Thursday, July 2, 2015

Those Types of Tales: Reviewing SHORT AND MERCILESS STORIES by Marco Taddei and Simone Angelini


The scariest stories are the ones we tell ourselves all the time. You know, the ones about how everything is going to be alright, how the universe makes sense, how life is worth living.

You know, those stories of hope. The lies. The one's that get us out of bed in the morning. Make us put on clothes.

It's rare that a book lives up to its title as well as Marco Taddei and Simone Angelini's Short and Merciless Stories does. In 110 black and white pages, Taddei and Angelini tell eight stories revolving around misery, isolation, insanity, philosophical ambiguity, and Facebook. Each one is brutal, savage, engaging, and, in the way that we laugh at other people's misery, funny.

In his introduction to this book, Noah Van Sciver says, “Sure, these stories are grim and dark, but they're also incredibly light.” Van Sciver owes much of this to Angelini's artwork, “skilled, uncluttered, and appealing”, and this is true to a great extent. But much of the credit should also go to Taddei's writing (not to mention Davide Gentile and Erin Dwight's translation from the original Italian). These are stories that rely heavily on timing and nuance as much as narrative, and if either one of these is off, the stories would veer into abnegation over the absurd celebration they are meant to be.

And as horrible as these stories are (and they are merciless as their title suggests), they are not off-putting in any way. Taddei and Angelini seem to have simpatico. Their interchange between words and pictures works to transcend horror and make their stories into what amounts to be a shiny gift for the pessimist, lifting the corners of the mouth into a smile while pummeling the paunch with the inanity and incongruity of life.

Bits like “The Story of the Marble”, in which a man has the power to transform people into knick knacks and how this rules his life but in death leads to nothing; “The Story of Oscar's Mother”, which tries to explain the unexplainable by providing no explanation at all; or “The Story of Enrico's Head”, which sets forth an unbelievable premise and then wraps it back upon itself, all echo the great parts of something like The Twilight Zone in that they are inexorable while being entertaining. At their core, these stories are profoundly negative, yet through the art of Taddei and Angelini, they are pleasant and engaging.

Which is no mean feat. This sort of art may actually be the hardest to create, but, when pulled off, is graceful and magnificent.

It is only fitting that this book ends with “The Story with Death” in which Death gives a press junket interview promoting his autobiography, Even Death Has A Heart,where he describes his exhaustion and how he frames his job as an artistic performance. Death gets the last lines in this story. After snorting drugs through a rolled up 20 euro note, he beams, “And we begin again!”

It is inevitable. Death is the final word. There's nothing anyone can do about it.

So you might as well smile.

Short and Merciless Stories is available through Tinto Press 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Transcendence is Beautiful: A Review of Ant Sang's DHARMA PUNKS


I saw the best minds of my Generation X destroyed.
-By over-indulgence.
-By desire.
-By fear.
-By too much passion about the workings of the world.

Much of the 1990s is pretty much a blur for me. I was a recent college graduate with an over-inflated ego, a labyrinthine relationship with sobriety, and a poorly scrawled map of where I was, where I was going, and I had a terrible sense of direction. All I was absolutely certain of was what I didn't want, and what I didn't want was what seemingly everybody else wanted. 

The 90s may have been the decade that punk actually died, but while it was in its death throes, I clung to its ethos as tightly as I could.

I was a younger then. I had the stamina for such a thing. There was strength still in my grip.

But nothing lasts forever.

The end of the 90s found me married, a father, a home owner, and on track to a career as a High School English teacher. Punk was dead; I had become a man.

As it says in Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.



But am I a better person for such a thing?

Metaphysical questions. Identity. Perception. Reality.

Life is suffering. Life is an illusion. Attachment is the source of all woes. The Buddha says, “See all of this world as a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightening in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.”

