The Seeds 1: Discussion

by Drew Baumgartner and Patrick Ehlers

The Seeds 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Drew: Like a lot of people, I was deeply resistant to the concept of symbolism in my high school English classes. I don’t know if I resented this new (to me) world of symbols that I was so bad at identifying, or if I just lacked the imagination to conceive of writers having more literary tastes and aspirations than 15-year-old me, but I was incredulous that symbolism even existed in the works I was reading. My teacher was reading way too much into things (because, I reasoned, making things overcomplicated and boring was her job), and that no writer actually intended for these images to have any non-literal meaning. But my fixation on intent blinded me to the much more complex world of who was observing the symbolism. Is it just me, the reader, or are the characters themselves ascribing deeper meanings to the objects and actions around them? Or what if it’s the narrator, conjuring some kind of coherent aesthetic for the narrative as a whole? Perhaps it’s not the “writer,” but some diegetic force crafting these symbols, perhaps as clues to their motives or intentions? These are all questions wish I could go back to my teen self and ask, but honestly, I might be better off handing him a copy of Ann Nocenti and David Aja’s The Seeds 1, which interweaves all of these modes of symbolism with breathtaking ease. Continue reading

Idol Worship in She Could Fly 1

by Drew Baumgartner

She Could Fly 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Is familiarity the opposite of idolatry? I suspect it’s only possible to idolize a celebrity or public figure because they’re unknown. Because we’re unfamiliar with their annoying habits or bad smells, we mythologize them as some kind of immaculate demigod, incapable of error. It’s easy to come up with a certain political example, but this is true for most public figures, from Elon Musk to Taylor Swift. We only know so much about these people, and in the cases where we like them, our brain rushes in to fill the rest with perfection. This is obviously the case for Luna Brewster, who has pinned her imagination to a mysterious woman seen flying over Chicago. Continue reading

Blackwood 1: Discussion

by Mark Mitchell and Ryan Mogge

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Mark: It’s pretty insane that we choose which college we’re going to attend based on almost zero context. Sure, you can take a campus tour, read about the experiences of alumni, and maybe even shadow a current student for a day or two, but in the end choosing a college — any college — is an immense leap of faith. This seems to be doubly true of attending Blackwood College, the eponymous school of the occult in Evan Dorkin and Veronica Fish’s Blackwood 1, as none of the students we meet in this premiere issue seem to have much understanding of what they’ve signed up for. Continue reading

Secret Identities are a Weakness in Incognegro Rennaisance 4

by Drew Baumgartner

Incognegro Renaissance 4

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Dark secrets are the number one motivator in noir, whether they’re motivating criminals (or witnesses) to hide the truth, or motivating detectives to uncover it. Indeed, the world of a noir story often feels like everybody has a deep dark secret they’re hiding from the world, leaving the detective with nobody to trust. It’s a great way to goose the tension of an investigation, but it can also feel a bit over-the-top, as though the secrets are there specifically to complicate the narrative. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a suspect be evasive about their alibi because they were with a mistress or something, but more than enough to spot it a mile away. Which makes the secrets in Incognegro Renaissance 4 a refreshing change of pace. Here, the secrets aren’t reduced to some underhanded act the characters want to hide, but are tied up in their very identities. The result is a much more interesting and nuanced vision of secret lives that draws on the realities of 1920s Harlem, as opposed to the fantasies of noir’s criminal world. Continue reading

The Virtue of Justice in Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden 2

By Michael DeLaney

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

In a world of glorified anti-heroes we often forget the merits of the old fashioned, tradtional hero. Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden 2 leans on the classic archetype of the law-abiding do-gooder in Inspector Ishida, who is in charge of the murder case that Usagi Yojimbo is working on. Continue reading

Elusive and Scattered Narratives in Mata Hari 3

by Mark Mitchell

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Mata Hari continues to be an interesting but ultimately elusive book in its third of five installments. Margaretha Zelle’s life is clearly worthy of examination, but the book itself is hamstrung by the extremely limiting nature of this mini-series’ run. Continue reading

Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden 1

by Patrick Ehlers & Michael DeLaney

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Patrick: I saw the new Wes Anderson movie, Isle of Dogs, this weekend. It’s cute, moody and starkly graphic — it fulfills the promise made by the phrase “Directed by Wes Anderson.” But the film also has a weird relationship with its setting: the Japanese language and and culture represent the alien in its own country. The dogs that we follow around, who are the heroes of this story, are all voiced, speaking English, by white American actors. A note tells us early on that barks and translated into English, but Japanese will remain untranslated (unless when done diegetically). For whatever argument you can make for Anderson’s reverence of the language and the culture (to say nothing of employing a bunch of Japanese actors and film folk), there’s no denying that the Japanese-ness of Isle of Dogs is meant to be novel and out of the ordinary. Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden 1 takes the exact opposite route, making damn sure that the East is familiar and the West is exotic. Continue reading

Mata Hari 1: Discussion

by Mark Mitchell and Patrick Ehlers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Mark: One of the corollaries to the Harvey Weinstein revelations and the #METOO and #TIMESUP movements is the healthy reexamination of other women in history who were victims, in one way or another, of systemic misogyny. Though they were produced before the movements began, last year’s Oscar nominated film I, Tonya makes the case for re-examining the way the media portrayed Tonya Harding — regardless of her guilt — and FX’s 2016 American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson television series was a notably empathetic portrayal of lead prosecutor Marcia Clark. The point of these and other reexaminations isn’t to canonize these women, but to consider that the truth of their stories is more complicated than the convenient daytime talk show-like narratives that surround them.

Writer Emma Beeby calls out Harvey Weinstein by name in her author’s note at the end of Mata Hari 1, noting specifically that “now is the perfect moment to tell the story of what happens when women are without power.” Continue reading

Different Kinds of Powers and Responsibilities in Incognegro Rennaisance 1

by Drew Baumgartner

Incognegro Renaissance 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Way back in August of 1962, Peter Parker learned that with great power must also come great responsibility. It’s an important lesson, though the fact that Peter’s “power” manifests as literal superhuman abilities seems to leave some readers confused about what their own responsibilities are. In the intervening years, our discourse on power has gotten a lot more nuanced than whether someone can or can’t stick to walls, which has in turn changed our expectations of individual responsibility. Of course, the predominantly white, predominantly male world of superheroes might not be the best place to explore the more subtle (but no less powerful) issues of power and responsibility that come along with race and gender, which is exactly what made Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro so remarkable when it hit stands in 2008. Indeed, the obvious differences between Incognegro and the superhero genre may make the comparison seem absurd — and it may well be — but their prequel series, Incognegro: Renaissance, takes on the familiar (and appropriate) form of the superhero origin story, complete with its own call to action about power and responsibility. Continue reading

Hungry Ghosts 1: Discussion

By Drew Baumgartner and Ryan Desaulniers

Hungry Ghosts 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

They found her body sprawled across the grave. Without realizing it, she had plunged the knife through her skirt and had pinned it to the ground. It was only the knife that held her. She had died of fright.

Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Drew: Like every kid who grew up in the ’90s, I’m intimately familiar with Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories books — the perfect camp fire/slumber party fodder. But “The Girl Who Stood on the Grave” (sometimes known as “The Dare”), whose punchline I spoiled above is the only one that ever actually scared me. Even as a kid, I never believed in ghosts, so stories of long-dead apparitions leaving their sweaters behind or whatever felt more like jokes than anything. But the thought of scaring oneself to death felt all too real when watching my friends get spooked by the other nonsense in the book. I doubt I knew who FDR was at that point, but even then I understood that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Which is to say, I’m far more interested in the telling of ghost stories than I am in the stories themselves. And I suspect we’re all a little that way — it’s why Tales from the Crypt had the Crypt Keeper and Are You Afraid of the Dark? had those terrible child actors — the ritual of telling scary stories is just as important as the scary stories themselves. It’s a notion that Hungry Ghosts taps into twofold, offering a framing story within a framing story, as a Crypt Keeper type tells us the story of people sitting around telling ghost stories. Continue reading