Wednesday, March 31, 2010


By Josh Cotter, 2009, Adhouse Books. (

Driven By Lemons is a 'stream of consciousness sketchbook novella' by Josh Cotter, author of the ongoing book Skyscrapers of the Midwest. here, now, is an informal review of the book... several months past the hype:

JF: This might be the most frustrating book I have ever read.

TD: haha, i don't know what to make of it. It's like a Loch Ness monster that kept coming to the surface, then diving. but i don't know if it's a real monster or a hoax.

JF: That's a good way to put it. It seems to constantly be skirting this line between genuinely pushing work and pretentious psychedelic drivel. Or maybe it's more simply another exhibit in the evidence pile for people who believe that comic artists can't and should not write.

TD: i think part of the problem might be in the in-between nature of the book. Is it a sketchbook? is it a graphic novel?

JF: Maybe. I know that's what got the book so much attention when it debuted.

TD: i've tried to figure that out as well. it seems constrained in both directions. And i think part of my reaction to it is the tried-and-true letdown after built up expectations.

JF: That seems to be the name of the game these days. I think you're right on the money though with the constraints in both directions. As a sketchbook it's limited by an obvious sense of narrative purpose, but as a graphic novel that narrative purpose is ultimately far too vapid to keep through the whole book.

TD: flipping through a random page here or there, some spreads do stand out/alone as sketchbook pieces, but i don't know that any go too far, and really, i'd like to see six or ten page runs that are nothing but sketches which maybe later, in reflection, gain some narrative weight. Also, i've never been a fan of 'giant scribbly mazes' as a valid form of expressionism.

JF: Really? Those were some of my favorite parts. That's where I really saw the promise of the whole thing. The way they would weave in and out of the little scene vignettes with all that energy kept me turning the pages and I like that I can keep coming back to them and pick out little details from the larger explosion of lines.

TD: yeah, clearly i'm missing something. i know so many people who love that stuff. to me, i kept looking at it over and over trying to detect what the 'real' drawing was, the drawing it seemed to me he was trying to cover up with scribbling.

TD: i did like it in certain parts. when it started as a word bubble, vomiting out off the little guy's mouth, or whenever. but at other times it reminded me of the Smoke Monster from Lost. and god, i do not want that.

TD: the thing i thought about while reading it was this: i'm not against stream of consciousness. no. and i did wonder what your reaction would be to it, just as i wondered what my reaction to it would have been if i'd read it 10-15 years ago.

JF: As a stream of consciousness piece, it seems far too self aware and contrived.

TD: right. you can sense his consciousness, almost, getting caught up on familiar comfort memes and other things that his id or whatever would deem 'cool'. worthy of writing about. not true stream of consciousness but instead some sort of semi-self conscious stream. i think everyone's got these phrases and ideas in their brains, so i'm not faulting him for it, but what it comes down to is this: if someone wants, in the 21st century, to put out a stream of consciousness style narrative, maybe they need to take a couple stabs at it in private before putting something out in public.

JF: Yeah. Not every acid trip is worthy of public scrutiny.

TD: i mean, i guess for the comics community maybe stream of consciousness hasn't really been done? and i'll admit it sort of inspired me to try it on my own. i used to do stream of conscious morning pages, but just a page or two each morning. not a book length thing.

JF: And I think the book length is really what kills it. Because this isn't a narrative emerging from a years worth of dream journals; something along the lines of American Elf.

TD: well i looked up any interviews i could find after the fact, wondering if this was sprung from some accident he'd had or some other sort of 'real world' conflict. it might be in there, but i couldn’t find anything on that.

JF: Well the last chapter seemed to reference a psychedelic experience, and that adds another level of banality to a lot of the writing.

TD: i know . :(

JF: On the other hand, there are these moments of sheer unadulterated kick ass hot sauce. The cat creature that would go on long armchair psychobabble diatribes only to interject panels of hopelessly awesome were cartooning bliss.

TD: i wanted sturm and drang! i don’t want to kill this thing in this review. it was a bold effort and it is, i think, something that hasn’t' been tried (much, at least) in modern comics. and yeah, there were moments when it really started to hint at some big WOW moments. I know if i'd seen it at the convention, before the murmurs started, i know i'd’ve joined in on the praise.

