Friday, November 12, 2010


Easily the best new feature-length comic that's come out this year, “Drinking at the Movies” heralds something shocking for the modern world of comics – the return of that fully-distilled emotional nudity that made the latter-undergrounds and 90's alternatives so legendary. It was an element of many popular comics that was easy to make fun of, and by the late 90's it seemed like everyone had copied the structure of self-introspective books like “HATE”, certain amazing pieces in “Eightball” and “Peep Show”. However, without the manic neurosis of these books, the end result was simply a xeroxed sea of sad, tepid “woe is me” junk. In retrospect, it's as if the style died out for a newer wave, one of falsely-intellectual absurdity. People seemed afraid to bear their true feelings in the major output of comics this past decade, instead creating either acid-influenced nonsense so abstract it could avoid any serious scrutiny, or even worse comics that were basically supposed to be humorous simply because they weren't funny at all.

As with current mainstream film, television, and literature, indie comics seemed 95% terrified of being GENUINE. Having an unaltered, perhaps ugly slice of reality became unpopular – and it's a goddamn shame, too. Art's potential is often related to just how genuine it is. Peter Bagge's tale of Buddy Bradley (from Neat Stuff through to the recent HATE Annuals) is as classic and as wonderful a story as any piece of literature that America has yet produced, and Justin Green's “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary” (1970) is every bit as affecting as Salinger's “Catcher In the Rye”. It's the genuine aspect of these works that makes them excel; at their core they are ONLY truth mixed with twisted, vibrant story-telling. Even the most fantastic elements become believable because they're not presented like just facts on a piece of paper; the reader is made to believe they are some insane character's version of the absolute truth.

So, the comics-world probably wasn't ready for Julia Wertz – her truthful, self-deprecating adventures seem to begin with the fact that she feels far removed from anything resembling a “respected” 20-something cartoonist. One gets the sense she begins her projects by staring at a blank page, pen in hand, thinking for a few moments; then says aloud “fuck it” and draws what that voice in the back of her head is begging her to keep secret. The funny and endearing nature of Wertz's comics bring back floods of memories from works by artists like Joe Matt, Mary Fleener, Lynda Barry, and of course Diane Noomin (why isn't she the most famous cartoonist in the world, by the way?) as well as the previously mentioned Bagge and Green.

Like the most talented filmmakers and authors, the best comic artists realize their medium and exploit it appropriately. It's one of the stronger elements of Wertz's work here – the story, while technically being a 200 page narrative about moving to NYC, mal-adjusting into alcoholism and self-loathing, and then eventually overcoming some really huge, crippling fears (and not in some unbelievable, TV-movie style either); is peppered throughout with various different breaks in style, time, and most welcome of all, the narrative itself. Wertz will derail her tale without notice, and all of a sudden Sherlock and Watson are there, following around her escaped brain trying to figure out why cartoon Julia makes such poor choices. Time-travel/flashbacks, MAD-esque “pros and cons”, total fantasy; it's ALL possible here. This story, which is told as best as it could possibly be told, could only be told in comics form. In “Drinking at the Movies” there's even mention of “Fart Party” (Wertz's first two books are under this title) being turned into a TV show or movie. While the humor and basics of the story are applicable to other mediums, it would be impossible to duplicate the essence of “Drinking at the Movies” because it's so perfectly rooted in its awesome comic-ness. Visually, Wertz has established her own style that (wonderfully) seems to stem from 90's and 2000's alternative comics and TV cartoons. It houses the humor (and softens the pathos) in a way that makes all its elements seem inseparable, like Beavis and Butthead, South Park, or the Simpsons.

“Drinking At the Movies” is refreshing, it comes off almost as a semi-unconscious throwback to what many would call a hey-day of creativity in comics. But it's also vibrantly new. The nasty social-networking/ego-porn that saturates so many young people nowadays is neither absent nor preached about, it's present and not ignored, but never the focus. The time and place is very accurate (Brooklyn late 2000's), and the portrayals of the types within its population are all on point. For those who live in the areas she writes about and draws it's almost eerie. These comics will be a valuable time capsule of human ridiculousness in years to come. 50 years from now, formerly-very-cool grandparents will slam down a copy of "Drinking at the Movies" in front of their grandchildren and be able to say "I'M NOT LYING, SEE? BROOKLYN WAS ACTUALLY LIKE THIS!"

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I have been gone for so, so long. I'm sorry.

But I will be back. I'm at a new job, and I'm without time or a scanner.

But I'm getting one ... soon!


