ONCE UPON A SLIME

Image

 

With two flat tires on their runaway rickshaw, and building blisters becoming unbearable, the lovers stopped to rest in an untouched grove. Charles and Evie lay on a bed of moss by the river and gazed into each other’s eyes with passionate lethargy. He held her featherweight frame in his thick and weary arms as the helicopter seeds began to fall. The water was so clear that the carp could look straight up at you before fleeing in terror at a funhouse reflection. Evie had given up everything she had known for the one she knew was her soulmate. Tired of running, they let themselves feel safe in the moment and listened to the shore wash over the sound of approaching sirens.

~

Officer Hastings yanked the caution tape around the sycamore tree, as the end got snagged on a stretcher. He thought to himself, It’s just as well the locals are non-existent. “Who knows how long before the media gets wind of this” remarked Officer Starling, “We might never have uncovered this place if it wasn’t for the grizzly trail.”

“Have you heard the Serg’s bringing that detective in?”

“Grant? Oh God I can’t stand him. Gives me the creeps.”

“Well I reckon he’s well suited to this case then.”

“You can say that again. Guy gets brought in on a few cases and acts like a damn superhero.” 

Hidden within the forest of a valley, lay a self-sustaining commune, several acres of fertile land with simple mills and cottages built around ivy-covered and indistinguishable ruins. Overnight, this viridian settlement had become littered with police and military vehicles.

One more jeep rumbled onto the site, and out stepped a willowy gentleman, well-dressed but with an unkempt demeanour.  He had tousled hazel hair and a beige suit stained with flecks of emulsion and dirt.

“Ah, Officer Hastings, Officer Starling. What have we got here?”

“Mr Grant, if you’d like to follow me.”

Detective Samuel Grant pulled on some latex gloves and ducked under branches, as the policemen led him towards the village. Samuel was an agent with often little care for his wellbeing, hurling himself nose-first into cases. He was malnourished enough to ferret through crowds or monkey his way though air-conditioning systems, and there were few surprises left for him in this line of work. He was a force of obsessive logic wrapped up in pulp stereotype, piercing amber eyes through a crisp domino mask.

In every chamber, in every bunk lay motionless bodies in beds. Men. Dozens. Between the the ages of 24 and 71, each static with a neatly folded red robe placed over their faces with only bare feet uncovered. Deceased, simultaneously, three days at most. Bicycles draped in cobwebs, wild weeds winding through walls, candles fused to the floor.

Grant spent thirty-five minutes in silence pacing past the rows of burgundy ghosts before stepping outside for fresh air.

“Officer Hastings, I believe you came by this unfortunate village by discovering some sort of gruesome trail, what was it?”

“Oh yes, well sir, we’re awaiting toxicology reports on the victims, but everyone seems… physically intact… and yet we keep finding these” the policeman handed him an evidence bag. Inside was an eyeball.

“Where is the leader?”

~

Evie Europa was a nymphlike girl with natural lavender hair, adorned with pansies and she wore jewellery made from fossils and flint found around the ruins.

At 16, she had spent her whole life in the commune as the only female and felt saturated in solitude. Unbeknownst to her father, in the neglected gloam, she would occasionally venture out to edge of civilisation and collect litter from another world. She kept a secret treasure trove of lottery ticket shreds, bottle caps and other fragments of a forbidden land.

She believed in love. Or rather she believed that she believed in love, as rain-damaged romance novels were one of her few external stimuli, which she’d found propping up the various bookcases of more incomprehensible tomes. The life of a cult leader’s disillusioned daughter was convincingly far-fetched. Though respected by the resident followers, she considered none of them a true friend. Their shiny scalps and hopeless grins reminded her too much of her mother. Or what she could remember remembering. Moonbiscuit the groundskeeper had offered good company, but his advances were becoming increasingly less subtle. Tumblewolf, Rainfish, Thistlebear all seemed to have abandoned their idiosyncrasies the closer the ritual came. Besides, they had all migrated from their secret city lives in search of a higher power, whereas Evie was going through that difficult phase where all you know stops making sense.

But everything changed when she met Charles.

 

Father Francis, the patriarch had been deep in study for weeks, pupils flickering over hieroglyphs with a permanent set of aviators in-between, barely communicating with his daughter. He was convinced that the time had come. The town was abuzz with cryptic excitement, but no-one would tell Evie what was happening. Through eavesdropping snippets she’d heard “the time is now”, “200 makes 1” and “they will be released”. Evie confronted her father about the whispers of a ceremony.

“Child,” he adjusted his lenses “you are my flesh and blood, but this is not your place. You are too young and fair to be concerned with such things, but when we succeed, you shall join us in the kingdom. Stay away until you are called.” 

Naturally, Evie disobeyed her father, like any rebellious teenager would. That night, sensing the wave of collective anticipation, she snuck into the grand chamber and hid behind an arras. 

One hundred and nighty nine figures in nervously ironed satin robes floated in and formed a circle. Father Francis was the last to join, reaching the centre and scattering a ring of leaves. The crowd rotated around him like a school of clockwork fish as he lit each candle they carried. The tapestry musk made Evie want to sneeze, but instead she held her breath, as did the hooded crowd.

The leader began to speak, but not in any words Evie could recognise, garbling tongues met with a union of hums. Then the crowd fell to their knees and extinguished their candles. In the sudden darkness the scent of wax shifted to sulphur and then another smell, inconceivably new. It was like burning hair that turned to sugar in the throat. Suddenly a cyan light filled the room. Evie crept closer.

Drip

Drip

Drip

A sudden micro deluge erupted from thin air and spilled onto the stone floor like the sound of a thousand peaches splattering on a windshield during a typhoon.

“No!” Father Francis cried. “NO NO NO OUT!” Quickly the monks lost their composure and scurried to the door. This wasn’t supposed to happen. In moments, the townspeople had left the chamber and Francis had bolted the great doors. Evie was locked inside, frozen in terror. But then the blue glow made her feel calm. Peering behind the arras she saw the most beautiful thing in the world. 

In this same hall, days later Detective Grant inspects the charred stone floor from whence Charles came. He turned over the leaves stained with soot and studied the dried blue ectoplasm in-between the bricks. The rest of the room was empty besides a few stray pansy petals behind a tapestry depicting the circles of hell. Samuel suddenly remembered something he’d seen in a book in the study where he’d found what remained of Father Francis. He dashed back across the courtyard, and found himself doing what he’d never done in his career as an deductive perfectionist, he wished he was wrong.

~

On their first meeting it was love at first sight. Evie was speechless and Charles incapable of speech, yet they made an instant telepathic connection. Charles was a puddle of luminous slime, that rose from the earth and moulded himself into the vague semblance of a man. He was bluer than the clearest sky and his body was pimpled with dozens of lidless eyes which twinkled with new life like the late light of distant stars. She took his amorphous attempt at a hand, he was so cool and soft to the touch, wet but without residue, firm but without form.

He spoke straight into her heart, “I am not the saviour of your Fathers. I am the mistake that trickled through.”

Evie fluttered. Fate must have sent her a guardian to escape this dry reality. She realised that he was not young. Beneath his glossy veneer beat a post-traumatic core. Like the townsfolk, she felt he had come from a place of hurt in search of purity. She could relate and found a deep kinship in this sentient goo. She had to leave before her father noticed she was missing, but promised to return each night. Charles lifted her to the window and lowered her out on a gelatinous tendril. She blew him a kiss and scampered back to the cottage. 

The monks had sealed the chamber, but each night Charles would seep through the cracks to take midnight strolls with the girl that taught him the simple pleasures of the surface world. She demonstrated her mimicry of night birds and he would never tire of the smile she gave whenever he juggled his eyeballs. 

The commune had taken a collective vow of silence. No matter how hard she tried to get their attention, they all maintained a lugubrious disposition. Interaction was as futile as trying to execute a tortoise with a guillotine. Even Moonbuscuit’s inappropriate flirting had been curtailed by these hushed-up events. She didn’t need them anyway. Her father was too busy to see her, presumably trying to find out why the ritual had gone awry, and how to deal with its unexpected results.

~

Grant manoeuvred around broken glass and empty kegs in the study, piecing together the events whilst searching through Father Francis’s unreadable notes and trying not to disturb an already baffling crime scene.

~

On the evening of that incident, the lovers quickly decided to leave and start a new life together. Evie grabbed her trove, hoping its contents could be used as tokens in the real world. Charles reconstituted himself into a trench-coat and hid in the compartment of Evie’s rickshaw as they rode towards civilisation. To hell with the Watchers, she thought, there’s a whole world out there. One night they eventually came across a dank motel along the highway. Charles oozed into an empty room and unlocked the door, and the couple spent the night there. That was the first time they made love. Virginal flesh met iridescent mucus in a graceful mess of passion.

Charles was the embodiment of body, shifting and responding to every measure and desire, building elaborate gelatinous pleasure constructs while Evie delicately kissed every contour of his quivering mass. 

 

Charles lay silently across the mattress. He slept with his lidless eyes open, but they had all congregated peacefully at the centre of his body on a respiratory current, glistening under the flickers of the neon sign. Evie watched her lover and wondered what dreams an inter-dimensional slime beast might have, hoping that they were of her. A chorus of crickets and plumbing kept her from joining him there. The sudden stillness cornered her swirling thoughts. She put on her robe and stepped onto the balcony, watching the moon rising over the mire. It had all happened so fast. 

~

36 hours ago Father Francis had summoned her to his study. In her heart, she knew that he knew, but not of what this had done to him. When she opened the door, Francis was frantically decanting vials of fluid into a collection of cauldrons.

“EVIE!” He slammed his hands on the desk.

“Father.”

“Child, I know what you have been doing with that monster, I know that it has tainted your soul. I WARNED you. I locked it up. I told you to stay away.”

“Father, just tell me what..”

