Monthly Archives: May 2011

Some Things Just Don’t Change

Brian Michael Bendis means many things to many people, but for the longest time Bendis, to me,  meant company bullshit and the error of super-hero comics. I’m not necessarily sure why. I think it was a matter of his position and the frustration I felt toward Marvel. You see, they raised prices at the time of my highest “hate,” and, well, I was one of those “3.99 protesters.” I know, I know. Something I should probably keep hidden nor does it really have anything to do with Bendis,but whatever. I was there, and I’m past it now that I actually read my comics…Anyway, Bendis…not my favorite dude in the heyday of late 2009/early 2010. His books were 3.99, his Avengers did plenty of talking, and Siege was on the horizon.

“Fuck this guy,” I thought. “My days of Ultimate Spider-man respect are gone.”

Taking Marvel Readers for the usual spin, Siege came and went, but while so, news broke.

“In July, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev examine those questions and more when “Scarlet,” their new ongoing, bi-monthly creator owned series from Marvel Comics’ Icon imprint, begins. We spoke with Bendis about the project…”
Comic Book Resources

July, Bendis back to his roots, and I gave it a shot. Boy, I’m glad I did so.

Scarlet’s still some sense of the traditional Bendis. Characters talk while stories span more than a few issues. There’s even that sense of slow down mid-arc while the last chapter inspires thoughts of, “what happens next.” Bendis writes this book through and through. No doubt about it. On a larger playing field though, this book resembles something like a rejection slip or a mighty middle finger aimed at all the nay sayers and labels. Yes, in some sense, this is Bendis’ Recovery. Here’s the album where the artist, while not totally reinvented, comes out and exclaims, “I’ve still got it.” That “it,” in this case, would be Bendis’ ability to bring something a little different and exciting to the comics market.  Scarlet proclaims Bendis’ right to still be in this game.

Part of the Scarlet’s statement simply comes from the creator-owned aspect. We have this odd perception in the comics scene that when a creator goes creator-owned it means some sense of “rebellion.” Kirkman, I think, is owed much thanks for this perception. The original Image guys inspired this idea nearly twenty years ago, but I think for this current era Kirkman steals the show. That manifesto went a long way, and it still lingers in the air now. He, whether he wished it not, made creator-owned this quasi-bad boy act where the artist can tell the company man to fuck off and seemingly be ok.

Not saying Bendis is telling Marvel to fuck off – that would honestly make no sense -, but the bare aesthetic of a creator-owned comic encourages thoughts of breaking the mold. Scarlet being Bendis’ first major creator-owned work since Powers, the book that got attention, says something about the writer’s place as of now. After ten years of being Marvel’s go-to boy with an on-and-off creator-owned book floating in the background, Scarlet makes us all suddenly question. Is Bendis just the “Avengers guy?”

That answer would be no. Our attentions are so caught up in who this guy is today that we forget Brian Michael Bendis wrote and drew as an indie comics creator. Before Ultimate Spider-man, the world knew Bendis as Fire and Goldfish. And Bendis still talks about these books, more than a decade later. Listen to any Bendis Tapes on John Siuntres’ Word Balloon Podcast, and I bet Bendis will name drop a few of those early books. Why? I think they are still strongly attached to him. This isn’t a guy who found a Marvel gig and said, “Ok, now I start.” This is a guy who loved doing his early stuff, and he never tries to cover it up. Bendis still pushes copies of Jinx and Torso; he wants the world to know what he’s capable of. Scarlet, and really this entire wave of new creator-owned material from Bendis, is another step in that direction. A certain amount of it disproves the majority perception, but another piece of the pie is a return to form. Bendis’ core, I think, is creator-owned, and Scarlet exists as a call back to that.

But it’s not all in the book’s appearance and identity; the story itself holds meaning. This book kicks off with a female protagonist who, right out of the gate, strangles a man and tells us why. The bare action isn’t the point, though. The “how” is.