JF: Also, the art itself is absolutely gorgeous. It's kind of a double edged sword because sometimes reading through the book cover to cover it really felt like this psychedelic stream of consciousness story was really just tacked on to justify a bunch of formal experimentation and I don't know that I want to support that. On the other hand there's stuff that he does inside these vignettes that can just take my breath away.

TD: what did you think of the Faulkner title? offhanded or woven into the narrative in some way i'm missing?

JF: If it was woven in, I missed it.

TD: well the real quote is 'man is a creature driven by Demons'. so..i mean i guess he pops at least the quote riff in at the end. the little cartoon lemon guy. but i mean, i guess i would’ve enjoyed the book more if that lemon guy kept popping up thoughout as a demon stand-in?

JF: Well there was that cat creature that warmed my heart, and I guess you could see the whole narrative as the bunny being tormented or perhaps driven by demonic forces, and the absurdity of trying to make it all make sense.

TD: yeah. i guess my takeaway from the whole thing is, i'd like to see more people attempt this, because despite any shortcomings i might've found, it's still pretty impressive when i step aside from it all. So i'd like to see it grow as a ---what, subgenre?--...i just think i'll be more pick and choose in the future.

JF: I would definitely like to see more books like this, yes. And while I'm in no rush to read it cover to cover again any time soon, I find it is a book that I can return to over and over again for a page or a scene or two and find a very satisfying read.

TD: i give it a B-.

JF: I'm philosophically opposed to grading systems and thus cooler than you.

TD: i'm ....what? damn.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye

Review- Seaguy: The Slaves Of Mickey Eye #1

T: Ok- this is going to be a conversational review of Grant Morrison’s "Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye #1(Vertigo)" (participants: Julian and T)

T: 5 years ago, Grant Morrison released the 3 issue miniseries Seaguy, to middling sales and middling reviews. That it took half a decade (and a purported bit of blackmail regarding DC's ‘52’) to release the second arc of Morrison's planned trilogy is a testament to the challenges he faced. While some of the criticisms of Seaguy were well founded, both of us in this conversation are glad it's back.

T: “Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye” begins with a full page splash of our hero looking into a decaying artificial world, in a verbal lament ("i feel terrible"). Seaguy is back on his boat with a new animal companion and the world, despite all that happened in the first series, has not changed all that much (except for some encroaching urban-amusement park sprawl).
Morrison quickly and summarily reintroduces his cast of characters from the first arc, even a few who had seemed to meet their ends there. Other characters are new additions, perhaps most prominently Prof. Silvan Niltoid, the man with the rainbow coming out of his head. Seaguy's trials take him to the "Nod Cholmondley Home For the Bewildered" where we see, as in the first series, that this is a world which does not know how to deal with madness, and is indeed quite phobic of it.
In the end Seaguy finds the next chapter of his story just beginning- the preceding pages having been a sort of slumbering dream from which he may just be waking up. Oh, and now there are four of him.

Julian: Of course, this being Morrison we are invited to question our conception of just who is mad.

T: Right. One of the most notable differences between this series and the last is that Cameron's Stewarts art style has changed dramatically, from a more fully, softly, rendered world to a more heavy, cartoonish one. And of note here is the fact that it felt like such a seamless transition. It wasn’t until i compared pages side by side that I realized just how big a change he'd made. Good stuff.

Julian: The transition was much more abrupt than I first imagined, I agree. I think the first correction that I need to make, though, is that I'm not just glad that Seaguy is back. I think ecstatic would be more appropriate. After his ultimately disappointing run on Batman and Final Crisis, it is a joy to see Morrison return to form with a competent artist.

T: It is funny, because in its initial run Morrison had called Seaguy his antidote to all the dark-gritty-somber heroes out there. So after all the damage he did during Final Crisis and the rest, its almost as if Morrison needed self-therapy or something. And this sunshiny spirit also seems evident in his Batman & Robin run.

Julian: I thought he got that out of his system with The Invisibles. But yeah, I do think there's an element of that in Seaguy.

T: Well, he's having fun here, and his ideograms and references aren't nearly as entrenched as those in Seven Soldiers or any of the other major-universe work he's done. He's got a blank canvas here.

Julian: Certainly, and that really is when he's at his best. Still though, I think this is a very menacing story. I think in some ways, Cameron Stewart's more cartoonish art is almost more unnerving than it is evocative of, say, childhood nostalgia, and that has as much to do with Morrison's writing as it does with Stewart's considerable skills.

