Okay, time for fun!
Andrew and the folks at Funnybook Babylon got interviewed, and then in return got to ask the questions…and then I got interviewed too, but boy oh boy they should never have let me ask the questions, I think! Because I was dying to do it: as I said before, when you put together the Weblog Updates with a few Pillar sites that everyone reads, presto it’s like you’ve got a community on the boil…and in my little corner of the Internet one of those pillar sites is the Mindless Ones: Zom, Amypoodle, Bots’wana Beast, Bobsy (he of the Pants), The Beast Must Die!, Gary Lactus, lordnuneatonsavage, and Tymbus — playful names to go with playful content, but also silly names for serious analysis, and a site I can’t help but check several times a day.
But…who’s behind those names?
I cornered a few of the Mindless over the holidays, and forced some answers out of them.
Plok: How old are you guys? Give me a compass reading. BBeast asked me about how old I was, and I gave him a close neighbourhood. Also I am going to have to know how many of you are married, and I am going to need to know (in no particular order) what you do for a living. Also: in in particular order, the cities in which you live, because I want to know how often you all get together in real life. Maybe it’s just me reading the Andrew interview, but you’re all actual real-life friends, ya-hoo?
BBeast: I think I can answer most of this for the group – I’m the mystery man, words crackling down the interwires, because the rest of them live down on the south coast of England and I live in Dundee, Scotland’s sunniest city and also probably home to the only comics publisher worthy of the name in the UK, DC Thomson, which is — actually — kind of a horrible 50s anachronism, that won’t i) allow unionised employees and ii) print both parents’ surnames of a child born out of wedlock in their notices, as I discovered a couple of years ago. They print the Dandy and Beano, although I think the form has suffered from them trying some kind of kids’ magazine format with it recently. Is the Beano even still published or just the Dandy? Or vice versa? Anyway, statue of Desperate Dan in the city centre. I’ve never met them, but we’ve been in fairly regular contact for 5, 6, 7 (!!) years, I and they, and Zom — none of my peers had any children when we discovered our little accidental miracle and my pants were sealed with incessant pooping of terror — Zom was invaluable counsel, having had or being about to have his own at that time, as I recall.
I thiiiiink, and will be maybe a bit disappointed to be wrong, they’re just a whisker older than me as I approach 30 with some trepidation. A month after, I will be married, all going to plan, and hopefully have finally forged some kind of decent career path in the city’s public libraries, though it seems like being halfway down a goddamn list of accession atm.
Bobsy: Thirty. Engaged to marry in 09. Publishing. Brighton, UK. In the British Class System, I am lower-to-middle Middle, and sliding.
Zom: 33. Married. Mortgage. Just above average income. Weird hybrid job in higher education that’s really difficult to describe, needless to say I’m not an academic. I live in the city of Brighton and Hove, UK. Brighton is without a doubt one of the best places to live in the entire country, especially if you’re a youngster, which I kinda was until relatively recently (Brighton has a way of keeping people young if not fresh-faced). I prefer being an adult these days, though.
How often do we all get together in real life? All of us? Never. Quite a few of us: once every six weeks to two months in order to record the podcast and shoot the shit. Like the man says, many of us are friends of old. I’ve known Gary Lactus for about 20 years, TBMD for a little less than that, and Bobsy for perhaps 10 solar cycles. Amy and I are brothers. The only member of team that I’ve yet to meet in the flesh is Bots’wana Beast, but I’ve known the guy through his online presence for at least 6 or 7 years now. Mindless Ones is mates first — atomised mates with responsibilities we didn’t have a scant few years ago — bloggers second.
TBMD: I live in London, having spent my 20’s having tremendous amounts of fun in Brighton (where most of the Mindless live). Nuneaton Savage recently joined me up in the Big Smoke, and our proposed Sun-Ra comic will shake the earth to its very core.
London is an amazingly stimulating city to live in – just so much history and culture shoved in together. Admittedly, you have to become something of an aggressive prick to live here, but it’s fucking great.
Plok: Your blogger-names. Why? Why those, and not others? And where the fuck does that shit come from? What’s going on, there?
Zom: Let’s turn it around: what’s going on with all these people thinking that spreading their name around the Internet for all to see is a good idea? Do they not know that many employers head straight to Facebook before they shortlist candidates for interview? Do they not know that many employers keep tabs on their employees’ internet presences? Apparently not if the news reports I’ve been reading about recent graduates struggling to find employment thanks to their willingness to bare all on the interweb are true.
And all that’s before we get into the even trickier stuff to do with interpersonal relationships – what our loved ones, enemies, acquaintances and colleagues might make of certain kinds of confessional writing, and certain confessions.
The fact is, in day to day life we’re always filtering ourselves, always making decisions about what to reveal and what to keep hidden – the only time we’re not is when we’re really drunk and behaving like arseholes. Showing every inch of yourself online strikes me as the virtual-space equivalent. If I want to be free to write whatever I want to write then it makes good sense to remain anonymous, to keep a big chunk of me hidden.
Helps avoid unnecessary virtual hangover-guilt.
There’s another side to it, though, the fact that we all (with the exception of Tymbus) hail from a web forum that prides itself on its kooky screen names. It’s what I’m used to – I’m immersed in a tradition. I enjoy the theatricality of it, the possibility of slipping into pure fiction (or slipping on a fictionsuit), toying around with all that silly Dark Dimension stuff. That would be harder if I was posting under my honest to goodness real name. I’d feel self-conscious, less free.