Scarlet breaks the fourth wall. The technique should clue us in. The author wants to talk. Let’s look at this line: “I’m sorry to be right in your face like this. I know you were looking for a little diversionary fun. I know you were subconsciously hoping you could just watch without any of it actually involving you” (Issue 1, Pg. 4).  Hmmm. Involving “you.” This goes back to my idea typed above. While Scarlet in the story is on a mission to instigate revolution and wants “your” help, Bendis is clearly speaking for his own cause here. The thought of looking for some “diversionary fun” without involvement so sums up a majority of comics readers and specifically the readers invested in Bendis’ Marvel work. Stuff like Avengers and the event books are so spelled out, and people read them as diversion. I mean, that kind of is the point of entertainment, but comics readers, as most on the internet should know, take the concept of thinking and multiply the aspect of pain tenfold. Remember Final Crisis? Yeah, people bitched. Why? They wanted the story’s “hows” and “whys” spelled out.

Bendis’ work kind of contributes to this. His style of storytelling, the decompression we’ve all come to love, is the norm in today’s mainstream comics. It’s become Marvel’s house style of writing, and it’s possibly conditioned readers to be, well, lazy. Decompression lets everything see time on the panel. Thought needs no part of the reading process when the writing is such because the writer can literally tell you everything.

But Bendis wants “you” involved in this one. He wants “you” to think and contribute. He, again, wants us to see him differently.

This opening houses another important aspect, though. Maybe more important than the line about contribution. It’s how it’s written. When we think of Bendis, we think of dialogue and long scenes of transacting characters. It’s the Bendis trademark. Scarlet breaking the wall reminds readers of that and reminds in a fresh way. The opening scene jolts us. It’s Bendis writing dialogue but not in a fashion we expect. Characters sit no where near a table, but rather one pissed off woman looks directly at us. Sure, she delivers a few lines of meta statement, but her plain action almost says more. She’s just talking, but she’s taking the Bendisism in a different direction.

Bendis, because of his sometimes overuse of dialogue, has lost some of his shine. Rather than it now being his gift, dialogue has almost become his curse, and it’s not something readers look forward to but rather dread. This opening feels like Bendis taking control again, though. The switch in approach makes the dialogue feel special again. The moment sounds a lot like the opening seconds on Eminem’s “Cold Wind Blows.” The exclamations of “I’m back” and “Some things just don’t change” seem appropriate in this moment. It’s Bendis doing his finest Bendis and showing that he is still the guy for dialogue. No one does it better.

The story continues as Scarlet opens up her operation and rubs the dirt further across her hands. Cops die and pressures increase, but the series unfolds in other ways. I want to point out the statement made by this comicbook, but I also feel it shouldn’t be limited to that. Scarlet has more to offer as a story. Namely, the use of a female lead. For a tale about rising up and speaking out against oppression, following a woman around seems like the only right idea. The male voice could make a point here, and maybe convey some similar feelings, but making the character female brings much more by simple nature of context. Plus, Bendis has history with the lady lead, and Scarlet makes a lot of sense in his larger body of work. Jessica Jones meet Scarlet.

But, yes. The context. This is the woman taking back her world and executing revenge on the men who made her suffer. Sounds about right. Where on the surface Bendis shapes Scarlet to represent the common, downtrodden, middle class person, Scarlet herself takes on another shape. She’s a symbol. A symbol for what we are told and a symbol for the woman as an entity. Here’s a woman who feels the need to speak and speak loud in a culture where men seem to make the rules. Plus, she’s tearing down the rules and citing them as wrong. It’s almost like this woman scorned is the release of hundreds of years of built up aggression. The denial of school, jobs, voting, and sexuality are all being voiced against right here, through Scarlet. Maybe Bendis wants that, maybe he doesn’t. I see it, though, and I think it’s impossible not to because the fiery red of Scarlet’s hair and the show of midriff only catch the eyes.

So, to wrap up, I blame this book for my resurgence of Bendis reading. While not necessarily something game changing or even solid, Scarlet shows me that Brian Bendis can still make a point and make a comic with a layer or two. I lost faith in this dude for a while, but it feels like Bendis is hitting a new creative stride. He still needs to speak and deserves to do so. He still makes interesting comics. I’m happy about that.

