Comics!

After the fiasco of the first comic store I went to (recap: here), I found one in Boulder called Time Warp that is both a.) huge with a great selection of comics and trades, b.) very professional, and c.) the place where Adam and I got little figurines of Deadpool and Black Widow to be our cake toppers.

Everyone there is extremely knowledgeable, helpful, and not antagonistic toward those of a different gender / role-playing schtick.

Adam and I go there about once a week to peruse the selections. Neither of us are hard core comic nerds; mostly we just like to trade-wait for our favorites.

WHICH IS WHAT THIS POST IS ALL ABOUT.

Given the popularity of top ten lists, I’m going to count down over the next few days my favorite comics. Some are done with their storylines, others are still running. Some are new, well, all of them are new, so let’s not worry about the fact that none are older than ten years and just skip on ahead.

I mean, we all know that Sandman, The Watchmen, Fables, Hellboy and Y: The Last Man are fantastic and they need to be read. (I have yet to come to a consensus about Preacher being in this list, but that’s another bloggy post.) I think this Top Ten list can do without that which goes without saying. Most of these are a little indie, in that they’re not DC and Marvel, but every good list needs some recognizable heroes, eh? Awards go to those with outstanding writing, great art, and interesting plot lines. (Listen up, Hollywood. WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT IS LADY LOKI well-written superheroes. The two need not be mutually exclusive.)

10.) Sweet Tooth (Vertigo) 2009-2013 — by Jeff Lemire. I have never heard of Jeff Lemire, but the synopsis of this one is just too good to pass up. It’s post-apocalyptic Nebraska and there are animal-human hybrids. Young Gus is just such a one, a boy with deer antlers and ears (and, surprisingly, not the only comic on this list dealing with people with horns!) and after the death of his father, he does the forbidden: he leaves his compound to explore the rather messed-up world where those like him are ostracized and hunted.

Where the fun comes in is with the wackiness. I hate statements that start with “it’s part…” and then go on to say, “…and part…” but it’s part The Road and part Homeward Bound, equal parts horrific depression and cutesy uplifting and all of it is fantastic. The great thing about a comic that is so unlike anything else is that it’s hard to predict what will happen. Not knowing how the universe works yet and why things are the way they are makes adds tension and suspense and is a favorite plot device of mine. The creativity to make something like this is borderline creepy, but it works so well given the meager dialogue and heart-breaking plot.

Also, comics are some of the most emotive forms of entertainment and this one hits me right in the feels, bro. The art is evocative, being fleshed-out enough to give a sense of world-building and letting the known — farms and crops, trees and the sparseness of that climate — but is just a little off-putting to dish out a big ol’ heaping of defamiliarization so as to continue to exude a sense of wrongness about the world. You begin to care so much for odd little Gus so that when bad things happen to him — I mean, it IS post-apocalyptic, so it can’t be too happy — you almost dare not read ahead.

My only dislike is it seems to meander, as if the author didn’t quite know where he was going, which is not uncommon for serialized comics. But, given that I’ve read only the first volume Out of the Woods (#1-5), and at a 40 issue run, there’s still plenty of time to pull the many strands together and create a phantasmagoric coming-of-age story. This one was recommended to me by serious comic nerds, so I don’t take their words lightly.

Also, Lemire does both the writing AND the drawing. That’s a talented dude, bro.

STAY TUNED FOR THE REST, BAT FOLK.

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“On Looking into the Eyes of a Demon Lover”

I was told by a very influential teacher — Mr. Renaissance Man as I call him because he flies helicopters, speaks Ancient Greek and Latin, builds cabinets, makes his own bows and arrows and shoots them, teaches History, Latin, and Philosophy and is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met — that I would have to don some spiritual armor if I ever wanted to read two specific books. They are A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and The Red Cavalry by Isaak Babel.

(Of course, both of these books have incredibly tragic histories regarding the lives of the authors — Burgess based his satiric novel on an assault on his wife by marauding soldiers and Babel served in the Red Army during the Russian Civil War and saw the horrors perpetrated by disenchanted, roving men and was later killed by Stalin — so that may have something to do with it.)

