Letters to Holly

Friday, February 23

The Vonnegut Moment

In the classic Annie Hall, Woody Allen argues with a fellow movie patron about Marshall McLuhan. To hammer home his point, Woody brings the McLuhan from off-camera, and he destroys the other guy. It's one of those surreal comedy moments Allen excels at.

There's also a nice, little Rodney Dangerfield movie called Back to School. HBO used to show it roughly 30 times a day. A rich businessman goes to college to show his show how far he's willing to support him. The teacher assigns a paper on Kurt Vonnegut. The dad hires Kurt Vonnegut to write the paper. The writer shows up at the dorm room to get started. The teacher later accuses the student of cheating and says whoever wrote the paper didn't know anything about Vonnegut. And then Dangerfield chews out Vonnegut over the phone.

The scenes are similar enough that I lump them together in what I call the Vonnegut Moment. And I had one yesterday. This goes back to the continuing row over comic readers sharing their interest with women.

In the first indignant hysteria bomb that started this mess, the blogger cited my mention of Frank Miller and was aghast that I would suggest any woman read his material. She went on to say this: That sound you hear is Lea Hernandez's head exploding at the notion of Frank Miller as the perfect female-friendly cartoonist. When I responded, I cited this attitude attributed to Hernandez. And then she, or someone claiming to be Hernandez, appeared and called me out on it. I was Vonneguted. I told her that I was merely repeating what was said originally, and we've since drifted into a conversation about the growing trend in comics toward pure cheesecake art.

She has a point, and I agree with her. No one who's read comics for more than ten years can argue. What used to be all-age comic material (Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, etc.) has devolved into softcore as artists abandon storytelling for titillation. But my argument was to say a Frank Miller book like Sin City can't be lumped in with the current hero cheesecake. They aim for different audiences and tell different stories. At least they used to aim for different audiences. When Your Sis or you open up a Sin City comic, you would expect to see material that you might not expect from a Spidey comic (However, a recent comic displayed full frontal Spidey, and Marvel insists no one noticed until the book was printed and shipped). But the sad reality of comics is that kid readership has plummeted, and publishers are trying to win over the predominantly 20-something readers with lowest-common-denominator tactics. Ergo, tits a'plenty.

It's gotten so bad and artists have gotten so lazy that Marvel had to issue a memo demanding their people stop copying images directly from sources such as porn films, gossip magazines, and movie stills. It's really distracting to open a comic and see the artist has cast celebrities as certain characters. Samuel L Jackson, Eminem, Gene Hackman, Brad Pitt, Sawyer for "Lost," Lucy Liu. I've seen 'em with my own surprised eyes.

Hernandez railed against tit-and-ass in traditional superhero books, and she's right. You can't argue anymore that men are just as abstracted to physical perfection in comics, because artists aren't presenting male characters in such a blatantly exploitive way. We agree on that point, but I can't agree that women should be given only a certain type of comic or discouraged from reading other comics, because of their assumed delicate constitutions. And that's what I was saying when Hernandez (or someone claiming to be her) popped in to set the record straight.

What started as cliche internet rambling has become a chance to talk with a comic creator (or someone claiming to be her) about a pernicious development in the medium we work in.

And speaking of which ...

Picture of the Day
These are the thumbnails for the food comic. It's three pages. I always work thumbnails this way -- in ink and very small. You can see where I redid a panel or two and moved one strip to the top of the next page. Thumbnails allow the page architecture to develop before you commit to drawing. You can compile panel angles and cropping of bodies with an eye for word balloons and redundancies. I hammered out a quick script to be followed by a quick art session. I still don't know the deadline so I have to assume it's soonish. To save time, I'm going to run fine-art images in panels; that's why some panels only have words in them. You can click the image here for a larger version. You can do that with all my pictures. You knew that, right?

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