Amy: Amypoodle is the name of an ex-girlfriend’s dog. A dog she liked to get up as a human. Seriously, there’s a family photograph which at first glance appears perfectly normal, the Shadley women all sitting in a row, until upon closer inspection you realise one of them is actually a poodle in toddler’s clothes, or something like that. It was a very odd beast. Or it was made odd. I don’t know. Regardless, I found it very amusing. Didn’t even look much like a poodle. To begin with its fur was a kind of off pink colour… An even more bizzare fact is that my password is the name of one of my Dad’s best friends.
His name’s totally stupid.
Of course I substituted my ex’s family name for something else up above. That’s the other reason we use pseudonyms, as Zom explained. We don’t want weirdos tracking down our families and picking them off one by one. Barbelith had a few honest to goodness dementoids milling around until they were ejected, some of whom had a stalkerish bent, so, yeah, I’m a little uneasy with letting comics fandom of all things know anything about my personal details.
BBeast: I just do it ‘cos the other lads do it, and because I don’t really like Google to tell prospective employers/former classmates/whatever what a massive dork I am. It’s true! I am fucking embarrassed to like comics, which is a recent tic developed from working with working-class people who I, prejudicially, did not feel able to share my driving obsessions with – most middle-class folk are kind of “henh” about it. I posted on Barbelith with my real name for about three or four years maybe, and luckily former Special Boat Services hero and thriller author, Duncan Falconer, who shares my name has taken a goodly bit of the heat off me since. “As good as Andy McNab or your money back” the ads promise, and still I feel the pressure to deliver on it. So yeah, thereafter I was the Falcon, and other falcon/ry related things because, you know, cool bird, cool profession which I would be appalling at, doubtless. and also also also! I totally fixated on African-American culture, if such a thing can be said to exist, after discovering the Wu in the mid 1990s, and there’s just this diaspora of American trash culture, like they all claim at one point or another to be one particular Marvel hero, I could probably do a list off my head, really, reconfirming and I was born in Africa, Botswana to be precise and yeeeah, the Falcon is also an African-American superhero, one of the first. I used to rock African-American avatars at whatever websites I posted on with that facility, like Frank Pembleton from Homicide, Omar Little, Clay Davis from the Wire, ODB (Sorceror Supreme, btw – one of two men, Grant Morrison being the other to actually sincerely lay claim to that title) when he bit the dust.
After several years, I reflected on this behaviour, and thought it was, you know, kind of strange for a very white kid from Scotland to do this – so, but I am a white African, I love Animal Man and detail some of my psychogeographical connections to it on my post on Superman Beyond, like I’ve been to the bar where James Highwater awakens before I knew it was that pub, wowowow, etc. and Botswana/B’Wana, it’s really serendipitous and I’m quite happy with it as an alter ego.
I can also fuse household pets to make revolting chimerical oddities, but I don’t like to go on.
Bobsy: It’s just a nickname – familiar enough to family, friends and acquaintances, though not so familiar that anyone who doesn’t really know me would think to google it.
I like how we are the known unknowns of the comicbook bloglands though – it makes us look like we don’t give a shit about this whole malarkey, which, while very far from the truth, is still I think the right attitude to project. I do wish one of us was smart enough to have come up with a name as mighty as ‘Pillock’ though.
TBMD: The Beast Must Die! is the name of a terrible, tacky and wonderful werewolf movie made by Amicus studios in its death throes in the 70’s. It’s an awful movie but I have a very special memory of staying up and watching it with my Dad when I should have been in bed. I vowed if I had a band that would be the name of it, and since that hasn’t happened….
That title has a histrionic quality that I love, love, love. It’s not really an anonymous thing for me – I put my real name on the Terminus cartoons after all – it’s just that I think codenames are super cool.
Tymbus: I live in Cardiff. I was given the name Tymbus by the Mindless-who knows why? Everyone should read the comics Journal. Superheroes were created for and in comics and should stay there. I was adopted and stories of absent dead parents have an appeal as does dressing up and enacting vengeance on wrong dooers. I have anger management issues so the Hulk appeals as do teams where individuals yell at each other fight then make up and solve problems. So the Defenders (1970s-80s) and the X-men (early 1980s) are my top comics
That is it
Plok: I am sure you don’t know it (because I’m plugging this remark in later as I assemble responses), but those are some really wonderful, “prismatic” answers…damn it if you don’t sound like a super-team yourselves! Not unlike, perhaps, the Defenders or the X-Men…
Which leads me smoothly (I hope) on to the next question: as far-ranging as it often is, Mindless Ones always comes back to the superheroes, though it’s an approach very much about aesthetics, that clearly places them inside a love of comics in general. So…what is the future of comics you would like to see? Does it include superheroes? What kind of superheroes?