T: Oh it is- I’m only referring to the way the hero reacts to the world he inhabits. I know this is supposed to be the "teenage/young adult leg" of the journey to adulthood, and I suppose I’m thinking back to the first series which gave the 'childhood' perspective. However, it does still seem that Morrison has cast Seaguy as a hero with a heart. A guy who'll overcome the odds even if it’s only through delusional means…
…Y’know what i just noticed? for all the marked stylistic differences between the first series and the current one, there's one character whose model hasn’t really changed: Death, though he does seem a bit more bleached in the bones now.

Julian: Death's role in the series has been something I've gone back and forth on. At some times he seems very connected to Mickey Eye; I mean, his eyes for one thing, and the phrase "When you live, when you die... here comes Mickey Eye!" both seem to indicate a connection to me. At other times, I'm not so sure.

T: I think what I get from the first series is that death isn't the real villain here. As Death states during his pseudo-chess match with Seaguy: "the rules seem so arbitrary!" Death is more befuddled than anything. And as Seaguy mentions to his sidekick Chubby, Death is "color blind and can’t tell black from white", but these are two different issues of course, as black should be easily discernible from white, even to the colorblind. Note that Seaguy plays with death and does not complain- and he wins. Chubby threatens death and is immediately threatened in return

Julian: Those are very good points.

T: And in this new issue we see unequivocally that Death is just as subject to the militant force of Mickey Eye as any other character. I think what's going on in Seaguy's world is a bit of the "things far worse than death" angle. And I think a lot of it is a result of the substance XOO and it's widespread use in the world.

Julian: I was just going to say we should talk about XOO.

T: This is one thing that felt like a bit of the letdown. The end of the first series seemed to indicate dwindling supplies of XOO, possibly gone for good- and that indicated a real, if hollow, change in the world. but now it seems to be in full production once again. XOO, to me, is Morrison once again cribbing from Philip K Dick. This is his UBIK, and it’s an edible variety. It represents a fascistic world’s lust for the new, and how this lust overpowers and replaces the actual qualities of the things it is supposed to represent. Everything will always be new, nothing will ever die, but we will never remember anything but a hallucinatory present.

Julian: But I don't think its ever referred to as XOO in this issue. It's 1/2 an Animal on a Stick now.

T: Good point, but it still seemed like the actual substance/life form itself had been liberated in the first arc. Of course, it’s also the bubble gum the professor refers to as one half of what Mickey Eye created the world out of (the other element being Flame)

Julian: Oh definitely. "Am-Dek-Gum. GIDT". I think the change in name reinforces this idea of fascistic lust for the new. A constant hollow change in window dressing overshadowing the underlying issues. XOO is always a subjugated agent of control, constantly being renamed but never really replaced.

T: do you want to talk about that moment you noticed?

Julian: Yeah, all right. The moment that really struck the deepest chord with me in this issue was the scene where Seaguy asks Death where Chubby is, and Death replies that "he's right behind you". Seaguy just looks utterly disappointed and replies asking "You really think I'm gonna fall for that?". But of course Chubby is right behind him, suddenly for an instant; and for some reason there seemed an implication to me that if Seaguy did turn around Chubby wouldn't be there anymore.

T: I like when comics can do that: give multiple readings. Right. I mean I thought that too- it was an odd expression. Within a page I figured it was just him being xoo-addled and depressed, but I like that it was 'there', a prescience. I didn't go so far to think about Chubby not being there if he'd turned around, that's really cool.

Julian: I think it's not just that moment, but a very prevailing theme throughout the entire issue. With Chubby, always in the background, and partially obscured. Never in the line of sight of Seaguy, yet always plain as day for the reader. A lot of Seaguy is asking epistemological questions of the variety that fuel the most paranoid and the most fantastic of conspiracy theories. I think that Chubby's role in this issue exemplifies that.

T: The world being replaced, again and again, just outside of your peripheral vision. And yes- regarding conspiracies, I think one thing I noted while rereading the first series was the way that comics, and other mediums, attempt to pin down the ineffable as a tangible series of events. Specifically when chubby looks into the sewer and sees the Mickey Eye agents stuffing people into sacks in the sewer, this is a moment we've seen in a variety of forms in variety of different stories; comics, movies, theatre, books. These things never really happen in our lives, but they stand, I think , for those moments of clarity, when we see through the veils with which we're accustomed.

