Archive | September, 2012

Small Press (s)Expo 2012

24 Sep

Lots of other people did convention reports for Small Press Expo, the erotically tinged comic show in Bethesda, Maryland. However, Rob Clough made an observation that I’d like to chit chat about:

*turns chair around backwards*
*sits facing class*

So let’s rap about the artcomics/webcomics divide.

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So at SPX, I was politicking with some crown-wearing royalty and a prominent webcomics person directed the question at me: “why do the REAL webcomics keep getting snubbed at the Ignatz Awards?”

The answer is: the Ignatz Awards reflect a kind of institutional bias which favors certain kinds of comics. All awards do this, even with the best intentions. It cannot be helped when we consider that the five anonymous judges who selected this year’s crop are, by nature, more experts on minicomics, book market graphic novels and print artcomics. Those areas of focus comprise all of the Ignatz Awards categories save for the “Best Online Comic” category.

Sidebar: think about that choice of term. Not “webcomic.” Rather, “online comic.” The term “webcomic” denotes a specific idiom with a structural nature that informs its native stylistic tics as certainly as minicomics format informs that field. When we use the term “webcomic,” more often than not, we are calling for a very specific format/mode/method of communication. Not necessarily so when we say “online comic.”

Zack Soto’s Study Group collective of stories is very different in reading style and in form than Kris Straub’s Starslip comic. Some argue that one represents “comics on the Internet” while the other represents “webcomics.” I am not personally sure how I feel about these distinctions. But I will say for certain that there is a cultural difference between what we commonly see as “webcomics” and other forms of the comics medium.

Part of it is subjective, part of it is engagement, part of it is intent. If one seeks and engages with the massive ecosystem referred to as “webcomics,” one is part of webcomics. But websites such as Mr. Soto’s Study Group Comics and Jordan Crane’s What Things Do which tend to seek different audiences with different reading styles, these places are sort of in their own scene.

Similar to how metal and punk might both be fast and loud but aren’t the same thing by anybody’s calculation. Not an exact comparison of course and I swear retaliation if you try to bust my chops.

My suggestion for the future is to not lean on airy technicalities such as “it’s on the Internet,” and focus on what the spirit of webcomics is when selecting work in this category. After all, the webcomics demographic is a large part of the genetic make up of SPX and those works deserve to be acknowledged on fair terms.

Alright that’s the bell. Wait, I haven’t told you what the homework is, come bac–

-Ayo2012xoxo.

Comics criticism, or whatever

21 Sep

By Ayo

The Comics Journal features an interview of Benjamin Marra, conducted by Matt Seneca. You go and you read that here.

Okay great. Thanks for coming back, that was a long one.

I like Benjamin, he’s a friendly, personable guy with a deep knowledge and love of comic books. He’a a few years older than I am so his tastes are an earlier equivalent to what my tastes in mainstream comic books were. His influences are easy to trace and he wears them on his sleeve.

I’ve talked with him. Here we all are:

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Matt Seneca, Darryl Ayo (that’s me), Jonny Negron, Michael DeForge, Frank Santoro, Benjamin Marra, Lala Albert, Aiden Koch.

Very important to convey the precarious nature of who I am and where I stand in reality. I have written this several times. And deleted it most of those times. I shouldn’t have to do this. But I’ve waited patiently an nobody else will step up to the plate.

So once again it’s on me to explain to y’all white folks what it is

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xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Benjamin Marra is a satirical cartoonist, an ironic cartoonist. Not in a specific sense but in how he appropriates a certain period of Americana in his work. Appropriates and ramps it up. His drawings, subject matter and writing style are products of a certain kind of 1980s American comic book. His subject matter also reaches out into the 1970s pop culture and subcultures. Two that he mines frequently are sexploitation and blaxploitation. I have feelings about the sexploitation aspect of this kind of work (and I intend to speak at length about sex in comics one day) but what rarely gets talked about is racism and racial fetishism and exploitation.

It is very self-serving and I’ll go as far to say callous about playing in the sandbox of people whose degradation and oppression you do not share. Not writing about black characters or exploring the pain of black people but rather exoticizing the struggle, the pain, the humiliations, the inhumanity of the road to freedom.

Marra works in the domain of 1970s blaxploitation films but he lacks something: black people. When you watch a blaxploitation film, even if the filmmaker is white, you are seeing black people. Black performers whose frustrations are laid bare on the screen, even though the plots and dialogue were themselves exploitative. The presence of black actors made it real. “Actors,” meaning “independent agents,” not the profession. There are no black actors in a book such as “Lincoln Washington.”

I knew what I was setting myself up for when I bought and read “Lincoln Washington.” But somehow I didn’t believe. I didn’t want to think about how savage and brutal and soul destroying it would be. I didn’t expect to like it but I wanted to learn about what this Ben Marra fellow was about. Well now I know.

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I could be way off base, but the emotion that I feel about “Lincoln Washington” might be similar to how many (not “all”) women feel about rape-revenge stories: this isn’t your story to tell.

It’s the way I feel. Spotlight on, all eyes looking, my cultural history paraded around to make an “awesome comic,” insults, rapes, whipping, murder, all for the vicarious benefit of destroying the “bad white people” so that the audience (“good white people”) can have a cathartic release and feel good about themselves. I’m not like those people. I’m on the side of the superhuman negro who punched those white folks’ heads clean off. Those were bad white people. Not like me. I rooted for the good guy.

When I finished reading “Lincoln Washington,” I was physically shaking, gritting my teeth trying to calm my nausea. This isn’t fun. This isn’t “radical,” this isn’t “awesome,” this isn’t a game. This is a brutal reality that a lot of you couldn’t possibly relate to or understand, emotionally.

