Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Daniel Clowes’s greatest failing as an artist is that he’s such a good writer. It makes it easy for one to overlook his exact draftsmanship and creativity in the visual realm when you’re caught up in one of his stories. This monographic treatment attempts, to some extent, to remedy that, presenting individual sketchbook pages and original art divorced from longer works. Try as it might, however, you can’t quite be distracted from wanting to follow the narratives they hint at. Oh well. It does its job as well as can be expected, and better, in fact, with essays by folks including boldface names Chris Ware and Chip Kidd that actually provide some illumination and a wonderful, lengthy interview with Clowes himself that does so even more. His drawings of Spider-man from when he was six years old and a reproduction of his first comic (spoiler: it doesn’t make much sense) may not give tremendous insight into his more recent work, but they are much fun to see, a testament to the fun of primary source research. If you have the leanings of an archivist, they will be tickled. (HB)
Abrams/Self Made Hero, 2012
A combination of Cathy and Lewis Trondheim seems unlikely, and yet that’s kind of where Margaux Motin ends up. Her comics tend to be no longer than a page or two, and they address such important issues as shoes, the state of being a fashion victim, the downside of motherhood, and so on. Joe Sacco she is not. And yet, despite the fact that she comes off like a French Jenny McCarthy (gleefully vulgar and perhaps too into her own bodily functions while committed simultaneously to presenting herself as an object of desire), her drawings have plenty of charm. Rendered with a long, loose line reminiscent of Jules Feiffer, her characters have lovely movement, squatting, dancing, strutting or even just hunched over drawing. And her freeness, her willingness to pursue a train of thought at the expense of conventional narrative arcs, is what calls to mind Trondheim, despite the fact that the realism she presents is firmly embedded in quotation marks. (HB)
Alan Moore may be cranky that DC is publishing prequels to his legendary Watchmen series, but the bearded icon would probably mellow if he checked out Darwyn Cooke’s sterling Minutemen #1. For those who don’t know, Moore is arguably the most revered author in comicdom, and his gritty, post-modern conspiracy Watchmen is arguably the best superhero comic story ever produced. The 1986 maxiseries repositioned a group of superhero archetypes as self-destructive noir has-beens, taking the art form in mature directions that would make Superman want to retire. Despite being an obvious revisionist himself (Lost Girls featured old literary characters in barnyard pornography), Moore didn’t want anybody to play with the old toys that his old publisher actually owned. Instead, DC enlisted a cache of accomplished writers and artists who can damn well tinker with any intellectual property they want with inspired results. Like his work in DC: The New Frontier, Cooke takes his characters into a past characterized by spit-shine optimism and human folly. The Golden Age champions in The Minutemen bust child pornography rings and call press releases for fake robberies, embracing the complex pathos that made The Watchmen revolutionary. The opening also pays homage to Dave Gibbons’ original designs with a cool panning effect that walks the reader from the cosmos to a retired hero’s study. Controversy aside, this is a strong start to an event that has the potential to stand right next to its sacred cow foundation. (SE)
and a second opinion on Minutemen...
It’s no surprise that Minutemen #1 is a gorgeous book. Darwyn Cooke is the best artist in superhero comics, as adept at laying out a scene and playing the page as he is creating idealized and period-perfect mid-century depictions of square-jawed heroes and luscious heroines. Cooke’s work on New Frontier and his Parker adaptations proves he’s also a very talented writer, but sadly it’s no surprise that Minutemen’s story feels completely inconsequential. Moore’s Golden Age stand-ins received all the backstory they need in Watchmen. Instead of creating new mythologies or expanding on DC’s ridiculously large catalogue of underexplored characters, Before Watchmen is putting some of the industry’s best talents on a property that doesn’t necessarily need any elaboration. Cooke does his best but who needs to know more about archetypes and intentionally one-note characters that have already perfectly served their purpose? Why do we need to know what Dollar Bill or the Silhouette were up to before their brief cameos in Watchmen? Cooke’s work is good but this comic is unnecessary. (GM)
Cooke explores more interesting territory in Silk Spectre. It helps that the art is by Amanda Connor, one of the handful of superhero artists whose work isn’t that far below Cooke’s lofty level. (Connor also co-writes.) It also helps that Silk Spectre doesn’t quite feel like any other comic, with a central dynamic more familiar from melodramas and soap operas than superhero comics. It’s essentially a teen romance comic about the tempestuous relationship between a depressed, overbearing superhero mother and her soon-to-be superhero high school daughter. This story would work just as well (and perhaps be free of some unnecessary baggage in the minds of many) if it didn’t have to contend with the Watchmen connection. (GM)