Digital Ash 6/3/2013: Too Young to Be This CynicalA comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Nick Hanover, Tyler Gross, Danny Djeljosevic
Digital Ash is Comics Bulletin's roundup of non-paper comics -- webcomics, online shorts, digital-first releases. Sequential art made of ones and zeroes. Some of it you can read for free, others you gotta to buy.
Elsewhere on Comics Bulletin:
Singles Going Steady reviewed the week's latest drug-fueled floppies.
Tiny Pages Made of Ashes took a break from reviewing small-press and self-published comics this week but don't let that discourage you from reading the last one.
(Kevin Kneupper, Robert Rath; Minion)
Okay, I know I'm going to lose some "geek cred" here, but I've never read a single Harry Potter book. It just wasn't my thing. I mean, I guess I get it: magic, kids, owls, monsters, evil, that sense that you are destined for something great -- sure, I can see how it hits those big buttons we all carry around with us. It just didn't hit mine. Maybe I'm too buttoned down.
But then there is the web comic Wizard School from Kevin Kneupper and Robert Rath. Wizard School seems to have the same feelings about Potter as I do -- it just ain't their thing. Instead, Wizard School takes the tropes of Potter and puts some big old hairy balls on them. Needless to say, this web comic ain't for the kids.
The tag line that Minion Comics uses to sell Wizard School is: "Bumblebane's Magical Academy of the Wizarding Arts has a new student -- a chosen one, destined to save humanity. And he's a complete and total dick." Russell Graham is truly a dick, probably the biggest dick I've ever seen in a comic book. One of the characters describes him as "The most vile, selfish, reprehensible shit I could find." Graham is bamboozled by the bad guys, gets the three stars of "the chosen one" tattooed on his forehead, and is whisked away to the Magic Academy "to defend the infused against he imminent approach of a great evil!"
But Graham ain't the chosen one. A matter of fact, he's a foul-mouthed drunken dick who wants no part of anything that is going on, and it's hysterical. I mean real shooting liquid out of your nose laughter kind of funny. By playing with all the trappings of the Potter-verse, Kneupper and Rath are able to tickle their audiences expectations to the point where they pee themselves a little.
But let me warn you, if you are sensitive about dick jokes and curse words and sex, then Wizard School is NOT for you -- and by golly, if you got kids, please think twice about enjoying this series together. If you're not of this sort, then you have to at least give this webcomic a chance. It's helpful to know a little bit of the Harry Potter story (which, I think at this point, if you are at all cognizant of the world around you, you already do), but it's not really necessary.
While Kneupper's writing is spot on funny as hell, Rath's art is perfect for what the two of them are trying to accomplish. I know I'm not supposed to use the adjective "cartoony", but really, that's what it is. The juxtaposition between the more "kid-friendly" drawings and bright colors with what is actually going on in the panels only adds to the humor.
And, like I said, this is some pretty funny shit.
Right now the fellas are on issue 11 on the site, so there's a huge backlog of material to enjoy. I'm hoping that by pointing you in the direction of Wizard School I might get back some of that "geek cred."
- Daniel Elkin
You can can read all of Wizard School (as well as some other pretty cool comics) at Minion Comics.
(Pete Toms; Study Group)
Back in 10th grade I had a Pre-AP English teacher named Mrs. Musgrave, a wretched middle aged woman who had clearly given up on whatever drove her to education in the first place and now operated on a kind of autopilot, instructing through a daze of hopelessness and despair. We didn't exactly get along. But she inadvertently provided me with a remark that became a personal mantra of sorts: "You're too young to be so cynical."
I bring it up because that could easily be the tagline for Pete Toms' On Hiatus, a new Study Group webcomic that features an actor having a philosophical meltdown on live television. On Hiatus operates in its own kind of haze, its opening sequence unfolding through a series of cloudy neon boxes ending with the face of Harry Malloy, our celebrity guide with the post-modern life crisis. Each page experiments with representations of dialogue in unique ways -- the first two are extended monologues, the third page breaks into random bursts of screenplay speak, the fourth page is mostly texting, the fifth page is more traditional comic dialogue, and so on. It's jarring and alienating, especially when paired with that digital haze and piercing neon palette, but it's effective to the extreme, a handy communication tool that instantly places you in the drifting mindset of Malloy.
