Axel-In-Charge: Unmasking the "Totally Awesome Hulk"
In Which I Ruminate on Stolen Bicycles, the Goddess of War, and Taking a Trip Uptown.
Part One: Boring Lifestyle Information (okay to skip)
In this past week, I have realized something fundamental, something no doubt obvious to the rest of the world; the anaerobic lifestyle begets time to read comics. Or, in other words, sitting on your ass prevents a stack of unread books from overwhelming you like The Blob. As several of you may know, I am not only a comics retailer, world class cat burglar, and general Bon Vivant, I am also a cycling enthusiast. If I have the time, and the world has provided a sunny day, you will find me pedaling madly across the Brooklyn Bridge, up the West Side Parkway, or anywhere that either a) strikes my fancy, or b) is located in proximity to whatever errand my girlfriend has assigned me.
What this ultimately means is that when I have two hours to myself, rather than enjoying a stack of lovely comics, I am sweating and getting a sunburn while trying not to hyperventilate. It’s one of the few small joys in my life, which is otherwise a slow crawl toward black oblivion.
However, while in midtown Manhattan last week, my beloved bike was stolen. It was entirely my own fault (dirty, dirty hubris and all that), which made the whole bleak scenario all the worse. On the train ride back to Brooklyn, I pulled the first volume of the Viz-big edition of DRAGONBALL from my bag, and read the whole dang thing straight through. Like that guy on the road to Damascus, I realized that maybe, just maybe, rather than this being the summer wherein I finally burn off twenty pounds and prevent the onset of diabetes, this will be the summer that sees me reading every book that is sitting in a pile by my “reading chair”.
With a newfound, less active purpose in life, I set off to do some damage.
Part Two: Is THE GODDESS OF WAR the most important book of the year thus far? VERY MUCH MAYBE.
And so it was that I finally sat down and read THE GODDESS OF WAR, the new comic from GIRL STORIES creator Lauren Weinstein. Honestly, this book was initially quite daunting, simply by virtue of having so much visual information packed onto every page. On first flip through, it looks awesome as hell, but darned if it isn’t a barrage of comics; panels small and winding into each other like a boardgame designed by mean people.
Despite my initial hesitation, GOW reads like a dream. Literally. It’s mesmerizing and hypnotic, and moves with a loopy pace, as if you’re in the middle of a terrifically weird and vivid dream. Which works to a marvelous effect, as the Goddess herself exists outside of space and time, and by the time you’ve read two or three pages, you are completely immeresed in her point of view. This kind of craft doesn’t happen by accident, my friends. This is the result of some serious cartooning chops. Chops that are deceptive. Chops that you dont even realize are there until you’ve fininshed the book and realize what a transcendental ride you’ve just been taken on. This is pure Cartooning; each page and each panel carefully designed to pull you in and drag you along, immersing you in the visual art of it all, while never abandoning the point of the narrative. The drawing style is loose and scratchy, scribbled away in densely packed panels, all toned with shades of soft, inviting, neutral greens. It’s obviously lovingly rendered, and the manic linework brings a contagious energy to every page.
GOW mixes humor, mythology, surrealism, history, and romance (kinda), all under the dual umbrellas of a character study on one hand, and a thoughtful meditation on the nature of human conflict on the other. At no point is it the rambunctious mess that is implied by that sort of content stew. It’s a perfect balance of all these elements, seamlessly connecting scenes detailing tensions between early U.S. settlers and Apaches with a trippy, inter-dimensional sex scene with Cochise. Lauren Weinstein has created her own cosmology here, building a strange and strict natural order that the Goddess operates in. Bizarre beings float in the aether (some Lovecraftian and some straight from familiar myths), and we see human history from their perspective, with all the violence and cruelty stacked up as just more moves on a checkerboard, surrounded by merciless and bloodthirsty Gods and Monsters.
This is a comic unlike anything I have ever read, and certainly one of the most original books so far this year. But best of all, this is a comic that could only exist in this medium; this is not a pitch for a movie, or a property to be merchandised, or a novel with pictures. This is an excellent ride that can only be taken panel by panel, and it revels in the form. It’s exactly the type of project that gets me excited about Comics, and what comics are capable of.
Part Three: Columbia has fancy buildings.
Monday night I was on a panel that took place at Columbia University, as part of the Columbia Publishing Course. It was moderated by the great Calvin Reid, of Publishers Weekly Comics Week, and included cartoonist Dash Shaw, editor Pete Friedrich, cartoonist Danica Novgorodoff, Del Rey Manga’s Ali Kokmen, and The Beat herself, Heidi MacDonald. This was a great group of folks, and it was interesting to hear them talk about their involvement in the world of comics. I didn’t have too much to say, so I quietly snapped a few photos with my phone.
Moderator Calvin Reid, one of the great champions of Comics today.
Dash and Danica, chillaxin’.
Ali, Heidi, and Pete, unaware that the Phantom Photographer has snapped them.
When Calvin asked who, in the audience, had read comics or graphic novels, a sea of hands went up without shame or hesitation. The questions asked at the end were all mostly well-informed and surprisingly insightful. All in all, it reminded me that we really are living in a New Golden Age of comics, where publishers of the future learn about graphic novels right alongside magazines and books. The medium has gained that sort of subtle acceptance that isn’t apparent right away, but in a few years down the line, when suddenly you realize that everything has changed around you while you were right in the center of it all, arguing about continuity in FINAL CRISIS.
I wake up every day and think “damn, comics are AWESOME!”, but it’s good to be reminded of it in an academic setting.
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