Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Mind MGMT 22, originally released May 28th, 2014.
Drew: It would be foolish to attempt to define Art in a write-up of a single issue of a comic book (even if that issue happens to dance on the edge of that definition), but I do think we can easily define “art,” the colloquial term we use to describe any care put into the effect of something that could otherwise be “artless.” It’s what makes a story compelling, a building inviting, a meal delicious. With that definition, I’d like to posit magic as the purest form of “art” — it’s all about the effect. We’d never walk away from a magic act questioning it’s meaning, but we’re often impressed by the execution. Intriguingly, those effects are controlled in much the same way they are in other artforms — by setting up and defying our expectations — the only difference being that other art uses these effects as means to an end — a way of eliciting specific responses from the audience — whereas magic views those effects as an end unto themselves. It’s an intriguing duality, and as usual for Mind MGMT, Matt Kindt pitches this issue along the continuum between the two.
A complete discussion of this issue would have to start at the beginning — not page 1, but the cover, a clever subversion of Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, itself a clever subversion of the expectations of representational art. It’s one of the simpler defiances of expectations in art — we see a pipe and are told it is not a pipe — but also one of the most well-known. Magritte famously defended his seemingly contradictory painting by explaining that the painting is only an image of a pipe, but not an actual pipe. Here, Kindt asserts that the image of Maru — roughly in the shape of Magritte’s famous non-pipe — is, in fact, a pipe. Ultimately, this is no more false than if he had made the assertion with an image of something we might recognize as a pipe, but it is also, of course, no less false. Which is to say, it’s pretty absurd, though right at home in the world of Mind MGMT, where one might be made to believe that a woman actually is a pipe (or that a pipe actually is a woman). In any event, it beautifully sets the stage for an issue that goes on to similarly challenge our expectations.
Kindt then pulls us further into our expectations of art, as he details a pre-Mind Management artist with the ability to make his audience go insane. The twist is, the art has no effect whatsoever — it’s the frames that drive people crazy. It’s a clever subversion of our expectations in art — the frame is supposed to be insignificant, an afterthought only noticed if it distracts from the painting — but it may also be a clever allegory for comics. In Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud suggests that the gutter may be the single most important component of sequential art, the space where the creator’s imagination stops, and the audience’s takes over. In that way, the frame truly is where the power of comic art comes from. Obviously, the contribution of the artist is ultimately important — and where all of the effects that make spark our imagination come from — but Kindt seems to be elevating the gutter as a nexus of audience/artist interaction.
The meat of the issue follows the Magician’s story as she recounts her experiences with Mind Management, as well as her fitful attempts to leave the organization. Eventually, she went into hiding, using her abilities to disguise herself. The “art” here is her explanation that the life she led incognito is no less valuable than the the ones we’re all leading — in much the same way Meru is no less a pipe than a painting of a pipe would be — her feelings were genuine, and that’s all that matters. She has no interest in the Eraser’s battle with Lyme, but Maru ruined her life when she blew her cover mid-performance, explaining why she had come to work so effectively against our team.
If we can even talk about a team anymore — by the end of the issue, only Perrier and Meru are still alive, and Meru is set up in the same brainwashing rig that we saw fail so horribly in the Magician’s flashback. Things are looking pretty grim for our team.
But then Kindt hits us with another backup detailing Meru and Bill’s tour of Flux Houses, this time in an art gallery. All of the art here is framed by that artist from the beginning, drawing our attention once again to the medium. Kindt takes that a few steps further, inviting his comic creator friends to create the paintings, and having Bill mention, apropos of nothing, that he used to read comics (instead of appreciating art). It’s a loaded moment, and I’m not entirely sure I’m prepared to unpack it, but since I started at the beginning, it only seems fair to leave you to start at the ending here, Patrick. What do you make of that final scene — and do you think it’s significant that it comes after the death of Bill and capture of Meru?
Patrick: You’re not joking about how loaded that last scene is. Not only does it seemingly have a lot to say about the value of comics as art — both as “fine-art” and as commercial art — but it ties back to the Magician’s point about the longevity of Management in one form or another. She described her band of revolutionaries as a sort of proto-Mind-MGMT, and complains throughout that no matter how pure their motivations seemed to be, the Ad Man and Fuega always had to answer to someone. By the coda of the issue, the conversation has turned back to how many Agents are standing idly by, seemingly awaiting orders from a non-existent authority.
For me, when not expressly dealing with the power of art, this issue if fundamentally about order and anarchy, and how the difference between to the two can be as little as believing in the central mission of an organization. The Magician stumbles on this truth when she’s explaining why it’s impossible to fight Management, but the conclusion is far more meaningful than that.
This is where we can start to draw a thematic link back to art. Sorry, I’ll use the capital A, just like Drew did: the connection to Art. The very fact that we might try to define Art, or specify when something is or is not Art, means that its an institution we hold in high esteem. But Art isn’t governed by any kind of oversight board, and Art can have no responsibility for itself. Drew brings up the works of Scott McCloud, who famously places the ownership of the comic reading experience on the reader as much as on the writer and artist. So Art has no motive, then it cannot be stopped, cannot be fought, cannot be resisted.
That’s all very big picture stuff, but Kindt really excels and delivering the small, evocative details. When the Magician is recounting the how their propaganda inspired others, she mentions “musicians” and the image that accompanies this voice over box is totally different from what you might expect.
I guess I don’t know exactly what image pops into my head at the phrase “revolutionary music,” but I guess I go more toward protest folk songs — Pete Seeger kind of shit. Not only is this image more relevant, it’s even more loaded, packing in a dangerous 70s punk aesthetic. I remember hearing a story about a Stooges show where Iggy Pop, always shirtless, fell off the stage on onto a table. There were glasses on the table, which shattered and lodged themselves in the front-man’s chest. Fueled by drugs and anarchy, Iggy got back up on stage and danced and sang for another hour, defiantly bleeding everywhere. Who knows how true that story is? The point is that it added to the Stooges’ mystique and helped to inspire the whole punk movement. Kindt can tap into the emotional power of this moment, even if he’s not depicting Iggy Pop exactly.
Between that and the Migrette-eque cover, I have to wonder what other visual references I’m missing. There’s a still from the propaganda movie that I can’t quite get out of my head — a headless dog that projects a complete shadow.
What’s most interesting though is that Kindt does not appear to be making a value judgement about the effect of art, he simply states over and over again that it is effective. In fact, the idea that it’s impossible to pin morality to it is almost explicitly stated by the Magician. Again, that doesn’t leave us with the clearest message to take away from this issue, but it certainly does get the reader thinking. And that’s where the real magic happens anyway: in our imaginations.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?