Gweek podcast 003: Toys in space, a supernatural Western comic book, and 250 indie games you must play
250 Indie Games You Must Play, by Mike Rose
250 Indie Games You Must Play, by Mike Rose
I've been reading Chester Brown's comic books since the early 1980s when he self published a mini comic called Yummy Fur (eventually published by Vortex Comics). He's from Montréal and is good friends with cartoonists Joe Matt and Seth.
Brown's latest work is a fascinating 280-page memoir called Paying For It: a Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John (Drawn & Quarterly). It's about his experiences being a customer of prostitutes since 1999. Brown started paying for sex a few years after his girlfriend broke up with him (he stayed celibate for three years after the break-up) and he decided the emotional toll of romantic relationships was too much to bear and swore off ever having a girlfriend again. With some trepidation, he began seeing prostitutes in Toronto.
There is nothing erotic about Paying For It, even though there is some nudity and depictions of sex. Instead, Brown focuses on his inner dialogue while visiting prostitutes ("Why did I care if I hurt her feelings? She lied -- she's not in any way like the description in her ad." "The last few times I've seen Anne I've felt empty afterwards.") and the frank conversations with Seth and Matt, who are at turns bemused and concerned for their friend's practice of hiring prostitutes and his decision to abandon romantic relationships.
As you can see in the sample above, the comic is drawn in small, sedate, panels, and Brown's expression never changes from panel to panel. He appears to be emotionally flat. Robert Crumb writes in the introduction to Paying For It:
Chester Brown is not of this planet. He is probably the result of one of those alien abductions where they stick a needle in a human woman's abdomen and impregnate her. He is a very advanced human. You can tell by looking at the photo of him. Notice how, throughout the book, his facial expression is always the same. His mouth is a slit. He never shows his teeth, never grins, never grimaces. The opposite of my portrayals of myself. Chester Brown's neutrality in the world is, in my estimation, quite admirable. As Jesus said, "Be as passers-by."
In the "Notes" section of Paying For It, Seth writes:
I often jokingly refer to Chet as "the robot." In posing a question to him I might quip, "Perhaps I should ask a person who has actual human emotions instead." The truth is, Chester seems to have a very limited emotional range compared to most people. There does seem to be something wrong with him. He's definitely an oddball. That said, he is also the kindest, gentlest and most deeply thoughtful oddball I know. Perhaps he is missing something in his emotional makeup, perhaps not. Who can say what is natural and what is learned behavior? I'll say this -- he really doesn't appear to be suffering. You can't argue with that.
A 30-page afterword is devoted to Brown's arguments in favor of the legalization of prostitution. To me, this is not nearly as interesting as the comic that precedes it.
Show Notes for Gweek 002
3. Life, by Keith Richards
6. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
7. The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
8. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
14. Dungeon Raid
On March 30, I wrote about Heritage Auctions' announcement that they would be auctioning the original art for page 10 from issue #3 of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson's The Dark Knight Returns (1986). They figured it would sell for at least $100,000. Well, the auction was yesterday, and it sold for $448,125, making it "the single most valuable piece of American comic art to ever sell." The buyer is anonymous.
The image is the single most memorable image from the entire comic book series and the greatest image from the decade of the 1980s ever to come to market, as well as now standing as one of, if not the most desirable pieces of original comic art from any era to come to market. It is a perfect stand-alone image of Batman and Robin (Carrie Kelley, the first female, full-time Robin) soaring high above Gotham City, emblematic of the entire storyline.Frank Miller and Klaus Janson Batman: The Dark Knight #3 Batman and Robin Iconic Splash Page 10 Original Art
"I've always loved that drawing," commented Miller, when asked before the auction what his thoughts on its imminent sale were. "Danced around my studio like a fool when I drew it. I hope it finds a good home."
The previous record price for a piece of original American comic book art was set last year when the cover of EC comics Weird Fantasy #29, by legendary artist Frank Frazetta, sold at Heritage via a private treaty sale for $380,000.
Daniel Clowes' comic books are often about misfits. Ghost World was about a couple of teenage girl outcasts. Pussey was about an arrogant, self-deceiving cartoonist. The more recent Wilson (reviewed here) was about a lonely, unemployed, self-loathing, passive-aggressive sad-sack who goes through life making himself and the people around him miserable.
There's not a lot of action in a Clowes comic. His characters spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the poor decisions they've made that have caused them to have such miserable lives. You'd think these comics would be depressing to read. And truth be told, you'd be right. But it would be a mistake to pass them up, because they're also funny, poignant, and powerfully evocative.
Mister Wonderful, Clowes' latest graphic novel doesn't veer from familiar territory. It's about an out-of-work, out-of-money, divorced middle aged man named Marshall. The story starts in a café. Marshall sits at a table by himself, waiting for a blind date to meet him. He reflects on his failed romantic and social life, becoming increasingly agitated that his date isn't showing up. He starts drinking beer. By the time she shows up (her name is Natalie; she was late because she went to the wrong cafe; he thinks she's beautiful) Marshall is plastered. He has to urinate but is afraid to leave her because he "Musn't give her the chance to escape."
During the date, Marshall mentally torments himself about what to say, what he should and shouldn't disclose to Natalie, and how much he should stick to the truth. He immediately regrets almost everything he blurts out. His anxiety boils over when a homeless man enters the restaurant and walks up to their table and asks for a dollar. Mister Wonderful explodes at the homeless man, which alarms his date.