I was just reminded of this in a comic. From 2001 to 2003, down there in New Zealand, a cartoonist named Ant Sang was releasing an eight issue series that addressed all this and more. This comic was called Dharma Punks and it was one of the most successful independent comics produced in New Zealand ever.

Then it went kinda out of print.

Now, thanks a successful Kickstarter, New Zealand's Earth's End Publishing has brought this series back to life. Right now the first four issues are available on Comixology with the remaining issues eventually coming out on a monthly basis. Also, Conundrum Press will have a trade paperback edition for the Canadian/American market coming out in September.

All of this is a blessing of sorts, because Ant Sang's Dharma Punks is a comic you should absolutely be reading.

The solicit for the book reads: “It's Auckland, New Zealand. October, 1994, and a group of anarchist punks have hatched a plan to sabotage the opening of a multinational - fast food restaurant (Bobo's), by blowing the building sky-high come opening time.” This is the framing device that encircles a book that looks deeply into the underpinnings of human relationships, how we communicate with each other, the intersections between the tenets of Buddhism and the spirit of punk rock, the concept of “the outsider” and “the other”, the influences of mass consumerism, and, ultimately, what it means to be human.

Yea. It's all that. 

Seriously.

And it's an impressive, to say the least. It's a book that deserves a wider audience.

A matter of fact, why the hell aren't you reading it RIGHT NOW?

As you can see from the images I've included in this review, Sang's style is kind of like Paul Pope's in execution, but, in a way, surpasses it in terms of minutia. There's so much in the slight details of Sang's lines and panels and layouts that a reader could spend many ticks of the clock enraptured and meditative on each page. It could be overwhelming were it not for Sang's deftness of narrative beats and timing.

While Sang is working deep within a philosophical construct, at its heart Dharma Punks is a character driven story. Sang uses all sorts of temporal tricks to not only tell his story, but also to unfold motivations and emotional ballast in each one of his characters. It pulls you in as it smacks of the way we actually learn about the people in our lives. Traditional “Origin Stories” are lazy, simplistic, and false – we get to know people through layers of time, we understand them in pieces and through that, formulate the whole. Sang breathes this sort of life into Dharma Punks and thus engages his audience on a level more true to experience than narrative convenience.

Dharma Punks is also punk as fuck. Sang gets it and through the power of his art he's able to convey so much of what made punk good, what made it transformative for the people who needed it, and how it fostered community while it idealized a hope of a better world. While so many saw punk as reactionary or nihilistic, really it was responsive to repression, hypocrisy, idiocy, and threats to the spirit. Punk was as much about hope as it was about anger -- the people in the community understood this, fostered it, and built upon it.

Sure, punk is dead now, but its beliefs and attitudes persist in all of today's struggles for social justice, equality, and the dignity of the individual. This is why books like Dharma Punks are still important and resonant, and artists like Ant Sang need to be fostered and celebrated.

Once again, you can pick up Dharma Punks on Comixology



Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Continuing Crisis: Writing on CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS 7


IT CONTINUES...

As some sort of "self-flagellation psychological experiment", I agreed to take part in Comics Bulletin's celebration of the 30th anniversary of DC Comics' FIRST MAJOR CROSSOVER EVENT, Crisis on Infinite Earths.


I keep thinking that Pariah is Wolfman’s mouthpiece for the struggles he is having writing this unwieldy thing. After all, early in this issue, he says, “In the name of all justice, have I not atoned for my sins.” It’s like confession or psychoanalysis or some other deep, inward journey of the soul. Somehow Crisis must have been purgative for Wolfman. You can’t vomit up this much fetid claptrap without it being cleansing in some manner. By getting every single fucking superhero bullshit easy-bake narrative hogwash out of his gizmo in one single series, he must have then gone on to a quiet life of thoughtful musing and philosophical meditation, right? I mean, once you write something like, “Super-breath may be one of my dumber powers… but it sure comes in handy now and then!” you’ve got to have that all out of your system, right?
Hmmmm…. according to Wikipedia, after Crisis, Wolfman ended up at Disney. That makes sense. It’s the happiest place in the world after all.
There’s clues to Wolfman’s questioning his role in perpetuating these superheroic shenanigans all over the place. He has Atom (whoever the fuck he is) say, “Am I playing a game meant for young folk only?” He has Uncle Sam say in his folksy manner, “We’ve all been down an’ low. But a good man always rises.” He has Supergirl say, “There’s always hope! You can’t give up hoping. Not ever!” This isn’t a Crisis on Infinite Earths, this is a Crisis of a Waffling Wolfman!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Skewing Reality: Perception and PERPLEXING STORIES by Jonathan King


