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Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers): “Toad style is immensely strong, and immune to nearly any weapon.”

May 10th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

The Damon Albarn Appreciation Society is an ongoing series of observations, conversations, and thoughts about music. Here’s the sixth. Chris Sims wanted me to write about Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu-Tang in fifteen minutes. With the exception of the quoted bit from my tumblr (which was relevant, and which I still like), I kept to the rules. I started with “Bring Da Ruckus” because it seemed appropriate. As I finished, “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber” was winding down and “Can It All Be So Simple” was spinning up. Maybe this was 16 minutes or so? Who knows/cares, I was in the middle of a thought I wanted to finish.

Minutes from previous meetings of the Society: The Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby”, Tupac – Makaveli, Blur – 13 (with Graeme McMillan), Blur – Think Tank (with Graeme McMillan), Black Thought x Rakim: “Hip-Hop, you the love of my life”


So when the Wu were chanting “Tiger Style!” on “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin To Fuck With,” it wasn’t just because it sounds good when you growl it. It’s because tigers were the top dog of all animals. Tiger Style, from what I’ve read, is all about offense and ending battles quickly, rather than evasion and misdirection. It’s direct, to the point, and deadly.

So “Tiger Style!” becomes a war chant and a warning. “The kings are here, everyone else fall back or catch a bad one.”

I love 36 Chambers.

It’s rough, and I think everyone that loves it recognizes that fact. Method Man hadn’t quite grown into his role as the Wu’s chief crossover king. Ghostface was just a regular rapper, with barely a hint of the style that made Supreme Clientele top 5. Rae wasn’t a kingpin yet, and RZA was just a voice, not a guru. GZA and Deck are more or less fully-formed here, with some incredible verses that stick to your ribs. U-God and Masta Killa are okay, but Ol Dirty Bastard was already settled into his role. It’s a matter of picking where to start.

Start with the first three tracks. “Bring Da Ruckus” starts off the album and sets the tone. “Ghostface! Catch the blast of a hype verse!” The next joint, “Shame on a Nigga,” begins, “Ol’ Dirty bastard, live and uncut/ Style’s unbreakable, shatterproof.” GZA on “Clan in da Front”: “The Wu is comin’ thru, the outcome is critical/ Fuckin’ wit my style, is sort of like a Miracle.”

This is what the Wu is: personality and skill. “This is me, and I’m about to rock you.” Rap is intensely personality driven, but the Wu managed to stand out even amongst their larger than life competition. Meth was playful and prone to smoking wet blunts. GZA is the scientist. ODB is wild, self-sabotage as lifestyle choice. RZA is the planner. Rae is Scarface, while Ghost is his abstract partner in crime. Every member has a role, and they all play it to the hilt.

All of that together is alchemical. The Wu is greater than the sum of its parts, and there’s still something magical about every time they get together. You want it to feel like this raw, poorly mastered release that got your blood pumping back in the day. This is Timberlands and camo jackets rap, almost actively anti-radio in sound and with a weird aesthetic. Kung fu movies? Where’d that come from?

But 36 Chambers, in spite of, or because of, its warts, is incredibly listenable. Every single song hits, and the album builds in emotional breaks between that raw rap. “Can It All Be So Simple” comes right after “7th Chamber,” and “TEARZ” comes right off the high-energy “Protect Ya Neck.” These are pauses for breath, something you have to do after chanting “WU! WU! WU! WU!” It brings you back down to earth, CNN of the streets style, and then you get built right back up.

“Da Mystery of Chessboxin” coming after “Can It Be” is incredible, because it’s just raw lyricism on display. The opening skit is pointed yet again, and sets up Toad Style as the style on display in the song. And everyone goes all the way in. U-God drops his first classic verse with his trademark growl (“Raw like cocaine straight from Bolivia” is hard body), Deck is typically clever, and while Rae isn’t using that juggernaut flow he perfected later, this shout-to-my-dawgs style is still compelling. And then Dirty comes in and crushes the building, coloring outside the lines and elevating the whole affair. Tony Starks brings some ultraviolence, and then Masta Killa’s first bar is insane.

The whole album–you can pull any song apart and look at its guts and be even more impressed. It sounds dirty and dusty, like some cats just got together with an old MPC and a rickety record player and put together an LP, but when you really listen to this album? When you look at the scaffolding that’s hidden behind the poorly mixed vocals, poorly acted skits (“fuck you mean is he fuckin dead”), random censoring, and scratchy kung fu samples?

