We begin again, Bloggers! Oh, my achin’ back: hauling this big pile of words back and forth between the sheds of Thunderbird, OpenOffice, and WordPress is a mug’s game. Just about ready to knock off and grab a cold one: ’cause my dogs is barkin’, for sure.
Plok: What blogs, like ‘em or hate ‘em, do you find yourselves checking in on the most frequently?
Zom: Funnybook Babylon, Occasional Superheroine, The Beat, TFO, Savage Critics, I Am Not The Beastmaster (I live in hope that Marc will post a bit more), Jog the Blog, Andrew Hickey’s site, Geniusboy Firemelon, Supervillain, your very own, Mr Pillock… Christ… and quite a few more besides, and that’s just the comics blogs.
I also like screenwriter Todd Alcott’s musings on cinema, and Jack Feerick’s meditations on his novel in progress, The Honeythief. And for music there’s always 20 Jazz Funk Greats. In fact 20JFG is probably my favourite blog ever in the world ever. Juan and co’s shameless attempts to create their own unique aesthetic feeds heavily into my ambitions for Mindless Ones.
BBeast: As I’ve said before, and as Tucker wholeheartedly agreed, Jog and Abhay are the best at writing about comics, but honestly, because of its scope – if I had to read one blog, it would be The Factual Opinion. I’d like Martin Brown to do more music throughout the year, so I don’t just have to get half their top 30 of emusic in Nov/Dec annually, I’d like Tucker to be – imputing here – more of a liberal pantywaist; doing The Economist (I kind of wouldn’t read that magazine, but will read him reading it,) I’d like Nina to just understand, just understand that no-one, let alone a woman, may besmirch the comicwriting talents of Grant Morrison, but these not entirely serious complaints aside (also he’s very mean to Nightwing every month, have you noticed????) that’s probably the one I’ll snide off onto at work or be most excited to see new entries, a boldface, in the RSS feed. I like all our wordpress chums too, of course, yourself included, FBB, Andrew Hickey, but in part I think – and this may be the case with (the exotically-named) Tucker &c to some extent, I guess – and I was maybe driving at this at the very start in our first interview, because I’m invested in creating some kind of replacement “virtual community” for the one I lost? I like doing interviews and that, posting in comments threads, because it’s a conversation, a dialogue – much more pleasant than positing, I think.
Who else do I reeeeeally like? Marc Singer, NOT the Beastmaster, but I don’t know if he – and Chris ‘Gutteral’ Randles – have other outlets for their writing, and if they do I would like to know whence I might find these (Oh, and David ‘Vibrational Match’ Allison, but he’s a bit more regular,) because they’re all the bee’s knees. SavCrit seems to be broken just now, but I’m always excited to read – aside from the two mentioned above – Jeff Lester and Douglas Wolk’s stuff as well.
Bobsy: Same as everyone: Jog, the family Stone, FBBabylon, Savage Critics, Hickey, Singer. Oh yeah, and whoever’s been doing those The Filth posts [ed. -- that's the aforementioned David Allison], that one’s fucking great too.
Plok: What blogs do you like, that you frequently find yourselves forgetting to check in on, and wish you checked in on more, but somehow for some reason it’s hard to remind yourself about?
BBeast: This is easy, and it’s probably because I use IE as a browser which is – apparently, this is such a ridiculous position, I should walk across the entire internet apologising to Safari, Chrome and Firefox users for my philistinism while they laugh and stone me – but I desubscribed from the Journalista feed ‘cos it slowed the shit out of my computer, and it’s an invaluable, if often depressing, resource. I don’t really know how to navigate The Comics Reporter either but I enjoyed the hell out of every single one of his yearend interviews [ed. -- no joke, that's the easiest way to link to them] that I read (except Batton Lash, who seems to be a bellend). Spurgeon is an amazing interviewer.
Zom: Ditto, Bot Beast: Spurgeon’s Christmas interviews were absolutely great. Why I don’t check in on the man’s output more often is completely beyond me.
Bobsy: Like, every other one on the list at the side. [ed. -- at Mindless Ones, I presume] Although, I spend too much of my time reading these bloody things as it is…
Plok: How great was that Nina Stone “Virgin Reads” year-end blog entry? I think this year it’s my favourite. What was your favourite this year?
Zom: Twas superb, yes. Especially my question.
I loved Marc Singer’s All Star Superman review, insightful, well written and in its own way a wonderful further opportunity to bathe in the golden glow of the decade’s most beautiful superhero comic. Was also very keen on Andrew Hickey’s recent attempt at selling the appeal of Bat-Damien. Bang on the money. Totally sold me on the character’s potential.
But there’s so much good stuff out there, so much diversity, it feels unfair to settle on any one piece of writing.
They’re not words on a screen, but I have to make mention of the Funnybook Babylon podcasts – they’re getting better and tighter every week. I see their trad crit approach and orderly presentation as the perfect counterpoint to what we do. They’re like the antidote to the Mindless Ones.
BBeast: I think I said in my one, never-to-be-repeated, attempt at linkblogging that, as much as I’d enjoyed Jog and I think a guest reviewer at TFO’s reads of Omega the Unknown #10 (Comic of the year? Could be) that I thought http://gutteral.blogspot.com/2008/07/worlds-of-otherness.html this Gutteral post, which is shorter than I remember, but just at a nexus of so many things I love and care deeply for and am excited by… I just found it transportational, really.
Bobsy: Yeah, I don’t buy it anymore, to be quite honest. Time the lady faced facts: she a fucking comics geek, lowest of the low, like me, like you, like her husband. I’m damn glad she’s with us.
Plok: Me, too. So, okay, we’ve talked a bit about what you look at…let’s turn it over onto what you look like, for a minute. To my eyes, you Mindless Ones seem to achieve a pretty good replication of what it’s like to read a print mag, only online: normally a blog pretty much looks like a blog, pretty much looks like a blog, but in this case there’s something about the simple combination of features and voices and sidebar-layout (the Pillar Posts especially) that I think apes glossy printy-ness much more effectively than most of the sites which seem to be more obviously aiming at that replication. Is this something you’ve consciously undertaken?
