The Inhabitants (Volumes 1-4)
The Sheehan Brothers
Reviewed by Tim Bollinger
The Sheehan brothers (writer Kelly and ink-meister Darren) of Blockhouse Bay, have produced some remarkable graphic novel series over the years, like ‘Longman’ (viewable on their flash player website: http://sheehanbros.com/).
Their latest project ‘The Inhabitants’ is now available in four concise ‘ Dharma Punks’-format A5 booklets (and likely to be serialised on their website in coming months. See: http://theinhabitants.blogspot.com/)
This is deep, serious, parallel universe, world-building sh*t. A masterful fantasy epic about people with good and evil super powers, based on the theme of tagging (I think). Beautiful penwork and dramatic narrative staging. Buy their books through The High Seas or Cherry Bomb Comics ($5 each all four volumes for $18) or write to these crazy motherf***ers at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Hooray for the web!
My Favourite Comic Of The Moment: Oats Comics Are Still the Best
Reviewed by Indira Neville
In the 1990s the city of Hamilton was ruled by a marauding street gang with the name of Oats. This band of rascals, misfits and scoundrels were afraid of nothing and no one and alongside their shady dealings and underworld crimes they managed to make the most amazing comics. This article explores a small and nostalgic selection of these works.
Dad and Tracy:
Dad and Tracy was a sprawling magical soap opera that mostly took place inside the mind of the Round Headed Kid. There was love and loss, jogging and horse dentistry, weird creatures involved in tortured human relationships.
The following page is by Jon Arcus and Stefan Neville. Many Oats regulars ended up contributing to Dad and Tracy but these two are seminal. Jon spawned Dad and Tracy originally but Stefan was with him in the very early days.
This page is cool because it was drawn by Jon and inked by Stefan and so you get this really intriguing mix of spazzy and flash drawing. Jon’s figures are full of life and light but Stefan’s elaborate patterns and sophisticated shading make them solid and seem to place them in a real world somehow. This page contains many of the archetypal Dad and Tracy elements; the dog’s bum. Dad morphing, joggers, horse dentistry, inevitable cosmic fate. How amazing and right to see all those things on a page together!
Pipes was a short-run comic by Clayton Noone. It was the story of a mysterious island where magical creatures led everyday lives above an ancient and complex maze of pipes. It was a very romantic and sweet comic, full of small yet heart-bursting moments.
This is a page from a later issue. I love it because Clayton’s drawing has become fainter and finer and thinner. The drawings themselves look as ethereal and flight-capable as the characters within the story, but somehow with only a few lines there’s still lots of feeling and gesture. I like this story too because it’s about an ordinary guy who was lucky enough to get his wings back. I guess it’s always nice to think this might happen to you, that one day you might get to really fly.
Choice Guy is by Glen Stewart and it’s the comic that ‘serious comic types’ outside of Oats appreciate. This is interesting to me. Comic wankers see the great drawing and salivate, leaping upon the irony and self awareness of the work. Both of these things are part of Choice Guy but Glen also has a genuine sweaty simultaneous love and fear of the fat swearing drunken men he draws. He wants to hug them and run away screaming at the same time and I am not sure this is always appreciated.
I like this page because it’s really funny and it makes me think of my brother and I peering through the windows of the Kaitaia pub as we waited for my Dad to finish drinking. It’s less brutal than much of Choice Guy and there is real affection for the little weird alternate universes that taverns can sometimes become. I also love how every panel is an alternate universe, filled up and beautifully arranged with scratchy lines and words and funny looking people.
My final Oats selection is Buffalo by Adrian Ganley. Buffalo was also like a soap opera but one that reflected the actual life we were all living in Hamilton at the time. Reading an issue of Buffalo was completely joyful, there was nothing that made you uncomfortable or hurt your heart, just lots of familiar young people situations and jokes that were hilarious and fascinating because they existed and evolved in both your real life and the pages of Buffalo, and because Adrian was your mate.