Julian: Also a nice a reference to the underground tunnels at Disney World. In fact, I think that might be the best metaphor for Seaguy. It's growing up and realizing that Disney World is a facade for brick buildings and fast food chains. Only taken one step further, because here, Disney World is reality. And knowing Walt Disney and his company, the allegory isn't entirely unwarranted.

T: Another metaphor is the role XOO plays as a subjugated party to the proceedings, but not one without its own defenses. Note the two catastrophic counterattacks on the XOO freighters, and the failure of even Seaguy and Chubby to maintain a rapport with the bit of xoo they'd been helping escape; "it’s not the xoo we knew".

Julian: I want to go back to what you said about putting the ineffable in concrete terms. Because I was just reminded of the revelation of Chubby, and the scientists pulling a hear no/see no/speak no evil. With the one of them crying out to himself "There's nothing there! If there was you could prove it!" In the midst of Bedlam. As a side, would you say it's reaching to say that Nod Cholmondley is a play on Noam Chomsky?

T: The one thing I know about it is how to pronounce it. Years ago I was researching names for a story I was writing, and I know that its pronounced "chumley". The anecdote goes: An English gentleman meeting the Earl of Cholmondeley one day coming out of his own house, and not being acquainted with him, asked him if Lord Chol-mond-e-ley (pronouncing each syllable distinctly) was at home. "No," replied the peer, without hesitation, "nor any of his pe-o-ple." Chumley,chums? Nod chums? Sleeping chums? The big sleep? This*is* where chubby finally reapears.

Julian: That's an interesting thought. May be a bit of a stretch.

T: But I like Noam Chomskey too, and that's probably got more legs. Has Morrison ever referenced him before?

Julian: I don't know that he has. It just struck me that psychology plays a major role in this series; and Chomsky is the epitome of a functionalist. Then again, that might be giving Morrison too much credit.

T: I kind of hope you're right.

Julian: Arkham Asylum was supposed to be about psychology, but I never saw anything in there to make me think Morrison knew jack of what he was talking about.

T: yeh....sigh.

Julian: To be fair, though. Morrison has matured since that book, and Seaguy is definitely evidence of this. Morrison has said that he wants this to be his Watchmen, and given that we both really just scratched the surface of what there is to talk about this series, it is going to be a joy to really get deeper into this book in the coming months; and that's really a special thing for a monthly comic even if it's a limited series.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Check Out This Fucking T-Shirt

As we all know, with the emergence of the superhero flicks, this has been a good time for nerd merch. I'm not really one for action figures, but I do keep an eye open for superhero t-shirts. You can find them in pretty much every clothing store in America these days, but most of those are shitty cartoonized versions of movie posters. It's pretty difficult to find a superhero-themed t-shirt that isn't too plain, too ugly, or too event-comic-double-page-spready. I don't need Michael Turner art on a t-shirt.

(We speak ill of the dead here at CotU.)

Basically, a superhero t-shirt needs to be retro. It lends that pop art quality that a Marvel Zombies cover just doesn't have (looking at you, Hot Topic). Also, whoever it is that makes these goddamn things thinks that just by plastering any comic image onto cotton, they have a good t-shirt. Fuck those guys! A comic shirt has to be a GOOD-LOOKING SHIRT that just happens to be comic-related.

That said, check out this fucking t-shirt.

BLAM! Giant-Size X-Men. They aren't lying--they are presented in a large fashion. The art is courtesy of Seventies Dave Cockrum. Mostly. Whoever made this shirt (the tag just says Marvel Comics) slapped an image of Magneto on top of the original cover art. I dunno if it's Cockrum, but it works.

What separates this t-shirt is the little details, though. Fading the image to make it look older isn't new to shirts with old comic art, but it's nice. It just seems better on this one than it seems on a lot of others. But what really works is the lightly-printed interior art on the blue of the shirt.

Now, I'm no X-Men scholar. The only full runs of it that I've read have been Morrison's and Whedon's, and they're the only two that I've liked (Brubaker sucked, Carey sucked, and I won't read Fraction's because of the shitty art). After looking up Proteus in Wikipedia, I discovered that this is John Byrne's work. Aside from Jean and Cyke here at the bottom, Storm shows up down there (I cut her out of the picture because...Storm sucks), and at the top of the shirt you can see what looks to me like Bashee standing next to Colossus-with-his-head-cut-off, both also by Byrne, I would have to assume. All in all, a pretty sweet t-shirt I think, and I wish more of them were this good.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Quotes On Comics

"Comic books [in Mexico] are one of the few sources of accessible reading matter for the poor and semiliterate sectors of society and, as such, they not only offer entertainment but also play a crucial role in the dissemination of information and ideology."

