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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Mark's play "Grizzled Bear," in NY
"Swamp Thing" in the Alan Moore era
Dan Goldman's website -- with free 20 pg. download of "08"
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail
Medium Cool
Christopher Hart
Paul Shepard
Comic Book History
Batman #686
Forbidden Planet NY
Recent Books of Interest

08 A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail by Michael Crowley (script) and Dan Goldman (art) Three Rivers Press 08 A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail
There's a trend in publishing, from non-comics publishers, to release non-fiction books -- the equivalent of documentary movies on the printed page -- as graphic novels, perhaps to cash in on the perception that GN's are hot -- fiddle players with good licks, while the rest of publishing burns. Many of these don't flow well, stop and start, and you're left wondering if a comics format is really best suited to recount the tale you're reading. Such is not the case here. One of the liveliest books on a Presidential campaign I've read since Hunter S. Thompson's '72-set Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail (still the definitive work in this genre), 08, by New Republic editor Crowley and Shooting War artist Goldman, has an immediacy and insight into the rise of the Junior senator from Illinois to the Presidency, as the U.S. teeters on a 21st century abyss. Less like a documentary that Haskell Wexler's "fiction" film Medium Cool, set against the backdrop of the '68 Democratic convention (two made up reporter characters comment on some of the proceedings) -- the only question here remains how they got the book done so fast -- they must've been working on it during the campaign, and yet Obama's rise is "foreshadowed" throughout. The first half is the most fascinating -- especially the inside baseball stuff about the Republicans falling out, and over themselves -- since those are the tales known mostly to political junkies and campaign volunteers, before the general campaign really grabbed all the headlines. Recommended.

Swamp Thing by Alan Moore (script) and Stephen Bissette, John Totleben (art) (Vertigo) Swamp Thing
Moore's legendary early 80s run on Swamp Thing, which introduced the madcap, multi-talented Brit to DC's stable, and Yanks in general, in his pre-magus, pre-rings-on-all-fingers, and of course, pre-Watchmen, days, is here collected for the first time in hardcover, precisely to coincide with the release of the film version of Happy Rorschach & Co.'s adventures. I actually hadn't read all of these in sequence before -- issues 20 through 27 here -- and it's pretty terrific stuff, especially the now infamous "switch" of which species "kingdom" our titular hero belongs to, which sets up the book as a quite interesting meditation on human behavior, and human destruction -- even before serious discussions of pillaging the earth were popular in, well, popular media. The rehabilitation of lesser-known DC villain The Floronic Man into a vengeful forest defender, denouncing humanity as a mass of "screaming meat," would be worth the price of admission for its own study in contradictions and prognostication, but as a bonus, you have still have Swampy with his "Bodhisattva monster" riffs. Good stuff. Enjoy.

Kids Draw Big Book of Everything Manga by Christopher Hart (Watson-Guptill). Kids Draw Big Book of Everything Manga
Hart's made a name for himself with his numerous tomes on how to draw cartoons, and all things comical and panel-related. This large compendium is a very amiable, accessible volume on drawing manga -- just as advertised. Though not quite "everything" -- the emphasis here is mostly on faux Pokemon-like characters, but given the way Hart guides budding artists to quick results, with his schemata of circles and lines and grids, it is also very encouraging. And anyway, that future creator in your house won't get to the next Ghost in the Shell unless they start somewhere...

The Bronx is Up, and The Battery's Down

Batman So here I am in New York, brought east by a production of a play of mine, running in an off-off Broadway venue.

While here, I'm taking long walks around Manhattan, signing the odd Danger Boy book I find on a store shelf, and stopping in at the legendary Forbidden Planet comics store near Union Square, to, well, look at a bunch of comics all at once (when you review 'em, they sort of come in at an erratic pace, and you don't see that "array" in front of you).

Among those was the latest Batman -- number 686, for those of you keeping count -- by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert. Fairly terrific stuff where a number of rogues and survivors of the d. knight's life are gathered at a wake -- his -- and telling different stories, Rashomon-like, of how Bruce Wayne's inner self finally met his demise. There seems to be a twist to said demise -- isn't there always? -- coming up in the concluding chapter in Detective Comics, so stay tuned.