This page represents a fairly typical Hamilton evening for all my friends who were in bands and hauled their gear and their arses to play at parties around the Waikato. I like it that the characters are having a smoke but Adrian isn’t making an ooh-drugs-isn’t-this-comic-risqué tryhard kind of deal about it and that’s hard to do. I also like all the blackness and the fact that it’s a rare page where Adrian doesn’t appear to have used a ruler to make his frames.
Oats comics are still amazing. They’re still delicate and brutal and funny with lots of swearing and joy. They seem to me to be a far cry from the poh-faced small print comics of today. They’re homemade rather than ‘self-published’, the result of smart people and good friends and funny lives and hours standing at the photocopier in the Centreplace Mall….Fucken Oats….
By Studs Terkel and Harvey Pekar & various artists
Published by New Press
Reviewed by Leo Hupert
According to a blurb on the back cover, Studs Terkel’s Pulitzer prize-winning masterpiece of oral history has been a book, a radio drama, a Broadway musical, probably a TV series and is now a graphic novel – or rather a graphic interpretation. Novel doesn’t fit the bill in this case.
Terkel collected verbatim accounts from more than 100 ordinary, everyday Americans – farmers, miners, waitresses, actors, garbos, domestics, crop pickers – and put a selection together in his book Working, first published in 1974.
Twelve of the 28 interviews selected for this graphic version were adapted by Harvey Pekar perhaps best known for his comic series American Splendor – which was also compiled in graphic novel format, and turned into a movie as well. Pekar gets front cover billing and contributes a three paragraph preface using the adjective ‘quotidian’ in referring to his and Terkel’s work.
Pekar’s American Splendour stories are intensely, obsessively personal.Yet here he is adapting, probably for the first time, the intensely personal details of the lives of others recorded by a third party, artistically interpreted by a fourth. It works wonderfully. The strength and conviction of the people recorded by Terkel shines through. However, there is a nagging feeling that the interviews from Working appear to provide a path for those interviewed to have a good gripe and rail at the world about them and the circumstances they find themselves in. Not without good reason, I’ve got to add, but, at times, it borders on having a good whinge. Not that there’s anything wrong about that.
When I first picked up the 200-page magazine-size paperback book I thought great, this looks really good, Pekar has adapted it (got sucked in there) it has to be good and it is. I like the lack of colour. Black and white suits the harsh, honest truth of the lives revealed. But the price $US22.95 ($NZ59.95) seemed a bit steep particularly seeing the book is published by The New Press, “established in 1990 as a not-for-profit alternative to the large, commercial publishing houses… operates in the public interest rather than for private gain… committed to publishing works of educational, cultural value… often deemed insufficiently profitable.” Check them out at www.thenewpress.com.
Pekar adapted 12 interviews (I baulk at saying stories) and Sharon Rudahl adapted and drew eight. Obviously most of the artists and adaptors have strong social realism leanings. Rudahl from Wimmen’s Comix, Peter Kuper has adapted Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, drawn a neat comic called The System and since 1997 has drawn Spy vs Spy for Mad Magazine (but he also used to work on Richie Rich comics). Sabrina Jones (Isadora Duncan and Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World), Terry Laban (Unsupervised Existence, www.labanarama.com), album cover illustrator Pat Moriarity (www.patmoriarity.com) and Ryan Inzana (Johnny Jihad RyanInzana.com). The more mainstream artists include Danny Fingeroth (Spiderman), Peter Gullerud (Warner Bros and Disney), Bob Hall (Marvel, DC, Valiant) and that’s not all of them. There are plenty of interviews left for several sequels if The New Press feels inclined.
The Book of Genesis
By Robert Crumb
(publisher : Norton )
reviewed by Leo Hupert
If a sequel to Working does come out a sequel does come out, and I hope there is one, then it would be great to see at least one of the interviews adapted by Pekar’s occasional collaborator Robert Crumb. Even better still perhaps Crumb might be inclined to adapt Terkel’s more famous work Hard Times now that he has finally finished his illustrated Book of Genesis.
Yes, you may well have noticed The Book of Genesis illustrated by R Crumb has been released in New Zealand, in fact world-wide, in hardback, published by WW Norton $US24.95 ($NZ60) and, like Working, printed in USA. It includes all 50 chapters, adult supervision is recommended for minors and according to the front cover slipjacket it is the first book of the bible graphically depicted! NOTHING LEFT OUT!
