Thursday, September 28, 2017

but the articles tho

Choire Sicha with the definitive take, asking which is sadder: Hef himself, or the people who think his life was aspirational.

I've had this overwhelming feeling whenever I look at the Internet lately, especially Twitter, this constant refrain that's been in my head for weeks now. Something like can we just not or how about we don't. Like can just one ancient pervert die of natural causes without anyone caring like the good lord intended.

It's fine, I guess, the internet doing what the internet does, and of course now here I am. It's just comical the degree of praise I've been seeing for the articles. Ah yes, the articles. The articles! I guess that's been a cliche for so long that a whole chorus of men have felt the need to step up and say, no seriously though, those articles really were great. Men have some sort of deep ancient need to assert their critical prowess when they have a creepy boner. They can't just enjoy it quietly and let the moment pass. There's maybe no more fitting tribute to Hefner's legacy than to flaunt your affection or something tasteless while insisting that you are in fact a man of good taste, at least when it comes to the things that matter. Bottom line, that was Hefner's contribution to the American imagination: the things that matter and the things that don't. The things that people are willing to laugh off when you're a card-carrying serious man who cares about important issues like gay rights and free speech.

"It's a dream that many find attractive," Choire writes.

Maybe the quintessential experience of being a woman in this world is watching a whole chorus of men hold up a ridiculous piece of shit old man in a captain's hat and a silk robe as some paragon of culture. Counterpoint: I have eyes. Consider explaining something else.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

big weekend mood

A few recommendations for the weekend: One More Time with Feeling, a truly remarkable documentary about Nick Cave's struggle to make an album after the death of his son, and The Art Life, a documentary about David Lynch. You can watch them both for free if you have Amazon Prime.

The latter I haven't seen yet actually, but I'm watching the TP finale tonight and plan to watch it after, or maybe tomorrow. Is this movie a thing people know about? Probably. I mention it because the only reason I even know it exists is because I saw a poster when I was traveling this summer.

I had just left some friends, one of whom lives really far away, and was staying in an unfamiliar town by myself for the night, feeling sort of melancholy. I took it as a real auspicious sign when I found this theater right next to my hotel. Unfortunately I had missed the last show by about half an hour, haha. That was not a sign, I decided. Just bad luck.

Had a lot of feelings last weekend about Harry Dean Stanton. It's sort of weird sometimes, the celebrity deaths that truly touch a nerve. It's partly tied to all these residual Twin Peaks feelings, which are, in turn, tied to some other shit I got right now. You know how it is. I haven't started in on the TP think pieces yet (thanks to the people who left recs--looking forward to reading them), but I feel like a lot of what I saw people talking about over the course of the season was this notion that interpreting Twin Peaks is this intensely idiosyncratic experience...that whole postmodern disconnect where the way in which you experience of a work of art (or anything) can never really be conveyed to another, etc. That just seems deeply, instinctually wrong to me. Postmodernism, just for lack of a better word, runs on a spectrum from cold (Bret Easton Ellis) to warm (David Foster Wallace), and to me Lynch runs warm in that his subject is collective experience and, like, forging connections more so than alienation. Lynch is more about feeling alienated from yourself...also the search for coherence in an incoherent world.

Exhibit 1: warm postmodernism (John Ashbery, who died a few weeks ago)

I don't know, maybe I'm wrong--I had to maintain a certain distance from the ~conversation~ after I fell behind on the show, but I feel like people talk about Lynch all wrong. The Twin Peaks revival actually had a really communal feel to me: all this shared affection for Lynch and Kyle MacLachlan, everyone's incredulity that a third season even exists (still don't have a bead on Showtime's angle at all--is there an explainer somewhere??), seeing the passage of time in the faces of the actors, and realizing the sort of overwhelming number of them who have died. Reading all those dedications in the credits, Jesus. I suppose it's hard to separate the content of the show, which is about these big human themes, and the experience of watching it, which felt really rich and resonant.

This conversation between Albert and Gordon in E4 was probably my favorite moment in the series.

Every scene those guys shared was just hugely moving to me. Where a lot of the original TP felt like it was trying to come to terms with violence, a lot of this iteration felt like it was about confronting  death. Anyway I probably have emotional problems.

Harry Dean Stanton as Carl was my favorite addition to the cast and maybe my favorite person on the show this season. The little moments that showed he was the king of that trailer park, like when he blew that whistle to call his driver or (my absolute favorite) when he pulled out that CV to radio the sheriff's station...those moments were the most pure delights of the season, and I say that as someone who took a lot of delight in this season.

