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Two Out Of Three Should Be Good

I work in a comic shop, and I try and take at least a cursory look at everything.

I admit, I’m pretty damn jaded with maybe 90% of comics these days. Of the other 10%, maybe 9/10ths is fun, entertaining stuff. It massages my brain in a pleasant way… so yeah, I’d definitely call it ‘good’, but I don’t really see much that I regard as exceptionally so.

So when, two weeks in a row, I manage to grab two exceptionally good pieces of work (albeit, both of which were initially published twenty years ago or more), well, that’s PRETTY DAMN GOOD.

Two weeks ago, HarperCollins book publishers released ‘Zot! The Complete Black and White Collection’ by Scott McCloud. I’d picked up the colour trades of ‘Zot’ years ago, and found them fun… entertaining stuff. The artwork was a little unpolished, and the storytelling a little simplistic, but it was entertaining enough, I guess.

First of all, this collection is great value. It’s beautifully presented, 576 pages long, and retails for $24.95 US.

But beyond that, this is exceptional comics.

Scott McCloud is a proficient theorist. He’s definitely not as polished in practical terms, but, like Will Eisner, he not only knows WHAT to do… but WHY you do it the way you do it. Admittedly, his work here is a little self-conscious, and he doesn’t do it as seamlessly as Eisner (but hell, like that’s any sort of criticism), but its still incredibly thoughtful work, and you can really see the growth of the mind which produced ‘Understanding Comics’ growing and blossoming.

But enough metafictional analysis, is it any good?

Yes. Yes it is. It’s an extremely thoughtful work, and for all that the author admits that he’s not the most proficient artist in the world, the gentle, somewhat naive, optimistic, clean art style complements the story perfectly. It would be easy to dismiss this work as overly sentimental, but it has a rare and wonderful sense of fun and optimism, without being simplistic. It’s not afraid to deal with serious issues, but doesn’t descend into that knee-jerk faux ‘seriousness’ which seems to be plaguing the mainstream scene these days. Its characters are three dimensional and realistic (in the sense that they’re well-realized and recognizable people) without descending into knee-jerk faux ‘realism’.

It touches on a number of themes, which may seem like they’ve been gone over before, but which were pretty dang risky back in the late 80′s/early 90′s,

It made me tremendously happy. And I really cared about the characters and their story.

And that’s a good thing.

Last Week iDw presented the first half of their omnibus collection of Bill Messener-Loebs’ ‘Journey’, from IdW. This series originally appeared in the early-mid 80′s, and concerns the adventures of frontiersman ‘Wolverine’ McAllister. This one retails for $19.95 US and is 474 pages long, which is a dang big hunk o’ reading.

As with ‘Zot’ the hand of Will Eisner can be seen here. Messner-Loebs’ style is, like Eisner’s serious, and yet cartoony in equal amounts. The characters are exaggerated and cartoonish, but their setting is meticulous and rich with detail. Events are sometimes preposterous, often humourous, but the characters within never treat themselves as farcical.

Messner-Loebs’ historical awareness, as the central characters interact with historical figures, discuss social and political issues of the day and interact with one another is meticulous, but it’s used to launch narratives, and springboard stories and adventures, rather than confine and restrict the story to persnickety concerns about accuracy and tone. Similarly, his knowledge of the local area, of the weather conditions, local native American tribes, environment, flora and fauna and woodcraft, are fascinating, but again, he uses this knowledge to entertain the reader… and entertain it does. ‘Journey’ is vastly energetic, often wildly funny, not infrequently terrifying, complex in terms of character and narrative and just a straight-up hoot to read.

Like ‘Zot’, it has a refreshing sense of verisimilitude. You know and understand the characters and find yourself intrigued by and absorbed in their stories.

It’s a difficult series to pigeonhole, and in a way, it’s the sort of series that could only have existed at the dawn of the Black and White boom, before people realized that comics, stories and genres had to be straightjacketed by artificial constraints like genre conventions, overarching themes or consistency of tone. Like Eisner’s ‘The Spirit’, ‘Journey’ establishes its main character and gives a general idea of his milieu, but then feels free to tell whatever kind of stories the author feels like telling given those fairly vague parameters. And Messner-Loebs takes full advantage of this. From broad farce, to quite chilling scenes of horror. From tales of human relationships, to encounters with supernatural oddness. From historical drama and tales of wilderness survival to cartoon shenanigans.

And it’s all done seamlessly. McAllister, like Denny Colt, is a malleable enough character, and his reactions to all of this is handled so well that the audience can just go with the flow. Sometimes, something happens today that isn’t like what happened yesterday. You deal with it and move on.

So yeah, two damn good comics. Some damn good reading. Damn fine craft and bloody good value.

I believe I said ‘Two Out Of Three’.

This week, I received a comic to review. I shan’t mention it, because it’s not going to be much of a review… more a general statement of policy.

If you’re going to send me porno comics, they should be as good as Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s ‘Lost Girls’, Phil and Kaja Foglio’s ‘Xxxenophile’, Bill Willingham’s ‘Ironwood’ or Colleen Coover’s ‘Small Favours’. Just about every other pornographic comic book I’ve ever seen which isn’t one of those mentioned above has left me pretty bloody cold.

Occasionally, Richard Moore will produce something well illustrated, but for the most part, that’s it.

If it’s not as good as the stuff above, I’ll give it the same review. Trite, tedious rubbish. A bunch of joyless grudgefucks, sophomoric ‘humour’ and anonymous cumshots isn’t ‘good’.

Yes, porno comics CAN be good. But Sturgeon’s 90% is almost ridiculously optimistic on this front.

5 Comments

Remember Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of EVERYTHING is crap. Comics included.

There’s a company putting out bizarre sci-fi concepts with limited pornographic content based on “classic” porn films… I forget their name, but “Deep Throat” is really good. ‘Debbie Does Dallas’ didn’t seem as good, and ‘Candy Stripers’ was basically bad porn… but ‘Deep Throat’ is worth a look. It ties in the plot of Deep Throat with Richard Nixon and has monsters.

For accuracy, let’s be fair to the writer and the character: I read one issue of ‘Journey’ 25 years ago and I remember the protagonist’s name was ‘Macalistaire’. I didn’t continue reading because black-on-white comics give me a headache.

I love Journey! In addition to all the fine qualities you mention, it’s a book in which the dialect adds to the flavor rather than distracts. The voices of Josh and the supporting cast are quite clear. Messner-Loebs’ grasp of human nature, humor, and ear for dialogue made for a wonderful read.

Andrew Collins

August 8, 2008 at 2:05 pm

I’m glad to see another ZOT! fan out there. I’m hoping more people discover and re-discover the series with the new collection. I like the way you put it- ZOT! makes me tremendously happy too. I almost always finish reading it with a smile on my face, but also a little sad that the adventures of Zot, Jenny, Butch, Peabody, etc. are generally over unless McCloud really gets the bug to do new adventures someday (not counting his brief return to Zot with the webcomic from a few years ago…)

McCloud also comes across as a little hard on himself in the commentary, then again I guess we’re all our own worst critics. His stories and art were always good and, like you said, very fitting for what he was trying to tell. The turn towards more serious themes later in the series was handled very deftly and was never trite or condescending or forced. There’s a good reason why the Earth Stories arc are mine, and a lot fo peoples’, favorite stories from the series. “The Conversation” is an amazing piece of fiction as McCloud basically illustrates a conversation about sex between Zot and Jenny with no action and yet makes it incredibly engaging and funny. It’s probably my favorite issue of the series, though Terry’s story is also a personal favorite…

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