Soon after this incident, Clowes interrupts the main story with a two-page scene of the conversation taking place between the married couple who set Marshall and Natalie up on the date. We learn that they think that Marshall and Natalie are psychologically damaged, loose cannons.
The date ends with Marshall realizing the date was a flop, and he begins walking home filled with regret. But the story takes an unexpected turn, and the rest of the evening feels like a slightly less surreal version of the movie After Hours.
As a storyteller and artist Clowes is at his masterful best here. He makes judicious and creative use of comic book devices: three dimensional words to symbolize emotional distress; a little floating man to represent Marshall's superego; text in word balloons running off the side of a panel or obscured by inner-thought boxes; vignettes drawn in cartoony style to depict imagined consequences; flashbacks tinted a rusty orange. It's a pleasure to closely study Clowes technical chops. He's been at this game for a long time, and keeps getting better at what he does. There may be a few living graphic novelists as talented as Clowes, but in my opinion no one tops him.
Mirko Ilic of Imprint presents a gallery of hand-drawn 3-D comic book titles, with emphasis on Will Eisner's amazing Spirit titles.
But everything changed with the appearance of Will Eisner's "The Spirit" (1940). "The Spirit" was published as a seven-page supplement to the comics section of American Sunday newspapers. As a supplement tucked inside newspapers, "The Spirit" did not depend on being visible on the newsstands. It was not limited by the need for recognizable branding like "Superman". Mr. Eisner used that extremely cleverly by going in exactly the opposite direction. Not only did he change the masthead of "The Spirit" for every issue, but very soon, the masthead became an integral part of the scene/set. Eisner continued to play with the masthead even when "The Spirit" started to be sold on newsstands as an independent booklet.The Spirit of the Stone Type
Matt Alt points ot to a beautiful clip from the 1970s animated show Manga Nippon Mukashibanashi (Animated Japanese Fairy Tales). The legend upon which this particular clip is based is hundreds of years old. Matt writes:
In it, a young mother and child from the island of Kessenuma Oshima happen across a statue called the michibiki jizo -- the guiding bodhisattva. According to local legend, the soul of a person that is about to die appears before this particular jizo the day before they pass away. The mother and child are shocked to see a whole parade of spirits appear before the statue -- male and female, old and young.
When they return home, the father laughs it off as a figment of their imaginations. But the very next day, when the family is fishing at the seashore, the tide pulls out and doesn't come back in. Minutes later, a massive tsunami wipes out the entire town as the mother, son, and father watch escape to a hilltop. They are the only survivors.
Given the fact that Kessenuma is in the headlines today for the very same reason, there is no doubt that this "fairy tale" is based on a true story. It's particularly haunting in light of the ancient stone markers that dot the Japanese coastline warning of tsunami from times of old, a literal message to future generations from ancestors long since shuffled off this mortal coil.
Heritage Auctions estimates that the art for page 10 from issue #3 of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson's The Dark Knight Returns (1986) will fetch at least $100,000 when it goes on the block on May 5.
Prior to the four-issue series of The Dark Knight Returns, Batman had lost his perch among the superhero elite. When Miller's masterpiece debuted it created an almost instant buzz and rejuvenated Batman as DC's most popular character. In the process it also helped revitalize the comics industry as a whole.UPDATE: Nick Rallo, Dallad Observer Web Editor, says: "Saw your post about the Frank Miller Dark Knight original -- thought I'd pass along our visit to Heritage Auction to get an up-close look at the page. Super exciting for us nerds over here."
1957 was the highwater mark for entertainment about superheroes who raised young dinosaurs like their own children.
Cartoonist and illustrator Adrian Tomine (author of the terrific little book Scenes From an Impending Marriage) was recently interviewed on the Bat Segundo show. (I love this cover Adrian drew for The New Yorker.)
Subjects Discussed: Doing time in Sacramento, veiling a personal experience with a sex change, which of Tomine's characters is least like him, the liberation that comes in fabrication, scratched out names and Victorian literature, the original small audiences for Scenes and 32 Stories, the father's fund, taking criticisms to heart, the drawbacks of working in the same realist vein, Tomine's wife as the "first audience," the artist's fragile ego, the influence of printed literature and storytelling upon art, humbling versions of inspiration, Tomine's degrees of aspiration and ambition, living a life in service to the drawing, facing the world, the "strenuous" exigencies of cartoonists, drawing panels without decor, Tomine's perfectionist qualities, the freedom in pursuing work that isn't going to be reviewed, feeling highly scrutinized, the pleasure in publishing harsh letters, the look of the ranger, using the fewest lines to get the maximum amount of detail, settling upon the three panel approach, maintaining a private style in secret scrapbooks, varying levels of creative insulation from the public, the very low frequency of sound words, the tongue licking in "Alter Ego," seeing external details that other characters cannot, the grotesque reality of Chris Ware's furry cats, the number of people who read books in Tomine's New Yorker illustrations, the Venn diagram between 1990s subcultures and digital culture, disappearing subcultures, cartoonists who detest hippie and hipster culture, gesture and look, Alison Bechdel's elaborate photographic process, and the pursuit of "realism" in an "unreal" medium.Cartoonist Adrian Tomine interviewed in Bat Segundo Show
One of my favorite illustrators, Barnaby Ward, found a cache of 1st edition copies of his dreamlike graphic novel, Sixteen Miles to Merricks, which sold out quickly (Used copies go for $90 and up on Amazon).
The story begins when a man comes home and discovers a mysterious woman in the house. She leads him through a series of tunnels under the house and beyond. The 208-page book contains four other excellent surreal short stories,