Sunday, May 25, 2008

Does Douglas Wolk Make Me Want To Read Comics? (part one)

I have finally finished reading Douglas Wolk's book Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work, And What They Mean. Rather than actually review the it, I will instead trawl through the "Reviews & Commentary" section of the book, looking at whether the people he writes about sound like they make the kind of work I would like to read. Many of these people produce what Wolk calls "art comics" - so expect little thrill power and a lot of self-indulgent memoir.

David B.

This French guy's big claim to fame is that Marjane Satrapi ripped off his drawing style for her big-selling books. Like her, he writes about himself and his family background, talking about his childhood, which was marked by his brother's battle against an extreme and intractable form of epilepsy that ultimately killed him; or, at least, this is what the book (in English, Epileptic) Wolk talks about the most is about. Epileptic sounds like it might have the nice naïve art-style of Satrapi's Persepolis while being more formally experimental, so I may hunt it down sometime.

Chester Brown

Brown seems to have made the transition from weirdo autobiographical comics, to weirdo comics with gross-out scatological themes (key character: The Man Who Couldn't Stop, being a man who defecates continuously), to writing weirdo comics about Canadian historical figures. His Riel tells the story of the 19th century figure Louis Riel, who led a revolt of Métis Indians against the Canadian authorities. I've seen excerpts from this before, and was struck by its clear line style but slightly claustrophobic and disturbed feel. Apparently Brown makes it ambiguous as to whether Riel was a mentally disturbed individual with borderline schizophrenia, or an actual prophet chosen by God for Great Things, something that relates back to Brown's earlier weirdo autobiographical comics. The combination of crazy history and weirdo mental states surely makes Riel an essential acquisition for all discerning readers.

Steve Ditko

Ditko is famous as the co-creator of Spiderman. Ditko defined Spiderman's look and plotted many of the early stories (with Stan Lee contributing the words). I've never really got Ditko up to now, finding his art a bit pedestrian compared to early Marvel's other art star, Jack Kirby. Wolk talks Ditko up well, and the three panels of Ditko Spiderman art reproduced (Spidey struggling unsuccessfully against a heavy weight while water gradually fills up the room around him) is very striking. Wolk is a persuasive advocate of the idea that Ditko's work would repay further attention, even (or especially) the crazy ultra-libertarian stuff he produced in later years (Watchmen's Rorshach is a homage to a character Ditko created partly as a vehicle for his views).

Will Eisner & Frank Miller

I'm not really sure why these are lumped together. I've read a lot of Frank Miller stuff, and I like it. Will Eisner I have never really got and always get the impression people only pretend to like him. Wolk seems oddly faint in his praise of Eisner, while with Miller he falls victim to the revisionism that has seen many turn against Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, still one of the two high water marks of superhero comics.

keep tuning in for more Wolk-reaction action!


kvlol said...

I can lend you Epileptic, it is very good. Didn't know about the Satrapi thing and apart from it being a bit woodcut-y I wouldn't really be so sure they're the same.

I can also lend you Eisner. He is very good, honest. The Protocols book is worth picking up for a sheer WTF-style read!

Andrew Farrell said...

Although Eisner is more influential than he is good, that's only because he's massively important: he is still really good, I'd recommend Dropsie Avenue.

Of course Frank Miller's Dark Knight is tarnished in many minds due to its sequel.

ian said...

Amusingly, Wolker reckons that the Eisner's TEH PROTOCOLS (or whatever it is actually called) is didactic rubbish. And, somewhat heretically, he reckons that DK2 (or the Dark Knight Strikes Back, or whatever it is called) has aged better than the original Dark Knight Returns.

Andrew Farrell said...

Yeah, but I suspect (as I'd not heard of it before) that The Protocols is his "Orson Welles in Transformers". Not in the sense that he was doing it for the money, but nothing is going to top The Spirit or A Contract With God.

I was of the impression that this was a heresy you shared!