I started off really keen and couldn’t wait to see all that wasn’t left out reading a chapter a night and savouring Crumb’s artwork but I did get bogged down and the book has been put further along the shelf though not out of reach, yet. I will finish reading it. It’s just such good work, every black and white panel a masterpiece. It needs to be read slowly, appreciated. After all it is the “culmination of five years of painstaking work”.
Crumb says he approached the work as a straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes. He says he has, to the best of his ability, faithfully reproduced every word of the original text which he derived from several sources, including the King James Version, but mostly Robert Alter’s 2004 translation The Five Books of Moses. He admits to doing a little intrepretion of his own but only if he thought “the words could be made clearer” and has included a commentary on each chapter in an eight page section at the back of the 200 page book.
In his introduction Crumb admits that you please everybody and apologises in advance to those he feels may be offended and/or outraged by his efforts. There are some awkward passages in the Book of Genesis and even experts argue over their meanings and the context in which they have been used. Crumb points out the obvious when he says the text is very, very old.
Best thing to do is to go out and buy it before it sells out.
By Grant Buist
reviewed by Leo Hupert
While you’re out there enjoying the summery weather why don’t you pick up a copy of Grant Buist’s Jitterati. Selling around Wellington for only $14.95 including a DVD and a sample bag of Havana coffee. The A4 size 76 page magazine collects Buist’s Jitterati cartoon strip which featured in City Voice and now runs in Capital Times.
For those of you, like me, who escaped seeing it, it’s refreshing to be surprised, disturbing to be out of touch. Guess I don’t get around much any more.
Jitterati is anchored in Wellington and is liberally interspersed with explanatory notes making connections easier to make. Buist and his characters eat in the same places, see the same graffiti (probably draw it), drink at the same places, we’ve probably unknowingly passed each other in the street on numerous occasions.
There is even an index at the back of the book. If you want to look up Auckland socialites see page 58, strip a. How about David Byrne 68c, or Guillermo del Toro 72b, maybe Joe Sacco 43c. Entries with lots of references include: braying toilet, bypass, chocolate, coffee, LOTR (of course) and recession.
Buist finishes off saying he hopes there’s enough to stop people reading the whole thing in five minutes and saying, “Is that it?” He can rid himself of such Pekaresque paranoia. I’m sure those who have followed his strips would love to revisit them in this collection and those unfamiliar with his work, like I said before, will be more than pleasantly surprised.
The DVD has all the strips and two animated cartoons. One features that luscious word ‘orange’ and the other features Fitz Bunny slightly reminiscent of the Powerpuff Girls. For more on Jitterati go here, and if you want to read Buist’s blog this link should get you there.
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by Theo Macdonald
Reviewed by Robyn Kenealy
I have to admit to being a little obsessed with Theo Macdonald. It’s partly because his comics (click to enlarge the image at left) are really funny, and partly because I can’t believe how good he is for how young he is. I’m sure he hates me going on and on about his age, so I won’t repeat it here. Rest assured, however, he is probably younger than you. He draws a little bit like Matt Groening (and displays the clear influence, sometimes textually referenced, of Groening’s ‘Life in Hell’ comics,) and has been pumping out a series called ‘Skate Rat’. I have bought and loved every single one of the seven issues. And they’re cheap! Five bucks, or even less! You can buy ‘em from Graphic in Cuba Mall. Go now!
But maybe you need a little encouragement. After all, it does not behove one to buy things on mere speculation during a recession. Perhaps you need me to tell you about his latest work. So, today I finally picked up (for $3.50!!) Theo’s new self published ‘zine, a comic called ‘Oliver Twisted’, and read it on the way up to University. I had a few things to do so I read it on the cable car, and it was excellent. I did actually laugh out loud and make a little bit of a fool of myself because it was so funny. It’s a truly bizarre premise for humour, too, being as it is a short comics sequel to Dickens’ novel ‘Oliver Twist.’ No, for serious. Here is what Theo has written on the inside flap: “Charles Dickens initially released Oliver Twist (the original novel) in serial form. Once his initial run was finished, he attempted to write a comic sequel. It ran for only a short time and was not well received. Here it is, reprinted in its entirety.”
