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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Bluewater Comics:
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 Imaginaries #1
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) 1782 The Year of Blood, #1
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) Students for a Democratic Society - A Graphic History
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.

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 happy ending.

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.

Copyright © 2009 Mark London Williams

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.

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