Right. I talked about Jason Karns’ Fukitor before, one of a new breed of independent comics that wallows in the dumb sexism, violence and racism of an earlier generation of comics; a 21st century Gun Fury, if that comic had gotten loving writeups in The Comics Journal. Charles Reece took exception to what I wrote, saying that he wasn’t “the least bit symathetic, for example, to Matthew Wisse’s [sic] view on transgression”, reducing my argument to:
In another words, something is transgressive (and “daring”) only when it violates another’s expectations, not his own committed leftism. Transgression is pissing off some imagined conservative, never the leftist who wants to understand why the other hates us so.
Which really missed the point. It’s not that Karns violates my own “committed leftism”, it’s that nothing he has done is actually all that dangerous; his work is about as trangressive as a Rambo movie, only with more gore and tits. If you use racist, ooga boga stereotypes “ironically”, you better use them to dish stronger fare than “American ninjas versus terrorists”.
To be honest, a lot of people confuse the use of racism, misogyny, torture or sexual violence with transgression, but popular culture is already drenched in these, so how could it be transgressive? All Karns has done is make it more blatant and gory. That really isn’t enough to make it interesting.
And again, it isn’t brave to indulge in the same racism that you can get anywhere already, just by smearing a thin layer of irony on top of it, nor is it cool to pat yourself on the back for enjoying this sort of thing because you are sure you can enjoy ironically and all the racism isn’t real; even though Karns said it was.
First off, the word “muslim” is never implied. Second, the terrorists aren’t real. They are cartoons based loosely on the fact that there are people on this planet who will kill you because you don’t believe in their imaginary god. Again, they are CARTOONS. It’s complete fantasy.
The fact that the villians here are all brown skinned, bearded and wearing what certainly looks like stereotypical Middle Eastern clothing and come from “Ufukistan” — sheer coincidence. Also, you shouldn’t complain about these images because in the same issue Martians are also treated badly.
I mean…are YOU serious?? Are you suggesting that cartoon terrorists shouldn’t be depicted as something that’s relatively close to reality? You do realize it’s not a stretch, right? Maybe you don’t.
So it’s not real, but it is realistic. Gotcha. Jason Karns’ defence so far has hit most of the expected points: it’s only a story, it’s not real, actually, it’s taken from real life, pointing out racism is the real crime, criticism is censhorship, what about the Martians, but it doesn’t excuse the Planet of the Arabs imagery:
It’s even more insanely racist than it looks, and also it is insanely misogynistic, exploitative, misanthropic, nihilistic, antisocial, funny, engaging, shocking, dynamic, beautiful, inspiring, scary, and well-designed!
It’s the kind of comics that scared a generation into burning comics in the 50s.
These comics feel genuinely dangerous and entertaining like slasher movies and cheap, violent 80s action vehicles. I’ve never seen any other comics like these. I was happy to see comments that mentioned Crumb, Johnny Ryan, and Vigil’s Faust. This is divisive, complex work. It’s not for everyone. But it’s a reminder, like other great comics, of why I love the comics form. Images and drawings can be powerful. I think many cartoonists do not focus on that aspect of the form.
To be honest though, there was a lot of shitty comics being burned in the fifties as well. The grossout horror and real crime stories could actually be transgressive back then because comics were about the only medium not censored into pablum, largely beneath the notice of the censors, until Wertham found a way to sell more books. Karns’ work takes place in a completely different media environment, one in which anything goes and there’s nothing transgressive or radical about blood and gore, especially not when done by white dudes to brown villains.
Rugg’s comparison to “slasher movies and cheap, violent 80s action vehicles” is telling, because under the gore, violence and the occasional bare titties, these were some of the most conservative movies in the world. Slasher movies always killed off the girl who actually enjoyed sex first (but not after the topless shot, natch) for being a slutty slut who sluttily enjoys slutty sex, while eighties action movies were all about re-establishing American dominance over all the world villains, be they Russians, Cubans, East Germans, Arabs, Vietnamese, or, in Chuck Norris flick Invasion U.S.A., all of them. There’s nothing “dangerous” about imitating them, nothing of Karns I’ve seen so far that looks any more interesting than what Barry Blair did in the eighties black and white boom.
Even without the racism Karns work looks dull, a thirtysomething’s idea of what a thirteen year old would like; with the racism it just leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. It may have struck Tom Spurgeon as weird that you’d “dismiss the transgressive nature of something at the same time you’re trying to shout it down in some fashion“, but just because it annoys people it’s not transgressive, or all muzak ever would be. Nor are people necessarily trying to shout it down in the first place: criticism, even harsh out of hand dismissals, are not censorship. Karns has the right to make the comics he wants to; the rest of us have the right to think less of him for what he created.
If he really wants to shock and be radical and trangressive, why not have the same comic, but with the heroic defenders of Fukistani values defeating the evil forces of the godless west? Show some gleeful, lovingly dismemberment of US soldiers while Osama Bin Laden quips one liners? That would still be dull, but slightly more brave than just putting the boot into your country’s official enemies once again.
Tom Spurgeon links to my review of Dragonquest and expands on it:
I think he’s right, but I actually think he undersells those core trilogies, which I think are pretty great for smart kids and teens. There are a bunch of reasons, including but not limited to: McCaffrey’s prose is ideally suited for younger readers, straight-forward and no-fuss; the plots are reasonably complex without being over-challenging in terms of adult themes, the Harper Hall trilogy is where I first discovered the boarding-school fantasy that the Harry Potter books utilize to even greater effect, and the good-guy/bad-guy elements are interesting in that the biggest threat is environmental rather than all-encompassing, directed evil. I was also fascinated by the fact that the two trilogies kind of wove in and out of each other, and by the concept of a civilization that declined rather than progressed. I’m very grateful to have read those books in my tweens.