There is no truth. There is only perception.” – Gustave Flaubert

I have a complicated relationship with my understanding of reality. What I often mistake as hard truths become, with a slight change in perspective, something entirely new.

Take the tuna fish sandwich for example.

For over forty years, the tuna fish sandwich had been a simple comfort food for me, something nice and reassuring in the middle of the afternoon, filled with memories of childhood and innocence – straightforward, uncomplicated, yummy. Tuna, mayo, bread, GO!

Then, one day, a friend of mine gave me a tuna fish sandwich that had the addition of grated onion, diced celery, eggs, chopped sweet pickles, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper, and mayonnaise mixed with a little half and half and my ordinary comfort sandwich became one of the most delicious things I had ever put in my mouth. My perception of the tuna fish sandwich bent, reassembled, and became something else. In that moment, through an act of artistic intent (for that is what good cooking is), what once was would never be again.

The hard and fast truth of the tuna fish sandwich I had held on to for so long was destroyed in that moment and, damn, if I am not the better person for it.

Anais Nin once wrote, “It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see.” For me, the tuna fish sandwich had become that nail hole in the wall that, after years of being there above your bed, you no longer notice due to its ever-present existence. By making it new, my friend brought this sandwich back to me in a unique way and forever changed my relationship with it.

Perception is the purview of the artist. In his or her creative hands lies the power to unleash new realities for his or her audience. By altering our relationship with that which we have ceased to see, the artist, god-like in a way, allows us to understand our place in the world in a more universal fashion.

Which brings me, at last, to begin my love letter to New Zealand cartoonist Jonathan King's latest collection, Perplexing Stories: Middling Tales to Bemuse.

I've been a fan of King's comics since I first read “Bookish”, his contribution to the first issue of the New Zealand comics anthology Faction. Issue three of Faction contained King's “The Night Limited” which cemented my sense that not only is King a phenomenal storyteller and cartoonist, but he is also an artist in the truest sense insofar as he uses his creative powers to move his audience from the staid and comfortable into wild places fraught with unexpected pushes to the softer parts of our brains.

His stories are narratives insomuch as they have a beginning, middle, and end. His panels familiar, as they are clean, representational, Hergé-influenced, and artful. You can wrap your head around King's stories as you would any other popular comic, but within that process, things bend, unhinge, evolve.

And you are left with something else. Something new. Something beautiful.

On the back of Perplexing Stories, King calls this a “collection of seven surreal sequential ligne claire comic curiosities, curated for your bemusement,” which is as apt a description as there ever was. King works in the unexpected, the transformative, the surreal. He takes to heart Dali's dictum that “Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” Like Dali's work, King goads us to make new connections, challenges us to find the humor in the absurd, and pushes us beyond our calm self-restraint.

Perplexing Stories contains the previously mentioned ”Bookish” and “The Night Limited” which are wonderful to revisit. It also contains one of his early comics, “Transmission”, a crop-circle story that is bold in its unexpected structural completion; “Way to Go”, a poignant short comic King did in support of victims of the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch; and “Oh No, It's The Tripods!”, a one pager that just drops your jaw in the last panel.

Of particular note, though, are the two stories that bookend this collection. The first story is called “Defense” – which takes the idea of a Thesis Oral Examination to places that only a true surrealist would think to go and, therein, makes it a glorious commentary on the process, the affectation, and the nature of this beast.