It’s nigh-flawless. This whole thing, all 36 Chambers, they were constructed. It’s amazingly well put together.

The Wu’s a huge influence on my writing.

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It Ain’t No More To It: “When a fresh faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell.”

April 28th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

started at the top of Saul Williams’s “Banged and Blown Through.” 2334 on 04.25.11. images from brian azzarello and eduardo risso’s 100 Bullets Vol. 8: The Hard Way. you can start with issue 1 for ninety-nine cents, though.

Cape comics are nice and all, but my favorite types of comics feature real people doing real things. Crime comics and war comics are what really float my boat, for whatever reason. Sci-fi and fantasy are okay, but never really manage to hold my interest for long. I like seeing people in these books that could live next door, but have this insane other life.

Crime comics are a sorely underserved genre. There’s a lot of crime in cape comics, sure, but that’s not really the same thing. My ideal crime comic would probably read like Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, Richard Stark, or Dashiell Hammett doing comics. Where cape comics are flashy and make a splash, crime comics are the ones that are a little dirtier, and a lot more down to Earth. People get shot and die, punches hurt, and the dialogue is punchy or mean.

In terms of crime comics, I like them spare, more often than not. The ones that descend into two-fisted gunfights, intense acrobatics, suicide charges that the hero lives through… all of that is sorta bland. It turns it into an action movie, rather than something measured and realistic. I like it when a punch in the face ruins someone’s whole day, or when the violence is inexpert and awkward. You can be trained to shoot guns with deadly accuracy, sure. At the same time, that can be a little boring, can’t it? I like people who mess up.

My favorite crime character is Richard Stark’s Parker, though I don’t know that Stark is my favorite writer, crime or otherwise. I like the spare, stripped down nature of him. He likes money and women, in that order, and he pulls jobs so that he has money to get women. Everything else is just part of the job. Not to say that he hasn’t pulled off some impossible stuff before–Slayground is essentially Home Alone in an amusement park and there’s one book where him and some friends rob an entire town–but when you get down to it, Parker is just a guy who’s talented at what he does. And that happens to be hurting or robbing people.

I liked Sherlock Holmes a lot as a kid. I loved the whole idea of solving mysteries being like unlocking a puzzle. Once you had all the pieces, it was simply a matter of looking at them from the right perspective. All it took was smarts and you could do anything. I don’t remember many specifics about Holmes any more, and it’s been years since I revisited Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, but I still love the idea of him. The Robert Downey Jr movie was pretty okay, but more action-oriented than I’d have liked.

I liked Holmes, but I loved Encyclopedia Brown. That kid was amazing to me. Sherlock Holmes Plus.

A lot of comics tend to screw up the violence. It’s action movie violence, which is great for a two hour picture, but not necessarily good for comics. I like when it gets visceral and personal. One guy fighting thirty ninjas is boring. One guy fighting his brother is great. Give me stakes I can believe in, stakes that go higher than just “If he loses, he dies.” Give me blood and give me tears.

Not say that there’s no place for stylized violence. The other day on Twitter, I said that “I mostly just want stuff where men and women (or ninjas) of visibly legal age wear suits, smoke cigarettes, and kill people.” It’s glib, but it’s also kinda sorta true. I love that whole Rat Pack/mobster/Mad Men aesthetic, and the thought of gentleman thieves is one that I can never let go of. Stylish people doing stylish things is a fetish.

Cigarette smoke is bad for you or whatever, but it’s also one of the best visuals I can think of. You can do a lot with that, from a melancholy moll to a weary hitter. If you know what you’re doing, it can be immensely powerful, you know?

I’m a big fan of Lupin the 3rd. He’s a take on the gentleman thief that I can really get down with. He steals because he’s good at it and because he likes money. His heists are increasingly ridiculous, and he’s chased by a bumbling oaf of a cop. Lupin the 3rd is pretty comedic, but the actual heist portions are always fun. He’s sort of how I wish they’d portray the Riddler in the Batman comics. He does it because he’s good at it, not because he’s a villain. If you’ve got a talent, flex it. Why not?

Another thing I dig about crime stories is the way the conflict between good vs evil plays out. It’s rarely as simple as black and white, and sometimes, morality blurs under the weight of reality. Sometimes a guy just needs to feed his family, and sometimes a cop has to feed his smack habit.