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One Day We’ll Win

Alt. Comics. I know little about them.

I know there’s a MOCCA arts festival, and I know the names Robert Crumb, Chris Ware, Harvey Pekar, Daniel Clowes, and Jeffrey Brown.

That’s it. And I’ve never actually read anything by any of those names. Except Clowes. I read Wilson.

I am fascinated by the scene, though. The personality, the technique, and the “art” keep grabbing at my eyes. But hero comics won’t let me go, so I hold back the full dive into alternative. One day, I figure. For now, I stay where my heart’s at.

There does exist one alternative artist I feel confident in “knowing.” His mini comics found home with me by way of a friend. They were cluttered in with an assortment of items handed off to me. For a while, they lay dormant with the rest of my ‘to read” pile, but at some point the work of J.T. Yost caught my attention. I’ve purchased all of his books since.

The end.

I’m kidding. That would suck as a blog post. So what made Yost’s work impressive? For starters, the generous amount of breasts splattered about his pages made reading quite enjoyable.

Again, kidding. I’m bad at jokes, I know. No, what made Yost impressive came down to a matter of voice. His comics utter something unique and worthwhile in terms of perspective. This may be insignificant in the world of alternative, personable comic books, but I don’t know, voice is hard to do. I’m speaking from my own experience, you know, writing these blog posts. Active voice, points, organization – that shit is cake. Sounding distinct? Whole other game. J.T. Yost, at least from my context, sounds like his own man.

His focus sticks to the everyday man and the idea of bearing witness, and his work captures that focus in a very blunt fashion. Yost has produced several mini comics and one-page stories, but his “Losers Weepers” series speaks the most about his work. The premise of Weepers is part catch, part emotion. Yost builds his story from a handful of random letters and notes he has come to possess. These letters are in no way directed at him, as most have been found on sidewalks, in parks, or on bulletin boards, but Yost looks into the words communicated and does his best to imagine the world of the person writing. From this, Yost hones in on a themes of defeat, perseverance, and stress.

Yost’s true talent resides in his ability to communicate emotion. A certain amount of it comes from the pure subject matter, but another half lies in the technique. His artwork holds an expressive style, and much of its power originates from the roundness associated with Yost’s figures and objects. While I certainly believe emotion can seep through blocky or angular line work, the roundness in Yost’s brings out a soft quality that really drives home the feeling. Everyone appears vulnerable and slightly bruised, and the backdrop, the setting, feels equally worn.  Yost can jump over to generous detail too. At times, backgrounds are completely absent, but at some point a full page splash showcases his printed world. These moments put the story into perspective, and they show you where these characters come from. They suggest an environment which is out to get you, or at least pester you.  

It’s the characters that stand out as well. As Yost uses story to walk in another’s shoes, he crafts characters to work as the men and women we see everyday. A single mom, an ex-boyfriend, and an immigrant – all archetypes in a way. Further connection comes from this element. These are figures we can easily believe in and may even know in our own lives, and Yost’s narrative gives us a little glimpse into that world. He holds little back too. It may come more from the format, but Yost gets right to the events in his story. The pacing can seem a little quick at first. Most characters seem to sometimes spontaneously act out, but after sinking into the narrative it all seems natural. As if, the rules of Yost’s story world dictate a universal bluntness. I like it. The story doesn’t waste time yet moves comfortably and gets to the point. The pacing helps shape these mini comics into short vignettes that stand out.

I don’t know. My knowledge is limited, but I dig J.T Yost’s comics. I probably own most if not all of them, and I will continue to follow his future exploits. This guy has something, and his talent as a story teller is impressive.

Now, if you’re interested, you can listen to me interview him. But. I warn you. This interview is weak. I blame me. J.T. speaks well and has much to offer, but my questions are lame and predictable. Also, as stated, I know nothing about alternative comics, and this is J.T.’s background. The interview sounds like two guys on two separate wavelengths. Listen at your own expense. Here.

You can also buy the dude’s comics. I highly recommend such action. Do it. Losers Weepers #3 is his new one.
http://birdcagebottombooks.com/

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