The Nick Cave movie I saw in theaters, probably the only non-diehard Cave fan in the audience. (I like him fine, but more his stuff like Skeleton Tree and his score for The Proposition...classic Nick Cave is a little too theatrical for me.) As it happened I had just seen Fun Home the Musical, and the two had a surprising number of things in common...both are about the sudden, unexpected death of a family member. Both are adaptations: a musical about a comic and a movie about an album. Fun Home had come to Chicago and I went because a friend wanted to go. She thought of me because I'm her Comics Friend, which is fair, but the thing is, while I'm happy to be your Comics Friend, I'm not so much your Musical Friend. I like exactly three musicals: Annie (because it's perfect), Rent (because I'm old), and Jesus Christ Superstar (no fucking clue--one of my life's great mysteries). I guess technically I also sort of like Cats. Fine. That's four. Every other musical ever I regard on a spectrum from mild distaste to actual loathing. I didn't go into Fun Home expecting to hate it in the way I'm dead certain I'd hate, say, Hamilton. (I'm generally not one of those people who gets a kick out of putting down things that other people like, but I hate the very idea of Hamilton with my life. Every time someone RTs Lin-Manuel Miranda into my timeline I feel actual anger.) (Like I said: emotional problems.) But anyway I was wrong, because from what I can tell I'm the one person on earth who seriously hates Fun Home the musical. Alison Bechdel's whole thing is the contortions she put herself through to express emotion, so I can't imagine a more wrongheaded approach than sentimentalizing her story. And just at the level of adaptation it was almost hilariously dumb; to convey that she was a cartoonist the actor would just say 'Caption: this that or the other is happening right now.' God. On the level of sheer representation, I guess having some kid sing a song about her deep admiration for the aesthetic of butch lesbians is cool. There's a whole song about Baby Bechdel finding a UPS delivery woman to be her hero. I like the idea of little kids singing about how much they can't wait to grow up to be butch lesbians on Broadway. It was also sort of cool when they had Baby Bechdel, College Bechdel, and Current Bechdel on the stage together, I'll give it that. But those are pretty much the only thing that production had going for it. Utter shite.

Once More with Feeling is exactly the inverse of all that--just this really intimate portrait of a musician who's normally very stylized, very theatrical, very conscious of image. Very thoughtful, very sad, beautifully shot in the music video pieces. Warren Ellis (no, not the comics one) is so intensely cool, it blew my mind. I never knew! Anyway I think it's quite a thing, an actual act of public service, to have made a film like that. I'm going to watch it again sometime soon.

Not sure why I'm on about all this. Big weekend mood...

Monday, September 18, 2017

portrait, a comic by simon hanselmann

The melodrama of indie comics culture is a lot like reality television; I find it entertaining as an observer, but I’m glad that’s not my life. The stock characters include a broad spectrum of Dumbs and Post Dumbs, eccentric sociopaths, and your racist uncle, and I prefer to gawk at these turkeys from the side of the stage like the judgmental twit that I am. Oh, I’m not talking about the good eggs. (I'm not talking about you.) I’m talking Whore Feud, or maybe that hobo-themed wedding. I mean, dang, we all wish wish that Comics were better, but watching that stuff is definitely the next best thing.

Here at the intersection of entertaining, off-putting, and ridiculous you’ll find Truth Zone (TZ), a series about alternative comics culture by indie superstar Simon Hanselmann. TZ is a long-running web series at Comics Workbook in which the artist makes fun of indie cartoonists, publishers, critics, fans, and other industry figures. The online iteration of TZ is often funny, and sometimes approaches what you might call criticism. But I’m here today to talk about “Portrait,” a little zine you can buy on Hanselmann’s website. The first run of “Portrait” (which was, at the time it was sold, advertised as its sole run) was around 500 copies. It sold out quickly and has since had at least one additional printing, which to my mind raises an interesting question—namely, how much of an audience exists for a comic like Truth Zone?