Here it is, indeed. Macdonald has always had a keen eye for the ridiculous and no less so when it comes to the classics of English literature. ‘Oliver Twisted’ combines several threads of classical and recently popular narrative, dragging Sweeny Todd and Jack the Ripper (“who actually did exist”) into a very short, very funny little comic, which also, strangely enough, feels remarkably personal. I’m sure this feeling is partly because of the clear “self published” aesthetic (actually, I don’t know why I put quote marks, since it is actually self published, but I suppose I’m trying to convey the “genre” of self published comics here) but also because his anarchic adaptation of this Dickens story makes me think of being a naughty, smart kid doodling at the back of the class, like I was, and like I suspect Macdonald probably is. It’s just neat.
I actually want you to buy everything he has ever written, but if you buy one thing, by this one. Later, we’ll talk about ‘Skate Rat’, but for now, ‘Oliver Twisted’. Mmmkay?
Robyn Kenealy is a Wellington writer and cartoonist.
Alan Moore ( and I ) have some gender issues
By Robyn Kenealy
Do you ever wonder what would have happened to the Soviet Union if Trotsky had succeeded Lenin instead of Stalin? No? I do. I frequently ask myself that question: are the forces of history subject to the whim of the individual? Or is human society so diverse and so fluid, and ideologies so airtight that Trotsky’s ascension would have preceded an equally bloody purge, albeit through a slightly different avenue. In much the same fashion, I was given to wonder, recently, what would have happened to comics if Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ had not come out in the same year as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s ‘Watchmen’.
Moore’s objection to the post-‘Watchmen’ (ahem) “grittification” of traditional comics narratives is well documented, (most notably for me through a couple of lectures given by Dylan Horrocks on the subject of the latter’s tenure at DC,) and this objection came to my mind while watching the film version of ‘Watchmen’ for the second time the other night. As one might reasonably expect, the film sucks and the book is awesome, but what was interesting to me was that the film sucked at reproducing the awesome in much the same way that comic books following in that line of “realist” influence sucked at reproducing the awesome.
It is too simple to blame Frank Miller (though I love doing it, because while ‘Watchmen’ attempted to destroy superheroes through muddying and humanizing their motives, as well as the reader’s desire for them, ‘Dark Knight’ had the same conversation but concluded that a man has to do what a man has to do, and preferably as violently as he can.) Actually, it’s too simple to blame anyone. What I really should be blaming is simplicity itself, which means I’ve probably answered my opening question, unless I start talking about capitalism. But, long story short, ‘Watchmen’ is very, very complex, and simplicity is far easier to reproduce.
I’m tempted, but I’m not going to give a piecemeal rundown of the graphic novel. If you haven’t read it, you really should, because it is a comics classic the way ‘Tristram Shandy’ is a literary classic, and also because it is a master-work of comics excellence. It is about humanity and it is about politics and it is probably one of the most consummate unpickings of the way ideology flows through representation that I have ever come across. I have read it about a million times, and it offers layers upon layers of interconnectivity at each investigation. You’ve probably heard that from comics fans before, but you should still read it. In the meantime, you can read this little article, which is about ‘Watchmen’s treatment of gender.
I was thinking about this because the ‘Watchmen’ narrative contains a very familiar trope for the woman reader. The trope where a woman gets raped (or threatened with rape) and then later ends up having willing, consensual sex with the attacker. In some cases, this is a romance novel trope – you know, where at the start the male lead does a whole bunch that would make you call the police in real life, and then it ends with undying love (see, or rather, don’t see ‘Twilight’.)