All points I’d agree with, save perhaps for the declining civilisation; that’s the case in the first book, but by the second it’s clear there’s a renaissance of sorts going on.
Now I have to confess I’d actually never read the Harper Hall books, but by sheer coincidence I picked them up yesterday, meeting my father at Amsterdam’s Waterlooplein flea market. I just finished the first book, Dragonsong today; at less than 200 pages it’s not a long read. But my goodness, this was even more of a wish fulfilment story than the first Harry Potter book is. A girl on the edge of becoming an adult is denied her talent in making music, put down by her family and Hold, runs away and discovers that not only she’s able to impress more fire lizards than everybody else who ever tried, but has her musical gift recognised by the masterharper itself.
So a couple of months ago I talked about Prophet and how much it seemed influenced by European comics. Well, Saga is another Image series that could’ve just as well been published in Metal Hurlant or A Suivre. It’s written by Brian K. Vaughan, known to me from Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, but whom I haven’t yet read anything from and drawn by Fiona Staples, who I know nothing about but who is seriously good here. Especially her facial expressions:
Saga is the story of Alana, the woman on the left and Marko, the horned dude, starcrossed lovers in a galaxy at war. Alana is from Landfall while Marko is from Wreath, its moon and these two have been at war for seemingly forever, having outsourced it to the rest of the galaxy. Alana and Marko met on Cleave, the latest planet to become a battlefield when he was a POW and she his guard, fell in love and deserted. Now they have to get off planet while taking care of their newborn baby. Hijinks ensue.
Both sides meanwhile want them dead. From Planetfall Prince Robot IV is sent to Cleave to hunt them down, while Marko’s people have hired freelancers to do the same. That’s one of them above, The Will, with his partner Lying Cat, who can tell if you’re lying to her. The other freelancer is The Stalk, below, whom The Will has history with.
The story moves slowly over the course of the six issues represented in the first trade paperback, with Marko and Alana trying to get to the Rocketship Woods on the other side of Cleave, while The Will, The Stalk and Prince Robot IV all attempt to catch up to them, one way or another.
What makes Saga more than just a pretty sci-fi adventure is the simple fact that none of the main characters are true villains or heroes. Alana and Marko just want to live in peace with their daughter, to be left alone, while Prince Robot IV just want to get things over with so he can go home to his pregnant wife. Even the two freelancers are anything but Boba Fett like bounty hunters, with The Will frex having confliced feelings about his former partner, The Stalk.
But what really makes the series is the artwork; as said Staples is seriously good at facial expressions, slightly exaggerated at key moments, but also has a good eye for character design and layout in general. In general, like Prophet, this is a series that actually makes me enthusiastic about American comics again, something that shows there are still pleasant surprises to be had.
That Rob Liefeld, back at Image and having somewhat rehabilitated himself this past decade, would attempt to restart his old nineties titles was expected. That he even would get back to Prophet wasn’t much of a suprise either, but that the new Prophet would become a cult success and a critical hit, that I never suspected. I don’t really remember the original Prophet, just another of Liefeld’s Cable clones, akk hip pouches and big guns, that got his fifteen minutes of fame thanks to Wizard hype with nothing to distinguish it from the dozens of other Liefeldian creations published back then.
The second time around Prophet has nothing of Liefeld in it anymore, with the only thing surviving from the original series being the title and John Prophet’s general appearance, sans hip pouches. Apart from that nothing connects the two series.
I don’t know the people behind the new series: Brandon Graham, the main writer and Simon Roy, Farel Dalrympie, Giannis Milonogiannis, the artists, with Brandon also lending a hand to the art for one chapter. Never heard of them before this, never read anything they’ve done, all I know is one thing. Somebody must’ve read a lot of French seventies science fiction comics.
It’s the art that you notice this first. It’s rare for artists working in American comics to be this influenced by European art rather than Japanese manga, especially in a science fiction series like this, but the names that come up to compare with are people like Enki Bilal, Philippe Druillet, Paul Gillon, J. C. Mezieres, Jean Claude Forest, and of course Moebius.The designs of the aliens, the vehicles, the flora and fauna of the far future Earth, the slightly trippy setting and matter of fact protagonist, it could’ve been a serial in mid-seventies Métal Hurlant.
The story too is very Métal Hurlant like: Prophet awakes in an underground pod, on a far future Earth unfamiliar to him, a voice in his head urging him to travel East. The country he travels through is devoid of familiar live, taken over by various aliens, bearing the scars of long ago wars. Over the course of the first three chapters it turns out Prophet’s task is to restore the Earth Empire by activating the G.O.D. satellite. His task complete, we learn that he is but one of a legion of clone brothers, as John Prophets all over the galaxy awaken and the action shifts elsewhere.
In all, I’ve no idea how these people got their seventies French sci-fi romp wedged into a nineties Image superhero title, or why, but I’m glad they did. This is a brilliant, original series like nothing else being published and while I keep harping on about how much it reminds me of something like Exterminator 17 e.g., the thing is that this is not an exercise in nostalgia, but something modern, something new, something that hasn’t really been done before. This is actually a series you may want to read as it comes out, rather than wait for the trades.
The Amsterdam Metro’s oldest trains are some thirty years old, dating back to when the underground was first opened in the late seventies. They were revamped and gotten a mid life update a couple of years ago and to give them a fresher image, the GVB got some forty artists to design a carriage. The above is my favourite, a representation of what a similar carriage would look like in Mumbai. The complete set of carriages can be seen at the GVB website