Are superheroes as we’ve known them (barring Grant’s one-man battle against the tide with a fan) played out? I can still see some uses for superheroic motifs, myself: Watchmen was I think very clever in this regard, superheroes as emblems for Atomic Age anxiety…but that’s done, now. Atomic City Tales I thought was both heartfelt and clever, and endlessly extensible in a way Watchmen was not…but apparently none of the superhero-lovers cared about it. Los Bros Hernandez make terrific stuff out of the superheroes in their own geniusly repurposeful soap-operatic way, and as I said I think “Death Note” is a SUPERTERRIFIC superhero story in the old Seventies Englehartian mode, and also Darwyn Cooke’s “New Frontier” I loved (especially the Flash episode) because I think it’s the 25-year-old Frank Miller of its day, balls-out for true belief, true BELIEF!!!…meanwhile GODLAND takes Kirby to be a genre of square thumbs and Drakean madness that anyone can play with the conventions of so long as they’ve got perfect colouring — or do you disagree? — but, you know, this is all very different from wanting to read the next issue of Spider-Man, ever ever ever…
I mean in my perfect future of superheroes, Grant would do twenty-five issues of Seaguy and wrap it up, and a hundred of Vimanarama and wrap it up…and then he’d make more stuff…he would do Alan Moore’s ABC, a little notional 60s Marvel (or 90s DC) all his own, with his own shit in it…he would copy that Alan route! We would have Grant Morrison’s Tom Strong! We would have his Will Eisner homage and his Jack Cole homage. Can you fucking IMAGINE??? Grant Morrison let off his chain to do a JACK COLE homage???
I would be willing to bet serious money…he would do a cock-eyed Promethea, as Jack Cole would’ve envisaged it. Plas as Promethea.
Heck, forget this question I was going to ask, here’s a new and BETTER question: if Grant was given any subject, if he was given absolutely free rein to do as he would…what would you like to see him do?
He is very very EXCELLENTLY GOOD at homages, this we know.
Okay, every Mindless One draw straws, to take a piece of that overbloated question…!
BBeast: I’d like Grant to do Spider-Man, actually, I’d like him to do them all really, but particularly that, I’ve decided. I think the imaginarium will be stimulated by – most exciting news ever, growing nearer still on the horizon – this Brendan McCarthy Spidey/Strange project… just to see him deal with Ditko, really, which he hasn’t hitherto now I don’t think? Well, and having done Superman/Batman/X-Men (or Wolverine, if you prefer; thesis here being Wolverine and Spider-Man are the alpha and omega, innocence and experience, of Marvel Comics) I think Spidey completes the quadrivium of the biggest ever superhero properties and Spider-Man was my first supe and other more childish reasons. I want there to be a not-bland Spider-Man comic, really, and I don’t think there’s been such a thing since McFarlane and DeMatteis were working their respective not-blanderies on the character. Fucking obvious answer, I suppose. I wish he’d managed to do some Transformers as well as Zoids, when I was a young’in too, though I find the notion hard to imagine. Comics’ most scrupulous hardman Jamie Delano wrote a text story about Hoist in the first TF annual, fact fans!
I don’t know if superheroes are played out, because it’s primary colour fiction in the most baldfaced interpretation of that phrase, in every aspect; the supes wear their emotions, their semiotic significance, on their sleeves, head, cape and most especially, commonly: chest. Which is – I think it’s still interesting? DC’s obviously got more primal stuff in the glove than Marvel, but no-one really gives a shit for DC properties, and bla bla… If my little bit of pattern recognition, re: the phases of them, plays out as I expect… it’s really hard to anticipate what comes next, modally; I expect, more immediately, some fairly grotesque Dark Age reprises and I think/hope someone does something so egregious that it makes the rape and murder of the Elongated Man’s wife (what a phrase! Oh, comics!) look like a picnic. Something proper horrorist, maybe around the bend. I’m in the mood for it; I think maybe a liberalish US president opens the bandwidth for some bad strange. But, you know, predicting culture – a mug’s game, most likely. I’d be terrified to be exactly right, although the world seems pretty damn like what I imagined it would be at the peripheries of my junior mind in the late 80’s, early 90’s.
Amy: I’m still all about the Candyfloss Horizon and I want to see superhero books get freakier. More lysergic. I mean, Morrison’s books already are, but everyone else’s too. Sometimes I think Grant’s recent output is waaaay more experimental and fucked up than his early stuff, Doom Patrol, Animal Man and the rest, which were slightly oafish and heavy-handed in their approach, and that gives me hope that things are heading the way I want them to. Superheroes represent the ability to fly – that’s the essential power isn’t it, the touchstone? – to be able to cast off the rules, to jump off the game-board out and into unbridled possibility. They should be wondrous – their comics should be wondrous – (well at least some of them should be) and they aren’t right now.
I have no idea what the future for superheroes is in the realm of editorial realpolitik, or where the whims of market forces will take them, but if they survive another 30 years I’m sure they’ll be pretty strange, which is all to the good.
As for what Grant should write…if I can’t do it then I want to see the guy get his hands on an Outer Space book. There are no good superhero space comics, and there should be! For a start I never really feel like I’m in space. The environment is so inert, so unreactive, lacking mystery, physicality and agency, that all those pretty pink nebulae fizzing away in the Green Lantern books may as well be CGI. Or worse, a shoddy matte painting. A space book is something new for Grant. It would really give him the chance to go all cosmic.
Zom: Whether we’re talking about comics or other media, I certainly don’t think the superhero genre is going to vanish any time soon. Its lasted 70 plus years, for christsake. It will of course morph and change, and maybe morph back again in some sort of traditionalist revival, and yeah maybe the big two will bite the dust in the forseeable, but I’m thinking men in pants are here to stay, in much the same way as the Western or, I dunno…breakbeats. Frankly the idea that superheroes might bugger off for ever and ever, never to return is slightly absurd, if you ask me. It’s like suggesting that we might have closed the book on jazz.