Crime comics/stories can be ugly and mean, but I love them.

I love war comics, too, though my taste in that has gotten very specific very quickly. I like them pared down and lean. Big battle scenes are no good, and one superman vs a faceless horde isn’t my thing. I like my war comics personal, and from the point of view of the man on the ground or his girl back home. The sort of stories where officers are corrupt and ineffectual, and the only real men are the ones with blood on their bayonet.

I eat up Garth Ennis’s war comics with a spoon. He’s got a take that I love, one that’s reverent of the men who do the work but scornful of the fact that the work itself exists. There’s this strong strain of hate for the war industry in his comics, the people who profit off bullets and bombs and blood. He’s concerned about the people, rather than the politics, and that makes for good reading. The people in his comics are everyday people pushed to do extraordinary things for sickeningly ordinary reasons.

“Spare” is my watchword, apparently. It’s something I try to do in life. Keeping things as simple and free of flourish as possible is something I try to practice, both in my writing and real life. “I deal with the real, so if it’s artificial, let it be,” right? I like when crime and war tales strip away the fat and just show us the meat and bone. Why are these people doing this? How is it going to affect them? Why do we put them into this?

Cape comics tend to work in the opposite direction. Heroes fight as soon as they team-up because the genre demands it. The villain who just spent a year terrorizing everyone in the country gets punched out, sometimes on live TV, and that’s supposed to be some type of closure any reasonable person can live with. Nobody ever gets stomped out. They just “do battle.”

That’s good, up until a point, but sometimes I just want to see people react to violence like normal people. Seeing somebody get shot is traumatic. Getting punched in the face sticks with you. There’s not enough of that in cape comics, but war and crime tales tend to keep me satisfied.

finished at the end of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” 0001 on 04.26.11

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The Cipher 04/27/11: “Lees and shell toes like it’s Black History Month”

April 27th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

picture me, lampin’ in the company car

created: blahhhhh

-New milestone: I did a piece for Publishers Weekly on First Second’s digital strategy. I don’t do much actual journalism type stuff, so this was pretty neat.

-I liked Wilfred Santiago’s biography of Roberto Clemente. 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente is cheap on Amazon, just about fifteen bucks. I liked it quite a bit, so check out that review.

-You can read Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca’s Afrodisiac for free.99. You absolutely should. Big fan.

-Moebius is your favorite artist’s favorite artist. True.

-Here go five digital comics you need to get up on. Comic Book Comics, Dwayne McDuffie’s run on Fantastic Four, Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits, Catwoman: Dark End of the Street, and Marineman.

-Here’s video of the iFanboy vs ComicsAlliance panel at Wondercon:


rims like tibetan prayer wheels

consumed: Today sucks like days haven’t sucked in forever, so I’m going to keep this short. Longer next week, I promise.

-Music… I’ve been spinning this mix of David Bowie’s The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars and Saul Williams’s The Inevitable Rise and Liberation Of Niggy Tardust. Is it a yin/yang thing? I dunno. The transition from “Rock’n’Roll Suicide” to “Black History Month” (ain’t on youtube, look elsewhere) is pretty crucial. On Twitter, I said “the transition from David Bowie’s Rock’n’Roll Suicide to Saul Williams’s Black History Month is like dying and waking up in the apocalypse.” I dunno. I wish I could set up like a 15 seconds crossfade from one song to the other in iTunes, but not between songs on both albums.

-Black Avengers–Graeme pulled out some quotes from a Brevoort piece on CBR that made some waves on Twitter. I don’t care, but I don’t care in that way that I get mad that other people care.

-It reminds me of the chromatic casting meme from last year (year before?). It’s begging for scraps off the table instead of demanding a seat at the table. I don’t want to buy Black Avengers. If I had to choose, I want to buy some fresh new comics with black characters. I don’t need the Avengers to validate my race or the characters I like.

-Screw the Avengers.

-This sort of thing tends to pop up once or twice a year–somebody gets it into their head that in order to be EQUAL black people need to be the same thing as white people. We need a Black Spider-Man! That’s diversity, right?!

-Black Spider-Man can get deez nutz. I don’t want him at all.