I always get a little bit shirty about this kind of thing because it’s like the narrative is trying to tell me to… well, to get back in the kitchen, basically. To accept my subjugated role and not bitch when a man tells me what’s what because it’s what I really want, deep down inside. And I know that romance novels are not really about rape, but I also know that our sexual subjectivities relate to our cultural ones. No, really. I think it is true, and I find it interesting. I found it especially interesting in the lead up to my 2008 Civil Union, when I realised that despite being an educated, and actually fairly combative feminist, I still wanted everyone to look at me in my pretty wedding dress.
It made me think a lot about John Berger’s statement about gender and ideology, ‘men act and women appear.’ It made me think about sex, and sex fantasies, and it made me think, maybe, just maybe, romance stories for women are like that because being looked at, being desired, and in some cases being so desired that the one doing the desiring is prepared to hurt you to get you, is the only time women have socially sanctioned power. I did wear my pretty wedding dress, of course, but I still thought about it. And I am still thinking about it, especially where these patterns spill out of romance and into the general mainstream.
Because it’s not like that for Sally ‘Silk Spectre’ Jupiter and Edward ‘The Comedian’ Blake. It’s not like a romance novel. Even though The Comedian does try to rape Silk Spectre, and even though she has consensual sex with him later, it is something different. I only became aware of this when I was watching the movie, basically because what the movie choses to leave in and take out turns Silk Spectre and Comedian’s story into one of those romance novel classics, but I got very excited that it was there in the comic nonetheless. What ‘Watchmen’ does, when it is in comics form, is mine these kinds of tropes for the information inside. What it does then is level an accusation at comics for reproducing that kind of ideology. When The Comedian attempts to rape Silk Spectre, instead of acting as the personification of desirably masculinity, he is instead acting as critique of it.
In both comic and film, Comedian’s attempted rape is stopped by Hooded Justice. But, rather than rushing to Silk Spectre’s aid once The Comedian has gone, Hooded Justice stalks out and tells her “for godsakes, cover yourself,” as if it is her fault. There are layers to that scene – as my esteemed college Brady Hammond points out, Hooded Justice in part reacts to Comedian’s accusation of homosexuality and love of S&M, and so his anger at Sally is really his anger at being revealed – but imagine that, for Sally. She’s been beaten, and is bleeding, and a man who is much stronger than she is has tried very hard to rape her. She has only escaped because another strong man has intervened. She is then told, only moments after The Comedian has accused her of “asking for it” because of the costume she wears (a fairly standard chick superhero get-up), she is told to cover herself. And that’s where I noticed it. Because that line, from Hooded Justice, is absent from the movie.
This is moment that is absent. This is the panel that Hooded Justice’s line is over: Silk Spectre’s face, covered in blood. She’s in her underpants, hunched over on the floor. She is crying. She’s not very sexy in her underpants, because Dave Gibbons doesn’t draw women in that sexy way. Her bra flattens her breasts rather that pushing them up. It is in no way a sexy scene. That’s the panel with Hooded Justice’s line. A crying, bleeding woman is looking, pleadingly at her rescuer and being blamed for an attempted rape upon her person. Did she ask for it? Of course not. Do comics invite rape? Of course not.
But do superhero comics fetishize violence? Do comics frequently present women in costumes that sexualize them, even putting them in high-heels despite the sheer ludicrousness of kung-fu fighting in stilettos? Are comics asking you to fantasize about these women? Well, um. Yes. Now, does Silk Spectre turn you on?
It is worth pointing out that Superhero comics fetishize male bodies too. However, it may interest you to know that Superman has no penis. I’m actually totally serious. I gave a workshop about comics narrative and “othering” in 2008 and one of the things I did for it was assemble a visual timeline of Supermans, all the way from the Golden Age to the most recent. He is much, much more muscled now that he was in the 1940s but he is also completely flat in front. If he’s smart, of course, he’s tucking, but given the controversy highlighted for me by Claire Harris, of ‘Chicks with Knives’ over the Alex Ross covers for D.C. (cliff notes: visible bulge on Citizen Steel incites male comics fans to write angry letters about being sexualized) I think the real truth is that I’m just not meant to be thinking about Superman as someone with whom I can have sex, even if he does have the maritals with Lois Lane.