The final piece in Perplexing Stories is one of my favorite, though. “Threat Level” revels in and reveres the very idea of Surrealism, setting it up initially as something to be feared, an act of terrorism on reality, but, through King's understanding, is revealed to be something profoundly celebratory, necessary, and wonderful. I know that I will be returning to this collection again and again when I feel myself starting to bog down in the day to day; I know that reading “Threat Level” will always help me grab hold of the nuance that exists outside of my peripheral vision, the sight I need to continuously look at the world anew, and allow me to once again extol all the moments a person no longer sees because he or she has been staring at them for far too long.

It takes an artist to help us perceive that which is in front of us. It takes an artist to remind us that life is extraordinary and spectacular in all of its moments. The work of Jonathan King is the work of an artist.

Let me tell you, he makes one hell of a tuna fish sandwich.

To find out more about Perplexing Stories: Middling Tales to Bemuse, go to Jonathan King's website, Eel Noir, at http://www.jking.co.nz/

Friday, June 26, 2015

My Continuing Crisis: Writing on CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS 6


IT CONTINUES...

As some sort of "self-flagellation psychological experiment", I agreed to take part in Comics Bulletin's celebration of the 30th anniversary of DC Comics' FIRST MAJOR CROSSOVER EVENT, Crisis on Infinite Earths.


I was really about to light this shit on fire in order to warm my balls while I pissed on it (which, I realize, wouldn’t actually work, but I’m dabbling in metaphor so get off my back), when Comics Bulletin Grand Poobah Jason Sacks said to me, “Think of it as an exercise in automatic writing.”
What?
An exercise in automatic writing?
BOOM!
It was a moment of satori for me.
My friends, all this time I’ve been looking at Crisis on Infinite Earths from the wrong perspective. Up until now, I’ve been drunkenly reading it as a failure of traditional narrative and character exploration. I’ve been bewildered by why fanboys like Zack Davisson have been fawning over this obviously flawed and misguided attempt at some sort of epic poem (featuring superheroes no less). I’ve been questioning whether or not I am so out of touch with the mainstream that, in essence, I’ve become the cranky old man of Comics Bulletin.
But then Sacks set me straight.
As Cassius says in Julius Caesar, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…
All it takes is a change in perspective, a reading through a different lens as it were, for everything to fall in place.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review: CYBER REALM by Wren McDonald is Animus, Retribution and Vengeance


As one of my last reviews of comics for the next couple of weeks (going on a much needed vacation), Comics Bulletin Editor-in-Chief Jason Sacks and I dig into the underpinnings of Wren McDonald's new book from Nobrow Press, part of their 17x23 series.

While Sacks wants to talk happiness, I want to talk Will to Power:

"I could easily draw parallels between Cyber Realm and the state of race relations in our country, or even use it as a soapbox to examine the Israeli/Palestinian situation, but I think McDonald would rather us keep our discussion on a more intimate, human level.
I think his art demands that as much as his story does too. There is, like you said Sacks, a depth to the main character here. Sure his motivations are painted in bright neon colors on his sleeve, and we don’t get a lot of inner turmoil or philosophical musings on his part, but his singular focus is familiar insomuch as it broadly reflects so much of the subtle frustrations we all feel on a daily basis. The frustrations we feel at work, in our day-to-day, and even, sometimes, in our own homes.
It was Nietzsche who posited that the “world is the will to power – and nothing besides!” Humans have a drive to control their lives as much as they do the world around them. When that is denied, they lose identity. In Cyber Realm, that loss of identity is physically manifested in the main character’s physical transformation and the fact that McDonald never gives him a name.
Perhaps Cyber Realm is, in its way, the prophecy of the Übermensch, but more likely, it’s just a damn fine comic book that’s fun to read and leaves you wanting to read more."


