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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Brendan McGuirk's solidly written column
Keith Olbermann interview/commentary on Cap #602
Super Team Ultra Force preview at Millar World
Paper Sreet Comics
Spell Checkers
Jacques Derrida
Penny Arcade
Child's Play
Recent Books of Interest

Super Team Ultra Force by Victor Carungi (script) and Eduardo Garcia (art) (Paper Street)
Super Team Ultra Force Carungi is a plucky self-publisher, and his "nerd noir," of a fleetingly innocent man caught up in a Tarantino-esque gangland blood opera, Pencilneck, was one of the earliest reviews I did back when this column -- and the world -- were new. Well, newer. Currently he's doing the young reader-friendly Super Team Ultra Force, about a high school daydreamer who wants to be a superhero. And just maybe -- even against his will -- he is. The title is goofy and sweet, and so is the tone of the comic; none of the dark tropes of its predecessor, at least not yet. Garcia's art is fine, if not particularly complex, and Carungi deploys some well-worn YA and superhero tropes to make the first issue seem familiar -- since the second issue, if the last splash page is to be believed , may not be. It's light, it could be more challenging, but here's hoping an indie like Carungi can pull it off. It'd be good for the biz in general, yes?

Spell Checkers by Jamie S. Rich (script) and Nicolas Hitori de & Joelle Jones (art) (Oni Press)
Spell Checkers It's Mean Girls with magic, as a trio of teenage witches tear their way through high school, using not just looks, but a book of magic, and knack for spell-casting, to get by in all things social, sexual, and academic. And while the pacing is great, and there's even a Jacques Derrida joke in the opening pages, and while the art pays proper homage to its clear manga influences, you spend a lot of the 100+ pages waiting for the girls to stop bickering and to realize -- after a series of magic attacks -- they're being set up. But they're too petty, and either the Derrida-citing Rich is working at a level of social satire deeper than I realize, since the trio's never exactly likeable, or we'll have to wait for the sequel to develop some empathy for our protagonists. Then again, perhaps Derrida would call it all a mere bagatelle, and I'm taking it far too seriously. Read it, and let me know.

The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (Del Rey)
The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade As you who are reading this already know, Penny Arcade is the decade-plus long "webcomic" (actually around for 11.5 years as of this volume's publication, hence the subhead "the 11 1/2 anniversary edition"), started by writer Jerry Holkins and artist Mike Krahulik. With the help of eventual third partner/consigliere Robert Khoo, they spun the sharply-honed strips and staggering web traffic into several other enterprises, notably the "PAX" gaming con (for "Penny Arcade Expo" -- Comic-Con with a "games only" slant), and the "Child's Play" charity, which reaches out to gamers to provide toys to hospitalized kids the world over. Whew! And "Splendid Magic," recounts much of the "backstage" story of the improbably rise of "Tycho" and "Gabe" (their comic alter-egos). Dark Horse has already collected the strips into books, and while there are plenty of strips here, this is as much the "making of" book, as it is a gathering of finished art. Definitely for fans, and maybe for first-timers (dare I confess, that as web-savvy as I imagined myself to be, it was my eldest son who first alerted me to "Penny," after he'd been reading it online for some time?), though you could just go to the website and start reading the strip, actually. The beauty of the webcomic, eh?

Comics in the Real World, Pt. II: The Teabaggers' Lament

So last month, I wrote of my hurlyburly week where comics seemed to be bursting out of the confines of their panels, into what is commonly held to be the "real" world.

This started with my mom taking a last-minute trip down to L.A., to catch the R. Crumb Genesis exhibit at the Armand Hammer museum. Over lunch we discussed, among other things, our fondness for Fat Freddy's Cat, as we swapped underground comix memories from days of yore.

Such was growing up in Northern California in those 60s and 70s.

But then no sooner do I get home and flip open the trusty retro-fitted laptop to read the day's news -- economy and biosphere both wobbly, prognosis for health toward the end (or in the middle) of the 21st wildly questionable, at best -- than I see comics again, bursting their bonds (bounds?) to appear as part of the "real" world conversation, the warp and woof of non-comics things.

And I wasn't talking about an article on box office revenues, or upcoming summer movie releases, either.

The article(s) in question involved last month's brouhaha over telling panels in Captain America #602, where the Bucky and the Falcon find themselves in Idaho, on the trail of the somewhat bonkers 50's-era Cap'n (for those of you following the latest arcs in that title, which -- on any kind of assiduous basis -- I admittedly have not). There are right wing, very white militia groups there, in the comic -- just as there are in real life -- and some of this disgruntled white folks have a rally.

