20 May 2008

glamourpuss and Maggots keep me up at night.

Dave Sim's glamourpuss and Brian Chippendale's Maggots have two things in common. (1) They are both books and (2) they are both not the type of books I expected them to be. glamourpuss is not a comic book. Maggots is not a graphic novel. Well, what are they then? I have no idea! These are the things that keep me up at night.

Dave Sim's new book glamourpuss has been covered on just about every comics blog and message board so the last thing it needs is another review. I review minicomcs and it's not my intention to get into reviewing a comic like this but the thing does stir some thoughts and makes me want to type them up. I think when it is all said and done that many folks on the internet will have to admit that they just couldn't help talking about this book. When 2008 is over, this book may end up being the most talked about book of the year other than your standard Marvel or DC crossover event. You have to give Dave Sim some credit for that. His internet promotional tour was at times a train wreck but it did stir up interest. I bought glamourpuss after all and I don't think I've ever paid money for a Dave Sim book in my life. (Well, maybe that thing with Spawn.) When you consider that this book is self-published, the amount of reviews and message board talk it has generated is staggering and it's hard for me to think about the book itself without the influence of what I have already read about it. Having said that, I now dive headfirst into the madness...

glamourpuss is an essay wrapped up in a sketchbook pretending to be a comic book. The essay is about the Alex Raymond school of art. Not a bad topic. I happen to love Alex Raymond's art so I found the essay interesting. The sketchbook is nice as well. The drawings are in the Alex Raymond and All Williamson style, both of which I am a fan. (By the way. The cover of the book contains the worst art of the whole project. Odd choice on Sim's part. Don't let the cover throw you, the interior art is really nice.) Now the comic book part is where things get messy. Remember I said it's a sketchbook pretending to be a comic book. Well, it's not even pretending very hard. If glamourpuss actually were a comic book, it would be a comic book about the idea of turning a sketchbook into a comic book. During his internet tour and in the book itself, Sim talks about glamourpuss being a parody and satire book but it really isn't. It's a book about a guy talking about the idea of making a parody and satire book. It's not a book about the character Glamourpuss, its a book about the idea of maybe, possibly, in some future issue, establishing a character called Glamoupuss. In short, it's just about the weirdest thing ever.
Most first issues of a comic series establish some characters and at least hint at some sort of storyline. This thing is just a guy talking about the type of comic he would like his series to be if he actually ever got around to making it. Now as far as that goes, I find this thing fascinating. I couldn't stop reading it and I've picked it up over and over since I bought it. It's like holding a trainwreck in your hands. It's like holding alien technology or some ancient artifact that should not exist in this world. It's also a good looking book. I love whatever paper the cover is made of and think it should be law that all pamphlet comics use this paper from now on. The interiors are nice. I want to buy and own comics that look this good. Dave Sim can draw and/or trace with admirable skill but reading the thing is like being inside the head of an insane narcissist acid burnout. It is interesting but I could only make it through about fourteen pages before I had to throw it on the couch and take a breather. I guess that kind of sums up my opinion of the thing. As a first issue, the thing is fascinating but I can't think of any possible way I would want to subject myself to a second issue. I mean, what exactly is this thing going to be? It's an essay that would appeal to only a small niche of artists and Alex Raymond fans. How many pages of an essay can a reader maintain interest in? Forcing myself through that last Scott McCloud book was about all the essay I can take for this decade so I'm probably not going to stick around for this. As far as the sketchbook elements go, yeah, I like the drawings but I'm sure that instead of spending $3 a pop for glamourpuss, I could just save up and go buy some Alex Raymond and Al Williamson books. As a comic book, well, glamoupuss is not a comic book. There is no character yet. I'm not sure which pages are supposed to be about Glamourpuss and which are not but few if any of them look like the same girl. That's the problem with this photo realistic style; it's hard to get enough pictures of one girl to fill a whole comic. Sim is not alone here. In the new Invincible Iron Man comic book, Salvador Larroca is obviously lifting photos and it causes some problems for me when your lead characters look like different people from page to page. (And c'mon Salvador, if your are going to lift photos of actresses for an Iron Man comic, shouldn't you have used Gweneth Paltrow instead of Nicole Kidman?)
If Dave Sim actually made a comic book about a fashion model who went trough some sort of character arc and drew the thing in the Alex Raymond style that would be interesting to me. That would be a fun comic book. glamourpuss is not that comic book. Will it ever be? Will anyone stick around to find out?

For those of you that have taken Dave Sim's wild ride through this whole glamoupuss internet saga/fake comic book experience, the journey is not complete until you have seen this video about how he traces/draws the thing. One thing I noticed is his voice. Dave Sim is Orson Wells. glamoupuss is F is For Fake.

Mr. Sim, for having defeated reason and common sense, I salute you.

