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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Movieline on Ebert vs. Knowles re: Kick-Ass
The Odd Hours
High Soft Lisp
The Playwright
Kick-Ass, the film
Gail Sheehy's Passages
Recent Books of Interest
The Odd Hours by Eric Liberge (NBM)
The Odd Hours This is Night at the Museum for grown-ups, especially since that Museum happens to be the Louvre. Indeed, the book was originally co-published with the Louvre, and so, is kind of a high-end museum gift shop offering, now come to America's shores, and an English translation. But what an offering! Liberge's story involves a deaf mute (his signing, which Liberge draws by showing multiple hand motions -- with "voice" balloons" --within the panels, is perfectly suited to comics) who is hired -- or anointed -- for a very special "night watch," wherein the works of art come alive and need to be "fed." Not in a horror-flick way, but rather, by music (the beating of a certain drum), as the "soul" invested in each great work needs to be nourished. The hero, Bastien, must contend with being misunderstand himself in a routinely speaking/hearing world -- where those gifts are also routinely taken for granted. "Chaos ensues" during the second half -- including some "sorcerer's apprentice" riffs -- and a sequence where Bastien has Pagliacci-like make-up on his face, while drumming the artworks alive make you realize all over again why you like comics so much on their own terms. And though the book ends too suddenly, with much left unresolved, the fact that this is part of a series co-sponsored by the Louvre is itself surprising, since the institution doesn't always come off looking good, in terms of bureaucratic behavior. Hard to imagine someone in charge of public, or media relations, for a similar institution here allowing such a project to get off the ground.

High Soft Lisp by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
High Soft Lisp Readers here know my fondness for the Love and Rockets canon by Los Bros H., and here, Gilbert and Fantagraphics have collected stories -- and resequenced them -- to create a graphic novel about the life and loves of Rosalba "Fritz" Martinez, the ultra-busty half-sister to the also ultra-busty -- in the manner of Russ Meyer movies -- Luba, who stars in a lot of the L&R storylines. In this collection named for her lisp, Fritz goes through many husbands and many careers, finally winding up as a venerated "Z" movie star, in the manner of someone like, well, Rosalba Neri, the Italian actress of such fames as Hercules Against Moloch (hey, did we sneak in a Watchmen reference!?). Ultimately, though, despite the refreshing sexual frankness that Hernandez proceeds with, there is much sadness and heartbreak throughout. As with our next book, one wonders if the lingering bittersweetness at the end makes more sense in middle age, than it would in youth, as our next reviewed offering similarly does. Good stuff, of course.

The Playwright by Daren White (words) and Eddie Campbell (art) (Top Shelf)
The Playwright A rumination on loss, and the over-compensations of seeming fame. White here writes in documentary fashion about a successful British playwright, who -- like, say David Hare or the late Harold Pinter -- moves fluidly between stage, TV, and film projects. He also lives an atomized, lonely life as he rides buses to his appointments (lunch with agents, etc.), while fantasizing about the breasts of female passengers -- or indeed, said passengers in entire states of undress and throes of passion -- and ruminating on lost loves. Or really, just "loss," since -- we come to find -- The Playwright (we never learn his name), can rarely speak of his love, or attraction, in a life where fate has only provided fleeting chances at love. The rectangular comic is structured in "voice over" format -- narrative panels describing inner landscapes, but the characters never speak directly to each other. Which is an interesting choice in a graphic novel about someone who makes his living writing about characters who speak to each other. We never get to see the work-within-the-work, or even what our titular playwright is like in the makeshift community that arises during rehearsal and production of a play (where writers are usually welcomed!)... As a divorced playwright myself, I was particularly struck -- left squirming? -- about many of the observations here about middle age loneliness. But don't let that scare you -- there is much that is bracing about the book, including perhaps, the combination of loss and redemption at the end. Definitely compelling, and Campbell does some of his best work here, in a variety of "textures..."

Kicking Ass, Getting Ass

High Soft Lisp
The Playwright
Hit Girl -- Chloe Moretz
Hit Girl -- Chloe Moretz
So it's Kick-Ass day here in the comics media (and by "day" I mean the day this column first appears here at SF Site -- otherwise, it's that superhero movie that came out last week...).

I had set out to talk about other kinds of asses -- and bodies, etc.-- namely the ones you might fantasize about, of the man/woman variety, whatever your pleasure and however the math works out for you. "Getting Ass" is of course a bit reductionist, if not objectifying, in terms of talking about lovemaking, but then again, sometimes people just want to fuck, you know?

We're mammals, and we come not only with lofty spirits (we tell ourselves), but hardwired with desire, too.

In any case, the "getting ass" would seem to thematically complement the Kick-Ass part, which is also quite objectifying, even as violent movies go, although it's also somewhat entertaining.

I had originally come to talk just about eroticism in comics, occasioned by the two books reviewed in the sidebar: Gilbert Hernandez' High Soft Lisp, and the Eddie Campbell/Daren White collaboration The Playwright.

Both captured a kind of yearning about sex, and the way we impute so much hope into the act: that we'll get some when we want it, that it'll always be good, that it'll somehow transform us. And good sex does all those things.