“We were trying to reach our saviours, our lords, but instead, we received this THING. We took a risk, we thought this dangerous substance came from the wrong channel to compromise everything we believe in. Everything I raised you to believe in. But creature was no accident, it is the catalyst, it is the trial and we must act quickly and exterminate it or the Grigori will never return to us! But you… I thought you would trust me, but I knew.. after everything I’ve done… I knew you are a non-believer.”

“STOP!” Evie cried “This has gone too far!”

“Child! I will exorcize you, but first we must dissolve that putrid glob of-“

“STOP IT! His name is Charles and he loves me!”

“No. NO NO NO. No child of mine, perverted heretic!”

“What’s happened to you Dad? All these people call you Father but I’m your only child and you never loved me!”

Francis was trembling with rage. “Get out of my sight, heathen.” he bellowed and shoved her to the floor.

An eyeball on a slimy stalk had been watching from the doorway, and the moment Francis raised his hand, Charles quickly sloshed himself from the hallway and formed a barrier between the girl and the man possessed.

“No no NO! Get back!”

Francis jumped behind the desk and started to splash the potion at the globster, each droplet scolding his epidermis. Charles let out a psychic shriek.

Evie screamed, and smashed an Erlenmeyer flask over her father’s head. 

Francis swayed. His glasses slipped from his face and, for the first time in years, Evie saw her father’s ochre irises, before he collapsed face-first into the cauldron.

The sanctified water slowly turned a clouded crimson as the preacher’s brains osmosed inside. 

Charles took Evie’s hand. They stood motionless for one long minute. Then she said: “Let’s go”.

Detective Grant was sitting in a white lawn chair, flicking through a warped paperback as the army air-lifted away two hundred bodies. The cover of the book featured what might have been two embracing lovers, but a fluorescent slick had blurred away the image.

Officer Hastings came and sat beside him. 

“Samuel… the Sergeant wants to hear your thoughts. There’s more personal effects to look over, but it seems they lived quite modestly. Coroners say cyanide poisoning. Seemingly ingested by choice. They put them selves to bed, for the love of…” He took off his hat and rubbed his brow. “And any one of them could be responsible for the leader. It looks like they wanted to join him.”

“Are you a religious man, officer?” asked Grant.

“After seeing this? Can’t say I am. What did this cult believe in, anyway? Maybe I’d kill myself too If there were no women around. I mean I’ve seen some pretty odd horrors in my time on the force. Clowns with assault rifles… Kindergarten meth labs… these men lived away from our urban hell. What was all this for?”

Grant rose and started to pace. “Well there’s no use sugarcoating a missile. The First Book of Enoch tells the story of two hundred angels called the Grigori or “Watchers” sent by God to watch over humanity. They defied God by intermarrying with mortal women and teaching them secret angelic arts – metalwork, astrology, the use of cosmetics… The children of these unions were known as the Nephilim, a race of giant demons who wrought havoc over the Earth, which prompted God to send the Great Flood to wipe them out. God punished the Watchers by imprisoning them in the bowels of the earth until Judgement Day. 

This community called themselves the “New Nephilim” and from what I gather, believed themselves to be demons incarnate, dedicated to releasing their angelic ancestors. They wanted forgiveness. Their leader, this Father Francis seems to have built this commune in preparation for the coming of a new age.”

Hasting’s face was drained of colour. 

“My job here,” Grant lifted his eyemask to itch his nose “…is to determine whether this is mass suicide or mass murder.

“Who…?

“Well from the looks of this trail we have at least two defectors, who might hold some answers. 

“You don’t believe any of this bullshit do you? Did these poor bastards really think they were summoning angels?”

Grant handed over the sticky book to the policeman who put back on his evidence handling gloves. On the inside cover was scrawled “CHARLES ❤ EVIE.”

He pointed to rickshaw tracks which forked away from the main desire path and into the forest.

“It appears they already have.”

The next morning Evie woke to find the gaunt masked man perched on a nearby boulder, fixated on Charles.

“Miss Europa…”

Evie gasped and tried to shake Charles awake. “Please, I’m not hear to hurt you. My name is Samuel. I need to talk with you about..”

Evie wasn’t listening. Charles wasn’t moving. “Charles? Charles!?” his bloodshot eyes were drifting to the edges of his hardening body. The warm synapses in her mind that she felt when they were together had run cold.

“Please!” she sobbed, help him!”

“I’m sorry” the man’s voice cracked “I’m not a wizard. I’m a detective. Your father summoned Charles…  I think he is an extension of him… Evie I…”

“I killed my Father” she said without hesitation.

“I know.” Said Grant. “Do you know about the others?”

Her lilac tears did nothing to soften the body of her lover. He started to crumble. Grant put his jacket around her as Charles started to flake into the river.

“Just… please”

Grant nodded and retreated into the woods. She let out a piercing cry that cast a confetti configuration of birds into the sunlight. She kissed his membraned brow, and pushed him into the river, where he shattered and sailed toward ocean in shards of pewter dust.

Grant was sitting on the bonnet of of the Jeep reading the non-blurred pages of the untitled murky paperback. “That’s mine” Said Evie as she left the forest and approached the car.

“is it good?” asked Grant.

“Not really.” Said Evie, plucking the pansies out of her hair. “Let’s go.”

~

The unknown truth would haunt Samuel and Evie more than the 199 monks who took this knowledge to this knowledge to their graves. They knew what a broken-hearted Francis couldn’t piece together. What an skeptical Samuel couldn’t quite bring himself to believe. What a traumatised girl could never be expected to understand. Charles was indeed the herald of the angels, but Evie’s touch had tainted him. She was the last daughter of the Nephilim, and by laying with The One Who Sees she became a technical succubus, forever barring the return of the divine children.

 But had Evie known this, that she had traded a better world for true love, she would have said it was worth it.

 

Image

 

NATIVE TONGUES

Image

A spoken word story I performed for the final day of the Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show.

************************************************************************************************************

Our story begins in the negative space of an asteroid field. I am piloting my robotic chicken to brighter pastures, and my dashboard whirrs and clucks in anticipation, as I approach a dainty silver orb on the fringes of my old life.

It is a place most strange. I settle in a small industrial village overlooking wire forests and continuous chimneys. I sleep in my ship but make frequent trips into town in search of microcosms.

The aromatic smog that pours over us with a daily-shifting odour ranges from the scent of warm crops dancing through turbines, to the stagnant musk of ritual waste.

The townsfolk are eccentric, yet kind and devoutly traditional. Most of my neighbours have long, hairless faces with a central mouth framed by three docile eyes. Some walk with a trail of somber tails, others have translucent skin to showcase their pulsating innards, some are mostly bionic and others completely gaseous. Aside from frequent stares at my bobbing antlers, I feel quite comfortably alien here.

A significant proportion of the villagers are led to work by brutish beasts with tentacled mandibles which walk on rocky fists. These creatures gasp as they amble, mapping their routes with colossal droppings which I tire of tip-toeing over. As far as I can surmise, this regenerates the earth, which trembles like clockwork to denote the start of each foggy morning. 

Canteenas, chapels and charity shops stretch around ancient obelisks and plastered monuments. I can’t place what the quasi-figurative constructs are meant to represent, but it looks like there are parts missing, limbs chipped away.

Despite a relatively rowdy morale for the most part, the fourth day of the week is a shared vow of silence in which everyone carries out their business wearing featureless black masks. I’ve tried to inquire about the meaning, but my only response would be a tilted head and a tisk. On the fifth day everybody assembles in the amphitheatre to hum in unison for an hour. This reverberates through my tin chicken to make a pleasant hypnotic sound, which I wake to.

 

I somehow swung a job at a local gas tavern through what could have only been a combination of beaurocratic error and awkward charisma. It’s here that I get to listen to the pulse of people. They share the same heartaches and brainjoys of any other geographical family, but few speak of these weekly pilgrimages and mysterious monuments that I wanted so much to understand.

Everyone drinks to forget something. A luminous fuchsia concoction called “Mytzplk” is exceedingly popular, its label boasts that it is brewed from alpine dews and quasar dust, but I couldn’t tell you what it was really made of. It smelt like the outside air, sickly and sedate. 

I got talking to a giant disembodied eye who frequents the place seemingly more than the staff, each day engraving his memoirs into tablets with his laser beam vision.

“I’m Gary” said the giant disembodied eye. “Private investigator. What’s your name?”

“Erm, Duke.” I replied, which wan’t my name. I must have lied to see if he was telling the truth.

“Well Duke, you’ve certainly been drawing attention to yourself with your curiosity and cumbersome headwear.”

“actually they’re attached…”

“Well perhaps I can give you some answers since everyone else here’s near-enough given up. What is it you want to know?” His voice vibrated softly from his orbicular body.

“Why… why does the ground need constant treatment? Why is the air so thick? Why doesn’t anyone speak on fourthday and what happened to all the statues?”

He rolled his body. “Well, you see, have you ever built a sandcastle?”

I must have, but had no memory of doing so.

“Every grain of sand that makes up your temporary palace is an ancient mineral that began life as a greater body somewhere else, right?”

“..right…”

“And the tide goes in and out, in and out, only plucking the moon from the sky can stop that.”

“…yes…”

“So no matter how attached you are to your matter, you can’t take it with you. Just enjoy the loan before it’s reclaimed by the waves.”

“…well that all sounds very meaningful, but it doesn’t really answer my questions.”

“Dun’t it?”

“…”

“Well to be honest I’ve had plenty of Mytzplk. My nerves are shot and this isn’t my native tongue. Time to call it a night”

His limited features made it difficult to tell just how inebriated he was.

“…okay, well, thanks anyway Gary.”

“Son, if you really want to know, just follow the smoke signals. But you’re better off making your peace. It looks like you’re running from your own waves, if you don’t mind me saying. Well, be seeing you, Duke.”

