Sometimes the comic book criticism game gets me down and I end up writing something like this:
Six-Gun Gorilla #4
(Simon Spurrier; Jeff Stokely, André May; Boom!)
[What follows was inspired by a conversation overheard at my LCS]
Six-Gun Gorilla #4 is a damn dirty lie. The cover shows a shotgun slinging simian atop a great horned beast, but inside, this comic has none of those things, and yes, that includes the parasol. What a gyp! What’s worse is the ‘story.’
See, this is typical of so-called ‘indie’ comics; they pay a shit ton of cash for such-and-such (a guy who’s done stuff at Marvel or DC) to draw a cool cover — this one’s by Ramón Pérez, he’s drawn Deadpool, so, you know, legit — to literally cover over the bullshit inside.
I follow a guy on Twitter who sez Pérez drew A Tale of Sand or some jazz. Dude raves about that noise. He reads mostly indies and stuff from small-press publishers. WTF! No thanks. Make mine Marvel! Amiright? Don’t get me wrong. I’m no ‘Marvel zombie,’ or whatever, I’ve got Saga on my pull list.
Simon Spurrier writes X-Men: Legacy, a lesser X-book. Seriously, Legacy doesn’t even cross over with Battle of the Atom or Infinity. How good can it be?
Half of this comic is the monkey and the main character sitting and talking about ‘occupied’ and ‘occupiers.’ Indie guys love trying to push their lefty agendas. ”Woe to the conquered,” man. Why can’t comic books just be fun, you know?
Six Gun Gorilla is (kind of) a cool story about a dude with a camera in his eye. He’s sent to another dimension to ‘cast a meaningless war (big surprise) for a reality-TV show. It’s a suicide mission, but these guys volunteer and there’s a big payoff for their families. This one guy survives, falls in with the monkey and now they’re a team, all that’s on the recap page. Marvel does that too. It’s the shit.
You know how these bloggers say with a passion: ‘show, don’t tell?’ Well, this issue has lots of tell and not much show. Ha! There’s awesome brains-in-jar, a cool part when the gorilla blows off a guy’s head and then these monsters show up, but that’s like the art, not the story. I’m no artist. Most of the time I don’t even know or care, really, who draws the comics I read, Batman or Spider-Man just has to look cool, know what I mean? It’s called a comic book, right? That said, the gorilla is baller. I don’t mind throwing the artist, (Stokely), a fuckin’ bone, sarcasm.
I submitted this bilious bit of criticism to my good friend Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin’s weekly column of reviews: ‘Singles Going Steady.’ He rejected it. He’s a smart one is ol’ Sacks. I respect Jason a lot and I hold his opinion in the highest regard. His reasons were sound: the tenor of my review (so-called) does not fit with the purpose of the column. He wrote to me saying: ”it’s too cute and I can’t tell if you liked Six-Gun Gorilla #4 or not.” I admit I was disappointed Jason did not see the humor of the piece (satire is a slippery fish). It took me about twelve hours to understand my attempt to be bold was weak. The greatest sin of my axe grinding is that it does no favors for Mssrs. Stokely, Spurrier or May or Six-Gun Gorilla, all of which I want to champion.
(At times) critical writing can by satirical, cynical or personal; however, if it does not serve the work in question, by my reckoning, it’s not criticism, it’s a journal entry. No one is going to take what I have to say about Six-Gun Gorilla #4 seriously if I don’t — being precious or clever for the sake of being precious or clever is unsustainable and often comes off sounding dull and deranged, which sounds a lot like what I wrote.
For about a month I’ve felt pushed more and more towards the margins of the big tent that is comic books. I called into the Comics Therapy podcast with a ‘nerd confession’ about not having the genetics to enjoy on-going Marvel and DC comics, all of them. Writing about Prophet, Battling Boy and New School amidst enthusiastic tweets from friends and other reviewers/podcasters (whose opinions I respect) about crossover events and lenticular covers makes me feel like a Grandpa Simpson shaking his fist at a cloud, barely forty and I’m already a crank.