I have, however, read enough work by angsty 90’s auto-bio comics artists to know that fantasizing about comics heroines is something that definitely goes on. I’m even trying to remember all the separate comics in which I have read the story of the male protagonist tracing or reproducing a drawing of Cat Woman, or whomever, for their own personal pleasure. I definitely remember it from Dan Clowes, and possibly from Chester Brown, and I just know there are others.
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So: given the ads that accompany the stories in single issue hero comics (when not for computer games, they are for the Army, and even until the mid nineties, for Charles Atlas body building sets) I don’t think I would be drawing a crazy line to suggest that the general gendered thrust of the superhero world is sexy girls, strong boys. And they are marketed at straight boys, even if they are read by gay boys or by girls or by people who couldn’t be put into any of those categories, and the assumption is that you, as straight boy audience want to be tougher, like the strong boys in the comic, and you want to have sex with the sexy girls in the comic.
I’m by no means the first person to say this, about any of this, or even about Superman, but there it is. Superhero comics, to a point, are one hundred percent Classical Realist Text in their treatment of gender, a la Laura Mulvey’s classic essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. Men act, women appear, and text is constructed in such a way as to put the audience behind heteronormatively male eyes. Mulvey’s thesis is all about the way that being placed behind patriarchal eye-sockets also clues us in to the psychology of patriarchy, in that the repressed desire of the male gaze spills over into a kind of textual violence. Mulvey mostly talks about this in terms of the kind of shots (or film panels!) which are used, like cutting a woman’s body into hot little pieces, or that oh-so-familiar camera pan from pins to pony-tail that accompanies every good-looking woman’s filmic entrance, but if we wanted to keep it comics (and to be really mean) we could level some accusations at Frank Miller again, because he makes such secret neuroses so, so very unsecret. ‘Sin City’ in particular is unbelievably awful for this kind of thing, which, of course, incites comics fans to describe it as “cool”.
But back, thankfully, to ‘Watchmen’. I’ve already told you about the rape scene. You remember how it was. But Silk Spectre sleeps with The Comedian, later on, after the ‘Minutemen’ have disbanded. She sleeps with him consensually. We don’t see this, it happens in ellipsis, but it becomes apparent and even is a major plot point. Why on earth would she sleep with him after he tried to rape her? I wonder that during romance novels (my absolute favourite being one where the female protagonist is kidnapped and repeatedly raped in order to produce an heir for the male lead. And then they fall in love and get married. No, honestly. It’s called ‘Catriona/Kate’, and written by an author from Taranaki.) I wondered that after watching the movie. I did not wonder that after reading the comic. I knew why she did it. And I felt the burn of that knowledge deep down in my soul.
What happened is that Silk Spectre slept with The Comedian because he respected her power. Because, in the Classical Realist Text of comics, the power to incite desire was the only power that Sally was allowed. Because she acted and dressed exactly the way comics required her to act and dress and men enacted vengeance upon her for that crime. Silhouette, the other female character in the ‘Minutemen’, was murdered for being a lesbian (or as Rorschach puts it, is ‘a victim of her own indecent lifestyle’ and Sally was threatened with rape by one of her own team-mates. And she was not allowed to be powerful in any other way.
Call it Stockholm Syndrome if you like, especially given the way she fondly fingers her Tijuana Bibles and keeps every one of her highly sexual fan letters, but call it recognition too. Because once Sally marries and gives up her role as superhero, she is somebody’s wife in the absolute 1950s stereotype meanings of the word. Those are Sally’s options: power through sexual spectacle, or no power at all. They are not great options. But for women of that time, they were very goddamn real.
This is where ‘Watchmen’ becomes astronomically complex, and where the alterations in the movie show themselves as simplifications. The comic story does not make rape okay. It presents Sally Jupiter as an intelligent, complex women with a real psychology and real choices, in tension with a real, and very violent patriarchal structure. The world of 1940s superheroes is presented in ‘Watchmen’ just like the world of 1940’s gender in real life, and just like the comics of the 1940’s. If Sally is to be powerful in these contexts at all, she must accept a limited definition of power, and she must expect to be punished for any transgression. Not because that’s right, but because that world sucks, which is why ‘Watchmen’ so relentlessly brings it to my attention.