 

That night I couldn’t sleep.The humming from days before seemed to still echo around my ship. I kept thinking of shattered fingers and piles of poo. The earth didn’t shake when it was supposed to and the city smog was silent and still. I went for walk in the wire forests, towards the cooling towers.

 I walked down the tracks, past taloned children sledding down hills on old construction signs, through winding steel estates of inorganic flora. The further I got, the fainter the desire paths became and the ebb of the settlement was gradually replaced by the quiet reverb of steam. Finally I approached the factory. It was an ornate iron keep, with walls moist with rust. I felt a warmth through the darkness and sidled passed stoic conveyor belts towards a glowing refectory. I heard one or many voices. I crossed the threshold.

 There, before me, lay one thousand heartbeats quaking together in one physical orchid. A living diagram, a fleshy atlas of impossible biological equations and anatomical glitches, a matter-transporter disaster of a tired orgy, a wailing composition of fused body parts, an amorphic entity dancing reluctantly with itself, moving nowhere. I could almost recognise the dimples and moles between the groans of agony or pleasure and recoiled at the sight of familiar faces transplanted onto this foreign form.

 A throat was cleared.

 Past the pile, looked on a centurion with a unicorn’s head reclining on a stone throne. A halberd gripped in one hand and a metronome in the other. His robes were adorned with fingers.

“I AM CECIL THE BASTARD” he bellowed “AND YOU ARE TRESPASSING ON MY DOMINION. STATE YOUR BUSINESS OR QUICKLY JOIN MY HOARD.

 His voice was a glacial guillotine. Collective murmurs unfolded into tangled speech bubbles. One whisper caught my ear with painful recollection. “Shall we go?” I could not look down, but I knew it was her. I felt a silky hand slide into mine and squeeze with a familiar softness. “Don’t look back” she whispered, “Run.”

Cecil the bastard slowly rose. He tapped his spear on the ground. He opened his jaws and spat a manic equestrian laugh.

“HAAAAHAAHAAAAAAAHAAAAAA”

 I ran, I took her hand, shut my eyes and ran. I pulled and felt her part from the pile and sprint beside me, and we ran through the wide iron halls, through the blinding steam, through wire forest as my antlers tore recklessly through the natural scaffolding, until we were out in the open.

 I squeezed her hand. It didn’t squeeze back. I opened my eyes. She wasn’t there. I held a broken stone palm, which crumbled to sand. She was never there.

 

I wondered through the clearing steam, to where I felt home should have been. But it was not there. Where the village once was was now a perfectly circular chasm. Miles wide, the gaping mouth had swallowed the town, slowly sucking the steam with it.

The only familiar signposts were the clouds of bittersweet miasma, my teetering chicken ship, some partially disintegrated bottles of Mytzplk and a sullen eyeball, perched on the precipice.

Gary gazed into the abyss. “Some socket, huh?”

“What happened?”

“Show’s over, Duke. We’re not canon anymore.”

“What?”

“Guess we were up for deletion. Low tide. Razed. Reset. New file. “

“But… wh….”

We sat in silence for some time, as I struggled to comprehend the enormity of the event.

“Are they… all gone?”

“In a manner of speaking. They’ll be back. All energy changes state, why would consciousness be the sole exception?”

“How are you alive?”

“Let’s just say there’s more to me than meets the eye!”

I felt like jumping in that hole.

“Gary, who the fuck is Cecil the bastard?”

“Eh? Oh he’s the editor. Odd sense of humour, that bloke.

“I… I thought I found a loved one.”

“Yeah, nah. He’s a bastard.”

“Was this all my fault?”

“Nah son, you were just an NPC. A tourist. Or an archiver, if you like. That’s my job. Wait for the end, take notes, better luck next time.This has been going on for a while, it’s almost a relief tha- look Duke, you just have to move on. That’s how it works around here.”

I wanted to push him in the hole, for what good it would have done. But instead I walked a lap of the lip and watched the last of the factory steam vanish down into the pit.

Gary finished beaming onto his tablet and hovered over.

“I’m sorry, son.”

“Forget it. What are you going to do now?”

“See what’s next I suppose. See if we can stop it next time. You’ll be alright. Sail on, my son.”

“See you later, Gary.” 

“See you later, Eli” He winked, and vanished.

 

I emptied the sand out of my pockets, opened a bottle of Mytzplk and got back in my ship.

3

2

1

Take off.

Back into where the asteroids once were.

PICTURE THIS

Image

The sketch and the doodle, the comic and the cartoon, the glyph and the graph, the grim caricature and the political ideogram. Perhaps our most convenient and universal form of expression is the line drawing. Whether you’re using a zero-gravity pen to scrawl in space, or blotting post-it notes in your office cubicle – the eternal relationship of ink on paper breeds an objective subjectivity, a rudimentary, understandable and instantly accessible portal into the 5th dimension of imagination. Here are a random selection of scribblers that mirror our skull’s interior with nothing more than 2-D tools.

Image

Histoire de M. Vieux Bios or The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck by 18th century Swiss caricaturist Rodolphe Töpffer, is considered to be the first modern comic book. It featured a revolutionary use of interdependent words and pictures in a sequential bordered format, effectively creating time with space. Marked by its dark and weird humour (much of which still holds up today), Töpffer caricatures the madness of love to tell us the tale of Vieux Bois/Oldbuck’s repeated botched suicide attempts and frequent efforts to escape captors and rivals in order to reclaim his fiancee’s affections. The episode is an affair of mad monks, starving steeds, coffin canoes and manic chivalry. An old-school monochrome love story. A favourite line of mine is “For eight-and-forty hours he believes himself dead. He returns to life dying of hunger.”

The critics panned most of Töpffer’s caricatures as a low ambition for a greater mind, but he never designed them to be anything more than novel entertainment for children and the lower classes. In the words of iconic alternative cartoonist Robert Crumb: “Low class art of the time [was] the popular art of the times. Just in our lifetime it’s changed – Look at the comic books that came out in the forties, they were just that: crude, lurid, low-level, working class… all those artists came from working class backgrounds, all of them. Jack Kirby and all those guys. They thought of themselves as entertainers, not artistes, not like us.” 

In modern society, the lines between art and entertainment are often blurred and attitudes to less revered art forms have changed over the last century, in part thanks to movements such as expressionism, minimalism and outsider art. The DIY punk movement of the 70’s in particular gave many the encouragement of self-expression through limited means.

Image

Raymond Pettibon, known for his Black Flag and Sonic Youth album covers, carries in his ink the macabre American spirit – the world of dead presidents, mushroom clouds and domestic insanity. His graphic subjects appear rough and physical, while clear and toneless. The decontextualised comic panels are reconstructed into bombastic statements on consumerism and violence with the use of enigmatic text, resonating non-sequiturs and visceral dialogues. Pettibon’s success paved the way for many underground scribblers to transmute into recognised artists or spokespersons.

Image

Before the satirically suburban Simpsons and phenomenally fantastical Futurama, Matt Groening wrote and illustrated Life in Hell. The strip began as a cautionary tale of 1970’s Los Angeles, taking inspiration from the drudgery of menial employment and the anxiety of urban existence. As the series developed under the alternative comics movement it became an underground success, appearing in both avant-garde magazines and weekly newspapers, leading to the animated stints which spawned the familiar family of four-fingered yellow overbites.

Life in Hell chronicled the adventures of such characters as Akbar & Jeff, “brothers, lovers… and possibly both” a symmetrical couple clad in fezzes and Charlie Brown shirts, Binky the perpetually addled rabbit self-insert and his illegitimate son, the single-eared and alienated Bongo. The latter shares his name with Matt Groening and Bill Morrison’s publishing company Bongo Comics Group which ruled beside D.C. Thomson & Co. and Marvel in my childhood education of pulp wonder.

The comic often featured pseudo-analytical charts and diagrams depicting the fractured nature of society and the human condition, this presented the simple strip as a relatable haze of geometry and anthropomorphism. It is certainly a testament to the expressive success of such rudimentary materials as the pen, paper and photocopier.

The torch of chart-comics is currently carried by cartoonists such as Grant Snider and Tom Gauld. A classic Life in Hell quote: “Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, trapping you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.”

Image

I shouldn’t be allowed to ramble on about the modern appreciation of absurd ink drawings without mentioning David Shrigley. Undoubtedly a popular and prominent figure in this movement of perceptively primitive art, Shrigley made his name through his countless publications such as Ants Have Sex In Your Beer, Kill Your Pets and Drawings Done Whilst On Phone To Idiot. In addition animation or taxidermy sculpture, the thousands of witty drawings that make up the bulk of Shrigley’s work are formed by seemingly deranged hands which challenge the mundane and the rudimentary qualifications of art. His “style” stems from a desire to abandon such a concept, it is rather “a default setting of making graphic images and text… that is avoiding any kind of craft, and therefore style”. The direct, quick and self-descriptive work reduces communication to its bare essentials and invites us into its absurd world – the sign of potency being that I needn’t waste your time describing his work at all, it speaks pretty loudly for itself.

Image

Like Shrigley, Swiss artist Olaf Breuning creates minimal things full of character, sheerly for the fun of it all. Breuning is a modest polymath, making films that blur fiction and reality, sculptures that talk to one another and even abstract paintings made of gas. He often uses the abundant materials at hand which include made-in-China plastic products, cardboard boxes and people who happen to be around. His work is a cheerful and inviting doorway into conceptual art, presenting complexity within simplicity through an unpretentious and uncomplicated philosophy of “work makes me happy”.