-The worst part about Black Avengers, and I’m using Black Avengers as a term to stand in for the thing I’m talking about, is that it’s so unbelievably short-sighted. It just ends up propping up the old, clumsy, ugly, poisonous, and rotten paradigm that everyone claims they want to get out from under. Let them people have the Avengers. Make something better.

-Oh, you want rock’n’roll? That’s cool, ’cause we’ve got rap.

-Sometimes I seriously hate corporate comics.

-And I said this would be short, but that was a lie, because I wanted to get that poison out of me. I’m not mad about the Black Avengers. I just think it’s a stupid idea (and, like all stupid ideas, one that would work under a talented team) and hate that it became, however briefly, a talking point with regards to race and capes.

-Think it through in both directions, front to back–where did it come from? Where will it lead? What does it mean? Black Avengers thinking is poisonous.

-Crap, what do I like so this isn’t completely composed of me blacking out on dumb ideas…

-JTabon on Twitter made the mistake of Twitting this: “Did a watercolor sketch of Jubilee in a hoodie as a warmup today. @hermanos puts terrible ideas in my head.”

-I think I’d twittered something about girls in fur-lined hoodies, but I don’t feel like looking.

-I called his bluff and told him to post it. Look:

-Dude is dope. Follow him on Twitter if you twit, and if you don’t, check out his website. The top post right now is a really interesting inking practice thing.

-I liked this Tim Callahan piece on comics media.

-Blu dropped some predictably cryptic liner notes for his new album, in addition to the track list. Really looking forward to No York over here.

-I saw Hanna. I liked it. Too frustrated to write about it right now, though.

-It Ain’t No More To It is an attempt to better my writing. I give myself a time limit (15 or 30 minutes) and I don’t allow myself to edit. Once a paragraph is finished, it’s locked in stone, typos and all, and I move on. I barely even edit once I finish a sentence, barring deletion. It’s the raw unfiltered. My sword needs to be sharper, and this seems like an effective way to do it. Think faster, think better.

-Oh yeah, the African Batman has a few pages in Batman Inc 5. His name is David and he has a jetpack. I approve.

-I hope Donald Trump gets punched in the stomach on live TV. How unbelievably disappointing.


nigga, what, i’m a star

David: Power Man and Iron Fist 4, Xombi 2
Esther: Oui: Action Comics 900, Batman Incorporated 5 Peut-être: Xombi 2, Detective Comics 876
Gavin: Batman Inc. 5, Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors 9, Justice League: Generation Lost 24, Avengers 12.1, Captain America 617, Deadpool 36, FF 2, Incredible Hulk 627, Namor: The First Mutant 9, Power Man and Iron Fist 4, Secret Avengers 12, Secret Avengers 12.1, Venom 2, Incorruptible 17

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It Ain’t No More To It: 4thlettered!

April 26th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

started one minute into Saul Williams’s “Tr(n)igger.” 2245 on 04.25.11

Lettering in cape comics tends to suck. I don’t mean that it’s not technically proficient, because it is 99% of the time, but that it’s boring. Lettering is a vital part of comics. It’s an information delivery system, and too often, it’s treated more as USPS than… I dunno, a singing telegram or something that delivers something with some panache.

My eyebrows always sorta narrow when I see word balloons in comics that were taken straight from Comicraft’s site. It gives books this same-y, bland feel. There’s no personality in there, when the letters should definitely have some. I mean, the letters are supposed to represent people’s dialogue, right? I’m not asking for every character to have a distinctive word balloon (thought it was dope when Johnny Storm and Bobby Drake had fire and ice-based balloons back in the Onslaught days), but something more than the default white balloon would be nice, wouldn’t it? I like when you can see the gravel in Ben Grimm’s voice right there on the page.

Letterers like Stan Sakai, John Workman, Tom Orzechowski, Dustin Harbin, and Jared K Fletcher tend to do it right. Their splashy, interesting balloons add to the art, rather than interfering with it. The balloon tails meander and wiggle, rather than coming to a perfect 30 degree angle or whatever. Font sizes vary, balloon shapes warp, and on and on.

Sound effects are one of those things that I feel should be handled by the entire art team, not just the letterer. There’s nothing like seeing sfx integrated into the art. It makes the art just that much more exciting, just a little more like the platonic ideal of comic books. I do like books without sound effects, but if you’re going to use them, why not use them? Make them pretty, not just a Photoshop (Illustrator?) level on top of the colored art. Sketch in a “thwip” or throw a big fat “BOOM!” behind a punch. Let the sound effect serve as your panel, like this bit from Kathryn Immonen and Tonci Zonjic’s Heralds.