Naturally, The Comedian, who functions (to quote Rorschach again) as a hyper-real “parody” of the human condition, is the man to make this plain. Her consensual sex with him later is not a recognition that she really wanted to be raped after all, but the recognition that the structural violence of past patriarchy had many homes, and that women’s power was gradually found in the spaces between them. To be strong again, Sally had to be the one in charge of that power. And, out of their consensual union, as Dr. Manhattan muses at great length, came the one and only Laurel Jane Juspeczyk.
I could go into rhapsodies about the sensational feminism in just having Laurie accuse Sally of failing in her feminist duties and having to eventually understand the changes between the times they inhabit, not to mention all the intricacies of the subjugated-to-men statuses that Laurie negotiates in the comic (the fact that Laurie is the one teach to teach Dan “Nite Owl” Dreiberg to enjoy wearing his Nite Owl costume for sex is also something I’d like to talk about at length.) I could go into these rhapsodies because I have these conversations with my mother. Not about her being raped by vile libertarians, but because she occupied a successful position in a male dominated field, because she stuck rigidly to her own surname despite two marriages, because she raised two children while doing a law degree, but she still freaks out when I won’t wear make-up and heels. “Girls wear high-heels, Robyn” is actually something she has said to me. Feminism has been a long fight. And it changes all the freaking time, and just having two women, in the same place, talking about it, having different views about it, in a medium that is designed for male readers is maybe the coolest thing that has ever happened to me as a comics reader with lady parts since Roberta Gregory’s ‘Bitchy Bitch’.
The thing about this is, after a while, as a girl reading comics, it becomes just as irritating to read about women who are strong and powerful because they don’t get weighed down by that “women stuff” as it is to read about women who aren’t allowed to do anything because they are women. Women are and have been subject to different social pressures than men have been. ‘Watchmen’ is a comics story does not make rape okay, it simply presents all superheroes, INCLUDING the women ones, as incredibly fucked up people and the world they live in as an incredibly fucked up world. It is not the world of the movie.
I keep going on about these differences, but I think I should just sum it up for you thusly: one of the magazines in the narrative, New Frontiersman, has an advertising sign that reads “in your hearts, you know it’s right.” About half way through, the sign gets tagged with the word “wing” (…under “right”, of course.) The film reproduces the advertisement but not the graffiti. You with me? The film reproduces Sally’s love of her Tijuana Bibles but not her clipped out, and very, very savage review of a porn film which is pretty much about her.
The film reproduces Dan and Laurie having wild sex after dressing up their costumes and doing violence, but the violence goes for way longer and Laurie’s reassurance about the costumes is cut. And so on. And et cetera. We’re not meant to think about what we’re seeing here. We’re meant to absorb it. That patriarchal structure is still there, of course, in ‘Watchmen’ film version, it’s just invisible. Which makes it the frame. Which makes it the “truth”. The point of this comic is to drag that frame into focus and in so doing, rip it apart, not just in terms not just in terms of gender, but in terms of heroes and politics and everything else. But it failed. The movie is proof of this failure, and the whole thing makes me want to reach for my Walter Benjamin and cry.
It’s much too big a task for one comic, of course. Comics, being what they are, have simply moved on. I don’t know where the whim of the individual goes, but probably to Zinefest. And in the meantime, for attempting the narrative destruction of heroes, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons remain mine.
1. As Christopher Butcher of Comics 212 writes, “to be fair, it’s not just comics fans, lots of dudes are completely and utterly uncomfortable with their sexuality, but Comic Fans are pretty special in that regard, and comics characters have long been so artistically dickless as to be concave where their genitals should be it’s not surprising that they’re a little on edge.” http://comics212.net/2007/04/19/afraid-of-cock/
2. For serious, if I hear one more fan-boy defending the depth of Miller’s constant ritualizing of violence upon women, I swear I will turn into She-Hulk.
Robyn Kenealy is a Wellington writer and cartoonist.
For more reviews and commentary see…
Reviews Commentary Etc.. #1 (Tim Bollinger)