What’s worse than shaking your fist at innocent water vapor is whining about ‘why doesn’t everyone like the same stuff I like,’ which, when I hear myself say it makes me want to smack myself across my own map with a 2X4. So what? Dance like nobody’s watching, fine. Why should I care if someone who’s into comics has never read Locke & Key, never heard of Eel Mansions or are (God forbid) not familiar with Paul Pope, none o
f those things should qualify you as a war criminal. And yet …
During these dark nights of the soul, I often lean on advice I received from my first editor. She told me: ”there’s no accounting for taste.” Now, to be honest she was not referring to writing, but to my allegiance to the Boston Red Sox instead of the Atlanta Braves. See, there really is no accounting for taste. If two people don’t like the same sports team, movie or brand of peanut butter, one person’s choice does not invalidate the other — it’s all personal, all of it.
So, yes, my faux review of Six-Gun Gorilla #4 was born out of my frustration over my taste versus (what I perceived to be) every other comic book reader in the multiverses. I’m not an anti-superhero-ite or a DC or Marvel hater. I love the medium, but not the message Marvel and DC put out month-to-month. Yes, Hawkeye, I get it, ditto Daredevil, O.K. Captain Marvel, sure. As for DC, um … No matter what I read from either of publisher, I’m left wanting, again, the taste thing.
Frustration primed the pump. What came next I didn’t expect until I started writing, but in hindsight I realize has been building for months. My dis of Stokely (totally false) was bottled up nerd rage over what I perceive to be the benign neglect many reviewers show to comic book art and to cartoonists. I have zero tolerance for anyone (critic or not) who says the art is secondary to ‘reading’ a comic book or someone who believes cartooning doesn’t count as much as dialogue or narration in a comic book. This is some real Ted Kaczynski shit right here. Like it or not, but the ‘medium’ of a comic book is a marriage of words and images working in concert; the result may be for good or naught, but it’s a package deal. Also, a discussion or critique of the art shouldn’t equate to a cursory paragraph towards the end of a review, doing so feels like a cheat. There are plenty of critics/reviewers who give cartoonists, colorists and letterers a more than fleeting glance, but we can all do a better job.
Try as I might I will never understand why (it seems) so many dyed-in-the-wool comic book readers buy and enjoy comics regardless of the artist or for that matter the writer, colorist, or letterer (yeah, letterer, lettering counts!). I get how popular entertainment can be enjoyed and even praised on many levels (especially when it comes to genre, plot and character) without geeking out on the craft. That’s not me, I work a different side of the street. Hell, I’ve seen movies in the theater for the art direction alone, Jack Fisk OG4Lyfe.
Other than that, how was the play Mrs. Lincoln? Six-Gun Gorilla #4, thoughts?
It was Ramon Perez’s cover for Six-Gun Gorilla #1 that first caught my eye and made me aware of this series. Perez draws a mad monkey, Grape Ape’s grizzled (and angry) older brother with a Lee Van Cleef look on his face and foreshortened big ass six shooters. Perez’s illustration for issue #4 is my favorite so far because it acts as a perfect distillation of the series itself, call it … stylish self-awareness. Yes there’s a badass gorilla toting a complicatedly-inlaid-WMD and riding some magnificent dewback-like beast of burden, but he has the good sense to carry a parasol as well. With a name like Six-Gun Gorilla, self-deprecation should be high on the list of priorities.
Jeff Stokely’s cartooning is atomic, energy, energy, energy. At the end of issue #3 Blue and the Gorilla were ‘technically’ captured, taken underground by one of the native species. The opening of S-GG #4 is built around a conversation the two have about their current circumstances and life itself, Blue later refers to it as ”sitting around being @#$damn mysterious.” This is a fairly static sequence, but Stokely finds a way to give the images the gravitas they need given the topic at hand. Even in repose, Stokely draws the gorilla as big and hulking; the lines of his build are thick as opposed to Blue who (being human) is more spindly. Where Stokely slings the ink is in the gorilla’s face and in the folds of his clothes. He’s a cagey character — very much a man-(or gorilla)-with-no-name-type, hence the cigar — and so those spaces in between the lines are dark with mystery and with ink. Even the smoke that encircles his head like a wreath has a bit of the ol’ Kirby Krackle to it.
