So yeah, I have been reacting to the bit of Douglas Wolk's book where he talks about comics he has things to say. This is my final instalment.
Dave Sim is famous as the guy who decided to chronicle the life of one character over 300 issues of a comic called Cerebus, that eponymous character being an anthropomorphic aardvark inhabiting a swords-and-sorcery fantasy world. Then he turned into a mentalist and started to fill the comic with his eccentric ideas about women (bad), homosexuals (bad) and Muslims (good; no sorry, bad). Like most people, I have read Cerebus up to when Sim turned into a mentalist, and then I stopped. Wolk makes a pretty convincing case that the later Cerebus stories are still worth engaging with; for all that Sim does a lot of spouting bile, his technical ability keeps ascending to new peaks. Maybe one day I will investigate whether this is actually the case.
Wolk actually just talks about Warlock, a title Starlin wrote for Marvel in the 1970s. Wolk makes it sound like some kind of crazy 1970s New Wave SF book in comic form, which would make me interested in checking it out, if it was in print, which it is not.
Tomb of Dracula
In a rare retreat from his auteurist principles, Wolk here discusses a title produced by a team rather than by a heroic individual. Tomb of Dracula was written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer, appearing originally in the 1970s. Wolk makes it sound like the US equivalent of early Tharg's Future Shocks – nasty stories in which evil always triumphs and good decent people come to sticky ends. His descriptions (and the selections of reproduced art) suggest that Wolfman's nihilism is well-matched by Colan and Palmer's daringly semi-abstract art, whose twisted layouts and non-standard compositions express the non-euclidean logic of the stories. I have already had Tomb of Dracula recommended to me by Wood, and Wolk's further endorsement makes it inevitable that I will be reading reprints of this sooner rather than later.
I'd never heard of this guy, he sounds like a potentially interesting producer of comics about an everyman character called Glenn to whom various strange and mundane things happen, all rendered in a simple cartoony style. These stories might well repay investigation.
Charles Burns & Art Spiegelman
These guys are linked because Burns' work first appeared in RAW, an art comics anthology magazine that Spiegelman co-edited. I've never really liked Burns' work before, finding his art style somehow off-putting. After reading Wolk's book, though, I have started wondering whether I should read Black Hole. This book is about a sexually transmitted disease that that causes teenagers to mutate into repulsive mutants. It sounds like Cronenburgian body-horror, one of my favourite forms of fiction, even if Wolk explicitly says that it is done the way David Cronenburg would do it in one of his films.
Art Spiegelman is best-known for Maus, a book about his relationship with his father and his father's experiences as a Polish Jew in the Second World War. I read this myself relatively recently and was astonished by how good it is, as I had expected something very worthy and maudlin. Spiegelman has largely pissed about since writing it, an his more recent In The Shadow Of No Towers is a rambling mess. As Wolk suggests, Maus is maybe the kind of thing you only produce one of in your life.
It's funny, skimming this again now I'm not really sure I have got much of an impression from this as to what Ware's work is actually like. From skimming books in shops (or seeing selections in anthologies) it seems like it is very abstract and design heavy, but I'm not sure how much of that you would want.
Her book Fun Home is another me-and-my-funny-family memoir comics, though it may help in this case that Bechdel's family are a bit odder than most. Also, she seems ot have an attractive art style, and Wolk makes her book sound stylistically interesting in terms of its fractured time sequences and all that. For all my usual dismissal of memoir comics, I have become somewhat fascinated by this one and will look out for it in shops. So if it is rubbish, Wolk is for it.
And that's it for Douglas Wolk reactions, unless at some future stage I decide to set down my problems with his approach to aesthetics.