The thought occurs, also, that it may be I think I see “organization” simply because of how consistent the tone is, from one contributor to the next: I don’t know if you think about that one very much, but it does seem to me that one post segues quite easily into, is quite easily aligned with, the other ones before it and after it: always relatable back to the Pillar Posts in some reasonably clear way, and often punctuated by images in much the same style as well. Having both a similar interest, and a similar rhythm. Then when a new Terminus goes up, I always find myself thinking of it as a partition between one “issue” and the next, sort of the big Clock of Mindless Ones posts, like a caesura…like a cover? Like a title? A very pleasant effect! I was going to ask TBMD a lot of silly questions about cartooning influences here, but I think now I’d rather ask something more to the point in re: the site’s overall aesthetic — are you conscious of Terminus contributing to that overall reading experience of the site as a whole, that I’m attempting to describe? The one-panel “And then it became apparent that things had worked out very strangely and quite possibly not for the best” illustrations do seem to me to be a kind of thematic encapsulation of what the site’s about as a whole…the mood excavated, as it were, and simplified. Or do I go too far?
Zom: Seems to me that we all see Terminus as a useful way of measuring the blog’s output. If a week goes by and there’s only one post between Terminuses we know something’s up, that we need to crack on and get shit written, that we’ve been resting on our laurels. Terminus isn’t just a great comic strip, it’s a shaming device.
As to the blog’s look, well that’s largely down to me, although special mention must go to Dan for creating such a fantastic banner, and the rest of the team for toying around with some great images. Was my intention to create a newspaper/magazine vibe? No, not really. What I wanted to do was create a minimalist space where posts could breathe (Grant of Barbelith fame described the design as “airy” which is as good a description as I can think of), where the writing – the design of individual posts – would stand out. I also wanted to create something unusual – that would stand out from the herd. Dare I say it, something that didn’t look like a comics blog, because I didn’t think then and I don’t think now that there’s any blogs out there doing much of what we do.
Early in the mindless experience we had a couple of professional web developers cast a critical eye over the site, both liked what they saw, but both said that perhaps we had been remiss not to include any eye-guiding features, particularly because our posts tend to be so long. I still worry a bit about that, but then they also said that perhaps we should think about reigning in our posts’ length. Not something any of us plan on doing – I think long posts are a big part of our brand, in as much as we can be said to have one. Web developers shmed lelopers…
TBMD: The Mindless Ones ‘aesthetic’ happened quite organically – Zom and Bobsy came up with the idea, Zom built the fucker…I named it and designed the logo. Botswana Beast christened it, with a first post…but right from the start, we wanted it a) to look clean, reader friendly, and a little bit stylish. We were also keen for it to feel like a magazine – definite articles, an in-house style, and naturally a regular cartoon strip. I mean, we are all definitely different you know – Bobsy’s tolerance for self-indulgent navel gazing comics is legendarily tiny, for example (it’s not like they make Chris Ware pants after all, although I’d buy a pair….), but his criticism is so sharp and individualistic, he can make the most tossed off superhero comic sound amazing. We might disagree vehemently with each other in the pub, but online it all seems to gel into a sort of seamless whole.
On a personal note, doing Terminus has been tremendously satisfying, and more and more I feel it’s representative of the site, and our love of the medium. I know it’s a dour and sometimes cynical strip, but it’s also colourful and vibrant… a celebration of the pulp mediums I adore so much. It’s a a way for me to fit in robots, monsters, space adventuring, ghosts, time machines, cloning… all that shit, whilst exploring things that interest me on a daily basis. Kind of Raymond Carver meets Kirby, or something. Or Alan Bennett vs Brendan McCarthy! ‘terminus’ is supposed to be a haiku version of an illustrated story really – sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sad or touching. Hopefully sometimes it’s both.
Plok: Okay, now I’ll do the influences bit: how would you all characterize your nicely-meshing writing styles? They’re very jazzy, to my eye…were these things that came out of your involvement on Barbelith, or perhaps things that attracted you to Barbelith in the first place, the opportunity to, um, possibly Morrisonize your speech? You’ll pardon that expression I hope, because I do it too, I’ll happily admit he’s been an influence on my blog-speech: I like his way of making connections, but leaving them for the reader to be smart enough to colour in. It’s a kind of poetry, isn’t it? The sort of thing I’m given to calling (and all over the place, apparently) Jeet Kune Do.
So, do you sweat your posts out? Or do you just sit down and start bashing away, and let it take shape on its own? If people could see behind the scenes of this interview they’d see how I just laughably lob shit at a wall and then try to pull significance out of it later…do you usually talk your posts over with one another, or are they something you like to surprise your fellow Mindless with? Should we think of you as a gang of magicians constantly trying to top each other’s tricks, or more as a band jamming away in the basement trying to find that special sound? ‘Beth I hear you calling…but I can’t come home right now…’
BBeast: I don’t know – I think you do develop a persona on a messageboard, and in that sense I was probably most heavily influenced by honora’y Mindless, Brother Yawn, who also did the best G-Moz interview ever still (http://www.barbelith.com/old/interviews/interview_1.shtml). But then, I’m very transient; when I do write, which is not often enough – I want to gild all these things on other blogs I like into my style, which I think is still… very formative. So I’ll try the Abhay tics (which I think he actually does owe to Bendis) or the Jog infodump and scan or the TFO acerbism, kinda semiconsciously. I am probably a bit influenced stylistically, mostly amy and bobsy, by the other Mindlesses too – amy gets quite lyrical and creative, elevatory even, sometimes just in describing reading a comic… I think that’s really impressive, and I wish it’s something I could turn on. bobsy’s more – is it drunken Kung-Fu? I dunno – he’s very loose, but only like a rope mantrap, attached to a tree, so there’s this amiable bit and then it’ll flip on you like – deceptively smart? Is that even a compliment?
It’s meant to be. I wish I could write like Don Delillo, all the time, or David Foster Wallace. I’d love to incorporate all that shit, but I second-guess myself an awful, awful lot just now; I think I’m still recovering from the Saturn Return (28.6 years in a lifetime) I had a year or so ago.