Tom Spurgeon, whom I have several wheel barrows full of respect for, recently said "Maggots is a work that deserves to be discussed at every opportunity". I agree. Few books have set my mind thinking as much as it has. Brian Chippendale's book Maggots received a lot of critical praise at the end of last year so I bought it. I was in the mood to try something different and I bought it. I was disappointed by the size of the book versus the cost but I don't regret buying it. It is such an interesting thing that I pick it up and look through it almost every time I walk by the bookcase it is in. I love the look and the size of the thing. The unique page layout is like reading a puzzle. It's just a fun little thing to have and hold in your hand. I'm not going to get into a serious review of it but I'll say I like it, I'm glad I own it but it is not a comic and it is not a graphic novel. I think that at best it is a work of sequential art and that is interesting enough as long as the art is exciting and Chippendale's art is exciting on more pages than not. At worst, its' just a sketchbook drawn on a little Japanese book. That's not that bad either because, like I said, Chippendale's art is exciting. Either way, I don't think it's a graphic novel. Graphic? Yes, obviously. Novel? Not so much. A novel is a narrative having an overall pattern or plot. I guess you could argue that Maggots has a pattern. Little dudes running, climbing, fighting and having sex over and over is kind of a pattern and I guess you could call it a narrative but if there is a plot, I can't find it. And I tried, I really really tried. I read and re-read every panel and could not find a plot. Recurring themes? Check. Recurring characters? Check. Plot? Not so much. And that's okay. Like I said, this thing is a work of art and like all good art should be open to each viewer's/reader's interpretation. People sometimes compare comics to movies because they are both sequential visual mediums. For me, reading Maggots is more like listening to a song than it is watching a movie. Understanding a song is not critical to enjoying it but it's pretty important in a movie. I don't understand Maggots but I still enjoy it. I like it and I expect to see it's influence on some comics in the future.

Okay so what do glamourpuss and Maggots have to do with each other? Well they have both generated a lot of reviews and discussion but I find it really interesting how glamourpus has been derided for not really being a comic book while Maggots has been celebrated for not begin a graphic novel. Why is this? I think we forgive and apologize away any shortcomings of Maggots because it is told that Chippendale never intended for Maggots to be published. We look at it as a found art object and celebrate the freedom and energy it seems to hold. With glamourpuss on the other hand, it is Dave Sim's obvious intention both from his promotion and from his own statements in the book itself that he wants glamourpuss to be an ongoing series with a audience to buy it. Both books are self indulgent but Maggots does not demand or even ask anything of the audience. It just kind of exists and you like it or you don't. With glamourpuss, Sim asks the audience (and the retailer) to go on this crazy trip on his comic book shaped essay/sketchbook and he also seems to demand that the audience (and the retailer) acknowledge and respect his "evil genius" and bare with him even though his comic book shaped vehicle is not what said audience (and retailer) are accustomed to buying (and retailing). You know, comic books.

I can't get into either creator's head but from looking at these two works it is my own personal felling that Brian Chippendale sat down with that little Japanese catalog and set about filling it's pages with drawings without any agenda other than to have some fun and maybe challenge himself. This, I can appreciate and even envy on some levels and understand how some people can go so far as to praise and celebrate the thing. I understand this. Sim also sat down to have some fun and challenge himself but his ego took control of the thing and he managed to trick himself into thinking he could make a comic book series out of it. For this, I am in awe and fear of the man. This, I do not understand.

None of this will make it easier to sleep tonight.

Your best pal ever,
Shannon Smith

Editor's note: I started writing this post over a week ago. Not that I put that much time into it. I've just been very busy and couldn't find the time to spell check, insert pics and links etc. It is entirely a fluke that I own glamourpuss at all. I have only set foot in a comic shop on three occasions this year. Each time in a different comic shop. Each time in a different state. I don't live near any comic shops but I was in Bristol, Tennessee on the day before Mother's Day and managed to find the little comic shop where I had my first pull list when I was a kid. Mountain Empire Comics. I can remember mowing my grandmother's yard so that she would drive me there for the Spider-Man wedding event. The place has held up very well and I was pleasantly surprised to see a great selection of indie comics. This really blew me away because the shops near my former home of Snellville, Georgia never had the indie books and I always had to drive into Atlanta to get anything remotely adult. I also bought Rasl so it was a pretty good day.
Footnotes: Since I started typing this post there have been at least a half dozen new reviews of glamourpuss and even a few more new reviews of Maggots. Love it or hate it, there is no denying that Maggots and glamourpuss have legs and introwebnet people like talking about them. What follows are some links to some useful sites for any of my pals that are looking for some further reading on the subject.
Thought Balloons has an article that if nothing else is useful as a nice repository of Maggots and Chippendale related links.
Tom Spurgeon's overview of Fort Thunder is essential alt comics reading.
There are several discussion threads about glamourpuss at The Comics Journal's message boards: How Dave Sim does glamourpuss. Dave Sim's glamourpuss #2 PREVIEW. The Dave Sim internet tour/narrowly avoided train wreck question and answer thread at TCJ's message boards.
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