Fantagraphics put out two single issue, floppy comics yesterday. This is an anomaly, inasmuch as the alternative comic book is basically considered dead, but both comics seemed sort of like attempts to reach people who can be imagined being at a comic book store.
DKW, by Sergio Ponchione, is a tribute of sorts to Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and Wally Wood, and can be imagined as being recommended to the older male Wednesday comic book crowd who admires those artists. The comic is about Ponchione being visited by a younger aspiring comics artist who is unfamiliar with the works of those three men until Ponchione shows him what’s up, through three short stories, each of which end with a recommendation of a book to learn more. The first book recommended is a Steve Ditko biography written by Blake Bell, who does the introduction to this comic. Reading it, I thought “Is this legal?” To just charge for what’s basically advertisements, for books published by the same publisher? Luckily the recommended Kirby and Wally Wood bios are published by Abrams and TwoMorrows. Unfortunately, the latter book is out of print. It seemed like the purpose of this comic, in the American marketplace, was to preach to the choir. I guess it’s possible that in Italy there are people into comics who don’t know who Steve Ditko is who might appreciate this sort of introduction. Is Ponchione that popular? He’s not that interesting of a cartoonist. His character designs are really unappealing, even in his more cartoony work. The “real world” segments of him and the younger artist were kind of repulsive. The book begins with a “held shot,” redrawing the same setting, of Sergio getting up from his desk to answer the door, in long horizontal panels. The shop where I bought this comic bags and boards new comics now and I think if I had flipped through this on the shelf I wouldn’t have bought it. This comic is based around black and white with different colored washes for each tribute segment. So it’s printed in full color but never looks particularly dynamic. If anyone wants my copy of this, let me know.
Cosplayers 2 was great! I came to this comic kind of prepared to not like it, and to write a negative review: Based on the first Cosplayers and this little preview of Doctors I saw online, I felt like Dash Shaw might be working with a new sense of timing I felt weird about, like a style designed to be more direct and immediate in its telling of a story in this sort of clipped and observational way, maybe more like reality TV or something. In the first Cosplayers it manifests in this way where you’re not really sure how much time is passing. This comic starts off with a convention schedule, and then sticks to it, moving through a weekend. I wonder if Dash saw Computer Chess? (Have you seen Computer Chess? It was easily my favorite movie of 2013, and I think it is still available to stream on Netflix. That’s a movie about a computer convention at a hotel in the early 1980s, that tells the story of a meeting of a hippie encounter group at other moments. This comic is set an anime convention, but has a moment where a character wanders into a quilting convention. Although maybe that’s there because of an imagined parallel between comics and quilting?) It’s cool, the schedule sets up this sense of timing that allows for comedic payoffs in a fairly subtle way. In the book there’s a lecture by a Tezuka scholar talking about the “star system” and I was thinking there’d be a cameo by character design from another Shaw comic and that expectation paid off as well. I laughed out loud a couple of times during this comic. Also, if I’m guessing correctly, I’m going to assume that the things mentioned in the schedule for the fictional convention’s programming are all things he really likes, and so this could actually serve as a resource for tracking down interesting work the audience might be unfamiliar with. This comic, being called Cosplayers, I imagine being found and read by people who can relate to these characters and their lifestyle. Young women, although reading this comic I’m not sure quite how young they’re supposed to be. Dash’s approach to drawing, the “dumb line,” then presents such characters nonjudgmentally, even as they judge others or make mistakes. This approach sort of leads to the “reality TV” feel I was talking about before. The question of how people relate to reality TV, either with judgment or if they see themselves, remains unanswered. I appreciate this neutral approach in a comic, even as it sidesteps the approach to emotion that I think a lot of readers find gratifying. I found the moment the book ended on fairly profound, a form of coming to terms with neutrality, and by extension inconsequence.
- Brian Nicholson