dollhouse. My father begins asking at dinner if i’m a faggot. Whenever there were fights in my house, i’d protect my mom, he asks me why i protect her more than him? When he calls me a faggot, my sister defends me for an hour. “It doesn’t matter if he wants to play with stuffed animals, he’s 11” I quietly did the dishes.

– I was in school fights every year of my life. I didn’t win really any. In 9th grade, i started a fight trying to be a bully, i got my teeth punched in. I decided to not get into fights after that. I still was a bully though, just with smaller kids.

– In college, i stay with my girlfriend in texas. When they fight, they speak in the same tone of voice and don’t insult each other. I felt so jealous.

– Towards the end of college, i discover my mother is addicted to drugs. I feel abandoned by her. For about a year or 2, we don’t really speak. She goes to rehab. When she returns, my parents get into a fight and my father hits her, the first time in years. My mom tries to stay with family, but no one wants her to stay with them. She ultimately stays a hotel for the night. She calls me, asking me for advice. I begin crying, i don’t know what to do, i don’t WANT to give advice to my mom. I want my mom to be my mother. I tell her i can’t be her therapist, i’m just her son. I hate drugs, i hate violence. My sisters want her to leave my father, my brothers kinda shrug at it.

– 23 years old, I go to a party at my upstairs neighbor. I wanted to have sex with one of them, didnt care which. I found them both to be attractive. When i arrive, i discover they invited many guys from around the block. They were all members of the Bloods gang. I felt awkward, i knew that a house full of young men (11-35 years old) with alcohol and 3 women was not a very safe environment. When one of the women left with a guy to have sex, me and the remaining person realize she hasn’t returned after we see the guy. I find her in the bathroom being sexually assaulted by multiple men. It was probably the scariest night of my life. It didn’t end for a few more hours.

I never have felt the same after that. I never felt right about everything i already had experienced. It kind of made everything i already didnt like in my life, feel darker. The next day, i called out of work. My boss didn’t understand why i was so upset. When i finally came into work, 2 days later, my boss’s sister, who was 64 years old, just held me for awhile and i cried and i cried. I always cry when i think about it. I hate that night. I tried to be friends with my neighbors after that, but i always felt like i was lying or faking or being phoney or just acting wrong.

– A year later, i began dating someone who was a victim of childhood abuse. Every time we had sex, that was a part of our lives. It broke us up.

– For years, since i have been sexually active, i’ve had trouble with sex. As i get closer to women, i become less able to perform, i think its cause i end up treating them more like moms than like girlfriends. While casual sex, one night stands, and fuck buddies have just become how i have relationships. When i have a girlfriend, i have to disclose to them eventually my years where i went to adult video stores, the STDs i’ve gotten, the serial cheating. Although i went to therapy for 4 years in order to get some control, i still have destructive behaviors that i have to always pay attention to.

– Currently, i’m 28. I am dating someone. Sex is mostly okay. But when i began crying next to her in the movie theatre, while watching Boyhood, i didn’t want her to see. Afterwards, she gave me her scarf to cry on, and i just felt she didnt understand. She made a few jokes, and i began laughing and feeling better. I thought “I don’t have to tell her all about it,”

I think its probably better that she doesn’t fully understand. I think its better that she just hands me her scarf to cry on.

Why We Won’t Win Against Trolls

I’ve been thinking about this lately, wondering what possible solutions can we find to finally eliminate trolling culture. It’s getting to the point where unless there’s a culture-wide shift and recognition that there’s a behavioral virus sweeping through our society, someone will likely be killed.

One of the most fascinating ideas i’ve found in science fiction, is the “Stand Alone Complex” of Ghost in the Shell. To sum it up, its the behaviors of random persons acting in seemingly coordinated ways towards some ends. No one actually is in charge or determining what these persons do, and they all believe they are acting individually. But i see it when multiple mass-murderers latch on to the image of Heath Ledger’s Joker, when anonymous wears V for Vendetta masks, when gamers harass, stalk and threaten individual women out of their home, for fear of their own lives. The internet is real, the consequences of these actions are real, and memes that replicate online also take root in our minds, altering our behavior. Why is this behavior becoming increasingly aggressive and polarized? Because right now exists a fully new environment, that organisms must adapt  to according to Darwinian natural selection.

Internet culture, especially in the darker and deeper corners of the internet, allows for a breeding pool to create new personalities that have not existed before, which in essence, outbreed calmer & saner minds. Ignoring trolls is not a solution, because for every person that ignores a troll, there are that many more people who decide to leave the conversation entirely. The troll remains, the tone of the entire community begins to change, and an entire ecosystem now has an invasive species that cant be eliminated until the vocal minority becomes the majority. For quite some time, it was physical distance and population size that kept these species from overrunning this digital planet. With the transformation of the internet from a niche interest to a fully global platform, we are finally reaching a tipping point.

What happens when a human being making videos online can no longer feel safe offline? What happens when all of us, have to worry about open-carry psychopaths converging in Chipotle? None of these things were possible or even imagined, 10 years ago? We are in a singularity, where human evolution changes so fast, no one can see what is coming next. 

Currently, there is no single practical solution to combating trolls. Deleting, muting, blocking can not stop the hordes of anonymous decency-eating zombies. In fact, the solutions we have now simply embolden trolls to find new ways to transgress social mores. When we ignore the trolls, we simply reinforce the artificial selection where a more shocking troll will make sure he can’t be ignored. When we block, we lead them to create ‘campaigns’. Like any invasive species, it is not the individual organism, but the health of the entire genome that matters. And this organism has one thing that the rest of us do not, and no one is speaking about: The constant protection of anonymity.

We need the elimination of an anonymous internet.

Being able to be identity-less not only creates a damaging psychology in the troll, but also a power that must be abused. The consequences of one’s actions become separate from the ‘real’ persona, and the desire to wreak more and more damage becomes addicting. That is why the number one attack of trolls online, is to reveal as much information of a person’s identity as possible. What used to be public knowledge, our names-numbers-addresses, found in the phonebook, has been transformed into a poison against us. While we flirt with privacy, letting our eyes get familiar with the darkness of anonymity, there are those, like the familiar Dark Knight Rises villain, who were born in darkness. 

Until we finally realize that the internet is a real place, a real environment, and we are the same persons online and offline, and consequences are no less severe because the actions occurred online, and that this isn’t a loss of privacy, but a necessary protection, the trolls will continue to outbreed us. There is no stopping a hydra, you must cauterize each wound after decapitation. Twitter, Facebook, all sites that allow commenting, need to be able to connect each online persona to a person, so that each person can be held responsible for their actions.

A few years ago, Google tried to do something like this, but it was a complete failure because it never considered that those who desire to remain anonymous are always hiding from something: They are either the threatened or the predators. Without considering this question, and forcing everyone to be in the bright lights it only benefited the predators. We need to eliminate anonymity, but it needs to be done in a careful, considered and just way. So we can truly protect our images from being shared on revenge-sex sites, so we can know where the predators are waiting or hiding, so our private conversations can be truly be private with all the legal protections, so we can hold ourselves and other responsible for all of our actions. I want consent for my whole life. From corporations, from governments, from individuals – we have a metastasizing tumor called the internet, made up of undeclared, undecided, unclear borders between oneself and others.

I want to be 100% me in all aspects of my life. I walk into a store, thats my face, thats my body, I can’t be harmed. If a cop walks into a store, thats their face and their body, they must be identified, they should not be allowed to harm me. If a troll goes online, they can be anyone, anytime, they dont have to be identified, they can harm me as long as they want, there are no consequences. 

End Anonymity.