A potential evolutionary explanation for our art and fiction may in part be that it is an elaborate subconscious ruse to impress the opposite sex, or failing that, establish some sort of non-biological legacy. But I feel that as we homo sapiens become at our most upright and articulate, we seek to express ourselves in ways that comprehend yet exist outside of nature, as a sane reaction to an insane society, as an indulgence in or protest against nature’s complicated tangent. We imprint ourselves and our perspective of the world onto our creations, as a sort of consolidating code so that as we might occasionally feel swept away by tides of bureaucracy, genetic imperative and social nonsense, we can find each other on that democratic psychological landmass. Like the passing of notes in class or the graffiti on the wall, artistic expression, no matter how trivial, is a rebellion and a grasp at free will in a storm of clay, piano keys or celluloid film. But if those tools aren’t available – doodling in the margins of the newspaper is not a bad place to start. We create because we are greater than the sum of our atoms.

The impetus for many artists and entertainers alike is a common exercise in autonomy, a shedding of self-doubt in the name of sublime communication and conceptual exploration. Artists like Shrigley and Breuning give me faith in my own work, that people are receptive to the simpler brand of complexity. These artists in particular remind me of a quote by C.S. Lewis:

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

So here are a few some more contemporary artists which embrace this freedom.

Image

While Stanya Kahn is known for her warm and bizarre approach to filmmaking, her drawings contain a similar ethos in her telling of the tribulations of zombies, worms and deep sea fish.

Image

I can think of no better example of the ordinary-extraordinary juxtaposition than the drawings of Danish kid’s TV writer “Don” John Kenn. In his own words “I have not much time for anything. But when I have time I draw monster drawings on post-it notes… It is a little window into a different world, made on office supplies.” Kenn’s work is brilliant yellow bridge between the mundane and the wondrous, drawn in a pleasantly grim style reminiscent of Edward Gorey or Harry Clarke.

Image

And finally, Matt Furie’s comic Boy’s Club – a hallucinatory gross-out sitcom which, like Life in Hell, features a cast of misanthropic animal-men. These anecdotal features regurgitate and parody with goofy sincerity the 90’s culture of pizza-skating and cowabungadudes.

Furie comfortably walks the line between comic book and fine artist, producing compulsive colour pencil creatures. The deadpan antics of Boy’s Club set it aside from its webcomic contemporaries which often attempt to say too much. Despite this, the comic has generated a handful of popular internet memes such as FEELS GOOD MAN and Sad Frog. In a similar vein, Andrew Hussie’s MS Paint Adventures and Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff continues this weird genre, but instead uses the internet as a medium to produce and distribute episodes of pixel-humour and glitch art. Despite not being a physical drawing, the direct crudeness, coupled with the availability of its methods, makes it and anything drawn with a mouse an intangible spiritual descendant of the graphite line.

The punk fanzine exchange and the letter sections of comic books were in many ways precursors to our modern internet, where ideas could be shared directly and composed with little more means than a do-it-yourself motivation. Today, the digital realm has become an even more convenient podium for expression wherein forums, webcomics and fanfiction are ripe with the spontaneity of the individual. Though the screen is now mightier, the pen still has its place as the inky extension of the soul. But perhaps someday, like the sword it will become retired from common use.

The tools of basic stationary are artefacts of the human mind, the keys into an abstract plain that can be drawn clear as day, a short-cut from the second dimension to the fifth. Why not celebrate this nanosecond of existence by drawing something silly?

by Theo Cleary

 You can find more of these artist’s work and more on my image hoarding blog:

Rodolphe Töpffer

Robert Crumb

Jack Kirby

Raymond Pettibon

Matt Groening

Grant Snider

Tom Gauld

David Shrigley

Olaf Breuning

Stanya Kahn

John Kenn

Edward Gorey

Harry Clarke

Matt Furie

Andrew Hussie

THE MARTYRDOM AND RESURRECTION OF ZOMBIE EYECHILD: The Phenomenon of the Comic Book Death

“Death in superhero comics is cyclical in its nature, and that’s for a lot of reasons, whether they are story reasons, copyright reasons, or fan reasons. But death doesn’t exist the same way it does in our world, and thank God for that. I wish death existed in our world as it does in comics.”

Geoff Johns

I: Into a Paper Universe

We need heroes. Since the dawn of language, we have been educated by cautionary tales and have founded cultures based on word-of-mouth legend. We have sought to identify with our better selves, projecting onto idealised protagonists of our own design, and extracting natural lessons from their artificial adventures. As we begin to question what is true, we continue looking for sagas in everything. We think of ourselves as the main character in the biopic of our life played by ourselves, and each day an episode in the volume of existence. Time being a relative concept, we use artificial structures to reflect in 20/20 hindsight on the story arcs of our past. It is because of the intensity of consciousness that we wish to distance ourselves from the real and measure our actions by the convoluted events of gods. Escaping from confrontation we discover how powerful the imagination is, and from immuring ourselves in fiction we once more begin to question what is true.

The superhero comic is one of the earliest examples in which we might encounter lessons in virtue and diligence, wrapped in a unique format. These characters, like the Greek and Roman gods which preceded them, provide entertaining, motivational and logically absurd tales for us to extract and compose our own moral code. Supernatural elements are analogue to our desires and fears, our aspirations and our tragedies. If drama is life with boring parts cut out, then the world of monsters and supermen is a life painted in broad strokes with impossible colours.

The comic book industry is generations old, and its most famous continuous stories have developed long, winding, eccentric paths over decades of steering away from an ultimate conclusion. Every now and then we shall be teased with a simulation of death to regenerate excitement, but in its conservative survival the comic book changes shape with the era, clinging on to its fundamental core of fantasy, and refusing to die. How many more exhibitions of immortality can there be before the identifiable aspects which entertain us and fill us with hope are lost to crappy plot holes.

II: The Martyrdom & Resurrection of Zombie EyeChild

ImageImage

III: A Truncated History of Immortal Heroes and Their Deaths

The Golden Age of comics introduced such enduring characters as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Captain America and Namor the Sub-Mariner. It was during the 30’s and 40’s that comics provided cheap and disposable entertainment to the troops, but superheroes had declined in popularity following the end of the Second World War, with the industry setting its focus on the contending romance and western genres. The Silver Age, beginning in mid-50’s revitalised interest in superheroes, with new variations on the Flash and Green Lantern being introduced. In the early 60’s Atlas (formally Timely Comics) evolved into Marvel, lead by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, today’s Marvel Universe beginning with the publication of Fantastic Four no.1 in 1961. This age saw the birth of the “two-dimensional” superhero, flawed characters of great strength weighed by relatable anxieties, such as with the unfortunate adolescent Spider-Man, the corrupting emotions of the Hulk and the X-Men, a group metaphor for the resistance of persecution. The Silver Age began under shadow of the scaremongering McCarthy era and it was during this time that “teenager” subculture grew from the products of the post-war baby boom and comics came under scrutiny for their appeal. The medium was accused of indoctrination and encouraging juvenile delinquency by the 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham, which lead to the establishment of the Comics Code Authority. Wertham feared that the anti-establishment nature of vigilantism would lead children astray to the apparent evils of communism or homosexuality.

“As our work went on we established the basic ingredients of the most numerous and widely read comics books: violence; sadism; and cruelty; the superman philosophy, an offshoot of Nietzsche’s superman… Why does our civilization give to the child not its best but its worst in, in paper, in language, in art, in ideas? What is the social meaning of these supermen, superwomen, super-lovers, superboys, supergirls, super-ducks, super-mice, super-magicians, super-safecrackers? How did Nietzsche get into the nursery?” [1]

Publishers imposed self-censorship and as a result this affected the tone of many comics, most ironically, the campy re-imagination of Batman. The rise of “underground comix” occurred within the Silver Age, as a reaction to new censorship and distribution laws. Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb emerged as a prominent figures of the alternative comics movement for their raw, subversive work. The Amazing Spider-Man‘s 1793 The Night Gwen Stacy Died story was a pivotal moment in comics, often attributed with ending the Silver Age and ushering in a Bronze Age of stories, featuring darker plots of social relevance more akin to those of the Golden Age before the introduction of the CCA. A revision of the code in 1971 relaxed some of its rules, allowing the growth of horror-oriented titles such as Swamp-Thing and Blade. This shift continued into the present with what is currently known as the Modern or “Dark” age of Comics, beginning with Watchmen in 1986 which initiated a trend in more adult-themed graphic novels. This was mirrored in established series with The Killing Joke by Alan Moore, The Dark Knight Returns and Year One by Frank Miller restoring the more macabre themes of Batman. This Dark Age often sets an emphasis on realism within unreal universes, The Long Halloween by Jeph Leob depicted the rise of the super-villain concept as the result of the fall of the mafia empires. The Modern Age also sees a rise in independent comics, perhaps most signified by the foundation of Image Comics in 1992 by a collective of disillusioned Marvel artists such as Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld who yearned to tell creator-owned stories. Epic and Dark Horse Comics were instrumental in the introdtion of Japanese manga to the West in the late 80’s when translations of works such as Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira became available, increasing the international market and influence of manga and anime. Comics are currently enjoying high exposure due to the trend of Hollywood blockbusters adaptations, notably due to the success of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogies. After a buy-out by Disney, Marvel is producing a “cinematic universe” for Joss Whedon’s Avengers and its member’s respective films, further boosting comic book public popularity in the modern age.

So the ubermensch concept has spanned many generations and, but just why exactly did it catch on and persist for over 70 years? Superman has the major honour of being the first superhero. Although created in a time before camp irony and literal pathos, the character stands as a perfect example of the importance of modern super-heroic mythology. His first appearance in 1938’s Action Comics no.1 marked the genesis of the industry, showing a mysterious caped man in full colour exhibiting amazing superior strength, unlike anything seen before. Superman was a depression-era hero, a period in which many lost their jobs due to the rise of machinery during the Industrial Revolution. The cover depicted the Man of Tomorrow lifting a car which symbolised humanity overcoming the machines, cementing a new concept of personal aspiration in the younger generation.Within the Atomic age Superman remained a beacon to readers, laughing in the face of nuclear annihilation, allowing us to laugh with him. The character and those he inspired became figureheads of diligence, virtue and self- improvement. DC and Vertigo writer Grant Morrison claims that Superman reinvents himself with the times, to personify what is good in society:

“Actually, it’s as if [Superman is] more real than we are. We writers come and go, generations of artists leave their interpretations, and yet something persists, something that is always Superman.”