As for predicting where superheroes will be 5, 10, 20 years time, I have absolutely no idea. I suspect that movies will soon move away from the genre and onto adapting computer games, and that the increasing influence of China, India and Brazil on global culture will also factor in, but exactly what that’ll look like is anyone’s guess. Perhaps China will get a great big hard on for Booster Gold and we’ll all be reading Booster Gold books and wearing gold and blue jumpsuits, perhaps no-one will give a shit.
One thing I do expect to see (mainly because I expect to see it everywhere pretty soon) is the genre attempting to process our anxieties about ecological meltdown. How that’ll manifest *shrugs* but the world faces much bigger problems than the credit crunch, and as soon as people start to wake up to that fact fiction’ll be thick with it. Seems to me that things are already heading that way.
What would I like to see? Amy Poodle writing some real live comics. I’d buy ’em.
TBMD: Future of comics? Well right now comics are being created in such abundance and of such quality that the future seems safe to me. I mean, people are creating comics and finding so many new avenues to publish them other than through the big publishers…that freedom and pure creativity is just totally encouraging. Superheroes will always be in comics. For whatever reason they just work in the comic form. People run ’em down whenever they feel like proving what a grown up they are, but there’s something so inherently joyous about them when done right…it’s a shame there are so many piss-poor shitbox super-comics out there. As soon as people realise that All Star Superman is the new bible for superhero comics the better. Or Brendan McCarthy’s SOLO issue. Or Seven Soldiers #1. Or Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier…
I’d like to see more malleability with them though – I want funny superhero comics, melodramatic superhero comics, soap opera superhero comics, neon sci-fi superhero comics, ultraviolent, kid-friendly, whimsical, sad, bizarre, stupid, intellectual, experimental superhero comics…anything other than the tired genre hackwork that constitutes so much of the Big Two’s output.
Bobsy: I think B-Beast’s suspicion that the imaginative leaps in the genre will increasingly apply to villains as much as heroes might bear more than a ring of probability (Incognito could be the leading example of this, ahem, Next Wave), perhaps dovetailing with increased economic stratification throughout the West and attendant mass-obsession with the lives of celebrities and the ultra-rich. The big superhero question in the future is what’s the best power, fame or riches? Autonomy or security? Invulnerability or flight?
I realise that I suffer from reverse Max Thunderstone syndrome – on those occasions where I amuse myself by imagining what I would do with limitless riches, I always settle on buying a personal fiefdom, limited superpowers, fine gadgets, a cool castle. I aspire to Doctor Doomhood. I doubt I am alone. We are all supervillains now.
Plok: It’s sort of like Alan Moore’s comment, isn’t it, that in the twentieth century Fame has replaced the Sea — if you were an enterprising young person a hundred or so years ago, who wanted to roam the world seeing strange sights and having colossal had-to-be-there adventures, you’d go to sea, but today you’d want to be in a famous band and date Scarlett Johannson, or something, because that’s where real “had-to-be-there”-ness lives in these days of ours. But so this celebrity thing, it’s been tangled up with the superhero stuff at least since Marvel emerged from its monster-mag origins — success in terms of having a relationship with public regard, a bit of the looking-glass self to deal with, stitching some self-consciousness into both the long underwear and the book-binding — some self-referentialism — and, follow close, in recent years there seems to be a whole lot of emphasis placed on little fannish humanizing details, like at some level everybody wants to read a whole comic just about Cyclops and Wolverine playing golf and talking about women, or something. And everything loaded with pop-culture details. And done poorly this just makes more scenes in the stupid B-grade supervillain bar, like the comics equivalent of a comedian asking where the toilet is on the bridge of the Enterprise (my guess: down one floor, because all the naval architects in Star Trek are dicks), but done well you have (variously) Powers, Ultra, Hero Squared, Invincible, Astro City, Empowered…and done very well you have Watchmen or the Venture Bros or Seven Soldiers #0…and then in X-Statix you even have all this riffing-at-a-distance hilariously re-collided with the source icons and the big brands, Iron Man vs. Mister Sensitive!…but wherever it’s done well you have the “hero or not?” thing pop up again, don’t you?
Still, one longs for the Sea, sometimes…Morrison, for one, seems determined to introduce the Quotidian Superhero only to explode him back into that sense of the wondrous, of the joyous, the lysergic, the dangerous!…and back again from the brink. I’d read even Doom Patrol that way, taking absolute flight from the ordinary instead of (more simply) living a normal existence, in an essentially normal or at least traditional world, only with expanded competencies and therefore expanded roles, tic-tac-toe and out…more interested in finding a way to play the heroic dream weird and mind-expanding, but still reasonably straight as it once was played in the old days, rather than for more overtly reflexive storytelling purposes.
But outside of Morrison, do you expect that reconcentration on fundamentals to become much of a going concern among the brand-name characters and companies? To me it’s a little bit like wondering about New Who — I always wonder if it has indeed successfully resumed the past, or if it’s still just frolicking in its ruins…whether it’s gotten past postmodernism and onto something else, or if it’s just an example of very intriguing navel-gazing.