Oh, Morrison, yeah – I’ve got a lexicon, and probably drop bits performatively, unknowingly, in day-to-day speech and writing every so often. I also do this with the Wu-Tang.
amy seemed to have a good read on how our post-writing methods went in the interview with Andrew Hickey – that he, bob and I are feelers and that tymbus, TBMD and Zom are more structured workers – I don’t know the gang as well as him, but it reads as intuitively correct to me; it is what I do. Not feelers, sculptors: pfft. I think we’re all invested in the thing, and really – I do feel a little competitive, sometimes, I suppose – but I think the main thing is really I find reading everyone else’s writing and TBMD’s toons more inspiring than anything else. While I’m heavily invested in it, and not a neutral vantage at all and have no perspective whatsoever on my own work, everyone else’s — I’m just so pleased we started doing this, and it’s a gin-u-wine thrill to read new posts on the blog, which I think (own contributions aside for aperspectival and insufficient output reasons) really is among the bestest.
Zom: How and why do I post the way I do? First off I’m not sure I have any influences in the straightforward sense. I’ve never tried to emulate anyone or incorporate elements of what they do into what I do, reason being, on top of not particularly wanting to, that copying other writers is hard work and I aim to make this blogging business as easy on my poor tired brane as possible.
I have experimented with different styles, sure. My early Yellow Eye reviews were an attempt to let the less charitable me out of the box, but I gave up doing them when a) I realised that Mindless Ones didn’t need to run weekly reviews to get good hits, and b) that I was reluctant to go as far as I’d like in a public forum, partly out of cowardice and partly because the Internet is clogged up with far too much vitriol already. Tying into that, this was also the time when Mindless Ones as a product started to cohere for me, gunking up around one word: enthusiasm. Not that “enthusiasm” is anything like a manifesto, or necessarily connotes positivity, you understand – vicious criticism is certainly permitted around these parts. Fuck, everything is permitted in the sense that there are no mindless rules, just the behind the scenes opinions of our fellow mindlesses. It just turned out that our enthusiasms were (largely) what we all wanted to write about. It’s about who we are, I suppose, rather than something we set out to do.
I’ve discussed New Journalism, the other guiding force behind my posts, elsewhere, but you asked the question so I’m happy to do the answering. Again, I didn’t set out to write in a new journalistic style, and neither did the rest of the team, who seemed to naturally cleave to that way of doing things. There wasn’t a meeting. In fact I only use the term because it has considerable descriptive force – it’s a quick and easy way of getting at what we do. I was, however, reminded of the scope and utility of the form while reading <a href=” http://www.alwaysblack.com/blackbox/bownigger.html“>this essay</a> around the middle of 2008. It was like getting a pat on the back, a confirmation that we might be headed in the right direction.
Personally I like the term fanpunk. We’re just a bunch of wannabes playing with our tattered comic collections. Putting the scrappy pieces together and trying to make pretty pictures. Trying things out. Twiddling our metaphorical three chords.
Or some other bollocks.
As for how and why we post so effectively together (and for the purposes of this answer I’m just going to agree that we do, mainly because that *is* what I think), that must come down to the fact that, like Botswana Beast says, most of us have done most of our writing within the Barbelith Comics forum. Additionally, and to go back to an earlier answer, most of us are very old friends (and in some instances relatives).
In short it’s about shared training, culture and values.
Oh, and, yeah, competitiveness probably comes into it too.
Plok: Maybe just a bit more on influence, I think. Specifically, what a) writer, b) artist, and c) strip/book do you think people should ALWAYS follow, because to not follow it is to wilfully blind yourself to the excellent stuff in the medium? By which I mean, you don’t have to like the person, or even the strip they work on: Dave Sim’s bound to be a top five competitor in the artist field for me, if not higher, because he can make any kind of work gorgeous as hell — but I stalled out on Cerebus and wouldn’t recommend anything but High Society from it, and I think he’s an absolutely horrid prose writer, and also the impression I get from his self-chosen and self-propagated public persona is that he’s a…oh what’s the word…fucking idiot.
But the art is frequently astounding, truly, and I think it’d be a mistake not to look at it. The level of craft he’s achieved is mindblowing.
People used to have a similar problem with Joe Staton, why I don’t remember what it was because I was too young, but I do recall he was not popular for his political beliefs…whatever they were. He could draw, though. And of course there’s Ditko, whose stubbornness borders on the heroic for me, even though I think Ayn Rand had a brain like a rat’s nest I don’t care about filthy old Ayn Rand, I care about DITKO!!! What amazing compositional skill! What a storyteller! DITKO!!!
I don’t know, do you know any writers, artists, or strips like that? Like for me, as far as writers go it’s Walt Kelly, artists I will actually not pick Sim or Ditko but instead Schultz…what he does is my Zen, “Ha Ha Herman” is my Flower Sermon, that’s it, I’m fully sorted thank you. And for a strip/book…I dunno, if I had to pick something very current I’d say you’re bound to be out of touch with the whole universe of pop culture within five years if you don’t read Achewood, but if you asked me for something to ALWAYS follow besides Peanuts (though it’s not continuing, I am a Peanuts freak, and there’s a lot of material out there) I’d probably say anthing by Gilbert Shelton, actually. Like: if you have to pick something to always read, Freak Bros. isn’t too bad a choice! It may never really die! I’d also pick Jaime (interesting how he’s inseperable from his strip, and his strip’s inseperable from him, well like Beto too — well, like Gilbert Shelton for that matter!), I’d still say (even though it isn’t ongoing, but again: lotta material, Kelly’s like the Wodehouse or Beatles videographer of comics, you’ll never manage to read everything) Pogo of course. Darwyn Cooke is the same everywhere he goes too, hmm…
Am I onto something? Can you just combine the writer/artist/strip thing into oeuvre, is that useful, can you just say “Kirby”? Silly question, of course you can, that man had a real consistent vision, but could you just say, oh I don’t know…Darwyn Cooke’s about the most mainstream guy I know who’s got that “is it a Jeeves?” “No, it’s like a Piccadilly Jim” or “it’s more of a Psmith”, but really it’s just Wodehouse, all the time, every time, thing going. Jaime: “is Hopey in it?” Well, check back next year and she probably will be then, if she’s not now. Shelton’s one where — I know you guys interviewed him — but it doesn’t even have to be Fat Freddy’s Cat, it can be just anything with that weird manic scope to it, and that’s his fingerprint. Crumb’s another. Clowes. The work’s inseperable from the artist, as long as they’re doing it, that’s what it’s going to be, Jaime will always be doing 100 Rooms, Beto will always be doing Palomar…Seth will always be doing Palookaville…
Kirby will always be doing 2001!