I ask because recently I realized I’ve lost any ability I might have once had to discern what is truly niche. Internet culture is near mystical in that it has rendered everything universally known and totally obscure at the same time. I had this epiphany in the middle of the night not so long ago, when I came upon this tweet making fun of a writer for New York magazine who misunderstood a joke that someone had made about a dumb political cartoon:

It's seriously sort of crazy, the levels of stupid arcane knowledge you need to parse this tweet:
  • how detestable Jesse Singal is (OK, not hard)
  • that, here, Singal is totally misunderstanding a joke that someone else made (harder)
  • about a political cartoon that's not pictured 
  • and then Singal got embarrassed, so he deleted the tweet 
  • also the joke Singal misunderstood used the clappy meme (a Twitter joke format)
  • that was in the style of Shanley's infamous "daddy" tweet 
I’m probably missing a level or two? Point is: 1,200 likes. I dunno, maybe 1,193 people truly heart that tweet. Or maybe it’s that theory I have, where people never feel more self-satisfied than when they recognize an obscure, layered reference. It makes us feel clever--like we're part of some club.

Hanselmann’s “Portrait” traffics very heavily in this type of insider thrill. Subtitled “Fake Criticism,” its short strips parody tumblr callout culture, James Sturm, Tom Spurgeon, Nobrow, Box Brown, the president of the Comic Book League Defense Fund, and any number of other people who I have forgotten or never recognized in the first place—but the references are always coded and frequently elliptical. Hanselmann presumes readers' familiarity with his subjects, obscuring real names and associations, which makes it more difficult for outsiders to understand what he’s talking about.

Even if you’re not a fan of Megg & Mogg, it's interesting to see how Hanselmann filters these anecdotes through his characters, especially the way in which their established personalities add depth to his commentary. More generally I reckon the degree to which you’ll enjoy a given strip depends upon your level of contempt for its subject. My favorite with a bullet was hobo wedding because the only thing funnier to me than the idea of a hobo wedding is the groom getting super mad when someone brings it up on his book tour years later.

But what about when you don’t have contempt for Hanselmann's subject? What about when the subject is in fact you, or people like you? I wrote here about Hanselmann's "Wes Craven's Crumb," which was at least in part about me...probably. The thing is, in a culture where everything is both universally known and impossibly obscure--as it is on the Internet, as it is in indie comics--a lot of stuff becomes plausibly deniable when your preferred mode of talking shit is encrypted.

Sometimes these are sharp little comics, and sometimes they’re just nebulously rude. Take, for instance, the opener, “Change.” Hanselmann’s target here is James Sturm, but sharp-eyed readers might notice that Hanselmann replicates some of the exact same attitudes towards Tillie Walden that got Sturm into trouble in the first place.

Twitter user @FstewartT made some astute comments about where this comic went wrong. This is just an excerpt:

Seeing these tweets, Hanselmann took to the DMs to explain himself, inadvertently revealing that he had exactly the attitude towards Walden that he was so vehemently denying.

These messages are a veritable Bingo card of bitter old-man comeback crit (the very thing Hanselmann was supposedly skewering):
  • passively aggressively responding to a critique of his work that he wasn't tagged in
  • thoroughly condescending (Allow me to explain my work to you)
  • berating successful young female cartoonist for her "weird arrogance" and "daddy's girl privilege"
  • berates another young female cartoonist for...tweeting?
  • hilariously self-important
It's all very Fantagraphique, is it not? Same old shit, thinking it's some type of new shit. Well, anyway, for your information, Simon Hanselmann was NOT mad. It's totally fine with Simon Hanselmann if you have some sort of reading comprehension problem, and also if you don't like jokes.

@FstewartT wasn't having any of that, lol.

Not to worry: Simon wasn't mad about that, either. He's just sorry no one gets it. It's cool with him that you're such a fucking moron, and he definitely wishes you the best. xoxo <|:-)

Once you understand that Hanselmann's roast comics are often diametrically opposed to his idea of himself, you begin to pick up on more dissonance in these comics--ostensibly progressive subjects with weird retrogressive undercurrents. It's incoherent and at times dishonest, taking the most extreme and misguided version of an argument and implying that it represents something larger. 

Is this art? By Hanselmann’s own admission, no--but he certainly sells it as such. Maybe I’m mistaken, but I’d wager most of the people buying “Portrait” or the bags of literal garbage (Artist Trash™) he sells in his online shop are fans of his art comics and his persona, not consumers of his criticism. Here's Hanselmann in a recent interview with Dan Nadel:

The Truth Zone is just the jerky side of comics. The first one, Landscape, I subtitled A Safe Space for Assholes. It's a safe space to just be a prick and just shit talk people. ... I try not to engage with the internet too much. If I'm gonna make snarky comments, I do it in comics form. Then I make money off it, and it's like an artistic statement. And I feel like it's better somehow. 