Monday, June 8, 2015

The Perks of Being a Problematic Asshole: Cutting into Aaron Lange's TRIM

**cover of girl splayed like a wet trout** WHY DO YOU OBJECT TO GIRLS BEING PRETTY.Gail Simone on Twitter, April 19, 2015

Far be it from me to deny anyone the right to enjoy the hell out of Outrage–Me, I love good outrage. especially justifiable outrage. I could luxuriate in being pissed off at a great many things… But drawings of the female form -(or even male) –ain’t one of them. Sorry. Matter of fact, I rather enjoy them.
So by all means get furious, enjoy the addictive rush of anger and lash out, vomit bile… but maybe think better of it and count to ten before pressing Send.” – Bill Sienkiewicz on Facebook May, 2015

The version of millennial social justice advocacy that I have spoken about — one that uses Identity Politics to balkanize groups of people, engenders hatred between groups, willingly lies to push agendas, manipulates Language to provide immunity from criticism, and that publicly shames anyone who remotely speaks some sort of dissent from the overarching narrative of the orthodoxy — is not admirable. It is deplorable. It appeals to the basest of human instincts: fear and hatred.” -- Aristotelis Orginos “Social Justice Bullies: The Authoritarianism of Millennial Social Justice”

Let everyone mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made.” -- Henry David Thoreau Walden

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” -- George Orwell, Animal Farm

DANIEL ELKIN: I have an opinion.

No matter how reasonably well I try to justify my opinion, someone is going to disagree with me. This disagreement will lead to a measured and lucid debate which will end with me having gained either greater insight into my opinion or a new understanding of the matter. This will then lead me to refine my opinion. That new opinion will once more be challenged, leading to even more thoughtful analysis and an even more refined opinion, which will then be challenged again, and again, always ending up with a greater refinement and an even larger understanding of the matter at hand.

This is the evolution of thought and how rational and empathetic individuals work out their understanding of the world. Thanks to social media, we have even more opportunities to engage in this cycle with an even greater set of dissenting opinions. We live in a golden era where we can constantly be in the process of opening ourselves to debate and using others to clarify our understandings.  

Yet that is not happening… is it? Rather we are becoming seemingly more polarized than ever before. Heels are being dug in so far as to scrape down into the mantle of the planet. Refinement of thought has given way to echo chambers. Discourse has given away to death threats.  
From Matt Bors' Comic, Reasonable Measures

Choose a side.

Draw a line.

Gain your power by finding your tribe. Dwell among them and define yourself. Identify and stupefy. No further thought necessary. Now you just defend defend defend.

Oh. And attack those who are “wrong”. No matter what.

They wave their hands and, like the World Controller in Brave New World, as if brushing away a little dust, the group disposes so much of what underpins a true, functioning democracy. Due process? Whisk it away. Innocent until proven guilty? Whisk it away.
Art Spiegelman's pulled cover from The New Statesman

We live in confusing uneasy “problematic” times, my friend.

And this has been an enormously circuitous route to start talking about comic books.

Not that long ago I found myself reading the first three issues of Aaron Lange’s Trim. Trim is one of those anthology type comics featuring vignettes, one-offs, and longer pieces all done by Lange, much like Noah Van Sciver’s Blammo. Unlike Blammo, though, Trim stands firmly in the Underground Comix convention of the late 1960s/early 1970s, publications such as Zap, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, and Bent, which were socially relevant with their satiric tone and their breaking the constraints of censorship through their depictions of sex, drug use, violence, and other taboos and fetishes.


This was a ground breaking tradition that, until recently, was celebrated for its artistic bravery and political acumen. Hell, in 1994,Terry Zwigoff made an enormously successful documentary about R. Crumb. But in the span of the last five years or so, there has been a re-evaluation of Crumb and Comix and all that. They’ve been labeled as, to use the parlance of the times, “problematic” by a certain group of individuals who see them as misogynistic, homophobic, racist, and crude.