Notably, that fifth page is where we finally get clarity, and it seems to be the present timeline while the rest is some kind of memory. Malloy's internal conflict is over the perceived infinite adolescence we experience as a culture, where "we're not consumers, we're teenagers." Malloy specifically pinpoints our cultural age as 15, that time when we're dominated by "the selfishness, the nihilism, the need to rebel," where we perceive "every emotion [as] the end of the world." Fifteen, coincidentally, is the age I was at when I was told I was too young to be so cynical.
Toms doesn't stop with the dialogue, though. There's the aforementioned texting segment, where "type" is written out as the only actual sound in the scene, and the show Malloy melts down on (if it can even be called that) is literally called Naptime. Every character looks disheveled and slovenly, their posture casually antagonistic, their scenery minimalist and drab. You may not necessarily agree with Malloy's outlook, but Toms' presentation is impeccably crafted, its vertigo-like cultural side effects intentional, accomplishing something akin to Gaspar Noe directing a Noah Baumbach script. It may be too young to be so cynical, but at least it looks good while doing it.
- Nick Hanover
You can read "On Hiatus" at Study Group.
Adventures of Superman #5
(Joshua Hale Fialkov, Joëlle Jones, Nick Filardi; DC)
In the spirit of digital things and shitting on segues, I'm gonna do a bullet points thing. If you don't like the first four words of one of the bullets, just skip to the next one.
With a movie and an anniversary just around the corner, it's a great time to be talking about Superman, but that's kind of a stupid thing to say because it's always a great time to be talking about Superman.
The most immediately obvious thing about this digital comic is that it is, indeed, a digital comic. It's shorter than most comics, but it's also cheaper. If your phone is smart, you have a dollar, spare digi-bits and gaggle-bytes and extra time, you can easily grab this issue and read it quickly. I know people love their paper and sometimes think that digital comics break the medium and blah. Blah blah, Bob Loblaw's Law Blog. I don't care about those people. I truly love this format, despite its sometimes apparent inadequacies. I grabbed this issue and read it on the tram and for that, I love it.
- The nature of Superman seems to be that people love the character, but always feel there is a better version out there, a better Superman to be inspiring and creating adventures for. It's truly remarkable how many phases the character has been through over the years, from the scrappy socialist of the 1940s, to All-Star Superman's sci-fi sun-Jesus.
- I've heard it said before that characters that stay in publication, like Superman, constantly oscillate back and forth between differing versions, hovering around the most popular version. This is something that appears to be on display in Adventures of Superman.
- The problem with this type of oscillation is that often times things swing too far one way or another, reacting to previous phases.
- This makes more sense if we understand Superman's character as a sort of pendulum, but that is a boring analogy. In the spirit of Michael Bay, let's say Superman is like a slow-slicing "Pit and the Pendulum" Spanish-inquisition death machine.
- Because people seem to always be unhappy with where Superman is as a character, they're always pushing for the pendulum to swing back the other way. You can see this with John Byrne's Superman revamp. He later admitted to doing some things the wrong way and wishing to have done them differently because he understood that some of his changes were too much. You can also see this on display in Grant Morrison's recent run of Actions Comics. His idea (or perhaps, DC's idea) was to bring Superman away from the uncool boyscout image that had often plagued the character, but it's clear that at times it's been too much.
- This all brings us back to Adventures of Superman. In this issue, we could not possibly be any further from the New-52-rats-with-money-rats-with-guns-interpretation of Superman that's been parading around.
- I liked Morrison's run on Action, even if it wasn't his best work. I'm not really the type to get my thongs in a twist because the Superman I'm reading isn't the one I want. I like seeing the different versions of the character, but the pendulum of death is swinging back the other way. If Morrison's Superman was edgy, risky, youthful, and brash, the Superman we're seeing in Adventures is boring, safe, old-timey, and double-boring.