Zom: In addition to doing all sorts of inexplicable stuff that has to do with real live human relationships and office politics, I expect companies to do whatever they think will sell comic books. If they think re-concentrating certain fundamentals will do it, then that’s what they’ll do, if it’s shown that purple noses sell then I fully expect Wolverine to get a purple nose. The mooted Superman Returns 2 is a case in point – that project is currently in development hell largely, it would seem, because the Dark Knight was so bloody successful. You can bet your boots that if a Superman film makes it to our screens over the next few years that it’ll be grimmer and grittier and will probably involve at least one scene in which Superman gets very cross indeed! At least, that’s what the current word seems to be.
Personally I think hard economic times call for a little levity (hello 1977 and Starwars), but who gives a shit what I think?
Plok: The grimmer and grittier thing does seem to be perhaps reaching some sort of apex, to me…and it makes me wonder how much further it can be taken before it runs out of room…room being something they tell me is pretty scarce at the top. So, going along from that…do you think the Marvel Universe, ideally, if the windup were sufficiently well-written and well-drawn, should — not terminate, necessarily — but cease publication? Do you you think that, subconsciously, this is what the current Marvel braintrust believes they’ve been hired to do?
If you were to hire a creative stable, that you specifically desired to do this stop-publication thing say over five years…who would you engage for the task? And what editorial direction would you give them?
Bobsy: I suspect, and this is confirmed somewhat by Mark Millar’s all-too obvious career aspirations, that the current Marvel roster indeed feels like they are the Titanic’s string band, without the noble dedication to their art that will see them willingly sit things out while the lifeboats fuck off. The handover to the film production dept., or the game developers, is surely at the back of everyone’s mind. The current, apparently endless and much decried cycle of event leading into event could well be seen as an exercise in putting the universe, as a whole, through its paces, testing it out on the kind of movie-of-the-week plots it can expect in the future.
BBeast: Hmm, no, I don’t think they think that – maybe Mark Millar does in the recesses of his fevered ginger heid, but a lot of these guys don’t seem to be exploring other options as jobbing writers nearly at all, in part I believe because this is really what they want to be doing. I can kinda sympathise, without making artistic or ethical judgments – which I could hardly do with any authority, anyway – it’s just a matter of fact that Marvel is the biggest game in Comics’ town. Or Western Comicstown, maybe TokyoPop or something is actually bigger?
I’m sure someone can straighten me out on that. Many of them grew up on Marvel Comics, as did I, more unusually, but not entirely so for a British kid, and it’s like an anchor. I do recall being quite distressed and objectionable over the mooted Ultimate line takeover, some years back; obviously Marvel can’t quite have the same do-over story physics that DC has because of this unevenly applied patina of ‘realism’ they seem intent on lacquering the universe with. Which is why Doctor Strange doesn’t really work just now, I’m fairly sure. (Not to make it sound like DC is a hub of exciting creativity atm, because it clearly is anything but) No, I think the primary concern at Marvel – and I’ve seen this thought expressed elsewhere – is instantiating their properties with sufficient… options? Filmic ideas, say, in order to progress as a studio. So you get bits out of Millar and Ellis, particularly, from the last decade in Iron Man and the new Hulk film, which is kind of unimpressive stuff, and proves you can go back to the well. So maybe a couple years down again, we’ll see a Ghost Rider do-over with Jason Aaron, Ennis (maybe there was some of this in the first, I’ve not seen it) and Dan Way bits and bobs. It does still seem to have a limited lifespan, though, this plan – I’m not sure anyone will think of viewing (well, obviously, some people will, but anyone fairly average, bread and butter filmgoers) a Marvel property 5, 10 years later without emitting a horrified, involuntary mooing sound. I don’t really care about the films that much, tbh, but following writers, even my favourites in mainstream comics, it’s become kind of epiphanic to notice that these people are all – in the nicest possible terms – hacks, low-end writers, who have through comics’ sidebar developed sorts of cults of personality; I don’t think TV writers, with a few notable exceptions, enjoy the same fan-following or whatever that Warren Ellis or several lesser lights do. But they do jobbing things like writing RPG scripts as well; Peter Milligan, who I love deeply, has written everything from choose-your-own-adventure books to a couple films to daytime, absolute shithouse soap opera. It’s really strange, zooming out and realising the comparative (lack of) status they enjoy in other media.
Anyway, killing the Marvel Universe – I was going to say I think the Marvel U deathwish was better realised in the 90s during Onslaught, but on reflection I’m not so entirely sure that it isn’t a curve which these fictional constructs lean toward, inevitably. I was proper excited at the prospect of the ABC universe’s apocalypse, which happened so far as I’m concerned although in almost no way to my expectations, and Top Ten Season Two and Beyond the Farthest Precinct can both just beat it. Realistically, which means no Alan Moore to repeat the Promethea feat with – I dunno – Mantis out the Avengers, and I just can’t really conceive very well altcomix luminaries like Woodring or Burns doing this at all. Hmm realistically, having defined terms, I would like a good few of Marvel’s current stable to do it; Brubaker on long-range planning, bring Ellis back in as a high-concept man because basically the whole Wildstorm Universe was built off his back and he’d relish the task, judging by Ruins… I like Garth Ennis, Jason Aaron and Matt Fraction ever so, even although we’re always terribly mean about him on Mindless Ones – those first two could work some ‘End of Days’ on anything, really. Huhm, it occurs Fraction and Aaron, while by no means absolutely so, are kind of proteges of – respectively – Ellis and Ennis, so maybe pair them up, Bru coordinating. Obviously there’d be lower tiers of writers, but I don’t know much beyond these guys and suspect I’m not missing much. Editorial direction??!! Bleak as fuck, probably. Bleak that place, I’d say, and most of that team are the very men to do so. Conflict, drama, heartbreak. The indefatigable defatigated. Ultraviolence. Christ, I really want it now.