[2]

Superman is an embodiment of truth, justice and the “American Way” but does so as perhaps the most famous immigrant. Mark Millar is another big name Scottish writer who is applauded, like Morrison, for his modernisations of fictional franchises, and writing heroes close to their political origins. Millar explores Kal-El’s cultural identity in the Elseworlds story Red Son, in which the infant of steel’s escape pod lands in a Ukrainian collective farm as opposed to Kansas and is raised as a Russian “Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.”[3]

Remaining in print and other media, Clark Kent was long ago assured as a cultural icon. However, through the peaks and troughs of sales over the changing ages of comic books, Superman’s popularity in and outside of comics wained as comparative infallibility amongst his successors eclipsed his characterisation. There is an increasing disillusionment with the concept of Superman, for being an unerring “saviour” representative of humanity’s further dependence on forces from above. There are certain totalitarian themes to this kind of unelected representative, when anonymous do-gooding becomes messiah-configuration, and this line is inspected in series such as Kingdom Come and Miracle/Marvelman. I will discuss the further political implications of the superhuman later, but initially I would like to speak of the comic book phenomenon to which my scruffy piece relates to: the comic book death.

The comic book medium allows the limits of speculation and fantasy to be pushed as far as panels can bind them. Although surviving as an icon and having had his powers and origins revised by numerous writers, Superman was thought to be just too infallible. It was decided that to resuscitate his relevance, the Last Son of Krypton had to be killed. The 1993 Death of Superman was an important storyline in the infancy of the Dark Age, a time when heroes were becoming more tragic and subjected to all manor of torture, with DC deciding to go one further.

The Death of Superman competed in sales with the infamous Spider-Man Clone Saga, which instead of exploiting the mortality of one of the most beloved heroes, the story birthed several Peter Parker clones, disputing who was the original. The series resulted in a sprawling and complicated storyline which required Norman Osborn to be brought back to life in order to tie up the ending. Batman: Knightfall was also published at this time of highlighted weakness, with Batman’s back being broken by Bane and having to seek an unreliable replacement crimefighter during his recuperation. So after a long story/punching exchange featuring the nigh-immortal Doomsday followed by four rival Superclones, Clark Kent was eventually brought back to save the day, revealing that his Kryptonian “healing coma” presents all the symptoms of death with additional deus ex machina. So effectively, one of the best-selling comics of all time, with the purpose of exposing a vulnerable aspect of the character (and martyring him) immediately undid this relatability by clarifying his immortality. The importance of this lies not in story of the DC writing team but in its influence. As writer Max Landis said, “the Death of Superman didn’t kill Superman, it killed death”[4]. The suspension of disbelief regarding death was gone, and martyrdom and mortality had now become a plot device for temporarily suspending the status quo. Countless characters have fleetingly fallen and been readily revived since with a broad spectrum of silly methods.

“In mutant heaven there are no pearly gates, but instead revolving doors” – Prof. Charles Xavier [5]

Now in the fantastical realm of speculative fiction, the pursuit of the perhaps, it’s given that you carry with you a willing ignorance of how the world works. Bullets bouncing off his chest? Ring- swinging Space Police? Army men in glaciers? Nazi cats? IMPOSSIBLE! What is this sensationalist hogwash? Certainly a trouble with realism in fantasy is that certain science-fictional futures are incorrectly assumed to be an intended depiction of our future. We certainly aren’t endowed with the robot slaves proposed in the Atomic Age, but for the premise of fantasy realism, why not imagine we were, and why this would be bad?

As far out as the medium allows the imagination to be stretched, your excitement hinges on the very real human perils and consequences of heightened situations. When you care about a character, you care about their fate and even with hover bikes, cosmic cubes, ancient krakens and ray guns, when explicitly portrayed, death is death. With this one rule gone, anything goes.

The aphorism of comic book death was that “No one stays dead except Bucky, Jason Todd and Uncle Ben”. Yet following the Death of Superman, the portal to the pulp afterlife opened wider still. Bucky Barnes (written over in 1968 because Stan Lee hated sidekicks) was brought back in 2005 as the Winter Soldier and then temporarily replaced Captain America when he apparently died (faked assassination, body possession), apparently dying again himself, after Cap was brought back, operating as the Winter Soldier while being believed dead (again). Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America was written by Jeph Leob shortly after the death of his own son, and the structure takes the form of the five stages of grief. Jason Todd, was an unpopular replacement, and so the second Robin was subjected to a publicity stunt in which the readers could vote as to whether he lived or died. He wasn’t much cared for at the time and so 1988’s A Death In The Family brought Batman’s ongoing series to a violent and miserable ground. (Although the tone of the story was somewhat warped by Batman’s inability to seek vengeance, as the Joker had been granted diplomatic immunity as the ambassador for Iran.) Todd was brought back in 2004 as the revenge-addled Red Hood, fighting to claim the title of Batman after Bruce Wayne’s apparent death (actually sent back in time by Darkseid) with Dick Grayson (first Robin, later Nightwing) protecting the mantle with Wayne’s son Damian becoming the fourth Robin. Lineage and duality are prominent themes in superhero comics, with an established identity being taken up by others along half-decade-long floating timelines, and these identities consuming the person beneath. Bruce Wayne’s billionaire playboy role is one of such facades.

The absurd explanations for resurrection or “apparent death” in comic books ranges from typical clone decoy/robot double placement scheme to traditional off-page disappearance, leaving open returns. Some of the more creative fake deaths include Aunt May’s genetically-altered-actress-imposter, Prof. Xavier’s time-travel kidnapping, and Batman’s experience of both in Final Crisis, ditching a clone corpse to hop through puritan, pirate and cowboy periods, as you do.

Death is frequently the impetus for super-heroics. Spider-Man’s initial appearance in Amazing Fantasy no. 15 could stand alone as a horror story. It doesn’t end on a heroic new horizon, it ends with a young man, alone and crying, learning the cruel nature of fate and accountability. The death of Uncle Ben is essential to Peter Parker’s motto: with great power, comes great responsibility. Not suggesting that Ben Parker’s hypothetical un-killing would grant Spider-Man greater recklessness, Ben’s death must be so as he isn’t so much a defined character as an essence of motivational tragedy. Regardless, Uncle Ben has made appearances in flashbacks and alternate-realities, as per the power of comics.

Such a formula of is a hallmark of revenge-tragedies, but in histrionic comics the device can appear clearly systematic. Birds of Prey writer Gail Simone coined the phrase “women in refrigerators” referring to a list of gruesome murders or injuries of female characters, used as a motivational personal tragedy.

“Not every woman in comics has been killed, raped, depowered, crippled, turned evil, maimed, tortured, contracted a disease or had other life-derailing tragedies befall her, but… it’s hard to think up exceptions” [6]

Simone argues that this plot device is used disproportionally on women, such as with the paraplegia of Batgirl Barbara Gordon or the murder of Green Lantern’s girlfriend and her disposal in a refrigerator. The issue is one of several addressing misogyny in fiction, in addition the the idealised physiques of characters such as Power Girl and Starfire who coming under much criticism for their revealing costumes. Many comic books are exceedingly guilty of wish fulfilment, such is the nature fantasy. It can be said that super-heroism is male power fantasy and idealism is granted through drawing ability, but comic books are by no means masculine-exclusive (my girlfriend somehow, not only tolerates, but enjoys my supernerd rambles). The stereotype of the comic book fan is an overweight, neckbeardy basement-dweller that avoids typically masculine behaviour such as team sports and talking to girls, but stereotypes are, by their nature, inaccurate. Any footage of convention gatherings portray an even split, such a substantial world holds something for any age or gender. I could include a section on the psychoanalysis of comics, but I would probably cease to enjoy them quite so much.

The comic book death has its origins long before this particular visual narrative. Sherlock Holmes and Jesus Christ are perhaps the most famous examples of fictional non-permanent death. In order to focus on his historical novels, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote The Final Problem to kill off his popular character Sherlock Holmes in an slightly uncharacteristic scuffle with his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty atop the Reichenbach Falls. Watson’s third-person narrative of strange circumstances created a mysterious safety net for the possibility of his revival, should Conan Doyle yield to public outcry and cash in on his legacy. There are other theories regarding Sherlock’s “great hiatus”, 1891-94 was the time period in which Conan Doyle was weaned from his cocaine addiction by the questionable influence of Sigmund Freud.

For as long as supernatural heroics have captured imaginations, we perversely delight in seeing our protagonists suffer. We like to see the hero overcome adversity, be beaten within an inch of their life, only to save the world in that enviable last minute twist. Dragonball Z is a manga that virtually exploits the near-death state, suspending young warriors in a permanent state of bludgeoned-yet- hopeful. This afterlife is refreshingly viewed as a strawberry-skied realm of bureaucracy. Once in Hades, returning back to life is no more complicated than twelve Herculean tasks, performed by Goku whose origins and powers rivalling Superman have earned him two and a half resurrections under his belt. The plot device is more often used in ongoing sagas, such as serialised books or soap operas, as opposed to stand alone works. The nature of many comics is that they are ongoing indefinitely, with the exception of reboots, retcons and writer/artist shakeup. Batman, for example has been consistently popular since 1939 with a mythos (and several comic book deaths) deeply woven into the different mediums of popular culture. Last year, DC comics relaunched its 52 continuing series, knocking back Detective Comics from no.881 to no.1. Superman is enjoying another popular re- imagination, during our current economic depression, in the new Action Comics.

