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

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

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