Saturday, July 02, 2005

Pop Comics & the (New) Mainstream

It's come to my attention that adding images to these blog posts is easier than ever! So I've updated yesterday's extra-long post with some neat images. Go have a look, and then scroll back up here. I'll wait. I've got some muzak to tide me over. (doot doo dizz-app-bop-doodly-yeah!) Welcome back. Our top story tonight? Pop comics! The new mainstream! And... wait a tick!

This just in: Top hats are sexy. If I had some kind of weird kink, it would be top hats. They make anything sexier! Look at our friend Zatanna here, from the cover of Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #2:

Now look at this weird old man. Sexy as pie, eh? Well... maybe moldy lemon meringue. Does that get moldy? It does now!

Anyway, what does this have to do with pop comics and the (new) mainstream, you ask? Why, nothing! I shall get to that now. As I mentioned yesterday, Warren Ellis wrote a 'Pop Comics Manifesto' back in '99. I know I've read it before, but it has apparently vanished from the internet. After ages of Googling, I came across an important excerpt on an old Article 10 at Ninth Art, by neat-o-keen Brit comics commentator Paul O'Brien. Here's the excerpt, from Ellis:

"The basic definition of the Pop Comic is a finite, commercially accessible, inventive and intelligent modern comics work. A cultural handgrenade, short, bright and inexpensive. An art bomb, cheap as a single and demanding as much of your time. Three or four issues, or a short original graphic novel... And the Pop Comic is creator owned."

Warren and I seem to share the same ideas, as I was very much interested in writing some of these "pop comics," when I discovered a term had been invented for them. Basically, the ideal format for a pop comics is a "graphic novella." It shouldn't be overly long, no longer than 96 pages, and hopefully it's relatively cheap. If one could produce 80-page pop comics for five or six bucks, that'd be perfect. It's, as Warren says, like a pop music single. People seem to like them, and it's a relatively inexpensive and hopefully totally awesome experience. Ellis has done some pop comics like Ministry in Space, Mek, Toyko Storm Warning, Reload, Two-Step, and Red. I, unfortunately, have read none of these. I hear they were good, though! Look for them in trade paperback format.

A perfect example of a pop comic, and an early one, is Grant Morrison and Philip Bond's Kill Your Boyfriend. Other earlier Morrison works may qualify as 'pop comics' as well: Sebastian O? St. Swithin's Day? The Mystery Play? How about his newer stuff, like the "Seagull Trilogy:" Seaguy, We3, Vimanarama!? Peter Milligan's Rogan Gosh might be a pop comic, too. Anyway, I'm sure all of those are fabulous (I've only managed to read Swithin's, which is like a kooky modern version of Catcher in the Rye, and the "Seagull Trilogy," which you've already heard my thoughts about), but this is about Kill Your Boyfriend, which I shall shorten to KYB, like all the cool kids.

KYB is a terrific dark comedy and pop art masterpiece. The official synopsis is this:
"Boy meets Girl. Girl falls for Boy. Boy takes Girl on violent rampage through English suburb. Murder, sex, drugs, and anarchy follow." It's very hard to find for purchase, though, as it's out of print for both printings. I suppose you could download it on BitTorrent, where it was available at one time, but that would be "evil," wouldn't it? Apparently, it was written while Grant was on Ecstacy. This does not surprise me. And just for kicks, here is a Random Quote Generator from the comic. It's filled with great and funny quotes.

I suppose I should
give this some kind of review. Okay. It's from the creative team and publishing house that brought you Vimanarama!, only this is even better. I know someone on Barbelith said it was the first thing they'd save in case of a fire. Hence, greatness. The book really has to be experienced to be fully appreciated, but I'll tell you a few things. For one thing, the script is sharp, witty, and loaded with sarcastic commentary on teenagers, society, anarchism, and all of that good stuff. There's even a riff on Grant's own Invisibles, although I think this book is pre-Invisibles. Still... then it's a humorous precursor! Whatever. The art, by Bond, is lovely and sharp and pop-y and Girl is very pretty, considering she's made of lines and color. Oh, hell, I'm not doing very well with this, am I? The book is... it's *joycore,* is what it is. I suppose we'll have to settle for a small barrage of panels from the book. Here we go!

I could go on. There are dozens of panels and pages that are beautiful and inspired and filled with love, lunacy, and sheer brilliance. I skipped a lot. Alas, I can't put the entire book on here. You'll have to track it down somehow. I give Kill Your Boyfriend a 9/10, because it warms the devious, twisted cockles.

There are also pop *webcomics,* at least, according to my definition. You can find a couple fantastic ones with the open-source character of Jenny Everywhere (speaking of which, I should write a short Jenny script one of these days). My absolutely favorite Jenny strips, which I believe are truly short little pop webcomics, are by fellow 'Lithers Joe Macare and Nelson Evergreen, and they can be found here, here, and here. They're only a few pages each, and they're brilliant. Well worth your time.

So, right. Pop comics. Awesome little art bombs, medium-sized page count, comics with spines (and I mean that both figuratively and literally... it's not a pamphlet, it's a book with an actual spine!), filled with wonderful ideas. They are meant to be devoured, savored, digested, enjoyed, pored over, reread constantly until they fall apart. They are that amazing musical single you just can't stop listening to. They're somewhere between comic singles (or monthlies, floppies, pamphlets, whatever) and TPBs or graphic novels. I've got ideas for a zillion of 'em. About houseboats, hobos, popes, rock bands, living moons, pirates, ninjas, robots, monkeys, mariachis, pet fire hydrants, love, life, and imagination. Pop comics are new, they're interesting, they're experimental, and most of all, they're hella fun. I want to see more of them in the future, and I may just get my wish.

It seems I've run out of time and space, so in our next episode, we'll get to the actual "New Mainstream" part of this column. Stay tuned, same Bill-time, same Bill-channel!


Joe Rice said...

Bah! to top hats. The real weird kink is all about girls in green t-shirts.

Bill Reed said...


I'll leave that one to you.

Stephen said...

Hey, Nice Blog!

Makes some very interesting reading.

Please be sure to check out my site here - Mininova - for some great bit torrent downloads.