The relationship between writer and artist works in a variety of ways, it is interesting to view several people contributing to one character’s mythology. Grant Morrison, Frank Miller, Dennis O’Neil, Scott Snyder, Jeff Leob, Alan Moore and Paul Dini aren’t writing the same Batman as creator Bob Kane or each other, but each uses elements of others to amalgamate their own. Grant Morrison interprets Batman’s 70-year career as the backstory for one man, further contributing to his mental breakdown in Batman RIP. Morrison’s comments on adulthood and realism in comics illustrate the narrative advantages of the medium:

“Adults…struggle desperately with fiction, demanding constantly that it conform to the rules of everyday life. Adults foolishly demand to know how Superman can possibly fly, or how Batman can possibly run a multibillion-dollar business empire during the day and fight crime at night, when the answer is obvious even to the smallest child: because it’s not real.” [7]

I have favourite artists and writers, but greater respect for people such as Mike Mignola, Art Speigleman, Joe Simon, Robert Crumb, Luke Pearson, Daniel Clowes, Katsuhiro Otomo and the many others who manage both. Ultimate Spider-Man, the version of the character I followed most closely, has the honour of being the longest running series by a single writer/artist duo, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, at a continuous streak of 111 issues, surpassing the original record holders of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on the Fantastic Four [8].

To anyone who hasn’t grown up with comics, to penetrate the surface of these half-century old continuities is daunting, but that experience is intrinsic to the wonder of these worlds. What you don’t understand is left to your imagination, or else you thirst for more. That first comic you read is so chaotic, you’re plunged in, you might not know a character’s name, abilities, or motive but something about them will click with you and you want to know more. The Ultimate Marvel Universe, with Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar as the primary architects, was launched in 2000 to refresh the company’s legends and make them accessible for my generation, with Ultimate Spider-Man as the starting point, we experience the slow growing complexity of the universe through the eyes of Peter Parker. It was then followed by Ultimate X-Men, the Ultimates and Ultimate Fantastic Four, establishing a younger, modernised, more grounded and often darker take on the mythos. Roughly a decade after the launch began, the imprint began to mirror more closely its historic parent.

In 2008 the crossover event Ultimatum, written by Jeph Leob during his destructive period, was universally panned for its gratuitous violence and shock-value selling point, its obtuse shift in tone and for killing off 32 established characters, including most of the X-Men. Such uncharacteristic culling included some heroes like Beast which had only just been brought back into the fray for a purpose that would be scrapped. After a short period of regrouping stories, this world was rebooted yet again after the somewhat unexpected and generic Ultimate Comics: Death of Spider-Man in 2011, which saw the reunion of Bagley with Bendis. The Ultimate universe had progressed so much that the world we are initially introduced to by Peter had been severed from its origins. Spider-Man was killed off after 11 years of character development.

In the wake of Ultimatum and Death of Spider-Man, much effort has been made to deviate further from the main continuity world It seems retrospectively, these stories spearheaded a new direction that offered new perspectives in a familiar background, the reinterpretation of Reed Richards as a villain and Peter Parker’s young biracial replacement have received much praise after initial uneasy adjustment period. A conservative aspect of comics is the occasional fear of change, or the disillusionment of it, knowing that it will usually be only temporary. The seemingly permanent deaths of Ultimate Marvel, although poorly executed, seems to have been hugely successful in reintroducing originality once the initial hysteria faded, and thus is a good application of death in comics. The longevity of mainstream comic story lines can be attributed to a maintenance of their equilibrium and a general lack of consequence. In the early days, Marvel comics had continuity and DC did not. During the Silver and Bronze ages, DC learned that anxieties and investment takes place with decompressed sagas.

A positive aspect of the undoing of death becoming commonplace is that whilst shedding the ‘ultimate consequence’, also gone is the religious worship of these icons. If you think of queues of muggles awaiting a Harry Potter release, you see the public face of fandom. The phrase “cult status” exits because of fanatical devotion to story and its ideas. Popular franchises have their iconography and central figure, but unlike Marvel, KFC don’t make a fortune from temporarily icing the Colonel (they obviously do that from liquifying birds). You can certainly say that people forgot about Jeeves of Ask.com pretty quickly. I had to check to see whether he came back or not, or whether the website was even still existent. Characters usually need to be popular to warrant a resurrection. This constant wave of martyring popular heroes dilutes the meaning death in fiction, when there is remote possibility of revival in a world with disbelief conveniently concealed behind visual punctuation. And so each time, less like the crucifixion is the death of a hero. After all, it’s just entertainment, not the end of the world.

IV: The Power of the Medium I Seek to Imitate Poorly

The subject of my piece, The Martyrdom & Resurrection of Zombie Eyechild, concerns this phenomenon of comic book death. It’s not exactly a parody, as any humour can only be derived from a lack of quality, and it isn’t a satire in any aspect other than noting the existence of the concept. It uses heroics and death as a basic narrative pattern to tell a simple story, it is from the imagery and layout that I imagine any interpretive enjoyment can be gained. Hopefully it is familiar details that chime with people.

Although an avid fan, I certainly didn’t want to make a superhero comic, most modern-made spandex wearers are born within the ongoing Marvel and DC universes, giving them familiar surroundings and histories to flaunt around in, independent modern heros are often created in the vein of Hellboy or John Constantine, being either completely out-of-our world, or very much a gritty face of it. I went for the former route, wanting this short story to be apolitical, morally ambiguous and supernaturally unfamiliar. I tried to administer certain tropes utilised by cape comics, but maintain the crude hand-made aesthetic of my usual work patterned after printed zines and artist books. I wanted to include very thinly-veiled religious allusions, in reference to both the perception of resurrection and as comment on the fandom and iconography of corporate comic book characters.

My previous attempt at a sequential narrative was a short comic entitled Dorian [9]which served as a vehicle for experimenting with a consistent drawing style and learning to cast shadow the way that Mike Mignola and Frank Miller do in Hellboy and Sin City, respectively. Like …Zombie Eyechild, Dorian was wordless, however the climax of the story centred on one empty speech bubble. The general concept was taken from a short story I started writing about the bereavement of a nameless man driving him to project his conscience onto his pet cat, Dorian, who then convinces the man to commit unintentionally gruesome murders. I never bothered to finish the story, but when adapting it into comic form I ended up leaving the only line of dialogue, the first thing spoken by the cat, blank for a number of reasons. The gradual de-compressive story followed the man home, gaining suspense, and rather than break that with some ham-fisted wording which might undermine the short build-up, I left it so that the reveal was merely the cat’s speech capability. I found that the speculation towards the vacant bubble was more engaging with people than anything I could have written, and it was a case where lettering would have detracted from the preceding imagery. Even though bound into a small book, with a front and back cover, the unfinished aspect of the story created a cliffhanger scenario. This was partly to provoke the imagination but also a degree of my own laziness. In this case, I neglected words for their redundancy in the story, in which the humanity and verbal skills of each character are ambiguous and it is through frames of action that any sequence is formed. The cartoon Samurai Jack, a stunning mix of animated choreography, cinematic illustration and comic-like action sequences, uses minimal dialogue and instead opts for subtle body language as its most frequent form of narrative.

After spending a long time boiling down imagery to their bare bones, my drawings became increasingly minimal with no tone or shades of grey, standing as objective and open as ink on paper. Fixated with line drawings, I stripped a subject of its relativity and laid it naked to speculation. Honestly, the varied interpretation I get from my drawings is an added bonus, and the way that I draw is more down to comfort zones caused by practicing consistent components, before contextualising them in more explicit narratives. Only recently have I began again to build up using collage and colour to consider composition and generate an environment for my floating figures.

…Zombie Eyechild combines both drawing and collage because I wanted the drawings to stand out in the way that my usual contextless work does, but while integrating them with dynamic backdrops reminiscent of comic scenery, the changing environment becomes part of the narrative as well but does not infringe upon it. I scanned, printed and rescanned to move it more towards the pulp-print quality of zines or ragged singles. Because my story is very abbreviated, I wanted it to feel rather flat. I have been told that my drawings often appear violent, which is strange to me as I try to make them as suspended still frames, yet my interest in distorted figurative work (something that comic artists such as Rob Liefeld employ to a tasteless extreme [10]) may subject it to motion in the eyes of others.

I suppose I can explain my perception of comic book narrative by comparing it with another medium. Often when a graphic novel (particularly one with capes) is adapted into film, it acquires Hollywood grammar and becomes a colourful action movie, which is experienced in a totally different way to the source material. You are a passive viewer, bombarded with sounds and lights, completely binary to the method of reading, in which the active eye can decide the tone and pacing. Because of this comics can be read in an almost deadpan manner, sometimes employing a self- parodying mise en scène. Words and images intwine and narratives become self-aware, particularly in older books in which the writer speaks to the viewer. Most early Marvel books can be read in Stan Lee’s distinctive voice as though guiding you through Jack Kirby’s colourful conflicts. You can read a character’s innermost thoughts and fully comprehend their situation. I have great admiration for comics in their position as a midpoint between prose and film, the spectacle is presented to you yet a lot is still left to the imagination. An image has an immediate, visceral effect on you brain and you carry it with you as the drawing style dictates the rules of the universe and you are engaged with an object, turning the pages yourself. I am fascinated by the idea of adaptations, because by transplanting a story from one medium to another, you are forced to reshape it to suit the new storytelling language. Superhero comics rely on the tropes and layout of their books in order to convince you, when portrayed on screen by humans whose abilities and social norms you are familiar with, it is harder to suspend that disbelief. Acting and special effects have a hand in this, but it is entirely the direction that allows you to invest in this genre. Sin City is such a film where the cinematography mirrors so closely the tone and visual style of the source material that you are compelled to not question motives in this extreme world. 28 Days Later made the leap from screen to page, and The Walking Dead complied with the reverse, adding a new dynamic to both worlds.