Wednesday, April 28, 2010


"INTRINSIC" - what a great word. It means "Of the essential nature of a thing". I obsess over the intrinsic value of many things - the surface, while tangible, is potentially misleading. What are the elements of a thing that REALLY make that thing THAT THING? Paul McCartney has a great quote - once, after being asked incessantly about the Beatles during an interview he said this: "The Beatles were a very good band". WOW. Now, on the surface it may appear humorously simple. But think about it - what does it MEAN to be a good band? Well, there's an endless list of little things that count for a lot- and they can even change 100% depending on the artist you're talking about. The answer of course lies in the intrinsic nature of being a good band, and even more gloriously in that there is no exact definition for the term! I won't pose here, I'm giving it to you straight - the answer is mystical. It's cosmic, and it's beyond moment-long human understanding.

I encounter anti-creative people all the time. Most of them have gone to college, and perhaps the MOST anti-creative of which went to art school. I got into a discussion with a young woman recently that nearly bowled me over. Referring to Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana I stated that: [the 90's] was perhaps the last time we (America) would have "real" music played on the (top 40) radio, and that that was a very sad thing. I claimed that Nirvana was important, because it proved that audiences ultimately want the work of individuals, of artists, and not music produced by committee (as nearly all music on mainstream radio is now). I claimed that the music industry thrives on controlling the artists it creates (or appropriates) because people that make music from their own hearts/minds/gut have proven to be thoroughly non-understanding when it comes to what their label thinks would be a "good direction" - OBVIOUSLY. I said major record labels do not, in any way, attempt to find the most creative artists they can; to which she replied "yes they do - they love that!". She went on to explain that record labels would love for another Nirvana to come along so they could be snatched up and make them lots of money. I barely knew what to say!

I see it like this - Nirvana marked the failure of controlled, marketable music. The music on the radio by the late 80's was SO homogenized and interchangeable (and again, by committee) that once Nirvana was made available to people, they freaked out. Like if you had someone trapped in your basement and only fed them your boogers for 5 years then offered them a HUGE Banana Split. As real as this factor was, major (and minor nowadays) record labels are simply NOT interested in finding people who are working hard at being creative on their own terms. Major record labels believe that THEY KNOW what people want and have made a business of shoving it in people's faces AND THEN covering enormous losses by gouging the unknowing consumer. Through red tape and bullshit, they've found a way to keep a failing system afloat.

After I attempted to convey these logistics, she replied, "well, they were just guys with guitars". Now, I'm quite aware of the literal fact that Nirvana were in fact a band made up from three (or four) men just like any other band that came down the pipe - BUT can one seriously say there wasn't something special about Nirvana? Or the Beatles? As much as these are indeed two groups that I love very much, I think I can safely say that there was absolute genius in what these artists did, just like ANY remembered artist from history. I don't look at Da Vinci's paintings all the time, but when I see the Mona Lisa I don't say "Eh, he was just a guy with a paintbrush".

Was Houdini just "a guy who could get out of a lot of stuff"? Was Thomas Edison just "a guy who thought of some stuff"? God-fucking-damnit NO, NO they WERE NOT - they were geniuses! Artists with visions SO big that a whole lifetime wasn't enough! Do people really have NO understanding of Wonder anymore? Wonder is the KEY to being truly open-minded. Wonder is the miracle that mindless, frightened losers attempt to squash when they see it in us, the lonely few prone to actually using our imaginations. I know I said it before, but I really mean it - as I get older I want to distance myself as far as possible from the type that claim intellectual superiority simply because they look DOWN on EVERYTHING. Were there people during Tchaikovsky's time that said "You know Swan Lake isn't THAT cool ..." I'm sure there were. And if ANY of the creative output of these naysayers is available to read today, I'll bet it looks ... kinda stupid. Or perhaps like they were trying too hard. Or maybe like they were simply a fucking idiot that didn't know a damn thing. I'm more and more concerned with how my actions will look given the perspective of future history, and less and less so with the peer pressure of the present.

Can EVERYTHING be boiled down to the cold-hard facts and stuck under a microscope just so some fearful little speck with some paperwork on his wall can say "Eh - not that great". FUCK YOU! It would be less blatantly obvious if some of these cynical folks were creating important, real art - but they're not. Smug equals scared. Here again we have the destructive nature of the pseudo-intellectual mind seeping into different aspects of human creativity, now that it's been going on for YEARS there are poor souls who know nothing else; and go to "school" to back up their belief - in NOTHING.