Which they are.

Which is the point.

A few months ago I wrote a review about Loud Comix #4 in which I said, “These are Comix, after all, and Comix don’t take no crap. Comix ain’t for the sensitive or the dainty or the social justice advocate; they are all about tits and booze and cocks and drugs and fucking and shitting and screaming.” -- which I think sums it up pretty well.

But the landscape has changed. What was once seen as revolutionary and innovating, taking a stand, fighting the power as it were, is now viewed through a different lens. It’s now “problematic”, worthy of scorn, a launching pad for vitriol and blow back.

To my horror, Comix are now considered endemic of a system-wide sense of entitlement, a blatant expression of chauvinism and objectification, something to be singled out and silenced.

But really… is this the kind of response that this warrants? Should Aaron Lange be derided for his work. Is his art actually a threat? What is the problem here really? Who is the “bad guy”? Is it an artist creating art that is an expression of his vision, encapsulating the ideas he wants the world to react to, or is it those voices who declare him and his work to be evil and demand that he stop producing anything at all?

KEITH SILVA: “Your revolution is over, Mr. Lebowski. The bums lost! The bums will always lose!” -- Mr. Lebowski

I don’t want to micturate on your argument here, Elkin, but you’re tilting at the wrong set of overdeveloped mammaries with shell casings for nipples. This is the process, this is what happens when the outré goes 9 to 5, circle of life or what have you. As soon as some champion of misfits and antiheroes makes a movie and exposes the underground to the arthouse, it is, as we say in New England, ovah. Remember your Axl axioms: “you’re down in the mainstream, baby, you’re gonna diieeeeeeeeeeeeee!”  

Aaron Lange and the rest of the reprobates at The Comix Company have shown up when the party has been like over for like a long time. The roach’s roaches have burned down to like, you know, roaches? Self-published and underground comics are … legit. Crumb’s counter culture has lost much of its swagger when Zap Comix is now available as a pricey six volume hardcover box set. It’s one time tumescent freak flag now flies in resolution, at half staff, limp in its refractory period. Man, that’s a lot of dick jokes.

Those that carry the fire, the Charles Burnses and the Daniel Cloweses took what they learned from Crumb and others and have become the new masters of the form. So unquestioned is their cultural potency they are welcomed to “the academy.” How far we’ve come, dear Elkin, how far we’ve come.

Problematic? Sure. But only for those nerds too un-hip thirty years ago who are now forced to show their asses as they stoop to finally reckon with capital-C comix. What will it be in ten years? Twenty years? Will those better angels of our culture become nostalgic for the Superhero blockbusters as they do now for 1980’s action films? Legitimacy is a fickle beast. Crumb’s revolution is finished. The bums won, but they also lost cuz a loser is a loser. Turn, turn, turn and all that hippie shit.

And so here’s Aaron Lange, a bonafide shit shoveler against the tide of better judgement as there has ever been. A cartoonist/writer who’s still fighting to make daring and provocative comics, to challenge what the mainstream deems … acceptable. Trim is not acceptable and is, as you say, problematic. So what? How does one even make a problematic comic nowadays when so much that passes in mainstream comics continues to be regarded, especially when it pertains to depictions of women, as “splayed like wet trout,” or in a perpetual brokeback pose and unable (unwilling?) to break the arrested development of its male gaze? Aaron Lange knows. Aaron Lange remembers.

Trim is offensive. And funny. And gross. And weird. And stupid. And decadent. And juvenile. And dark, really, really dark. And really really fucked up. Lange is without interlocutor and at times without conscience. Nobody needs a story about beastiality like ‘Dog and Kitty.’ Seriously, beastiality? But here’s Lange to fill the void. Why? Is that how far we’ve advanced as a society/culture that an artist has to play the beastiality card to shake us from our consumerist stupor? Now THAT is what’s fucked up.