Ha, long question with many questions in it! I lied to Beast, I said it would be short, and just one. Well, I’m a bit of a bastard that way. Happy New Year!
Bobsy: a) John Smith. Everything about him and his work – strengths and flaws, the themes he returns to, the humour, the horror, even the path his career has taken and his personality (as I imagine it to be, of course) – is a reminder of why genre comics, in their weird zen hinterland of not-mainstream not-underground, not-art not-literature, are my preferred mode of entertainment. I really must try to interview him this year, and reread my Devlin Waughs.
b) Sean Phillips. He makes pictures think.
c) Judge Dredd. We came into the world around the same time, and he’s always been there, grimacing and killing and making inappropriate jokes, every week, ever since. Even though I can ignore him , sometimes for years at a time, he remains a reassuring, fixed presence in this world. And he grows older, and less wise, just like I do.
Zom: I don’t think anyone should follow any creator come hell or high water. There are writers and artists who I am very keen on, and that I think have been good for their respective corners of the medium, but I’m not an absolutist. That’s just silliness.
TBMD: Not reading everything Brendan McCarthy has ever done would be an unforgivable crime in my book. I don’t follow characters blindly and wouldn’t recommend anybody else does either. Apart from Gary Lactus, whose touching love for the Fantastic Four knows no bounds.
BBeast: See, this is where I kind of reveal – where I pull back a manhole cover, and reveal an abyssal knowledge gap; I like Schultz and stuff, but I don’t… I just used to read it on the toilet as a kid, really, when some neighbours moved away and gave us a bunch of Peanuts! collections. Calvin & Hobbes, it seemed, was a lot – cleverer, I guess? More engaging. I still don’t know how to elevate it, the way I can or naturally do, as a kneejerk maybe more fantastical, less mundane comics. Achewood is – some people seem not to think this, and I completely don’t get them, and their ways – as well as a meme factory, it’s just so fucking funny; I don’t think it’s the cartooning, though really, just the amazing contortions Onstad has language make. But I’m about 4-5 months behind on it, always forget it exists for lengthy periods.
Speaking of Ditko, then, yes – Brendan McCarthy is really the only artist I can honestly say I would read any and everything sight unseen, and I am literally volcanic with restrained thrillpower (like Etna or, I dunno, the one in Oregon the Transformers crashed into) about him following in his (one of two, Steranko being the other) American comic art idol’s footsteps and doing the Spider-Man/Doctor Strange mini this year. Pretty much no doubt, I’ve seen one concept sketch, that this will be a lavalike psychedelic brainspunk. Seth Fisher was the only man fit to tie McCarthy’s laces, and he’s gone, sadly. Quitely of course, that odd Dudley Watkins/Moebius mutant look, that’s somehow become the most popular American comic art – one of the Humanoids guys, and I would have to imagine it’s more Moebius than The Broons, Zoran Janjetov, does stuff a lot like Quitely. It’s ergonomicity of the design, I think, as well with him. I like Cooke a lot, but actually The Spirit seemed a bit trite, a bit – well – boring for rather large swathes. Allred can’t get a terribly enthusiastic review anymore, so I don’t tend to bother, having only so much cash to splash.
I can’t really get onboard with rightwing visionaries; finding out about Paul Pope’s sworn glibertarianism, which is just selfish, privileged college kid shee-ite, has kinda tarnished his whole oeuvre for me – the art’s lovely, of course, those confident, thick, stylish lines but he seems, knowing what I know now, kind of stupid actually. Frank Miller is the exception to above rule.Not saying Frank Miller isn’t stupid – it’s just… it’s Ramones stupid, it’s AC/DC stupid – this is entirely part of the enjoyment to be had.
Aside from Morrison, the only writer I have a really strong affinity for and always always always check, even though I know it might well be some terrible, can’t-be-arsed, fuck-you-pay-me effort is Peter ‘the identity existentialist’ Milligan. I wish he’d team up with McCarthy again. I wish he’d team up with Allred again. Man, that X-Force was just a revelation; I honestly don’t think Marvel have ever published anything as good. At least til McCarthy. Strange. Spidey. The astral planes. Psychoscapes. God, it’ll be brilliant. I’m not on his street team or anything.
Plok: Heh. “Glibertarians.” Mind if I steal that? Sometimes they’re also “gibbertarians”, you sometimes feel if they ever got any real power they’d turn into “gibbet-tarians”…
At the risk of trying your patience, can we just talk about politics for a minute? In this sense: I think I forgive Ditko’s politics mainly because they’re not piggybacking in on the superhero biff-pow identity/anxiety stuff, but instead forming it and driving it quite transparently…and not only is he not trying to sneak it in under the radar, but he isn’t showing it as easy, either: it may be simplistic and it may be unfairly demonstated “true” by the fact that Spider-Man beats up the Vulture or whatever, but for me this is mitigated by the fact that it isn’t simply a fait accompli — the ethical issue gets worked through as the point of the whole exercise of “heroism”, it doesn’t just pop up as a side-effect, fully solved, Spider-Man actually has to fight the thing out. Kirby does the same thing, from a different perspective: his ethics/politics are right there on every page for anyone to see, and they’re fought over and struggled with, constested instead of assumed, too. And maybe this is why I’m annoyed with the modern crop of writers? I imbibed quite a lot of my initial political bias and sense of argumentative give-and-take from reading superhero comics as a kid, though maybe I should be ashamed to admit it…but I have no idea what kind of politics are operating in today’s version, so I don’t see many counters in it either, I don’t see a continuum of viewpoint there that could support that give-and-take. Not to just pick pick pick on Millar, but he’s a good example: just what the hell DOES he believe? I mean you can’t tell. And as for Frank, these days I often find myself reading his characterizations and thinking “oh fuck off, can’t you, with that shit?” I mean this isn’t the Continental Op, it’s Batman or something, isn’t it? And what in the hell is wrong with superhero comics when you can’t tell if the story you’re reading is supposed to be satirical or tongue-in-cheek or “just a shot” or whatever? I mean is Frank a loony or isn’t he, I’d really like to know, you know?