I’d like Adam Warren involved in every capacity possible, too, it suddenly occurs – it’s an absolute outrage and testament to shortsightedness that he is not one of the 2-3 biggest stars in American comics this moment. Also, he tends toward the Iain M Banks resolution model of killing, really, everyone in the cast. Off the back of Empowered, give him the female leads maybe. I’m just making this up on the hoof, here, maybe it sounds terribly sallow-faced and pubescent, reading it. I’m into it though.
Zom: I don’t want to see the big two shut up shop particularly, but I think I’d survive if they did. Comics won’t end, superhero comics won’t cease to be published. In fact, I’d be extremely surprised if Batman or Spiderman comics disappeared permanently from the racks – it’s just that the publishing model and the editorial framework would change. And, well, if they did go the way of the do-do, life would go on. I’d probably just read more books. I’m in love with books again at the moment.
As for the crew at Marvel subconsciously thinking they’ve been hired to bring about the MU eschaton. Nah. It’s just people doing jobs. People being messy, and making bad decisions, and good decisions, and no decisions, and weird decisions, and interesting decisions, and doing stuff. Jobs and people ticking along.
Plok: I already know that you Mindless Ones would cheerfully rehabilitate a character…
Wait; let’s stop there. What character from the Big Two, given reasonable latitude, would you rehabilitate? I’d do Azrael, actually. No joke. To my knowledge, nobody’s using him for anything. Hmm, but let me just modify that last one, slightly:
Azrael. I don’t have any reason to like him, or not — except he really isn’t being used, and sometimes design takes a back seat to opportunity. Or: sometimes opportunity is a kind of design as well? Especially in these days when it’s in such short supply — I’m fond of saying that you can’t have a shared-universe concept that’s only composed of central, communicating spaces (for example I think Marvel’s greatest strength was always how much room there was in it for creative action at the fringes), but in these days it seems as though everything must be centralized and hierarchical, everything must be roped-in, no one can ever just do their own thing, there are always “big boys” and they always want to play, and there’s a lot of throughput of characters into final products that are suited mostly for posing and arrangement in set-pieces. Ha, you knew I couldn’t ever ask a really short question, eh? Anyhow, to rehabilitate a character, it seems to me, would also be like rehabilitating a disused part of the shared-universe space — so maybe I should’ve put it that way in the first place, but it’s the same question really. Who would you rehabilitate…and perhaps, why them and not somebody else?
BBeast: Ho ho, Fabian Nicieza has a surprise for you with his new miniseries Plok! Not much of a fun one, I’d wot. Rumour has it, this new Azrael (ah ha!) won’t be Jean-Paul Valley, but possibly Lane, the third ghost of Batman from Morrison’s recent arc. Which… whatever.
Anyway, I’d personally like to rehabilitate another Grant Morrison (co-, I think, with Mark Millar) creation, Zauriel. Whether or not he should be Hawkman, as was intended, is another matter but Ker-rist! of course there should be a direct superpowered representation of the West’s most popular contemporary religion(s) on the Justice League. At all times. For a start. Just to go back to Hawkman, though, I think I’m in favour because i) boosts 2nd-3rd tier character into orbit and ii) tidily cleans up the conflicting, apparently, rubbish tip that is Hawkman continuity because he is a. fucking. angel. I don’t know any Hawkman continuity at all really, but you could probably tether that shit up without diddling about too much, obliquely, and nice. Use it to draw from but not be burdened by, and beyond that existential horror all the way. (Although, on the other hand, there is a certain freedom conferred by being freed of ties to any legacied property.)
There’s so much to draw on; angels, typically seen and believed in by mad people, incarnadine – straight inversions of Lovecraft… I think there’s a great potential there for, and obviously I’m being topical, but I think you can be somewhat balanced with vague metonymy about Israel, while I may have let my true colours show above a bit – to some extent, I think the two biggest and most acclaimed SF shows on TV, Battlestar and Lost, are paralleling that status – the flotilla in BSG, the island in Lost, it’s quite easy to read that as like Israel, and it could scarcely be more relevant to, you know, an angel.
Does that read like I’m mentally ill? Without being preachy or ‘ripped from the headlines’ or anything like that; it just seems something worth investigating in abstract fiction.
Amy: Damn! I would’ve said Azrael!
Hmmm. The character doesn’t need rehabilitating at all, but he’s unlikely to be used again in the immediate future…. Midway through writing my Joker 666 post, I realised I’d love to get my hands on a grown-up Damian Wayne. The reasons are many and varied, but for me the most obvious draw is the elseworlds aspect; the opportunity to explore all the bat-elements I’m interested in without having to shoe-horn it all into present day continuity. There are places I think the batbooks would love to go that would never fly with DC editorial. Places I really want to take them to.