I read Moebius’s The Airtight Garage the other day. It was fantastic, as expected, but what leapt out at me maybe the most was one sound effect in this panel partway through, the boom:

Because oh man, Frank Quitely totally used that in his run on Batman & Robin, didn’t he? This is nothing, just four letters and an explosion separated by publishing company and probably 20-some years, but it creates an interesting link between two works. It’s interesting, and it doesn’t dominate the page or look like it doesn’t belong. It’s part of the page, and it’s interesting.

Marvel does this thing that I hate. I think it’s a company-wide general rule for books of a certain rating, but I haven’t put any real study to it. Pure anecdotal, whatever whatever. When someone gets stabbed or shot, the exit wound is almost always covered by a big ugly sound effect. Not all the way covered, but significantly so. It bugs me so much, because it’s just another reminder that I’m reading a comic book that’s stuck pretending like it’s for children. It’s positively graceless. If you can’t show something, why do it and then hide it? There’s got to be a better way.

finished two and a half minutes into Saul Williams’s “NiggyTardust.” 2258 on 04.25.11

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It Ain’t No More To It: On My Superman

April 26th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

started about halfway through David Bowie’s “Soul Love”. 2205 on 04.25.11. i cheated and edited in a correction toward the end at 0011 on 04.26.11, but it was a really dumb mistake. i’ll do better next time.

I read through the last year of Joe Casey’s run on Adventures of Superman the other day. It’s one of the few works of his I haven’t read, and this was the infamous “Superman is a pacifist” segment, so I figured I should. I came away pretty impressed–Casey had a lot of good ideas. Most of them were well-executed, and the ones that weren’t were still very strong. My favorite part of the run was a small scene from Adventures of Superman 610 that was unrelated to the rest of the issue. They’re spread throughout this post.

I really liked that Casey’s Superman refused violence as a way to solve problems, and I felt like this was another take on what Ann Nocenti was exploring in Daredevil all those years ago, the idea that resorting to violence is a sign of failure, rather than triumph. It takes one of the central tenets of the superhero, that muscles can beat anything, and says, “This is untrue.”

Casey having a specific take on Superman, like a mandate, was really interesting to me. Most writers tend to go with “Superman is all that is good,” which is okay, but not very interesting sometimes. It got me thinking about what I like about Superman, a character I wasn’t into much as a kid, but suddenly seem to have a lot of opinions about now that I’m an adult. I don’t really care to argue whether Superman is a Jesus figure or Moses (because he’s Moses, frankly), but I’m going to try to pin down what’s “my” Superman.

I figure my first, biggest tenet is that Superman doesn’t cry. If you take for granted that Superman is Superman, the one hero that everyone loves and respects, then seeing Superman cry would be like seeing your dad cry. It’d be horrifying, a big fat ball of ugly, crawling dread dropped directly into your hindbrain. When he’s Superman, when he’s got that costume on, he should fearless. He can be sad, sure–that’s fine. But Superman doesn’t cry. The only people he cries in front of… that’s Lois Lane and his parents. He’s strong for everyone else, but since he knows that his family is there for him, he can bring the wall down.

Superman’s got Lois Lane. She’s the one he goes back to when times get rough, and she’s the one whose the Mary Jane to his Peter Parker. She’s where he goes to be normal. I never like it when writers come up with infidelity, fake or otherwise, plots, because Lois married the actual best person on Earth. Cheating doesn’t even enter into his mind. It’s positively absurd, like Mother Teresa strangling a child on live television. Lois isn’t jealous because she knows exactly what her husband is. She knows she’s got nothing to fear.

I think Superman’s biggest feature is his compassion. He’s an idealist at his foundation, and he tries to serve as an inspiration. He can’t save everyone, and he knows that, but he hates it. He’d rescue balloons out of trees just to see a kid smile, and he spends more time silently helping people than sleeping. I like this scene with Emilio for exactly that reason. He doesn’t know this kid at all, but he’s so unbelievably compassionate that he came to see him, despite knowing that he couldn’t save the child’s mother. He just wanted to be there, to provide a shoulder.

I figure that at least 75% of what Superman does to help people has to be non-violent. Crime-stopping is okay, but that’s treating the symptom. Superman is going for a better world, not a “pretty good today.”