Quotes On Comics is a great collection of quotes on various aspects of comics and their place in culture. (via Drawn)

here are a few more good ones:

"As every schoolboy knows, comics do not stand alone at microphones in the dark. Indeed, we cannot even read them in the dark. We need light, the more, the better. And we enjoy comics best in solitary, by ourselves, not in crowds; although large numbers of people read comics, they generally do it by themselves, in silence."

Robert C. Harvey

The cartoon art form — the art of treating an image impressionistically — will not fade. It will keep growing in popularity, because a cartoon is able to convey an idea as an image, and images are the means of communication that are proliferating.
Will Eisner

Personally, I don’t have a problem with the fact that comic books have grown up. I do wonder, though, if perhaps comic books are now being taken a little too seriously.

Susan Tomaselli

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

Watchmen Review: T's Take

The most perfect part of Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen (Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ alternate reality graphic novel) was the pure comic-book yellow that filled the screen for the first 5 seconds of the film. I thought to myself ‘this is the most this film can ever be’. Then the credits rolled, I was fairly impressed by the "3D-as-2D through angled camera flashes" montage sequence, and the film began.

Snyder has said in a few interviews that he wanted to ‘kill the superhero movie’ just as Moore and Gibbons’ killed the superhero comicbook. If that's his goal, I figure let's judge him by his own standard and see how well he did.
I can see that Snyder wanted to do for Watchmen what Peter Jackson did for Tolkien’s trilogy. You get an honest sense of love and admiration for the source material, and a keen eye. But as a result it also suffers from biopic-syndrome (the comic itself being the biographer’s focus). Favorite comic moments, quotes, and images are lavishly recreated. Others are mixed and matched, *sort of* referring to things that actually happened, but not quite. And all the while the dramatic structure gets lost under the weight of getting all those fractured moments ‘just right’. This is part of the reason why Snyder’s assassination mission is doomed to fail. Strike one.

The film isn’t all bad. I did find myself wondering/realizing things about the Characters as well as Moore’s possible thought process while watching the film, things that had never occurred to me when reading the comic (admittedly I’m not an acolyte of Moore’s Graphic Novel, coming to it too late, after its shock value and ideological novelty were gone). No, its not all bad, but there is a LOT of bad. Snyder’s previous effort was 300, based on the Graphic Novel by Frank Miller. Misogynistic and in love with gratuitous violence, Miller can almost be thought of as the Anti-Moore. And yet, in Snyder’s adaptation, he never gives us Alan Moore’s Watchmen. He passes it through some transmogrifying Alternate Reality portal and delivers....poof! Frank Miller’s Watchmen!

The performances come from what I’d call the “Tales From The Darkside” school of acting. Certain performers rise above this at times, but all have moments of wooden staginess. And the love of action, while not always inappropriate, is often so. The film would have been better served to reserve glossy action sequences for one or two well-chosen characters and allow the rest to perform as unglamorously as the source material suggests. This is strike two on Snyder’s assassination mission.

Finally… for a director who’s so self-professedly in love with the source material, (he does impressively cover the lion’s share of the Graphic Novel’s plot, even if most of the novels’ supplemental materials get cast off*) he seems to have no grasp of what's essential. The film is paced fairly well for a three hour movie, but the moments where he ignores either the letter or the intent of the book are made all the more aggravating by this supposed devotion.
In the end, Snyder doesn’t have the heart to land the bullet squarely between the genre’s eyes. At best he lands a glancing blow, a flesh wound, and that’s probably fitting; Snyder shows throughout that he is most concerned with the novels’ surfaces. Problem is, surfaces were the very thing Moore was trying to get beyond.

*this absence kept me thinking as i watched that this really could have worked as an HBO miniseries, and they coudlve included those supplemental materials as either bumpers or online minifilms/articles/photos/etc.

As a side note, if there are any New Yorkers interested in the depth and multiple layer’s Julian refers to in his review, you might want to check out the link below. My friend Jeffrey Lewis is giving a lecture based in part on his Senior Thesis “The Dual Nature of Apocalypse in Watchmen” at Jim Hanley’s Universe on March 19th, 8PM. Should be awesome.

Link To Details for Jeff Lewis' FREE lecture at Jim Hanley's