Better for who? Just as an example, let's take a look at “The Birthday Reporter."

Had this appeared online at Comics Workbook, it would have been a gentle spoof of the Comics Reporter that maybe also had something to say about the ongoing conversations surrounding comics journalism more broadly. Compiled in a limited-edition zine and sold for $8 plus shipping, it seems to me that it becomes something else: having fun--and making money--at someone else's expense, in an ecosystem in which they're likely to hear about it second- or thirdhand. (The thousands of dollars Hanselmann made off this throwaway gossip comic inarguably makes him one of the best paid comics "critics" today.) It's interesting and perfectly meta, the dynamic these tiny batches of zines create: in-groups within in-groups and rumors within rumors. But it's also a straight-up chickenshit form of "criticism"--and it's telling that, when he's confronted with that, Hanselmann will piss on your leg and tell you it's raining.

Sometimes it's a fine line between being a critic and being a piece of shit. It's something I think about sometimes, as someone who tends to take a tone not unlike Hanselmann's. (Not so long ago, for instance, we both went in on All Time Comics.) We could have any number of conversations about what criticism is--what it should accomplish, and how--but to me, it boils down to this: If you're going to drag someone, do it out in the open. Own it. Otherwise, you should stick to making fun of people privately, behind their backs, like a goddamn adult.

Is “Portrait” art? No, not really. Is it criticism? Nah. I think it's best described as an artifact—one that perfectly encapsulates a certain aspect of the alt-comix milieu, with its middle school-grade sociopathy and infighting. I find it entertaining, but I don't respect it. Hanselmann says he's turning his focus inward for the next Truth Zone comic--a step in the right direction, ethically, but one that I will read with low expectations. Hanselmann has many gifts, but self-awareness is plainly not one of them.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

boyz II men

Mental health status: went shopping for a dress yesterday, got some absurdly expensive sweatpants instead. Also something called an ex-boyfriend shirt, because even retail has gone post-dumb. I think post-dumb retail must be middle-aged men trying to interpret the millennial sensibility? (Which is, I guess, essentially what post-dumb comics are: those guys trying to be cool.) Then I went home and watched the episode of Twin Peaks with the little kid who fires a gun into Norma's diner.

I was really struck by that asshole kid in camo, standing next to his asshole dad in camo. Both silent, same stance. Quite a heavy-handed scene, especially for Lynch, who prefers to explore these themes in a way that's more elliptical. Yet it wasn't really exaggerated; at least it struck me as a pretty literal snapshot of life in these United States (if you don't count the zombie child barfing up swamp water in the next car over). (What was that??) My little nephew is now of an age where I'm starting to see the world work on him, so I guess I worry about this stuff in a new, more viscerally horrifying, way. Yesterday morning my sister told me about how he'd come home really upset after getting bullied by two kids at the playground. My brother-in-law eventually intervened, at which point one of the bully's mothers came over and started yelling about how he had no right to butt in. Kids will be kids, I guess you could say, or maybe "it's not their fault," which seems more accurate. Either way it's hard to get too worked up about that. But I spent the entire day yesterday, and a good part of today, thinking about this fucking mother, who I hate with my life. One of the things she yelled was about how she was trying to teach her son "to be a man"--a swipe at my little nephew, who just turned three, who was weeping through all of this. Hard. Still on the ground, where this lady's (older, bigger) asshole kid had knocked him. I used to think that I didn't want kids because I don't like them, but I've come to understand it's because I would go to jail.

It's been interesting reading the Twin Peaks recaps, just seeing what people find to say. Obviously not the kind of show that lends itself to summary, so it's sort of like watching someone trying to recap a poem mixed with an episode of Blue's Clues. It's sad to me what television writing has become. I'd give just about anything to read Jacob Clifton on this show. Part of it is that this crop of writers is just working too fast, which isn't their fault, but still. I read this (by Laura Hudson, who did the Vulture recaps) a while back in near total disbelief:

I'm not inclined to berate someone for not "getting" David Lynch for obvious reasons (what he does) plus some maybe less obvious ones (I'm not a twit). That being said: some of these recappers really, really don't get David Lynch. Intellectually, at least, I try to leave a lot of room for what people find problematic? That just feels like the right thing to do. But, like, how do you not get that the entire show is an interrogation of masculinity? How do you miss that?? That whole "Lynch is bad on women" take? I'm sorry, but no. Nooo. I mean, there are some threads you could pull, sure. I'd go so far as to say Lynch is pulling some of them himself. (I think? e.g., that scene with the French escort?) But at the end of the day Twin Peaks isn't really a show that's about women; it's about sexual violence and men and masculinity. 