Because of that compassion, Superman has to be a pretty melancholy dude. He’s more aware of his failings than anyone else, and considering exactly how powerful he is, his failings are huge. There is a lot he can’t do, and those would be the things he wishes he could do the most. Like, when his parents died, Batman learned that the world only makes sense when you force it to. You reach out, you make a fist, and you pound the world into shape. Superman’s a little different. Superman’s about coping, rather than control. He’s battling a chronic disease as best he can.

Another thing I hate is when people suddenly distrust Superman. That’s stupid. He’s Superman. The whole point is that you’re supposed to trust him, that he’s hear to save us all. I think it’s interesting when people appear who point out where he’s gone wrong, though I can’t think of a time that story wasn’t smarmy and condescendingly awful. But he’s the one guy who is bigger than politics. He’s Michael Jackson, or Mickey Mouse.

Casey’s pacifist take was supremely interesting. Superman has violence at the core of his character. That’s how he solved problems when he first appeared, and for the past however many years. I’m not one to deny the power of violence as a problem solving tool, but I enjoy the idea of the strongest man in the world actively rejecting that power, and what’s more, treating it with scorn. It’s a statement: “I am better than this. We can do better than this.”

Rejecting violence also lets Superman tackle problems that would be otherwise tacky in cape comics. Superman fighting a super-strong straw man of a black militant is ugly and stupid, an attempt to boil down an endlessly complex quagmire into black and white. A Superman who sits down and says, “Let’s talk,” though, is a way to create much more personal and powerful stories. Sure, it doesn’t make for exciting fight comics, but we’ve had seventy years of fight comics. Go read those. Embrace something else.

I like the idea that Superman reads all his fanmail.

I’m not reading Superman comics right now. I don’t think I’ve read them since Geoff Johns and Eric Powell did that Goon story (I’m cheating, but I definitely meant Bizarro, not Goon). The Krypton stuff did nothing for me, the War With Krypton sounded excruciating, and at this point, JMS has managed to compromise the line. I’ve never been a huge Superman fan, but I like him in bursts. Superman: Birthright is great, as is The Death and Return of Superman. The Death was actually my entry into Superman, back in the day. He died on my birthday, in fact.

I think Superman is a good character. I don’t much care for the bulk of his comics, or really the movies, but he was cool on the cartoon. I wish I liked him more, but I do like seeing how other heroes play off him or are inspired by him. I think he’s too often played as a Boy Scout, full stop, to be truly interesting. There’s a lot of wiggle room in him, just like there is in most cape comics characters, but not a lot of experimentation.

Superman is one of the strongest characters in comics. I think it’d be cool to see how far he can bend before he’s not Superman any more.

finished about fifty seconds into David Bowie’s “Rock’n’Roll Suicide”. 2235 on 04.25.11

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It Ain’t No More To It: Casanova & Growth

April 18th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

(A brief explanation: I feel bored and weird and unsatisfied and like I need something new. It Ain’t No More To It is borrowed from a Biggie song where he drops in, busts a verse like that Schooly D joint, and gets out in 50-some seconds. So: I took a loose idea [in this case, talk about Casanova] and spent thirty minutes writing about it. No post-writing edits, either, beyond adding in images and links. This’ll be an ongoing thing, and eventually they might even get good.)

My man Sean has me thinking about Matt Fraction, Fabio Moon, and Gabriel Ba’s Casanova tonight.

I read Casanova: Luxuria 1 and was turned off. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why, but it felt see-thru. Ephemeral, light, full of nothing. References for references sake, and the backmatter actually grated. Having such an overwhelmingly negative reaction to Fraction, Moon, and Ba’s book was a huge surprise surprise to me. Years ago, Casanova was everything to me, a bright, shining beacon of what comics could be, something that ran counter to the mainstream superheroes that tended to turn to ashes in my mouth.

Casanova launched in 2006. Since then, I’ve been through several major life upheavals. I moved two thousand miles from home. I sold my car. I got a job with a salary. I started drinking. I quit drinking. I met girls, I forgot girls, and then met them again. Saying “Everything is different now” is probably hyperbole, but in a very real way, I’m not who I was five years ago. I’ve done a lot of changing and a lot of growing up.

