Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Students for a Democratic Society -- the Graphic Novel:
A good article on spying on the SDS at UT:
Mike Maydak's Myspace:
Wikipedia on Estill's Station, et al:
Christian Science Monitor on Marvel's Obama Cover, Asks if "Comics Lean Left?" Discussion Ensues:
Recent Books of Interest
The Imaginaries #1 by Mike S. Miller & Ben Avery (script) and Nikos Koutsis & Mike Toris (art) (Bluewater Comics).
The first part of a mini-spotlight on newish comic imprint Bluewater, this, well, imaginative tale kicks off a
promising series about breaking the 4th wall (or is that panel?) comics-wise, and looking at the "need" readers
have for superheroes -- and that superheroes, even fictional ones, have to be read, or lionized. Even if in some
parallel universe. Using tropes that might be familiar to readers of either the Thursday Next books,
or the Fables series, the opening story tells us of discarded superhero "Hero G," whose"real"
creator, introduced to us as "Hero Boy" (as he thus imagines himself), starts to outgrow the G, much as "little
Jackie Paper" grew bigger in Puff, the Magic Dragon. Like a washed-up matinee idol, G is cast
somewhat adrift in "the Imagined Nation," where there are also talking -- albeit cynical -- animals, Dark
Queens with Agendas, and a raft of other Jungian treats. It's a promising debut, if not entirely as startling
a premise as it once might have been, but while the phrase "outside the box" is now so overused that it,
itself, is hopelessly inside the box, Bluewater gets kudos for being willing to think outside of certain
"safe parameters" at least, and giving some pretty interesting material a try. Which brings us to...
1782 The Year of Blood, #1 by Mike Maydak (Bluewater)
To be sure, Bluewater also has some commercial licenses -- with the likes of Ray Harryhausen and Vincent
Price "presenting" presumably fan-friendly genre fare in other lines. But this historical title, written, drawn,
colored and lettered by Maydak, also shows off Bluewater's adventurous side. It is what I -- growing up in
California on an early TV diet of Have Gun, Will Travel, and later graduating to Peckinpah
and Leone films -- an "Eastern." Which is to say, settlers (in this case) versus natives. As opposed to,
you know, cowboys. But the wars and skirmishes between the European Americans and the Aboriginal ones
started "Back East" long before the horrors of Sand Creek or Wounded Knee in the west. Maydak, with highly
stylized art and a palette evoking both woodcuts and autumnal plumage, here tells of one such catastrophic
series (of true) events, set -- you guessed it! -- in 1782, in Estill's Station, an outpost where atrocities
on both sides created a situation that could only lead to more blood. Like the Mideast, only with cruder
weapons. And exactly like American history, since it's what actually happened. I'm looking forward to
more of Meydak's work.
Students for a Democratic Society - A Graphic History by Harvey Pekar (scripts) and Gary Dumm (art, mostly -- with others) (Hill and Wang)
Pekar uses his renowned documentary style in this "novel graphic" from the likewise renowned non-fiction
and history imprint. It's a solid overview of the SDS -- how they formed, fell out with the older labor
movement that spawned them, became radicalized, splintered, spied upon, and how members were variously
arrested, spied upon, and sometimes killed. There's a lot of history crammed in these 200-plus pages,
yet often we're left wanting a more personalized recounting, even in the second section called "Local
Scenes," which has numerous first-person narratives, in multi-panel form. And yet, people fall in and
out of love, for example, but we're not always sure what the intersection is -- as we used to say -- of
the personal to the political. Still, a solid example of why and how GNs can fit comfortably on your next syllabus.
Hail to the Geek
So we are the cusp of, if not hopefully some great, or at least good, then at least sane things here in
the U.S. (and by extension, whether we like the idea of empire or not, the world). At a minimum, some new
things -- given our still top-down, hierarchical power structures (though whether those particular "structures"
can hold remains to be seen). A sense entirely owing, top-down-wise, to a new occupant in the White House.
Copyright © 2009 Mark London Williams
But much has been made -- and is unsurprisingly the subject of our column here -- of the new White House occupant's
part-time geekiness -- or nerdiness. Which, in Bush era terms, could've simply meant "anyone who reads a book," or
perhaps "knows six words in a different language."