Morrison’s attempt to hammer together all the supposedly conflicting tones, energies and narrative tilt-a-whirls comprising Batman’s shifting history into some kind of coherent story made me desperate to have it all. To collapse all these divergent batmen, all these wayward Gothams, into the present moment. To make sense of it all not in terms of a linear progression, a continuity – that’s too easy; not enough of a challenge – but as a living, breathing batverse existing right now, incorporating all that good shit: the psychedelia, the toybox, the grit, the super-spy, the insanity and the supernatural stuff. This is the trajectory I think the Batman should be following, but will Morrison, when he returns to the book, have the the balls, the desire and/or the will to get this past the P-Didio?
Perhaps Bruce Wayne wouldn’t work in this context, but the batverse’s very first, genuine child – natural inheritor of the entire continuity – absolutely could. The Robins have always intuited/signposted this post-modern playpen approach, but they’re too fully formed, too inflexible now, to accomodate what I’m proposing. Damian represents the potential in all of it, the entire mythos, and being a nasty little punk teenager he’s more than willing and able to take a hammer to the old and rearrange the splintered pieces into something revised and new. He’s the future. And the future’s no respecter of tradition. It’s always iconoclastic.
Maybe I should get on with a script proposal.
Bobsy: Airwave (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Wave). He’s a kind of implicate, ambient hero nowadays, existing only in our electronic mass media (on rollerskates). He can only rescue you from supervillainous danger if you can find the phone-number/occult URL/lost at midnight telly-station/planck-sized point on the radio dial where he lives. He needs you to rescue him from the nowhere he inhabits as much as you need him. He is the best excuse I have been able to come up with for watching those absurdly dumb text-in TV channels: Hey @irwave im bobsy u r well fit.
TBMD: Well, he doesn’t really need rehabilitating, but I’d absolutely love to write Dr Strange. Its perfect – over the hill swingin’ magus living in Greenwich Village, local kook whispered and sniggered about by bohemian hipster wannabes as he hangs out in coffee houses and gets his groceries in full arcane regalia. Think Peter Wyngarde crossed with Giles form Buffy. Arrogant, stuffy, and prone to bouts of megalomania…the fucking sorcerer Supreme!! Add one loyal, if icily inscrutable manservant. I’d also give him an ass-kicking female-demon bodyguard to boot. Bound by a sigil, yet devoted to her crotchety old benefactor. Dormamu, Nightmare, the fucking Mindless Ones. I’d literally crawl across broken glass to write that damn comic.
I’d also love a crack at Aquaman. Couldn’t give a shit about any of his actual comics, but the creative potential of setting a superhero comic underwater is extremely alluring. You could create a whole new fucking universe. That would be some extremely psychedelic shit.
Plok: …Holy crap. Well, no one’s ever going to accuse you guys of not being able to drill down to the design-layer of a character…so as long as we’re talking design, and psychedelic shit: in the “Jack Kirby: Storyteller” mini-feature on the extended FF1 DVD (Ed told me it was alone worth the price of a re-rental, and I have to say he did not lie), anyway in the documentary, Mike Royer says that a big part of the genius of Kirby’s drawings is that they’re in at least three time-zones: Kirby achieves a manipulation of time-in-space through his actual figures — that is, three-dimensionally. As Royer puts it: the fist coming at you is happening NOW!, the torso is happening a second or two ago, the angled foot in the background is happening like three seconds ago.
Is this Kirby’s secret?
If not: what is Kirby’s secret?
Maybe the fist is hitting you just a shade into the future?
BBeast: I am far from a Kirby expert – I like the Fourth World stuff best because I tend to think of it as unfiltered, raw King… it’s the cosmogony, really, innit? I mean, it’s all working-class, urban deprivation elevated to eternalism – and why not, I should add – it’s quite Blakeian, really. Anyone could relate, surely. I can only name two famous popular pantheon creators atm, which may well show the endless depths of my ignorance, but they’re William Blake and Jack Kirby – I get a bit tired of the endless sanctifying of J’K’K, but here we are. I feel quite Blakeian, answering these questions. Songs of Innocence (Spidey) and Experience (Wolvie) – someone should totally do that.
Mike Royer’s answer is better than mine, but that’s the stuff I like. I wish he’d had that park based on Lord of Light built more than almost anything, though.
Bobsy: I was acquainted, briefly, with the SF writer Harry Harrison, author of the Stainless Steel Rat series. He used to work with Kirby back in the day and I pissed him off mightily by constantly asking him ‘So what was Jack like?’. He incorrectly considered Kirby a mediocre talent (he also knew Wally Wood, Will Eisner, all that Men of Tomorrow lot), whose sole contribution to the medium was, as you say, adding that third dimension of perspective to the medium’s language, that primal fist rearing up out of the page at you.
I’m no expert, and these things have been said before, but bear repeating: Kirby’s contribution was indeed the third dimension – Dimension 1: Horizontal. Dimension 2: Vertical. Dimension 3: the Sublime. Kirby was that great and simple thing: a true visionary, working in a trash medium. The sniff of madness, the indefinable sense that when reading his work you are seeing a man struggle honestly to explain the weird, wild world around himself, as surely as you are seeing the Thing wrestle with Annihilus, is what makes his work so timelessly compelling.
TBMD: Kirby’s secret is that plied his craft with energy, enthusiasm and unbridled, restless creativity. Plus he wrote with tonnes of heart, and never treated the medium or subject matter with contempt. He literally found his own language for storytelling, and kept at it workhorse-like for 50+years.
Not every day is Jack Kirby day, but almost.