I get the Beatles, Blur, and David Bowie references in Casanova now. The story is different to me, though it’s the same story it’s always been. I’m different, and what was once revolutionary and mind-expanding is… just okay. Been there, learned what I needed to learn, and left it in the dust.

I used to love the backmatter in Casanova. It was like getting a guided tour behind the curtain, a personal connection between creator and consumer. It deepened my appreciation of the book, the way getting a glimpse of the person behind the pen tends to do, and it was something I wished more people would do. Bendis’s letters pages in Powers were a hot mess, but Casanova‘s text pieces clicked with me.

Part of it was that it served to make the book more clear. It made it plain that, yes, Casanova was about Jim Steranko comics and music and movies and sex, but it was also about Matt Fraction (and maybe to a lesser extent, the brothers Moon and Ba). It was his The Invisibles, a distillation of things he loves, hates, and fears put down onto the comics page. I could relate. Writing has always served as a way for me to work out issues (perhaps not always as well as I’d like) and crystallize my thoughts. Writing makes thoughts real. It creates realities. And reading Casanova felt like watching someone else work through that process.

The new backmatter struck me as the opposite. It felt like a flinch, like he’d touched a hot stove and drew back. It was alternately smug, infuriating, and annoying. The rejection of snark from Fraction felt fake, as did the “stop downloading and start uploading” tag in the indicia. It sounded like the old dichotomy of an artist up there, a reader down there, and if you’re one, you clearly aren’t the other, so man up and make something. And that grated.

I don’t think I’d realized how much I’ve changed until I read through Casanova: Luxuria. I say there were upheavals, but it was more like anything else. Brief bursts of growth that, when viewed in hindsight, were more gradual than they felt. I wonder if I was expecting Casanova to still have that revelatory effect that it had when it was fresh to me, and that’s why I had an allergic reaction to something I used to love?

I can’t really call it. I’m different, Fraction’s different, and I’d come to terms with not really checking for his work until I read this essay by Sean Witzke. A character says, “I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing this for me. I don’t care about your expectations. So go fuck yourself, Doug. Fuck everybody. Fuck you.” Fraction often used to put overt examples of his voice into his characters, and this reads pretty plain to me.

And I liked it.

The story that followed clicked in a way that his Iron Man and Uncanny X-Men didn’t. It was weird and noodly and personal and all the things I originally came to love about Casanova. And that line, and Sean pulling the story apart on his autopsy table, convinced me to go back. I want to read the next volume of Casanova now. He’s ditching the backmatter, it looks like he’s telling the stories I want to read, and it feels right.

It won’t be the same, but that’s obvious. Things can only be revealed once. The Dark Phoenix saga is purple and bloated now. Miller’s Daredevil is an arrangement of cliches. Back then? They were the bomb. Now, they’re classics with caveats. So it’ll be nice to see where Fraction goes next. Claremont has pretty much kept pressing the same button for the entirety of his career–whether to maintain or refine, I do not know–and I can’t think of a single reason to pick up his comics now. Miller, on the other hand, has pushed himself forward with each project. For all the talk about how Miller only has one gimmick, you can’t look at his projects and go “This guy hasn’t learned anything or changed.” The Sin City projects are pretty different from each other, and All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder is an experiment with the grotesque that proves that he doesn’t stand still.

Fraction’s Marvel work went from being pretty good to losing me entirely. Almost all of Iron Fist and specific bits of The Order? They hold up pretty well. Iron Man? Tried to like it, wanted to like it, but Salvador Larocca’s art is garbage and I can’t get into the story. Uncanny X-Men has been adrift since Austen left. But the last eight pages of Casanova: Gula feel pretty good, like finding an old friend that grew up different than you expected, but no less interesting. So which one is Fraction going to be? Claremont or Miller? Stagnant or open to mutation?

It’s tough to tell. Five years is a long time, and in hindsight, I’m not too surprised my overwhelming enthusiasm for Casanova cooled. That’s natural, isn’t it? That’s how it’s supposed to be. If you’re still psyched about something you were into five years ago, you either need to consume more culture or stop being so excitable. Embrace the new. Learn something. That forces you to readjust and reconsider.

Which I think is absolutely a good thing. I may not love Casanova like I did, but I think I might be able to appreciate it more now. Back then, it was all about being fresh and shiny. Now, it’s more like seeing how the puzzle pieces of influence fit together to form a brand new whole.

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