And is there something funny about this, is this a useful topic in any way? You mentioned Milligan, and he’s a good example of someone who uses the heroic metonymy of superheroes to explore “political” ideas, and who doesn’t sneak it in but makes it foundational (I’m thinking X-Statix, obviously — negotiating the passage between real and fake, found and made!), and Morrison too is a “traditionalist” in this way, his stories are always about asking questions instead of assuming answers, I think. I mean even if you have no choice but to be given answers…due to being embedded in the superhero format, an answer is always on its way, and the ethical stance presented is always ridiculously idealized, but I think even in Ditko it stops short of actually being coercive, because the point is to wrestle with it. Like, Ed and I once had an argument about this as kids when we were watching the salt-monster episode of Star Trek, he was saying “fuck off Kirk, it’s the last of its kind and it’s intelligent, that’s easily more important than a couple redshirts getting offed”…and I don’t think he was doing anything with that statement but revisiting the ethical conflict that was implanted in the script already, you know? Like, you are not supposed to come away from Star Trek thinking “yeah, FUCK those fuckin’ aliens, man! Earth rules!” Very often the dynamism of the thing is all about Kirk making decisions he’d really prefer not to make, or that he’d prefer to make some other way if he was free to do so. Finding that his role is more conflicted than he might wish. Well, power and responsibility, right? My lame counterargument was “he doesn’t have any choice, he’s not a scientist he’s a military man!” But I still think Ed had the better part of that argument…
And quite naturally so, because if his wasn’t the better part of the argument, there wouldn’t've been any conflict in that show worth talking about, right?
But then if Roddenberry had given some interview where he laughed and said it was all about Might making Right, and that he never intended for there to be any conflict in there, I think I might feel a bit like punching him in the nose. But this is exactly what Millar said after Civil War, of course. So to make a long question short (but too late, too late!), how much do you think we should care about the politics of our superhero storytellers? Or, does it matter? For me, I may be okay with Pound’s verse even though I know he was a fascist, but if I thought it was remotely possible that Tintin stories were veiled pro-Nazi fables — and of course I don’t dignify that, I think it’s a pretty vile slander — well then I’d feel absolutely stabbed in the back, taken for a ride. And it would completely upset my reading of Tintin, I could never return to it. And that would be a lot worse than Sim being this shitty misogynist fucker in real life, too — “Reads” is repulsive, but at least it shows its colours, never tricked anyone into complicity with its underlying nastiness, was not the thing with the school in California: “here’s your real leader — ADOLF HITLER, you little punks…!” No: people just said “fuck that, Sim, ya loony, I ain’t reading this shit no more…”
But what about these glibertarians? Is that shit like the Scientology of comics-people? Should we be trying to be alert to it? Is it surreptitiously changing the ethical accent of the superhero? Or is the ethical accent of superheroes even something we should waste time thinking about, does it even make any difference to anything.
Come on, let’s see some of that famous Mindless Ones hallway-chatter!
BBeast: I do think Libertarianism, manna for the already fairly-entitled, is apparently prevalent in the hipper/hipster end of the comics spectrum – I saw noted masturbator Chester Brown stood in some form in some election, somewhere, for a/the Libertarian party. And wrote and drew about it, thereby extending a long theme in all his works.
(The theme is ‘the emptiness of masturbation.’)
and beforehand Peter Bagge detailed how taken he was with internet meme Ron Paul, until he found out that – gosh – Ron Paul had said some pretty fucking racist things, the end. I don’t imagine it’s quite so insidious as the above-mentioned pyramid scheme religion, but really rather an end result of too long at art school. I was a fucking obnoxious student once, too, but I grew up – or was forced to. A bit. Frank Miller’s the same, really, just these playground, teethgrinding analogies – “Bush is a streetfighter” – and I think I have been very guilty of underestimating the massive damage to the American psyche that 9/11 caused (scifi/horror/etc. author Dan Simmons went down a similar road) but Miller… I think he’s got an apposite philosophy for defining Batman in a lot of ways, and just the undercurrent of glee, of utter resistance to definition, makes up for it.
I’d rather that, of course, than the absolutely tedious bumscrapings of a Bill Willingham, a Chuck Dixon, oh godd a Dan Jurgens – comics’ brave conservative axis – because it’s marginalia, and comics specialise in thus; nor can I really speak to the Ditko legacy, because beyond litanising his utterly bizarre list of (co)creations – Spider-Man, Doc Strange, Speedball, The Question, Mister A, Squirrel Girl(!!) – all I really know is I like the mindscapes in Strange. Marcos Martin is a phenomenally talented artist, you mentioned The Oath, but boy he totally sucked at that bit. The Ditko Lineage – http://brendanmccarthy.co.uk/uploaded_images/Lineage-of-DITKO-769481.jpg - will not. Ayn Rand is batshit – I read The Fountainhead at the insistence of an overenthused architecture student friend of mine, and the bit – the bit where the woman, he basically, the protagonist rapes her, but it was sort of (rather, COMPLETELY) okay because basically she wanted it. Wowowowow. It’s interesting how economics most discredited figure ever, Alan Greenspan, was basically a total Randian. Such an American philosophy, objectivism – thanks for ruining everything forever, objectivism.
Mark Millar’s interesting because he’s someone brought up in a very leftwing household, instantiated with that, but really won over by the glitter of crassy consumerism and now making a tasty living at it, thankyouverymuch; it’s really my problem with the end of Red Son, one of his finer hours, that – that’s the potted (hi)story, but there’s no Damascene moment for me in that conclusion; it does not – literally – sell itself to me.