I love the use of recurring visual motifs in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen, so during the construction of my short comic I tried to include a similar yet more simplistic pattern by including circles of some form in most panels. Zack Snyder’s film version of Watchmen, However, is an example of how such a translation between media can fail if the subject depends on its methods of delivery. Although stylistically adapted scene by scene, it is not necessarily the story of Watchmen which makes it so compelling. Moore and Gibbons intensionally used narrative devices that could only work through the power of the comic. The overlapping of the comic-within-a-comic The Black Freighter and Dr. Manhattan’s circular clairvoyance and hindsight are rooted so firmly in the narrative, that it is your selective eye which brings it together. Sequential art has had a long history to learn tricks of creating time with space in the absence of sound and motion. The film also omits the civilian characters and their interweaving lives, which removes not only the social commentary but the soul of the living city and its devastating ending. Although the film version makes Manhattan the scapegoat for avoiding nuclear war, instead of the original false alien invasion, orchestrated by the teleportation of an exploding psionic squid into the centre of New York. Simply put, you can achieve certain things in some mediums and not in others. Critic Devin Gordon says “That’s the trouble with loyalty. Too little, and you alienate your core fans. Too much, and you lose everyone – and everything – else.” [11]Moore famously refuses to watch any adaptations of his books, and donates his share of royalties to the illustrators, whilst still benefiting for sales boosts after garnered interest.

Aside from traditional comic books, a piece that has particularly inspired me is Max Ernst’s A Week of Kindness. Lying in definition somewhere between early graphic novel and artist’s book, une semaine de bonté is divided into days of the week and elements, with imagery in part inspired by the psychoanalysis of dreams, a subject commonly explored by the surrealist artists. Although a vague narrative can be traced, increasing in abstraction, it can also be viewed as a disjointed series of illustration and collage that contain both dark and whimsical scenarios. I pursued monochrome for screen printing potential, minimal perception and disposable appearance.

I suspect that it is a combination of my limited attention span and my obsessive behaviour that leads me to produce books of collected pieces, as opposed to stand-alone images, yet I rarely have the patience for consecutive narratives. This is why I am particularly a fan of zines. As catalogues of images, they are simultaneously liberated from sequential ties and applied with subjective viewer narrative. Past books I have made featured images with linking themes, but no obvious storyline. Nobrow Press produce a lot of comics, zines and books of print which juxtapose dreamlike, surreal and graphic imagery to make for a beautiful and occasionally non-linear experience. Luke Pearson’s Everything We Miss is a satisfying display of visual motif and minimal colour.

Zines possess a certain balance of punk DIY incentive and artistic appeal, quite unlike the connotations of comics which are regarded as a low-culture art form. Webcomics are a modern variation on DIY comics but usually with much lower artistic merit newspaper strips and similarly range in quality, from CTRL+ALT+DEL to The Perry Fellowship Bible. Roy Lichtenstein painted enlarged single comic panels as a comment on industrial art and its public perception, being typical of Pop-artists to merge the boundaries between the public perception of “high” and “low” art. Raymond Pettibon is another example of the comic philosophy being inducted into exhibition environments. Will Eisner’s coining of the term “graphic novel” with the publishing of A Contract with God in 1978 was the beginning of the concept of comics standing beside literature, but his experience exemplifies the attitudes and division between book types of the time:

“I called the president of Bantam Books in New York, who I knew had seen my work with The Spirit. Now, this was a very busy guy who didn’t have much time to speak to you. So I called him and said, ‘There’s something I want to show you, something I think is very interesting.’ He said, ‘Yeah, well, what is it?’ A little man in my head popped up and said, ‘For Christ’s sake, stupid, don’t tell him it’s a comic. He’ll hang up on you.’ So, I said, ‘It’s a graphic novel.’ He said, ‘Wow! That sounds interesting. Come on up.’ “Well, I did bring it up and he looked at it and looked at me through his reading glasses and said, ‘This is a comic book, bring it to a smaller publisher,’ which I did. . . . At the time, I thought I had invented the term, but I discovered later that some guy thought about it a few years before I used the term.” [12]

Perhaps because of the reassessment of artistic mediums during the 60’s Pop-Art movement, comics have slowly climbed to be considered artistically valid with Art Spiegelman’s Maus being the only comic or graphic novel to have won a Pulitzer Prize [13].But in terms of publishing, it was not until the 1990’s that the trade paperback became a standard release format, and now collected works are an industry standard. Commercial series are usually gathered in volumes after each 6-issue story arc, free of advertisements and delays.

I do not see why consecutive illustration tied by compelling narrative is less deserving of artistic merit than literature or printmaking when comics have the deftness the conjoin both with radical speculative power. One cannot dismiss a medium, as with anything in the spectrum of expression, there lies both good and bad taste within it.

“Words and pictures are yin and yang. Married, they produce a progeny more interesting than either parent.” – Dr. Seuss [14]

Zombie Eyechild, however comparatively contextualised, is inevitably stripped down like most of my work, (applying to as much the narrative as the drawing) and so is broken down into quick sequences. An environment is established, we meet our eponymous protagonist, we encounter our civilians, the antagonist is revealed, the battle ensues, victory is claimed, our hero falls, he encounters a divine presence, he is resurrected and stands triumphant. It’s a basic heroic template but hopefully it leaves a lot of room for speculation and interpretation to anyone interested. After all, George Lucas may have made Star Wars, but it is the fans who brought the expanded universe to life. I’m probably no less egotistical than Lucas.

V: What This Does to Your Head

Despite the ease in which many discredit comic books as childish escapism, the collective mythology of the art form imprints social and political insight. Comics have always jumped from desk to consumer far quicker than film or television, and so they can be stationed at the forefront of events when chosen to be. Just as dissecting the alien adverts of the era can determine the intended reader demographic, the contents of comics illustrate the political climate of their times. The Atomic Age began as a shining period of progress and speculation, this was reflected in a boom of naïve science fiction romanticism. However this soon turned to cautionary tales and despair, as the disasters of nuclear power became increasingly apparent. As such dystopian fiction rose, fear and wonder being reflected in comics such as 2000AD. The Silver Age superheroes were often the result of awry scientific experiments, gamma rays, radiation and cosmic exposure all being converted into pulp jargon to create dynamic characters whilst appearing informed on current scientific advances. In modern re-imaginings of superhero origins, the geek-speak has evolved to sound more realistic and adopts modern political parallels.

In the Ultimate Marvel canon under Mark Millar, the abundance of super-powered peoples is attributed to a post-WWII genetic arms race, Captain America serves as the original template, a living Hiroshima. The X-Men have always stood as a manifestation of resilience against discrimination in all its forms, the stories themselves reference real world issues, the Days of Future Past explored mutant persecution in the manner of Nazi Germany, and the Legacy Virus represented AIDs and HIV.

As with personal experience, and like any other art form, writers frequently use their fiction as an outlet for their own ideologies. After leaving Marvel over creative differences, Steve Ditko started Mr. A as a vessel for his Randian objectivist views. Watchmen features a range of characters, each personifying a set of ethics, with Ozymandias practicing mathematical utilitarianism, Dr. Manhattan displaying divine nihilism and Rorschach (being an amalgamation of Ditko’s Mr. A and The Question) expresses an extreme form of uncompromising objectivism. Golden Age classics such as Captain America and The Invaders were blatant examples of militant propaganda, and were never denied as such, but the political implications of the Modern Age are of a more subtle breed.

Super-heroes are an American body of myths. 90% of Marvel heroes appear to live and work in New York, where the Jack Kirbies and Jerry Robinsons of past and present stare out at the skyline from above their drawing boards and imagine all the different ways to fly. An exercise in how abstracted the American Dream can be painted. The in-comic consequence of this localisation is that when these characters are portrayed in a shared universe, America (or more specifically Manhattan) becomes a superfascist, steroid-fueled police state with a surplus of supernatural disaster and exhibitionist personality disorders. Though this may interpreted as a romanticisation of New York’s diverse culture and its conception of itself as capitol city of the world.

Conflict makes a captivating story, and stories are streamlined realities. Every grown-up should know that the lines between good and evil are obscured by fields of fog. But in depicting a story with escalating stakes and numbers, good vs. evil multiplies to become a war of Might is Right. An intended tale of doing good in extraordinary circumstances can run dangerously into Social Darwinism. The combined force of superheroes could eradicate hunger and poverty, but of course world peace would make for a tedious comic. So demigods usually spend their glory years fighting demidemons in a constant stalemate, preventing horrific schemes instead of devising their own virtuous ones. The inevitable result of any super-success would be a totalitarian world in which the mortal species without special genes or wealth would become a unified underclass, cast into shadow beneath collateral damaging messiahs. I find that some of the characters with the greatest magnetism in the super-earth are the humans which tolerate it, the Alfreds, the Aunt Mays and the Newsstand vendors who provide grounded commentary from within their extraordinary world. Like Greek myths which document the mortal warriors dying for glory in the shadow of their deities, the series Gotham General recounts episodes of the GCPD’s battle against crime in lieu of the Caped Crusader, which grants them needed independent competence.

The absurdity of hero-worship is frequently a theme in alternative or independent comics, such as Alan Moore & Neil Gaiman’s Miracle/Marvelman (the title of which is a separate odyssey in corporate trademark battles – the word “marvel” is a legal landmine.) explores the crumble of a ‘utopian’ society under super-fascism. It is rated by Time magazine as one of the greatest pieces of visual literature of all time, yet due to its various ownership claims, has been out of print for so long that it is also a rare collector’s item.