Lange’s greatest gift as a storyteller is his authenticity which is Dutch, I think, for “doesn’t-give-a-fuck”. With few exceptions there is … let’s call it a taint of cultivation -- ‘taint the truth and it ‘taint a lie -- to any autobiographical comic. Not so with Lange, he’s a self-debaser and the baser the better. A what you see is what you get kind of storyteller, in other words, a real asshole. I believe him in the same way I’d believe any recreational junkie who once let his drug dealer (Dog) and his drug dealer’s girlfriend (Kitty) grow pot in his basement. And yet, I was sympathetic when Lange reports Dog and Kitty broke up. He muses, “If Dog and Kitty can’t make it, who can?” Amen, you sick fucks.

And that’s the true meaning of Christmas, Elkin, the “problematic” comics of yesteryear may be mainstreamed to the point they’ve (again) fallen out of favor to engender new criticism. Good, because as you say, that’s the point. Lange draws from a similar cesspool of the illicit and the arrested. Comics like Zap Comix or Trim will never be straightforward or easy to parse. And neither will those few brave and stupid souls like Lange who keep trying to be problematic, thank God.

ELKIN: There you go, Silva -- here I am trying to talk about the ironic fascism of millennial social justice advocacy and you wanna talk comix (and make dick jokes).

You’re the better man here. I just need to learn to keep my opinions to myself. Nobody is really interested in what I have to say about what others have to say anyway. I’m in the way of progress. I need to find a way out. Way out west there was this fella … Curds and whey.

Crumb and his peers got attacked from the Right, Lange and his buddies get attacked from the Left. Turn turn turn, I hear you Silva. The more I think about my purpose for writing this, the more emotionally dead I become.

I stand in-between, straddling the harbor like the Colossus of Rhodes, micturating on the boats that pass beneath. The old man told me to take any rug in the house.

Nothin more foolish than a man chasing his hat.

“So what” you ask? So what indeed. Maybe as an educator I worry about the idea of the louder voices drowning out quiet debate -- but they always have, haven’t they?  Even thus we continue to progress in our empathetic understanding of the human condition. The edges may be a cacophony but, unlike Yeats’ assessment, the center does hold. Practical. Caring. Heartfelt. As a nation, we are a horseshoe print embedded into the limestone, all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, each panic subsides as a new one rises, yet we retain that longing to be good to each other, a shining City on the Hill, boats against the current and whatnot.

So what indeed. I always am on guard against censorship of any sort, especially when it comes to art. There is a place for every expression, all reactions are valid, all statements lead somewhere -- go moan for man, go sing for every child -- celebrate, denigrate, offend, delight -- but please don’t be quiet and never tell an artist to shut up (It gets even more weird when we are talking about “punching down” and #JeSuisCharlie -- or something like a Muhammad Cartoon Contest being held by armed bikers).

Then again, nothing helps sell art like someone getting upset about it.

I want comix like Trim to make me uncomfortable, but not because someone wants me to be based on their agenda. I don’t want to have to justify my response with a fucking hashtag.

So what? Let’s just jump right in at the deep end here because that’s where I’ve put us. I draw your attention to the last page of Trim #3, a full page drawing of a dead, shirtless woman lying on a table or a couch or something. She has a hand saw firmly ensconced in a bleeding slice through her throat. There is a flat head screwdriver shoved violently through her left breast. A cigarette is snuffed out on her breast bone. A belt is around her left arm, so there is the implication of IV drug use. A liquor bottle and a small smoldering pipe take up the foreground along with a used condom. She wears peace sign earrings, military dog tags, and has a flower behind her left ear, juxtaposed by a headband holding back her Farrah Fawcett hairdo. Two men are sitting in the background, the inference is that they have done these things to this woman. One of them says to the other, “Why’d you put that cigarette out on her, man?