- This doesn't necessarily mean this issue is awful, but the way the character is being portrayed just isn't particularly interesting. He looks like he's from the Fleischer cartoons or that he could be your dad. This digital format, like Legend of the Dark Knight lets you use any Superman you want, right? So use an exciting version! Make up something new! Don't just dredge up old, tired versions of the character. Unfortunately, this seems to be exactly what this series is doing by defaulting to the plainest possible version.
- I love Superman as much as I love my parents, but the inherent danger here is that with each passing of the blade, a piece of the character is sliced to pieces, lost.
- But then again, maybe this is the nature of who Superman is as a character. The genetic nature of where he gets his powers makes him easily replicable, kind of like how every villain from 1990s and 2000s Marvel was just some sort of mutant, before all that House of M shit.
- I always took the ending to All-Star Superman #10 to mean that even if you try to create a world without a Superman, you can't. He'll always pop up as a fictional character, a Nazi, or a weird doomsday weapon thing from the fifth dimension because Superman is a fundamental piece of the universe; his course runs steady and true in the DC world because he is the keystone that created all of it.
- Enjoy Superman, he's bound to have a good year this year. There are all sorts of versions of him floating around, so please, pick your favorite. I know there's one for you, so read, enjoy, and imagine what it's like to fly.
You can buy Adventures of Superman #5 from ComiXology.
QUICK(ish) REVIEWS OF LONG-RUNNING WEBCOMICS
Had you asked me about Penny Arcade a year ago, I would have expressed my respect that Garth and Tyler managed to build an empire just by doing their thing, making decent jokes about video games and expanding on their interests (and managing to get a single installment of their strip optioned by Hollyood). Then came the questionable, kind of insulting Kickstarters and the cartoonist-themed reality show. Sorry Internet, I only watch reality shows about unrelatable things like dating mid-level rappers and being Welsh. Still, it's hard to begrudge their success.
But what really, really gets me is that if you go to penny-arcade.com, their strip isn't even on the front page -- you have to click on "comic" to get to what seemed to start it all. Which tells you where their real priorities lie. ZERO STARS.
- Danny Djeljosevic
Rich Stevens seems like he could pretty much produce Diesel Sweeties forever and never get bored of infinite variations on people having sex with robots, indie rock considerations that unlike Questionable Content aren't cringeworthy, and kitties doing stuff like living in robots' chest cavities. It's easy to take it for granted, but a trip back to the site quickly reminds that maybe we shouldn't. I guess what separates Rich Stevens from a Jim Davis is that it doesn't seem like a cynical act, and Stevens probably still illustrates the comic, saving his merchandising opportunities for clever T-shirts.
In the time since I last read Diesel Sweeties, Stevens introduced a character called "Animated Jeff", whose whole shtick is that he's a gif. Stevens has played with gif animation in previous installments and it's usually enhanced a strip. Besides the whole "infinite canvas" idea, gif animation is one of the things that separates webcomics from other forms of comics (even other digital ones) and could be employed to do some really amazing stuff. Here's a good example from Trip Fantastic.
So yeah, Diesel Sweeties is still good and makes me laugh.
- Danny Djeljosevic
The earliest iterations of modern webcomics operated as slightly weirder versions of their newspaper strip cousins, but in the time since the form's become fragmented and more diverse and interesting voices have emerged, and Kate Beaton's work is indicative of that.
She doesn't update as much as she used to, but Beaton quickly carved out a niche for herself in the comics world by having a really distinct style and having read books instead of playing World of Warcraft or remixing Watchmen into irrelevance. When she finally updates Hark, A Vagrant!, it's pretty goddamn killer, as evidenced by the sorta-recent "Nasty" which, after reading it, nearly made me crash my car when the Janet Jackson song came on the radio days later.
- Danny Djeljosevic
- Danny Djeljosevic