Anyway I've had to semi-retire from the entire internet until I can get caught up. It's unfortunate that just around the time we figured out how to let people watch television at their own pace, it became almost impossible to avoid spoilers. (I'm just now realizing this entire post is just one long complaint about getting old.) In general I'd really like to read something smart about Twin Peaks. Where is the good television writing these days? It has to exist, right? I believe.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

how about some comics links

I don't know if it's because I've handed out my annual compliment or what, but I'm feeling salty as all heck. Let's do links.

1. Frank Santoro's latest crowdfunding project: lol
Ultimate Master Professor of Comics/semi-literate grifter Frank Santoro has launched a new crowdfunding project. Now too lazy to rise even to the level of grift, Santoro is, in his words, "passing the hat" so you can fund his "labor" of "going through life as the human equivalent of a crumpled up ziploc of skunk weed" hand-binding a comic for his parents. Which is a nice idea in theory, I guess? For one thing, they're divorced, as Frank explains in the write-up. Tough stuff. Probably the only thing that can cheer up a divorced person is a Book of Kells-grade outsider art manuscript about your life's most embarrassing moments, lovingly bound by your willfully unemployed son.

I particularly enjoy the part where he says "That's just the way it has to be." Uncompromising.

Just so we're clear: Frank Santoro has made a comic about his parents' most embarrassing stories that is...a "gift" - a special, special gift...that he wishes to publish himself, in an edition of two, for his parents' eyes only...and maybe also for his primary audience, the people of France. Alls we need to do is fund Frank's artisanal bookbinding lessons so he can spend six months making those two (2) books for the low, low cost of $2,600, $1,000 of which will compensate Santoro himself for the time he spends throwing other people's money at this absurdly extravagant, yet fiscally worthless, comic book that no one will ever see.

Jesus take my keyboard: I cannot even. Is this satire? Is he doing the irony? Or is Frank Santoro just a giant fucking tit. 

Oh man, haha, I almost forgot about the rewards. The rewards! Gotta say, the rewards don't exactly inspire confidence in this guy's bookmaking prowess:

What, you were expecting to get a glimpse of his actual comic thing, like online or something? Don't get greedy. What Frank Santoro has for YOU, my friend, is a PDF of his old blogs, which he has lovingly compiled complete with brand new scratchpaper covers. No idea why Best of the the Cold Heat Blog pdf here hasn't yet had any takers. Looks topnotch.

*sigh* Where's Craig Yoe when you need him? He'd print that thing for a kind word and two shiny nickels. I mean, am I seriously being asked to believe that a book worth $1,300 (at cost) is the logical outcome of this piece of shit kickstarter, even if I were to suspend human judgment and say this is a thing worth funding? Say, what brave soul at The Comics Journal is going to stand up for production standards and ethical considerations when it comes to fleecing all the comics sheeple? Hmm? I'll wait.

2. Post-dumbs promoting themselves badly is extremely my shit
I maintain a very small, but very valuable, archive of screenshots that consists entirely of fake metal Fantagraphics dudes who are extremely bad at promoting themselves. This is strictly for laughing reasons (plus, obviously, "something is wrong with me" reasons), not because I was planning to be a jerk about in public or anything. Only now I guess I am going to be a jerk about it in public. Look, I'm sorry, this is incredible.

What do you think, is he doing an irony? ENHANCE.

I wouldn't have thought it possible, but with this WOLF tattoo I think Benjamin Marra has officially usurped the title of dumbest looking fake metal Fantagraphics guy from that one dude who's always tweeting a photo of himself on the throne from Game of Thrones. The king is dead. Long live the king.

3. Brian Cronin's sexual Hulk articles
I haven't actually read these sexual Hulk articles because (1) please and (2) I feel it could only detract from how much I treasure the idea of them. Brian Cronin...thanks.

4. Check out Chase Magnett's Jack Kirby sketchbook
On Kirby Day Chase Magnett posted photos of his Jack Kirby sketchbook, which is a collection of other artists drawing Kirby creations. What a charming thing, right? I legitimately love this. Here are some of my faves.

5. Sarah Horrocks Alert!
Sarah Horrocks is doing crit at Brandon Graham's new online concern. Her first post, which takes a look at where contemporary comics artists are going wrong with two-page spreads, is quite good.