I’m going to go ahead and add The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath to that list. (I cried my eyes out managed a few manly sniffles at The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, but that’s different.) In the instance of Plath, however, it may be because I was forced to read her poetry for about a month in high school and analyze up the wah and out the zoo of her. Regardless, there’s still a soft spot in my heart for her, unlike Latin American Literature.*

Achnyway, here’s an awesome poem by Plath that may be the inspiration for an awesome title!**

Here are two pupils
whose moons of black
transform to cripples
all who look:

each lovely lady
who peers inside
take on the body
of a toad.

Within these mirrors
the world inverts:
the fond admirer’s
burning darts

turn back to injure
the thrusting hand
and inflame to danger
the scarlet wound.

I sought my image
in the scorching glass,
for what fire could damage
a witch’s face?

So I stared in that furnace
where beauties char
but found radiant Venus
reflected there

This poem stabbed me in the back with a Finnish knife.*** I was flabbergasted at the 24 lines of brilliance that absolutely encapsulated the texture of my novel in words I wish I could have written myself. (I would write poetry, but after being editor of a high school literary magazine and having my lines cut down like Justin Bieber on the internetz by a bunch of swarthy, pimply-faced, angsty-poetry-writing teenagers, I’ve been scarred.)

The main theme here is inversion; what is expected is not what ultimately appears. This gives a sense of both defamiliarization (a favorite literary technique of mine, though I under-use it) and altered expectations. Beauties look into this ‘mirror’ and are left with the “body / of a toad” and the narrator, a “witch” with a demonic boyfriend, finds “radiant Venus.”

First of all, a demon, an Other, as a reflection of human nature is an iconic theme. Demons, or even the Devil himself, are a natural mirror for those aspects of ourselves that we don’t like, or are unable to comprehend. Much like the Devil was created because there are aspects to God — like, why does he allow us to suffer? Why is he so wrathful? — that are projected onto a separate figure, so are demons already a reflection of those unsavory aspects of humanity. Like a Jungian Trickster figure — think of Joker from Batman as a classic example of a chaos-inducing, evil-for-evil’s-sake anarchist — this poem inverts the normal into the profane and vice-versa. Marilyn Munster’s relationship to the rest of the macabre clan is an example of this.

The fire imagery recalls both the hellish aspects of the poem and passion. If we’re talking Dracula-type of passion, in that Dracula himself is a symbol for the repressed sexuality of the late 19th century, this could be an allegory for the narrator’s meditations on her own sexuality in the form of Venus, but a somewhat perceived danger to others, those beauties who end up charring because of the narrator’s daring. The participles — “thrusting,” “scorching,” and “burning” — along with the constant references to fire are all very aggressive, something that would not be tolerated in a woman during Plath’s time.

I particularly like this poem because I share some of the imagery in my novel. Especially toads, which are a symbol of betrayal and ugliness — see the African myth explained in the first Hellboy graphic novel — and the mirroring aspects. My characters may not always have reflections, but that could be because they don’t like what they see; Main Character Gwen is much like the narrator in that she has a demon lover, is often thrust into a cluster-cuss-furnace of anger and “burning darts,” but can always find the humanity buried deep beneath the surface.

This also can describe the love/hate relationship that Main Villain #2 Nathaniel-the-Douche-Canoe has with Gwen. He loves her but is also repulsed by her; he wants to possess her, but oftentimes at the cost of his own flesh and sanity. His love is never returned and he becomes enmeshed in his own private hellish furnace that turns him into a “cripple.”

Which is why, dear readers, I really want to pay homage to this poem in my novel by either having it at the beginning or by having the title refer to it. Problem is, Two Moons of Black sounds like a mixture of bad angsty teenage poetry and Native American mythology; Where Beauties Char doesn’t really fit with the vampire theme; and anything else just sounds like a bad romance novel.

*I rate Latin American literature like I do the band Vampire Weekend: such an awesome name, such a bad band. If you carry that metaphor a little better, I love the idea of magical realism, but haven’t been able to shake my knee-jerk I-just-drank-coffee-after-eating-grapes reaction every time I even hear about Pedro Paramo or One Hundred Years of Solitude or House of the Spirits. Though, technically The Master and Margarita is classified in that same genre, but, let’s face it, there are vampires in that book. I’ll get Gabriel Garcia Marquez on the phone and see if he wants any pointers.

**My sister was reading an article that says the word du jour of the American teenager right now is awesome. Maybe those guys should get a thesaurus or go to a writer’s workshop or something.

***The Master and Margarita. Don’t worry ’bout it.