As the action ratchets up and the gorilla and Blue shift into full-on action hero mode, Stokely’s linework becomes ecstatic. Speed lines appear from nowhere, the gorilla bounds from one panel to the next and then the guns come out. Like a scene out of a John Woo movie, the gorilla, at the apex of his jump, drops the hammer on his gun with a resounding ”DOOM.” The poor stagecoach driver never has a chance as the reins he was holding only a moment before fly pell-mell in the foreground of the panel.
The alien world where much of Six-Gun Gorilla takes place is called ”the Blister.” It’s as dusty as any town in a Leone movie and as colorful as a Georgia O’Keefe painting. André May provides a palette of prairie fire, CRT monitor blue and purples the color of fresh bruises to give the Blister its edge. May’s colors bring out Stokely’s thick lines and crosshatchings and gives his pencils a place to channel their energy. Stokely’s good, May makes him better. I look forward to seeing what each artist does next.
Six-Gun Gorilla is a subversive comic and that makes it a kick. Simon Spurrier has taken a public domain character (and a ridiculous one at that) and poured new wine from an old jar. The world building is never done at the expense of getting to know the characters. Blue and the Gorilla’s tête-à-tête provides depth to the story and opens up a larger discussion about the plights of both the occupied and the occupier and war as entertainment. Spurrier isn’t the first bloke to hit on this idea and, I’ll bet dollars to donuts, not the last. Where Spurrier separates himself from the competition is he knows how to keep it light even when it gets heavy. Spurrier’s not writing an exegesis on the effect of warfare on the human condition, he’s writ
ing a story about a ‘thinking person’s ‘ gorilla in a ‘thinking person’s comic. Six-Gun Gorilla is like the best 80’s action movies (think RoboCop, Die Hard), explosions with brains.
Spurrier, Stokely and May (and letterer Steve Wands) are making something that can be enjoyed at every level, something more than the sum of its parts. It’s not the story or the characters or the writer or the artist, or the colorist or the letterer … it’s the capital ‘C,’ capital ‘B’ comic book that’s on display with Six-Gun Gorilla and that’s something worth writing about (twice).
As I’ve written about before, I believe in the cosmic force of coincidence. I was asked by one of the titans of the Orbital Comics podcast, the English male model and purveyor of the Paleo diet, Taylor Lilley, if I ever write about comics I don’t like. Simple answer: no. Writing about comics is how I choose to spend my spare time, therefore why would I want to spend it hating on something?
Taylor argued a well-written takedown can make for a compelling read or listen, the English, so warlike. He’s right, a good argument (especially one that goes against popular sentiment) trumps all; however, making said argument and not coming off as pedantic, long-winded or cute makes for some tough sledding. Still, a high degree of difficulty doesn’t mean one shouldn’t wax their runners and go for it. It’s also a reminder for me it always helps to temper one’s boyish enthusiasms.
As I’ve been writing rewriting and rewriting the rewrites of this essay, I’ve come to the realization catharsis is cool — which is what Andrea and Aaron of Comics Therapy say all the time — and a good bleeding never hurt anyone. And yet, if no opinion is invalid and it’s all a matter of personal taste, wither the critic? It can’t be all ‘opinions are like Avengers comics, everybody’s got six,’ right?
Writing this essay reaffirms my need to write about the artists who draw and color (and write and letter) the comics I read and love. Writing about comic book art may not be for everyone; however, remember this advice I recently heard from a well-loved 12th century Dutch engraver, Linda Ronstadt (I think she’s Dutch): ”Art is 99% seeing and 1% drawing.” Words of wisdom.
I don’t know how long I’m going to continue to write about comics. I know this about myself. It’s like Lennon sez: ”Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” So, until such time I’m going to write about comics I enjoy. So, after all of this bloodletting, that’s my ‘no duh’ insight: life is too short to read comics that don’t blow my skirt up. But seriously, who’s still reading this? Internet Trolls? Degenerates? Elkin?
Keith Silva writes about comics he loves for Comics Bulletin. Follow: @keithpmsilva