Bobsy: I think maybe it’s because my nervous system seems to react more strongly to the funnybook than other media, but bad politics in comics hits me very hard. I find it easier to argue for Pound’s worth as an artist and human than I do for Paul Pope, and it’s not just because the Cantos are an enormously valuable contribution to human culture and Pope is basically the world’s best drawer of pouting self-righteous teenagers. Maybe it’s because Pound lived long and became sane enough to repudiate and apologise for his earlier antisemitism, and the fact that he kind of paid for his crimes by being locked the fuck up for years on end. But maybe it’s just the massive disappointment I feel when this lovely sense of style, composition and bold, impressionistic linework is being put to the service of such poshboy idiocy as Libertarianism. Similarly, I don’t care how wild the double page spreads in A-Man are, I’m flat out not reading that stupid shit, it’d make me feel a bit ill.
As for Frank The Tank, well I think part of what makes him an interesting artist is the very visible struggle in his work between Left and Right – he’s kind of a wannabe tough-guy type who loves action films and kung fu cowboys, clearly into the idea of righteous interventionism, but he’s also a New York cartoonist from a strong lefty tradition who realises how difficult it is to get the ‘righteous’ part spot-on. (As BBeast says in his reply, this analysis kind of skips the bodyblow that 9/11 dealt to his thought processes, the ugly and saddening indignation of Empires.) It’s like, the psychiatrist in Dark Knight Returns is an asshole, but he’s also basically right. FTT really can’t decide if Green Arrow or The Question is best (quick answer: it’s Green Arrow.)
Millar strikes me as deliberately hiding under that most foul of delusions – Blairism! That is ‘postpolitical’; Roman Catholic; self-professed blue-sky thinking (thinking that doesn’t let nambypamby things like civil rights or social justice get in the way); a strong Fukuyamaist (militant and militarised Liberal Democracy, whereas I’d describe myself as a weak Fukuyamaist as these things go: Liberal Democracy and mixed-capitalist economies are preferable, though based on Scandinavian rather than Anglo-American models). I may be way off the mark here – I didn’t read Civil Wart, and actually got the impression its heart was in the Cap America superbusiness-as-usual camp.
I’ve given up on Millar’s work, not really for political reasons, though that did become tiresome, after the end of the dreadfully disappointing Ultimates 2, where his worst authorial tics were foregrounded to the degree I began to feel that he and his fans really thought that those were actually the good bits. He can do blockbuster high-concept and superhero action, or at least he used to be able to, but he can’t convincingly do dialogue, politics or human relationships, although that seems to be all he really wants to write about, with Marvel perfectly prepared to indulge him.
Maniac 5 remains one of my all time favourite comic strips though.
Zom: How much should we care about the politics of comic creators? I’ve struggled with this one a lot over the years. Dave Sim is the most obvious case in point – his more outré political views don’t, as I understand it, infect the bulk of Cerebus, but I find his thinking so unpleasant that I feel it is my duty not to buy his work. Not to support his public platform in any way whatsoever. Of course, Sim is really just the sharp end of a much bigger problem, and is probably most pernicious in the sense that he serves as one helluva distraction from other subtler varieties of misogynistic nastiness. What I’m getting at here is that we shouldn’t just be thinking about the politics of creators, we should be thinking about the politics of the comics community and how those politics reflect culture more broadly.
Interesting that you should point out that Milligan’s politics are the foundation of much of his writings, plok. I would argue that while Morrison’s work normally isn’t explicitly political, there is a political dimension built into the structure of many of his stories in that they often feature a powerful deconstructive element – de-centring and reframing of power structures usually made manifest by introducing a herd of prismatic analogues. Granted, this isn’t political in itself, but the deconstructive urge that he demonstrates has real implications for political thought. It’s like he’s training a generation of kids (or indeed a generation of thirty somethings) to approach the world with a deconstructive mindset. I don’t think any of this is intentional, mind you. I suspect it’s just how he does things.
Frank Miller’s talk about special move, chain combo, streetfighter Bush is just irritating and ridiculous bollocks…
Plok: Okay, let’s swerve away from the makers and into the users…or perhaps more to the point: the objects. What character just does it for you? For me it always has been, and always will be, the Phantom. It’s a genre thing, but that’s just because I’m a genre guy…I get excited about the Phantom. That’s my madness, if Schultz is my Zen then Lee Falk is my popcorn. The Flash is a close second, with Mowgli and Buck Rogers not far behind, and then probably Superman and then probably the Shadow…and then Coyote, Howard The Duck, Shade, Dr. Strange, Fantastic Four, Indiana Jones, all the other stuff that I can say what I like about it…but no one gets my Phantom-love, and I’m not sure I even get it myself, because it’s like the top of this mania.
Why do we develop these particular fascinations, do you think? And what, any given Mindless One, is the character that does it for you, that you’re just a hopeless fanboy for.
Zom: There’s a short way of answering this question – yup, Batman – and a longer one.
Batman, in that he invaded by brain when I was young and defenceless and did some real damage. Said damage was later reinforced by Dark Knight Returns, Year One and, later still by Morrison’s JLA-Bats. As much as I have a deep, abiding love for the batverse – the villains, the vehicles, the teenage sidekick, the weird and exciting aesthetic and narrative possibilities (Bat-Manga!!!!!!! I actually want to have sex with that book), the nostalgia value – I suspect the character’s appeal is also simply down to dumb luck. Bats has been written by some very good writers and drawn by some very good artists. Had Frank Miller decided to write about Green Lantern instead, perhaps I’d have answered this question differently.
It’s probably worth mentioning that there are characters who I prefer, or rather there are characters who I prefer in a given context. For example I don’t prefer raw unadulterated Batman to All Star Superman, and I definitely don’t prefer Batman to the Born Again incarnation of Daredevil, who must be, without a shadow of a doubt, my tip top superhero.
I have to say, though, the rumours that Morrison and Quitely are going to tackle the Caped Crusader do have me impossibly excited.