Journalist Rick Moody argues that super-heroes are the front for making inherently conservative action films marketable to children, strengthening Hollywood’s “cryptofascist” grip on consumer spectacles:

“The kind of comic-book-oriented cinema that has afflicted Hollywood for 10 years now, since Spider-Man, has degraded the cinematic art, and has varnished over what was once a humanist form. …our allegedly democratic political system, which increases inequality and decreases class mobility, which is mostly interested in keeping the disenfranchised where they are, requires a mindless, propagandistic (or “cryptofascist”) storytelling medium to distract its citizenry.[15]

Ang Lee, director the lacklustre 2003 Hulk film said ”Kids don’t even read comic books anymore, they’ve got more important things to do — like video games.” [16]One might assume that this surge in popularity of these kind of stories in different mediums would detract from the first force, but it avid fanboys like myself hold a clear distinction between the original home of modern myths and their commercial substitutes. Games are, like comics, overlooked candidates for artistic merit and instead often accused of encouraging aggressive behaviour. and as another potential narrative realm, has become the most modern choice of escapism. Everything fun is bad for us, in modern culture you have to acknowledge that throughout your day, you will be exposed to various brainwashing nuggets, but if you let it effect your sleep, the sentinels have already won.

At the end of the day, they’re just comics, made-up stories, disposable gratifying fantasy. You can make up anything you want. None of it matters, none of this is real. But something about these concepts and characters has lived on timelessly, constantly being brought back to life. They refuse to die. Why should they stay dead? Conan, Batman, Odysseus, Moses, Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes were here long before (most of) us and will continue to live on in the minds of us all. Comic books are a most enthralling method of telling a ridiculous story. There will always be supermen for as long as we wish to better ourselves.

Hopefully writing this will evict circling nerdy obsessions from my skull and prompt me talk about something else for once. But I doubt I will ever discard my view that the peak of mental evolution is to speculate and fantasise, to stand on time’s arrow and imagine the most unlikely thing to happen next.ImageImage

1. Superman’s first appearance in DC’s Action Comics no.1 (1938) by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

2. The Night Gwen Stacy Died in Marvel’s The Amazing Spider-Man no.122 (1971) by Gerry Conway and John Romita.

3. Days of Future Past in Marvel’s The Uncanny X-Men no.141 (1981) by Chris Claremont and John Byre.

4. The Death of Superman in DC’s Superman vol.2/no.75 (1993) by a long list of writers and artists, notably Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens and many more.

5. A Death in the Family in DC’s Batman no.428 (1988) by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo.

6. The Death of Spider-Man in Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man no.160 (2011) by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley.

7. Dark Phoenix Saga in Marvel’s The Uncanny X-Men no.136 (1980) by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.

8. Some of many X-Men killed in Ultimatum, shown in Marvel’s Ultimatum: X-Men Requiem no.1 (2009) by Aron E. Coleite, Ben Oliver and Edgar Delgado.

9. Captain America’s first appearance, fighting Hitler in Timely’s Captain America Comics no.1 (1941) by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

10. The apparent death of Batman in DC’s Final Crisis no.6 (2009) by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Doug Mahnike, Christian Alamy and many others.

11. Dream Sequence from chapter VII of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen (1986) through DC/Titan Books.

12. Scene from Dark Horse’s Hellboy vol.1: Seed of Destruction (1993) by Mike Mignola and John Byrne.

13. Comparison between scenes from Dark Horse’s Sin City vol.4: That Yellow Bastard (1996) by Frank Miller and Troublemaker Studio’s Sin City (2005) by Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and others.

14. Cover of Image Comic’s Supreme no.0? (1993?) by Rob Liefeld. Just Terrible. 15. Scene from Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1972-1991) Apex Novelties, RAW magazine, Pantheon

Books. 16. Poster cover for Everything We Miss by Luke Pearson (2011) published with Nobrow Press. 17. Scenes from une semaine de bonté (A Week of Kindness) by Max Ernst and Paul Éluard

(1934) 18. Drowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein (1963) from the Museum of Modern Art, New York. 19. Joke from Marvel’s What If? no.34 (1982) remarking on super-hero trademark disputes. 20. Scottish comic book writers Mark Millar and Grant Morrison at a party.

VII: Bibliography & References

1. Seduction of the Innocent: the influence of comic books on today’s youth (Chapter 1: Such Trivia as Comic Books) by Fredric Wertham, MD (1954) – out of print.

2. Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero by Grant Morrison (2011) – Jonathan Cape http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supergods-Our-World-Age-Superhero/dp/022408996X/ref=sr_1_1? ie=UTF8&qid=1331749536&sr=8-1

3. Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar (2003) – DC

http://www.comics.org/series/11868/

4. The Death and Return of Superman parody/documentry film by Max Landis

5. Marvel X-Factor Vol.1/no.70 (1991)

6. Women in Refrigerators – site by Gail Simone

http://www.unheardtaunts.com/wir/

7. Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero by Grant Morrison (2011) – Jonathan Cape http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supergods-Our-World-Age-Superhero/dp/022408996X/ref=sr_1_1? ie=UTF8&qid=1331749536&sr=8-1

8. Mark Bagley’s return to Marvel on ComicsAlliance (2010)

http://www.comicsalliance.com/2010/12/17/mark-bagley-returns-to-marvel-and-ultimate-spider-man/

9. Dorian by Theo Cleary (2011)

http://whimsybox.tumblr.com/post/3335820886/miscellaneous-comics-1-dorian-wordless

10. Top 10 worst/best Rob Liefeld Covers on Ranker (2011)

http://www.ranker.com/list/top-10-worst-_best-_-rob-liefeld-covers/analise.dubner?page=2

11. Devin Gordon of Rotten Tomatoes on Watchmen (2009)

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/devin-gordon/

12. Will Eisner speaking at the Will Eisner Symposium (2002)

http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v1_1/eisner/

13. Pulitzer Prizes – special awards (1930-present)

http://www.pulitzer.org/bycat/Special-Awards-and-Citations

14. Dr. Seuss Quotes at GoodReads

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/40106

15. Frank Miller and the Rise of Cryptofascist Hollywood by Rick Moody, The Guardian (2011)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/nov/24/frank-miller-hollywood-fascism

16. Ang Lee in the New York Times (2003)

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/22/movies/film-ang-lee-on-comic-books-and-hulk-as-hidden- dragon.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

VIII: Endroduction

The frustrating enthusiasm for this piece stemmed from my reaction to another almost antonymic art form. We were asked to consider the narrative properties of Anna Barriball’s current exhibition at the Fruitmarket gallery, I felt that you had to stretch the imagination pretty far in order to extract any sort of captivating story from Barriball’s work. I found it irritatingly minimal, not minimal in the way that I lazily attempt to draw something interesting with very few lines, but minimal in the way that a lot of time had been spent creating something so underwhelming. The exhibition consisted of large, dark pencil rubbings of doors and window shutters. Large, battered obelisks of wilting geometric monochrome and near-toneless tracings framed behind reflective glass, presenting my tiresome mug back at me. It was by no means the worst exhibit I had visited at the Fruitmarket gallery, but the more time I was given to contemplate, the more frustrated I grew. The story didn’t lie in any interesting characters, objects or scenery, the narrative was merely the creation of the work itself. Bariball had spent months and innumerable pencils (which I would have rather seen) documenting the time it had taken to document the time taken to colour in a shutter.

I got morbid vibes, not just because I thought a window-print was at first a tombstone, but the act of copying texture relentlessly reminded me of solemn monks, devoted their life to bible replication and endless calligraphy, but without even a beautiful tome or wacky stories about angry bearded clouds to show for it. I usually like morbid art, if it’s a mischievous shrine of foetus skeletons or something, this however was the physical representation of being bored to death. The inspiration behind one piece was to enlarge the pattern on the most insignificant ceiling tile, to be hand- illustrated for the attention of the masses. Except she had a team of interns helping in shifts, which kind of undermined the whole concept of her work. She succeeded at nothing more than making something tedious inconceivably more so and draining a lot of time and graphite. There was one piece I liked, a projection of a fireplace in an small room, with a sheet sucking in and out of the chimney. This was noticeably different to the rest for its intimate presentation and humanlike respiratory characteristic, however this was apparently achieved by accidentally slamming an unseen door.

I had to write about this exhibition previously for an internship application, so I had more time than desired to debate Ana’s insight. My delayed entrance due to an evening of endless vomiting may have saved me from a potentially worse fate.

Yeah, so I guess it got me rather riled up. To me, this just epitomised art wankery at its most concentrated, wasteful of both physical and imaginative energy. The theme was pretty much doing it for the sake of doing it. Why is it that this sort of conceptual insubstantiality is revered in exhibition conditions for appearing as little, attempting to say lot? What about eventful art that has a lot to say? I could identify with the obsessive nature of the exhibition, I too am set in my ways with repetitive image-making. But to my core I am an obsessive person (this essay was supposed to be 3000 words). I like things that are interesting, stuff overflowing with speculative ridiculousness. Everything that enthuses me is connected by endless invisible webs of pleasure. I realised after retreating to my creative comfort zone that the complete conceptual opposite of all this intermedia guff was my unshakable lifelong passion for comic books. The recent discovery of wildly inexpensive comics online and in charity shops have given me no reason to stop adding to my library. Comics are snobbishly regarded to be “low-culture” and, by all means, I will defend the medium itself to the death, but not its individual titles. Like film or literature, it contains an indefinite spectrum of executed ideas. That is its beauty – subjectivity and diversity like nothing else, the marriage of image and text is the unsealable portal to the absurd wallpaper of our skulls. Comics books, aside from their corporate tendrils, their subliminal propaganda, their psychosexual idealism, their merchandising plague and their niche fanboy circlejerkery… they are about perhaps the purest thing, the immeasurable imagination. These are pocket worlds inspired by our own, through the contemplation of history, anticipation of the future and channeling this into content which resonates with the timeless conflicts of the present. Colourful, gratifying, excessive, wonderful. So I made a shitty little comic. Not because I believe I have anything closely approximating the stamina or talent of a regular visual raconteur, but because I like weird stories, and it’s healthy to enjoy your brain. Obviously I’m being self-indulgent, and perhaps I was too harsh on Anna Barriball, after all it’s easier to pick fault with something when it’s on a pedestal. But, if you give yourself an opportunity to be heard at least make it interesting. We have our say, and then we die. Why not create a universe to live on after you?