Amy: It seems to me the secret’s in his design sense. You could honestly be forgiven for believing, when Kirby’s manning the helm, that the DC and Marvel universe possessed an ur-culture with its very own aesthetic and way of seeing. You could almost study that stuff, form theories, conjecture histories… And it’s interesting, because whenever anything essential needs to be expressed about either ‘verse, whenever things get truly cosmic and the big-guys really turn up, everything goes all Kirby. Actually, I sometimes wonder if the New God’s look is about aesthetics at all, or whether this is just the shape crazy, futuristic magico-tech has to take. Whether it’s all somehow functional.
And that reminds me; another aspect to his popularity has to be how frightening and weird it all is. Kirby puts the lie to the idea that horror always has to come with an 18 certificate attached. Kirby’s work can be totally out there, often teetering on the disturbing. It’s not the sort of thing it’s easy to put down and forget about. I can really imagine it latching itself to a child’s brain, especially in the sixties when he was at his peak and had loads of kids reading him.
Plok: I wonder if the graphical structure is part of that, too…I mean, to a kid all that density of design, the suggestive near-intelligibility of the OH NO OH SHIT WHAT’S GOING ON-ness of it all, must seep into the wood somewhat. Ditko, too, he found a fingerprint of creepiness, of trippiness, of slightly-obscured intelligibility that was all his own…and maybe that’s part of what makes this stuff sing?
Morrison played with that sort of thing a lot in Seven Soldiers, I thought: and in fact he used it to do the impossible: he made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck twice in quick succession. Once in Zatanna #4 (in which he for once and all and on that specific occasion, truly does blow Alan Moore out of the water — yes, I said it, me — and have you ever seen one of them do that before? Morrison, you’re something else), and I honestly thought that this, this amazing and stupendous thing, was going to be the top of his superheroic achievement. I didn’t think he could better it.
How wrong I was!
Because along comes Mister Miracle #4, which I’ve said repeatedly is one of the best comics I’ve ever read in my life, superhero or non. You Mindlessnesses have read it. It’s fucking life-affirming, wouldn’t you agree? God, how wonderful that is, to encounter something actually life-affirming!
My question: outside of comics, what has given you that life-affirming fizz? I walked away from this comic wanting to DO GREAT THINGS, with my toes tingling. My hair was practically standing on end. I felt like I’d escaped the black hole. It’s a feeling only movies are supposed to give you, because they’re so tremendously absorbing. However, rare has the movie experience of MINE been, where I authentically felt this charged up.
So what was the last thing you encountered, that set your skin a-tingle like that?
BBeast: I honestly got so occupied with the US election last(!) year, so yeah TV was the medium, Obama winning was… seeing Jesse Jackson cry, the absolutely – for that moment – real feeling of seeing promises fulfilled, an apparently ceaseless horror’s end on the horizon. It’s boring, screamingly obvious, and I will doubtless be disappointed at some point, probably very soon when he does nothing about Israeli state terror, but I do think some people just can’t fucking wait to be disappointed you know? I nearly wrote a post analogising the Superman myth – and it”s certainly something no shortage of political and strip cartoonists went straight to – and Barack Obama but it was one of those things, on reflection, you might think: “does this seem a mentally ill thing to write?” The news, these last eight years, has made me delicate that way. So, that’s the crass, non-detail-finessing oversight of it. I would’ve been happy enough to see any Democrat win the election, really, but I like him a sight more than Hillary Clinton. I actually like him! It seems strange to think, even now, that a British leftist of any stripe could conceivably like any US presidential candidate.
Bobsy: (One of) My other nerd obsession(s) is with the history and mythology of the town where I was born and raised. I am probably, at this stage, something of a very minor expert in the extremely limited field, and my personal library of books on the subject is, I suppose, reasonably definitive. I found a pamphlet recently that said that the sewage run-off pipe (as I always assumed it was) at the bottom of the high street is actually the outlet of a holy spring, worshiped in antiquity. Moreover, the water from said well was at one time flogged to desperate pilgrims by father of the novel, the police force, and all-round dodgy geezer Henry Fielding. I couldn’t have been happier if I’d just discovered Daniel Defoe based Robinson Crusoe on the traffic island outside my front door. That’s the kind of thing, pictures of ultraviolent spandex-clad men and women fighting one another aside, that makes my brain’s testicles tingle.
Zom: What recently made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end in that oh-so-special way? Happened this morning, actually, when my son jumped into bed and gave me a big cuddle and lots of kisses. Inspiration-wise, and not comics (Black Canary and Green Arrow’s lovey dovey exchange in Final Crisis had me buzzing with creativity for the rest of that particular evening)? Ah, got it… The Road, that book didn’t just blow me out of the water, I’d argue that it changed my life. Cormac McCarthy introduced me to the end of the world and in doing so threw the power of love into relief (as a father myself, the central problem of a father trying to help his son survive that nightmare world was almost unbearable). The Road is an ontological bomb – it demands that you pay attention to just how much of our reality is predicated on things being a very, very particular way. It gives the lie to sooooo much essentialist thinking. It’s just magnificent and terrifying and I’m pretty sure I’ll never get it out of my head.
Plok: Okay, gee, I think I want to change my answer now…
But that’ll have to wait ’til the second part of this interview, as there’s now grub to be rustled. So, take five, Mindless! Job well done! It’ll all be over soon now, promise.
Give ’em a hand, folks! They’re halfway home…