Wednesday's New Things: Remember, Remember

The Ghost Fleet #1 by Donny Cates, Daniel Warren Johnson, and Lauren Affe
The Humans #1 by Keenan Marshall Keller, Tom Neely and Kristina Collantes

I've gotten very serious about comics. Too serious-- I regularly refer to my "purchasing strategy" in this space, as if I were a political consultant contemplating some kind of ad buy. There are some good reasons for that shift, but it's important every now and again to take a step back and remember that comic books can be stupid fun-- that that's part of the reason I came to love them in the first place. To that end, two books of interest this week. The Ghost Fleet looks more or less deeply silly-- "When one of the world’s most elite combat-trained truckers takes a forbidden peek at his payload, he uncovers a conspiracy that will change his life forever!"-- but that art's not bad and I'm a sucker for a good heist story. The Humans is a little more intriguing-- Easy Rider on The Planet of the Apes-- and writer Keenan Marshall Keller is big on exploitation movies. There's just something sort of unhinged seeming about it, appealing in the same way that The Auteur is, although perhaps a mite less grotesque. 

Velvet #8 by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, and Elizabeth Breitweiser

Not all fun has to be stupid, though. Velvet is an exemplar of this kind of series for me, a space where Ed Brubaker can show off his espionage chops, but minus the sort of self seriousness that's endemic to his similar work on Captin America or the almost deadly seriousness of his most recent series with Sean Phillips, The Fade Out. Part of the appeal here is that it's more or less an old school bit of spy fiction, the kind we very rarely see these days, but with the added dimension that the protagonist was literally hiding in plain sight, retired and taking on the Mrs. Moneypenny role. Velvet's knowledge of the agency she's been working for is more or less absolute, there is no doubt of her ability and, even so, you don't know if she's going to make it out of any particular issue alive, or even who's after her. Even though there's an unfortunate amount of time between issues, Brubaker's been a master at building tension here, one that's got me buying it off the rack rather than waiting for the trade. 

Kinski by Gabriel Hardman

Gabriel Hardman is a cartoonist I've admired from a run of work on Marvel books from a few years ago-- I remember his work being both solid and pleasingly sketchy. Kinski is a collection of a series revolving around a salesman saving an abused dog, originally put out by digital only publisher Monkey Brain, now being collected by Image. Hardman packs kinetic energy between each panel here, propelling you from frame to frame. If the story plays out even close to the way that the preview suggests, the writing's not bad either. 

Tooth & Claw #1 by Kurt Busiek, Ben Dewey, Jordie Bellaire, and Comicraft

I don't even know what to make of this one. Seems sort of like a mystical Redwall, for adults but influenced by the Dinotopia books. It certainly looks good, and the way the art interacts with the lettering is unusually playful, suggesting that, even as the preview points to a certain amount of death and destruction, it'll be tempered by a little levity. Kurt Busiek is one of those grand comics writers who's been around forever; sometimes series like this, by writers like that, are indulgences, but this one really seems like a passion project. We might have a special one here. 

Arsene Schrauwen by Olivier Schrauwen 

Back to being serious, just for a second at the end, Olivier Schrauwen is always one to watch. This one looks like it might be particularly interesting, and watching him play with a little bit of family history might be useful for thinking through some things I'm working on right now. 

Here, There, Everywhere

Pardon my crappy iPhone photos

There is now, and there always will be, something very weird for me about seeing comics artwork in a gallery space. It's almost uncanny, familiar and yet unfamiliar, and it puts the social norms of the museum in conflict with the process of reading. At those exhibits I've been to, I'm always compelled to try to contemplate and consume simultaneously, which means I do neither particular well. Even more frustrating, comics pages are supposed to both follow and precede other, similar pages; since exhibitions are focused on the visual and since they privilege the work they could could access, any attempt at reading is, sooner or later, stymied.

Sometimes, like at the Dan Clowes show I saw last year at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the curators attempt to temper this conflict by providing comfortable places to sit and read full copies of the work being displayed, in part, on the walls. That recognition of the fundamental contradictions of comics presented in a fine art space was welcome, and there were many things about that show that were extraordinary, but, despite its enormity, despite its attempt at reconciling the experience of reading comics with the experience of being at an art museum, its parts didn't really seem to fit together. And, yet, there's hope. From Here to Here, the show featuring work from Richard McGuire's revived Here project, running through November 9th at the Morgan Library in Manhattan, is coherent in a way that I have not seen before. 

In part, this is because McGuire's work resists reading. Here is probably best described as a series of windows into a particular corner of a particular house in a particular part of New Jersey, laid out non-chronologically and often on top of each other in a way that superficially resembles a traditional comics page but that, again, resists traditional reading. The juxtapositions of different moments and contexts trouble the relationship between comics and seriality, suggesting both that the panel has more in common than the infinite time and infinite space of the gutter than we usually assume and that the comics page can operate in what is functionally three dimensions. When complete art from Here is hung on a wall, then, it seems more or less the same then it does on the page. There's no assumption of linear sequence to drag on the experience; McGuire has already smashed those expectations. In some ways, it seems like even the static form of a book limits his ambition; one of the features of the exhibition is an early version of an ebook version of Here, which allows scenes to be done or undone with the touch of a finger. 

The other aspect of From Here to Here that sets it apart may have to do with circumstances unique to Here's creation. Originally a six page strip published by Raw in 1989 (and since republished in Ivan Brunetti's An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories), McGuire has been toying with expanding it since. Starting with those original pages, the one room exhibition walks you around  its perimeter, through various stages of revision and expansion, including a false start that would have featured one moment on each page, as well as the mock ups, sketches, collages, and pencils that make up the anatomy of the new work, some of which is itself displayed in a ribbon across the top of the other displays, leading finally to the ebook and a copy of the printed book at the other end. In the center there is a series of display cases, which places McGuire's named influences (Tadnoori Yokoo's Waterfall Rapture Postcards of Falling Water, My Addiction, My Edition, My Collection) and antecedents to Here (like a particularly formalist Gasoline Alley strip) alongside his sketchbooks and his work in other mediums. 

The result is that From Here to Here puts a completed work in conversation with its creation and evolution. It is an absolutely coherent expression of what Here is and how it came to be, satisfying not just as a vindication (look at the comics in a fine art space!) or a curiosity (the tendency to show pencils along with completed original art) but as a genealogy of a particular work that illuminates it in ways impossible to do by simply looking at that work alone. Even given that certain features of Here enable this kind of exposition, From Here To Here is an exemplary show. From Here to Here is up at the Morgan Library, at 225 Madison Avenue, in Manhattan, until Sunday, November 9.