TBMD: What character just does it for you? Hmmm. Well I’ve always had a tremendous love of DC’s occult crew – Dr. Fate in particular. I just love his whole look, and all that dusty pompous Order v Chaos shit. I also cannot think of a cooler looking character than the suited and booted Question. That’s a character I love completely independently of any of his (or her) comics. These are characters I loved from getting little glimpses of them in other comics, so my love for them is almost abstract and design orientated. I think you could do an amazing chiaroscuro take on the Question for example. Darwyn Cooke’s little Question piece he did in his wonderful SOLO comic was brilliant. I’m a bit cheesed off that they killed off Vic, just so Renee could assume the mantle. Why do they always have to kill them?!?
Bobsy: Yes, Batman, of course. Everyone loves Batman, thanks to the sixties TV show which forever rescued the character from popcult nothingdom, and I am no exception.
I love the little hairy guy with the claws too – seriously, I often think about what it would be like to *snikt* have those claws pop from my knuckles, in much the same way, I imagine, that Alan Partridge spends his time wondering what it would be like to feel a car-airbag go off in his face. Don’t tell anyone though.
Plok: “I love the little hairy guy with the claws too -” Yes, the almighty Wolverine…there is something about the little fellow, isn’t there? Even though it’s covered up by all this horrible crap…I’m so annoyed that a sawed-off little runty taciturn tough-guy Canadian character with back hair is one of the most popular characters ever, and yet he’s, for all intents and purposes, I’m sure you’ll agree, been rendered a hopeless and stupid endlessly shit-attracting parody of a character now. Gee, I sound bitter, don’t I? But Wolverine used to be the misanthrope, and then became the sob-sister, acquired all this flashy gentleness, the sort of attentiveness to emotional needs usually encountered only in characters from soap-operas…and he used to be mysterious, and then he accumulated all these sprawling, incommensurable histories…BBeast has mentioned “Songs Of Innocence And Experience” as a Spidey/Wolverine story, and I think that’s a good idea for the Wolverine we’ve got now, the one all the kids know. Yet I lament the inevitability with which Wolverine has become the gruff, world-weary guy who’s seen it all and got the T-shirt, and is always ready with a bit of cowboy/soldier poetry when someone’s feeling blue. As though the contrast between that and “kicking ass” is the entire point of the character’s existence. Pretty weak tea. And yet I still perhaps vainly feel there’s a core there, experience or no, that if properly visited would make me a happy, happy man!
Could Wolverine be rehabilitated?
Can I get a little Rogue’s Review action on my countryman Mr. Logan?
Or maybe just some slightly stronger tea?
Bobsy: Yeah sadly the answer to this could be ‘Maybe Not’. Ranged against fanboy longing here are huge and lucrative commercial engines currently running very fast and smoothly in their preferred direction, thankyouverymuch.
The most important thing for the aspirant hipster Wolverine fan to understand is that it’s all about the tan/maroon costume. The yellow flecked one, which was the original I know and has become the dominant default, is straight up nowhere. Further to this, it’s a good idea to go back and look at the Claremanont-Byrne issues, around the time when Kitty Pryde was introduced, and check out his incredible line in manly leisure-wear. He’s all wide-brim cowboy hats, waistcoats, stunning tan safari-lounge suits and implicit tassles. Combined with the hair and chops you have a possible combination that remains explosive all these years later.
And I honestly think that could be it – he awakens from the Weapon X experiments, a blank slate, in the early-mid seventies. He takes a pretty heavy new imprint from the dominant contemporary male sterotype: macho, hairy, vengeful – Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, a touch of Lee Marvin, and yes, a bit of ho-hum Chuck Norris. And that’s where he’s stuck, that’s the whole point of his character, that’s his thing. The samurai-poet thing has to go, you’re absolutely right – he should be all about how masculinity has its useful limits, and how he fails to get this, and goes for it with his claws, and that’s not a good idea, except for in dramatic terms…
A new wilderness period would be very beneficial, a return to the traditional The Fugitive shitkicker-of-the-week scheme, hitchhiking, trashed diners, truckstop explosions. Ramp the healing factor down so he’s not unkillable, bring on the cowboy boots and flares, and make the popping of the claws each episode’s ultimate money shot, the bixby-int-ferrigno moment, the adamantium ejaculation that the bloody and beaten hero has to work himself up to – the claws get longer and curvier and more preposterous and impossible with each issue (the whole thing could actually be a veiled handbook of non-chemical treatments for male erectile disfunction – the seventies’ vigilante was all about not being able to get it up when it really counted, the resultant obvious substitute of violence for sex.)
We clearly need a new archenemy here, so have one: Cut-Puck – the Canadian Secret Services new response to the Wolverine problem – hyped-up ice hockey body armour with scary mask, sharpened hockey stick and skate-blades, a habit of sliding very fast on tarmac and down mountainsides and bashing you right up. That’s all my Canadian national stereotypes exhausted, you’ll be pleased to hear.
Zom: Wolverine? God, I don’t know. The thing most of the half decent writers do is play up the tension between animal and man, control and frenzy. Miller pretty much invented it (he certainly ran much further than Claremont with the ball, at any rate) with his samurai berserker shtick, and the line goes through right up to today with Millar’s Old Man Logan story arc, which is, at least as far as I’m concerned, pretty much the grimy apotheosis of that sort of thing. A story in which Logan, like a teenager with cock in hand withholding orgasm, refuses to pop his claws. Of course at some point he’s going to have to, and just like the teenager he’s going to make a mess. Millar’s bringing to the fore the essence of what it is to read those Miller stories, not the plot details, but the central tension I’ve outlined above, and as such it’s almost as if he’s having the last word, because there’s not going to be much that can be done with that dynamic he’s finished – for the time being at least. It’s like he’s showing us how the trick is done.
Perhaps Morrison was on to something with his Wolverine as love god angle. A man who’s come to terms with the beast and absorbed it into his hairy sex chest. That Wolverine would have quite different stories to tell. Come to think of it that could feed nicely into his responsibilities as the X-Men’s part-time parent – he’d be a natural teacher, a man whose knowledge ran bone deep. Thinking about it further I’m wondering if Morrison was playing on this throughout his run.
Hmmm… I’d have to think about this a lot more, but there are potential stories here about parenting and/or nuture that you could probably do something with.