This isn’t a black person’s fantasy, it is a white person’s fantasy. The ability to get on the correct side of history. The ability to both taste the lurid pleasure of breaking a human down and then switch sides and share in the vicarious thrill of revenge. Lincoln Washington doesn’t exist. He is Benjamin Marra’s own id. He isn’t real in any sense of the word.

Better to talk to would be my mother, an enthusiastic reader of the post-slavery period called “Reconstruction.” The heroism of the era wasn’t vigilante, beastlike super-blacks. The heroism was in the the way blacks rushed to assume political offices, attend law schools, work on a systemic level to bring America from a barbaric state into the beginnings of a humane state. This was before blacks lost many of their public rights such as voting.

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There isn’t much to say. People are going to do what they’re going to do. Benjamin Marra is going to make whatever comics he feels like making and I’m not trying to stop him. You are going to read whatever comic books you want to read and I won’t try to convince you otherwise. I really believe that: “you should read whatever you want to.”

But with works like these, please be aware of what you’re getting into.

You cry and cry all the time!

7 Sep

By Ayo

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“Hot to the Touch”
Adventure Time, season 4, episode 3
Storyboard: Cole Sanchez & Rebecca Sugar
Adventure Time created by Pen Ward

Human body is approximately sixty percent water. The Flame Princess is made out of fire. Her relationship with Finn the Human is therefore very complicated and filled with the frustrating and sad moments of young love, suitably multiplied by the proportion of fantastic elements in the stories. “Hot to the Touch” is the second part in a dramatic arc that begins with “Incendium” (storyboard: Adam Muto & Rebecca Sugar) and pays off greatly in the barn burner “Burning Low” (Sanchez & Sugar).

The Flame Princess stories are enriching because it is sort of painful to think that a terrific show such as Adventure Time would stay anchored in the cultural idea of “love at first sight, I will sit and wait for the princess of my dreams until she eventually loves me.” Finn and Princess Bubblegum’s relationship of unrequited love vs platonic friendship made for some good stories but the idea to move Finn forward from that paradigm was smart. And considering our cultural mythology of “true love, forever,” it was a bold decision.

With the Flame Princess, we have Finn the Human meet a girl who is different from Princess Bubblegum in age, maturity, temperament and physical composition. Described as “my evil daughter” by the Flame King, Flame Princess represents a more clear-headed and empathetic view of the “wounded woman” archetype.

Of course she isn’t “evil,” merely misunderstood and tired of feeling maligned. Which I’ll grant you, is a cliche in itself. But there is a persistent empathy from the storytellers that brings new life to this kind of character.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

“Burning Low”
Adventure Time, season 3, episode 10
Storyboard: Sanchez & Sugar

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“Burning Low” reminds me of Led Zeppelin’s “The Rover.” It is probably meant to. There are lots of music references in Adventure Time.
“see the candle burning low/
is a new world rising
from the shambles of the old”

The thing about “Burning Low” that is shocking is how effortlessly the story introduces the concepts of sex as a physical bonding experience for people in love. So confident are the creators in this that they even lean heavily on a safe sex metaphor. Which is not just hilarious, it’s a needed change in our general culture. In the story, the role of “sex” is played by “hugs.” Which can be heart-stoppingly intimidating for tween/teens who are just beginning to have complex romantic feelings. What a messed up time that was!

There is also an STD angle if you’re willing to read that far into it. In the 90s, they used I say “burning” to refer to someone with an STD (likely from the sensation of burning that accompanies some STD symptoms). It’s really funny to see Jake the Dog step in and insist that Finn use some protection before hugging Flame Princess. Wrap it up, kids.

Doubling back, Princess Bubblegum discovers that if Finn and Flame Princess actually kiss then the planet would explode, which is absurd and not a sex metaphor but rather the actual plot of the episode. Goofy stuff happens and the kiss doesn’t blow everything up…

Anyway.

Sex (by metaphor) as a goal in itself, as an expression of intimacy as well as a deepening of a relationship. It’s something that I have been thinking about for years in the cartoon arts. Mostly comics, of course, but Adventure Time is close enough to the comics experience for my tastes.

The problem with “sex” as a subject matter is that most people think “pornography.” And while pornography has its own wonderful place in our culture, “sex” as a storytelling tool is often anchored to that concept and tossed overboard.

There is a weird thing that doesn’t happen in most of our culture’s romantic stories. It’s necessary in real romance. It’s repetition. We have been acclimated to an idea of romance as a destination, a finish line. Kiss and fade to black, the end. In reality, a kiss should be “the beginning.” The thing that is weird is watching real people’s relationships rot away because they appear to be patterning their relationships on films. Once you “get” the girl/boy, that’s that. You have won. Pat yourself on the back. In truth, while many people do find it to be a struggle to begin a romantic relationship, it is very difficult to maintain these relationships as well. Sometimes you have to fall in love with the person all over again. People affirm and reaffirm their romantic feelings for one another and through this continual reinforcement a relationship thrives.

The repetition spans from speaking regularly, going on outings together and yes, by having sex. Surprise! You thought this was a comic website. It is couple’s therapy. This is an intervention.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Anyway. This is the stuff I am into. Adventure Time is a lot about the sword and sorcery, dungeon-roaming adventures of tabletop gaming. But it’s also about the adventure of young love, the sudden onset of complexity into lives that were previously straight forward. The program has charged headlong into subjects like queer relationships, fat acceptance, death, forgiveness. The type of subjects that a show aimed at clever kids should be tackling. Art and cultural outpourings are the products of society but also part of a society’s education. You are what you eat so it is good to consume art that is about how we can better relate to one another.

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