With a certain Barack Obama, it means -- as the media has famously let us know -- that it also means he reads
comic books. And more recently, thanks to a Christmas gift for the "first girls," plays video games. Particularly
sports games, on the Wii that is now headed for the White House.
(That most of this should be past tense -- "read comics," "played video games" [albeit briefly] -- is duly noted,
since after all, he has both collapsing monetary and atmospheric systems to tend).
And Marvel comics has made much of the President-no-longer-elect's (as of about five days after this first runs)
pronounced affinity for Spiderman, in particular, by releasing a widely disseminated Spidey comic
set at the upcoming inauguration, with Obama giving ol' P. Parker's alter ego a thumbs up on the cover, and a fist
bump inside the issue.
On the surface, this can be read as positioning the new President as "one of us" -- delving in pop culture,
the way most Americans do (even if that means far more will be watching American Idol,
rather than reading, say, From Hell.
But past the initial PR aspect, there seems to be something else about the new President's conflation with super
heroes. This first struck me at last summer's San Diego Comic Con, where that Alex Ross-painted T-shirt started
appearing -- the one where the then-Jr. Senator from Illinois is ripping apart his shirt -- Clark Kent-like -- to
reveal a very Super-ish "O" underneath.
It was then, even before the emotive speeches and crowds of Denver, that I realized how much, well, hope was
being invested in his candidacy.
And this is, in part, because of the overall desperation of the times -- we've already touched on them here. But
when the oceans are rising, the weather is operating at extremes, banks (and thus, your job, and mine, as well
as the systems of distributing food and affording shelter) are teetering, war tenaciously unravels the world's
most tenaciously strife-prone region (where the main fuel of the now-fading industrial era is located), well,
all those are indicators that we're deep into the Third Act.
It's the point in the story where a really ingenious rescue plan is needed, preferably deployed by a hero of some
sort (anti- or otherwise, it doesn't matter) who can figure out a way to give us something of a
Unless we're talking about those types of masked avengers, like that one about to hit the big screen, who hears
the cries for help, looks back at us, and "whispers 'no'."
But we don't want nihilism. We're too afraid of that quality overwhelming us, as it is.
Besides, Obama's handlers aren't going to get a lot of press -- at least not very uncomplicated "good" press -- out
of a President who reads too much Alan Moore, and I'm not even talking Lost Girls. Spidey, after all, is one of
us. He has to struggle to pay his bills, and he looks more or less like Toby Maguire. So as with Spidey, Obama
then is being presented as a kind of accessibly heroic, or perhaps heroic-yet-practical, or someone -- the Superman
references notwithstanding -- with his feet on the ground.
Which makes it interesting that the other publicly discussed four-color craving the new President's media folk let
us know about was a fondness for Conan. Which also makes PR sense, since at that instinctive -- if not
infantalized -- primal level, people want their clan leaders to be as tough as necessary (as well as fair).
So the Conan riff is really a new spin of letting it be known the President has a fondness for cowboy movies, or,
if you're JFK, a penchant for reading spy stories from England about a new character named James Bond.
However Dark Horse -- the current purveyor of the Cimmerian in four-color form -- hasn't released any
Inaugural tie-in the way Marvel has.
But how would that work? Would Conan and Obama battle the Frost Giant together? Be seen wielding swords on the
cover of a commemorative issue? Could Conan really be seen as having any friends, without losing some of his mystique?
Besides, people may be weary of their Presidents trying to solve every problem with violence. Of one sort or another.
So next Tuesday, inauguration day, all those campaign-trail aspirations will reach a kind of crescendo with the
rituals and celebrations. Everyone will tell themselves that is has to get better, and for one day, at least, we
will all live in the Marvel Universe.
But then on Wednesday, it will be "Daily Bugle" time -- in other words, back to work.
And not just for the guy with the "O" on his chest. I suspect there'll be plenty to do for all of us. Whether
Spidey notices or not.
Mark London Williams writes
the Danger Boy time travel series, and works as
a journalist covering both entertainment and politics, for Hollywood trade
paper Below the Line.
His short play Grizzled Bear will be performed in New York in February. He volunteered to work in his first political
campaign in third grade, and is still trying to hold on to some optimism.