But sometimes sex is messy (emotionally, and not in the good, sweaty, viscous way), or someone's not getting it up or getting into it, or is actually too tired, or is too afraid of unmasking, or whatever, and then what?

It becomes another longing, on what can often be a long list of longed-fors.

And of course sex plays out differently at different stages of our lives -- hearty, lusty "rabbity" sex (as I believe author Gail Sheehy once described it) in our younger years (maybe -- or it's "rabbity" cause we're always chasing after it, one way or another), and then perhaps settling in to some sense of ourselves, achieving a kind of deeper, slower "mastery" of the act, or acts, tethered to other kinds of communion (again paraphrasing Sheehy, the Passages author...).

Or of course, we stay masked, like some Republican Senator, and cast out our rage on others, and lie to ourselves even after we're caught red-handed -- or red-whatevered -- in an airport bathroom, molesting a page, wearing diapers in a whorehouse, etc.

By the way, I did not make up that short list, just now.

In any case, Hernandez, Campbell and White capture many of the longed-fors, and the ways they are often fulfilled, in matters of the flesh, and the ways they are not.

I was especially interested in how these now somewhat older comics creators used the emotional textures of middle-age to inform their stories as well -- the sadness of lost loves or missed chances, the still "rabbit" like hope that somehow, a transformative "connection" -- getting laid, falling in love, any combo of the two -- is still just around the corner, etc.

I was especially interested because I am, of course, middle-aged. Well, I say "of course," because it seems obvious to me -- you, dear reader, perhaps rightfully don't spend much time on my actuarial issues.

I'm also divorced -- the Ex having ended it, some years back, in a particular way that "weaponized" sex and trust. So I vacillate then between emotional hermitude -- not having relationships -- yet still dating and hoping that redemptive, intangible connection is just around the corner.

Do we want love? Or something less?

The Campbell/White team come up with one answer at the end of The Playwright -- once an artist is out of his head, or his shell, he suddenly doesn't need to compensate by making art; he's living it instead (this may apply to "she's" as well, but the protagonist is a guy).

Of course, what about art that celebrates?

There's a little of that in each work,

And they do this in each work -- especially the (mostly) joyous/casual/happy nudity that Hernandez deploys, whereas with Campbell the female form -- at least in this work -- is a locus of constantly unsettling desire.

But both are very comfortable with bodies in a way that most mainstream American is not -- certainly not mainstream comics, and certainly not superhero comics, which of course idealize bodies, the boys and girls, without ever being able to actually show them.

It becomes idealized desire, again.

Which kind of brings me back to Kick-Ass. I was in a ruminative mood, prepping this column, when my teenage son asked to go see a midnight screening of the controversial flick based on the Mark Millar/John Romita, Jr. graphic novel that becomes a modern Death Wish -- regular citizens (were told), assuming not just a vigilante mantle, but an improvised superhero persona as well, to take on "real life" bad guys.

The movie, of course, should really be called Hit Girl, given that it's Chloe Moretz' portrayal of the cute/deadly 11 year-old assassin who really makes the story, and the screen, come alive.

I don't entirely disagree with Roger Ebert's take on the film, however:

  The movie's premise is that ordinary people, including a high school kid, the 11-year-old and her father, try to become superheroes in order to punish evil men. The flaw in this premise is that the little girl DOES become a superhero. In one scene, she faces a hallway jammed with heavily armed gangsters and shoots, stabs and kicks them all to death...

This isn't comic violence. These men, and many others in the film, are really stone cold dead. And the 11-year-old apparently experiences no emotions about this. Many children that age would be, I dunno, AFFECTED somehow, don't you think, after killing eight or 12 men who were trying to kill her?

I know, I know. This is a satire. But a satire of what?


I'll probably talk more about the "killer kid" aspects next column (since I see I'm running out of space already!), but I wanted to get back to, well, nudity.

In the film, the teenage Kick-Ass spends time fantasizing about hot women -- a well-endowed English teacher, and then a cute girl who he wishes would notice him in the hallways. He is not unlike the titular Playwright -- or one of Fritz's many ex-husbands -- in this regard: The wish to be really "seen." Maybe that drives a lot of putative superheroes?

Kick-Ass finally "gets" one of them, though, but in the film's various fantasy and actual sex sequences, there is quite a demureness about the female form, or any nudity at all.

And this is a film that thinks nothing of having an 11-year-old impale and slice villains, as well as sundering their limbs, shooting them through the face, etc.

The film is supposed to be daring, and in some ways -- the violent ways, the out of context kid ways -- it is. But it's not really daring at all -- at all -- about sex or nakedness.

Which means that really, Hernandez, Campbell and White are in fact much "edgier" than Millar and Romita's "controversial" work.

It's back to the unmasking thing again: never mind who's in the spider, bat, or green scuba "kick ass" suit. It's who's inside you -- and what his or her real demands are -- that's the big reveal.

More next time.

Copyright © 2010 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams writes the Danger Boy time travel series, which is currently being developed for large and small screens. He spends a lot of time thinking about love in the time of, well, not cholera, but now. He also writes for papers like Variety, Below the Line, and more. He gets Twittery @mlondonwmz

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