Plok: Wow, I don’t even think you guys saw one another’s answers at all on that one, actually — what a ridiculously awesome result to a question that was. Hmm…heck, might as well roll with it, so: quick! Favourite villains for Dr. Strange and the Black Panther. Just sing ‘em out! Not really a question, I just feel bizarrely moved to know!
BBeast: Shuma-Gorath. Ulysses Klaw. Dormammu. Zom, of course. Nightmare. Mordo. God, I don’t know any BP villains – there was that sort of dictator chap and his white adopted brother?
Zom: Bugger, I’m really bad at thinking creatively on my feet, or to demand. Seriously, I’d have to think about this for days to come up with some names that satisfied me.
Plok: BBeast was clearly just going around brain-space completely, straight to glossolalia. Aah, that was kinda funny, I’m glad I asked that.
Finally (and it’s too bad it must be “finally”, because I’ve really enjoyed this), each of you must have a favourite Mindless Ones post…what is it?
Zom: Without a doubt Amy’s Bane Rogue’s Review. I love the rogue’s review concept, and that post does everything I want to see a rogue’s review do and more. I should also admit to having had my own stake in it, in that it was the product of discussions between Amy and I. Thinking about it, I’m pretty sure the germ of the idea was mine – that Bane should be presented as a walking cathedral of muscle, a kind of dark prayer to the horrific Liefeld physique – but Amy took the all that and ran with it far further I would have. Brought it to life in a way that surpassed my expectations.
Was fucking funny, an’ all. All that stuff about our pal Bulk Meat beating him.
It does feel unfair blithering on about Amy, though. Everyone goes on about Amy. He gets fucking fan mail. Everyone contributes and everyone’s produced posts that have punched my buttons. Bot Beast’s Prismatic Age concept just works a treat – I mean, these sorts of taxonomies are only useful up to a point, but it strikes me as just as hard wearing as your Golden Ages and your Dark Ages. It fits; TBMD’s piece on Nemesis does a fine job of selling the appeal of the man Mills, and the balls out weirdness of the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic, and it’s relation to the Brit reader’s mindset; Bobsy is always good value, but if I had to pin down a favourite post it would have to be one of his pants reviews. They were very silly indeed, but they were also surprisingly insightful and consistently hilarious. Savage’s bande post rocked my world – the epic preposterousness of his writing allied to his genuine skill opened up new vistas of comic enthusiasm for this member of the mindless team. Still yet to actually read any, mind you, but the intention is there!
As for our so called manifesto – Candyfloss Horizons – and, yes, to go back to Amy again, I have to own up to enjoying the energy of the piece more than the content, much of which I think doesn’t stand up to too much scrutiny. It was like a firework display heralding our arrival, I like it on that level.
Amy: My favourite post? Well Zom’s already nodded to the prismatic age one hasn’t he? That’s perfect. But if I was going to pick an all time favourite it has to be his V for Vendetta one (I hope you’re putting in links, Trout!). [ed. -- curse you, Amypoodle!] I grew up with Zom – I was living in Harrow at the time too – and I can say, hand on heart, his efforts perfectly capture the energy and the mood of my suburban childhood. It’s such a brilliant piece of autobiography, wrapped ever so neatly around a soft comic book centre. It’s just great: truthful, insightful, full of pathos, and not in a cloying, mawkish way. And I can’t see anyone else out there with the balls to attempt anything like it. You know, it really does take balls to throw up some of the stuff we’ve got on the site. As Tucker Stone says – ‘Who wants to read about me?’ Good thing we’re all raging narcissists, eh?
My other favourite post has to be the Halloween Terminus TBMD did. I think Terminus is brilliant and essential to who we are anyway, but that one…. It’s utterly disturbing. Vile.. It also has mystery. Dark mystery, but mystery nevertheless.. Its a brilliant one panel glimpse of the horrible insect kingdom behind the curtain. Yeah, like the Perry Bible Fellowship, it’s about more than eliciting a laugh response.
BBeast: Gaahhd, I’m trying to avoid saying something by amy here because he gets far too many plaudits as it bloody is, and everyone else is braw too – I liked Zom’s take on the Riddler particularly because… I don’t know if I’ve ever read a good Riddler comic, oh wait, Neil Gaiman did a really short thing and so did Mike Allred and those were good, but he served as a viewpoint to times when Batman was good and fun, it was a nostalgiac thing, to some extent, but I fuuuuuuckin loved the Riddler as a mite watching the telly show, and pretty much forgot that entirely, so it was really a delight to have it brought back unbidden. The Riddler’s a brilliant character; oh, actually, I think Milligan did a good Riddler story in one of his few decent wfh efforts. Everyone has a favourite Terminus, the two nuneaton savage posts are a fascinating stream-o’-consciousness take on some pretty excitingly illicit and strange things… I’d tongue bath them all, really, had I spittle enough. If I must pick an amy, the bastard – Candyfloss Horizons was a manifesto I was happy, nay ecstatic, to sign up to. But then, Black Hole, bobsy on Hellblazer #41, TBMD on DREDD – “the moment British comics could have packed up and gone home” (W. Ellis, the 90s)….
TBMD: I loved Bobsy’s I-Ching take on the Black Glove identity. That was inspired, and totally nails while our site rocks so much. I also really liked the futile Bill Drummond-like quest to unkill Jason Todd via the Silent 73.
Also on a hubristic note, I’ve never enjoyed writing anything as much as my ‘Iron Fist vs Badger‘ post.
Bobsy: I love all the posts on the site – I can hear my friends’ voices in them, and that makes it my favourite website to read in the whole world.
The one I’m most proud of though, the one rock solid fact which has made the whole exercise worthwhile for me, has been BBeast’s Prismatic Age post. Golden-Silver-Dark-Prismatic, that’s just how it goes now, thanks to those clever sorts at Mindless Ones Dot Com.
Plok: Well, thank you for the beautiful cue line, Bobsy! And thanks for being such wonderful interviewees, Mindless, that was really…
Hm. Musta flown out the window, or something…
Think I’ll follow them, Bloggers! Hope you enjoyed. Next week, we welcome in the studio four young lads from Liverpool…
So ’til then, eh?