What am I supposed to do with this, Silva? The whole thing is so horrific that it defies actual understanding. It’s disgusting and misogynistic and violent and WRONG on every level. What would prompt a man to painstakingly draw and ink this nightmare? And it comes after so much other truly “problematic” stuff, including a one panel gag cartoon (reminiscent of those you see in publications like The New Yorker), in which two business men in an office stand behind a young woman on the phone and one of them says to the other, “She can’t type, but she lets me shit on her tits.”

It’s unrelenting. How do you defend this?

It’s as if Lange has slowly, issue by issue, realized his hatred and here, at the end of the third issue, he finally explodes. Where does this put me as a reader? I’m sickened by this, yet in a way I have to understand this stuff given the larger context of what Comix are. Given this context, can I intellectually give Lange a pass? Can I screw my courage to the sticking place and actually say something respectful or positive about something that is so obviously hateful and cruel and puerile and dangerous?

Do I have the right to gird my loins for some hashtag activism and call for the death of Aaron Lange?

No.

No I don’t.

But what do I do and how do I maintain my own moral compass when someone “takes it too far”? What is the proper critical response to this?

SILVA: Proper? Proper! Dude, ‘proper’ bit the bag and stepped out the door the minute you cracked Trim. Where’s your Jehovah, now, Elkin?

The answer is right in front of you, my friend. You’ve solved the riddle you just don’t realize you’ve solved it, if that makes sense. If Trim speaks to you on some deeper level like say Mein Kampf, Crisis on Infinite Earths or some such nonsense. The moral here is ‘if’ EVERYTHING about Trim appeals to you (to borrow a phrase) you … need … help and are probably an asshole. To say Lange takes it “too far,” Elkin means you’ve passed the test, hence Daniel J. Elkin, you sir, are not an asshole, at least not as much of an asshole as Aaron Lange, maybe. See, this brings us back to one of our favorite topics, authorial anxiety.

If Lange is guilty of anything it’s not being on the staff of Zap Comix circa ‘71. Like Brian Wilson, Lange wasn’t made for these times of cultural Puritanism and Tumbler witch hunters. It’s not his (Lange’s) fault he just draws that way. I see the appeal of Trim and I love Lange’s willingness to keep comics weird. Is that enough? Lange is, as he should be, very proud Crumb endorses what he’s doing. In Trim #2 and on his website, Lange includes pull quotes from Crumb. We should all be so lucky to have an artist we admire accept said admiration and return it in kind. But ...

How is Lange’s desire to walk in the steps of Crumb any different from Dan Slott wanting to be Stan Lee and only write Spider-Man comics the rest of his life? Laud Trim for its audacity, praise it for it’s celebration of the puerile and the disgusting, not to mention, Lange’s willingness (as an artist) to swim upstream; but is there more there there?

If Lange’s goal is to be an imitator, achievement unlocked, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. Or does he, like Crumb, want to be an innovator? Perhaps it’s enough to keep this one freak flag flying, it would seem Lange feels as much. This is the problem with parody and satire, it has limits. There’s no mathematical equation to go further -- no satire-machine -- only the intestinal fortitude, the gall and the grit and the temerity to delude oneself to, at least, try.

Get in your boat Elkin, and take up your oar and beat on (off?) as ceaselessly against the unceasing current, if you must or as you must. Like I said, “Your revolution is over. The bums lost! The bums will always lo…. [slam].”

ELKIN: I guess I believe in the green light, Silva. Tomorrow I will run faster, stretch out my arms farther …  And one fine morning, social media will bring us all together, asshole and not-asshole. Artists will be kings, poets will cover the news, dancers will be in charge of Public Works organizations, and Comix will, once again, be guidebooks to a better future.

Until then, let’s let Aaron Lange fight this Rumble in the Mainstream Jungle, playing Ali rope-a-dope against the body blows of this Hashtag Tumblr Foreman. I think he knows what he is doing.

Also, thanks for telling me I’m not an asshole. I just play one on the internet sometimes.

You can pick up copies of Aaron Lange's Trim from the Comix Company HERE