And in those rally panels, as imagined by writer Ed Brubaker, and artist Luke Ross (with inker Bruce Guice), the intersection of inside and outside worlds began.

The white folk were holding an angry rally, replete with signs and placards, reminiscent of the "Tea Bagger" rallies which have spread across America at the behest of also-bonkers media figures like Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin, and picked up by corporate-sponsored right wing foundations, like Newt Gingrich's Freedomworks, to create the illusion of grass-rootedness.

In Cap's pages, though, the rally-ers were apparently more authentically grassroots after all, but the troubles began with the slogans on the signs, including one phrase that proclaimed you should "Tea Bag the Libs Before They Tea Bag You!"

The problem is this slogan was taken almost verbatim from an actual anti-tax rally (for the record, I'm not particularly pro-tax either, though I have much less objection to my tax dollars going to, say, hot lunches for children rather than, say, bombs that drop on children), and the panel was picked up in the right blogosphere and then -- quite predictably -- further picked up by Fox "news" and other right-wingy outlets, to perpetrate the familiar myth that the elite liberal media is once again making fun of jus' folks, etc., and won't these pointy headed artiste types stop taking shots at real Americans?

The news here, for our purposes, is that comics now actually rate as putative elements in the vast liberal media conspiracy, alongside film and TV and newspapers (remember those?), etc. -- anything that might suggest an alternate reality to the corporate-sanctioned one that misled "grass root" folks at teabag rallies are being manipulated into defending.

(Yes, we know there are some genuine Libertarian impulses in the movement, and genuine outrage over things like bank bailouts perpetrated by both Democrats and Republicans alike, but those have all been co-opted now).

Once upon a time, you could take a swipe at the status quo (is that you, Alan Moore? Or perhaps you, Frank Miller, nailing a caricature of President Ronnie N. Popular in The Dark Knight, smack dab in the 80s when actual mainstream media was still too buffaloed to do so?) in the pages of comics, and, well, no one would really notice.

I mean, people who read comics did, and that was about it.

Of course, there were no blogs then, no Fox "news," and no CGI routinely being used in movies. The last is important, because it was CG that allowed superhero movies to come into their own, and thus capture mega-box office. At which point, with serious money on the line, comics indeed became part of the official media establishment.

Especially if you're DC/Warners, or, now, Marvel/Disney.

So Marvel editor Joe Quesada felt -- somewhat dishearteningly -- obliged to apologize, letting it be known that the offending real slogan (in spite of no one making clear whether the verb "tea bag" in the original signage is a threat of violence, or unwelcome sexual advances) would be replaced in future reprints and anthologies of the story.

Brendan McGuirk wrote a good piece over at Comics Alliance, titled "Why Marvel Owes No Apologies for Captain America's 'Tea Party,'" where he says, among other things, "ultimately, whether this book is sanctioned by the for-profit Tea Party Convention or not, it addresses the pitfalls of the mob mentality, along with the dangers of rural xenophobia, which the Tea Party must address if it is going to grow into a viable national voice that can be taken seriously by serious-minded people. If not, it will remain a cartoonish caricature ripe for parody."

It's a thoughtful piece, which I commend to your attention. He also mentions, a couple of paragraphs later, that "it also seems somewhat disingenuous to present Marvel Comics as some completely apolitical, agenda-free company. During the company's formative years, it was a champion of tolerance, which was, unto itself, a wholly progressive ideal that was (and still is) controversial in some circles."

Yet, in those halcyon days for true believers -- the 60's (that same era that spawned Crumb's work) -- no one was burning Marvel comics in the same heaps they occasionally tossed Beatles' records into, whenever John Lennon said anything intemperate about Jesus.

There was the general "comics rot your mind" fever of the 50s, but for a long stretch after that -- because of the code? -- nobody out in the "real world" considered comics had much to actually "say" about anything, so no one was paying much attention.

They're paying attention now, but let's just hope that because of it, companies like Marvel don't do what the "liberal" media has been doing for far too long: Self-censoring, in order to not be "too controversial," or to avoid incurring the wrath of the dispeptic, self-appointed guardians of faith, commerce, and their skewed version of "freedom."

If comics are going to be considered art, well, good art incurs wrath (among other things). Even good mainstream superhero ones.

And you know, if you ask Cap, I think he'd say once you make a stand, you stick with it, even if Glenn Beck and Roger Ailes think you shouldn't.

Copyright © 2010 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams writes the Danger Boy time travel series, which is currently being developed for large and small screens, and probably doesn't get to enough rallies anymore. He also writes for papers like Variety, Below the Line, and more. He gets Twittery @mlondonwmz

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