The story, as expected, was set among the shadows and alleys of "Gotham City," the real version of which I find myself in now. A few doors over, at Shakespeare & Co., I browsed through a behind-the-scenes coffee table book (well, demistasse size, perhaps) about the making of the Watchmen film, which is also set resolutely in New York. Even if it's an alternate universe NY.

I've been musing, since I've been here, about the effect of the Big Apple on the development of the comic book itself. A distinctly American artifact, the comic book, as we know it, was born here (the "here" I'm in now), even if its antecedents -- the comic strip -- can be traced originally to early 19th century Europe.

Once while reading up on the intersection of religious beliefs and environmental calamity -- it's easier to destroy what isn't considered sacred -- I came across a theory cited in an article that may have belonged originally to an anthropologist like Claude Levi-Strauss -- or was it Paul Shepard? In any case, the notion went, the reason that monotheisms were more easily hatched in the desert is that the space you see around you, the vast, austere horizons, "uncluttered" by much in the way of flora or fauna, give rise to the idea of "creation" -- everything around you -- being a single, tied-together entity.

In forested areas, it was easier to conceive of entire pantheons of gods, since the landscape around you was dense, multi-tiered -- full of rivers, trees of different sizes, animal life that didn't have to burrow for protection during daylight hours, etc. A multiplicity. So your cosmology begins to take this into account.

It's not a perfect theory -- there were forests once in Lebanon, after all, and some tribal peoples, like the Native Americans, were able to conceive of both -- an underlying "Great Spirit," tying everything together, and a local pantheon of demigods and tricksters -- but it's an interesting way to conceive of how physical space affects the way you invent stories about how things came to be.

How this ties in to comics, is this: I have a notion that the sheer verticalness of New York -- where the DC and Marvel "pantheons" were born -- affected the way the superhero comic was conceived, and even rendered on the page. Traditionally, initially, panels, as you know, were like, well, windows in skyscrapers -- running up and down the page.

Watchmen This could be because that was the world surrounding the creators, the renderers of those pages, who were also using NY as the wellspring for their superhero adventures.

This is part of the semiotic impact of Watchmen, as creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons use a fairly strict vertical "skyscraper window" scheme for rendering most of the story: it feels like "older" (Golden Age) comics, the way it appears on the page.

Of the first two Ur-heros, Superman and Batman each represent a different aspect of New York-ness. "Gotham" would seem to be a mid-century reaction to lower Manhattan -- its alleys, jammed-together citizens, various ethnic tensions, and its Depression-era street crime. (Which begs the question of where Wayne Manor "really" is -- out on Long Island?)

Superman was always more uptown -- he's in "Metropolis" after all, working for the "Daily Planet," and his early stories generally reflect those uptown assumptions New York has always had about itself being, well, the center of the universe. Even aliens choose to reside here! (After "leaving the farm," as so many Big Apple arrivees -- set on fame n' fortune -- have done...)

Superman's woes tended to reflect more planet-wide, if not galactic, troubles -- especially in the post-Depression (uh, post the last one, anyway) post-war era, when "Metropolis" really was the financial center of the American empire: it's coal engine, as it were, fueling the consumer spending, the economy that could allow for such an extended military, etc. The problems were commensurate with the upper West (or East) side view of the world (never mind that Superman's original creators, stripped of their financial participation in the project by DC, for so many decades, could never afford to live there).

Weegee Superman was a New York man of the world. Batman is the New York of The Godfather movies, and the crime photographs of Weegee, where it's the corner up ahead that's trouble, never mind the next dimension over.

Those sensibilities changed and morphed as the world did, as New York did, as comics did. The 60s saw Peter Parker trying to hold a job here, but then again, wasn't the Baxter Building -- and the more galactically-scaled problems visited upon the Fantastic Four -- reflective of its Madison Avenue corner locale?

What if the first comics, and the first superheros, came out of a different place -- a different "space?" What if they'd been written and drawn -- conceived -- in places like Seattle or New Orleans or Billings, Mt., first? How would masked avengers relate to place, to the spaces around them, then?

If nothing else, perhaps it's a good idea for an "Elseworld."

Copyright © 2009 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams writes the Danger Boy time travel series, and is currently mulling a comic book extension of same. He also works as a journalist covering both entertainment and politics, for the Hollywood trade paper Below the Line. His short play Grizzled Bear is running in New York as we speak. Some of its themes may meet with the Floronic Man's approval.

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