Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Monday, Jul 13, 2009
In the penultimate installment of ...Freezes Over , Hellblazer John Constantine escapes the paranoia of a snowed-in diner only to find the claustrophobia is nothing more than a construction of his own mind.

It was good to get out be out in the cold again.


The confines of a snowed-in diner somewhere in the Midwest were getting just a little too claustrophobic. Nerves were being frayed, tensions were mounting and tempers were just about to flare. Thrown into the mix, a stickup gang narrowly escaped from a bad robbery, one of them shot in the stomach, and a dead man found in the parking lot, his chest impaled by an icicle.


After 160 issues though, readers know that Constantine, the titular Hellblazer never walks into a place he can’t walk back out of. Writer Brian Azzarello, with artist Marcelo Frusin, capably provide the panoramic vistas of the Great Outdoors. Here are the open spaces readers have been longing for. Here is that sense of freedom from the dangers awaiting Constantine back in the diner. It wouldn’t be hard for Constantine to just walk away, leaving the diner behind him. In his hitherto 13 years of publication, Constantine has simply walked away on numerous occasions, usually leaving a trail of dead friends.


Constantine’s story is often about taking the gap and finding the better part of valor. But equally his story is often about conning the smug and the powerful. The stickup men in the diner ultimately prove too seductive a target. Before Constantine heads back for the final confrontation, he convinces a supporting character of the existence of an urban legend.


In doing so, Frusin offers a pithy rendering of Constantine’s psychology. Constantine does nothing but speak. Like a stage magician, Constantine’s charm and self-assuredness soon allow the luckless Pete to convince himself of the existence of the serial killer known as the Ice-Man. In doing so, Constantine’s inner world comes to life in the Great Outdoors. The confined, paranoid spaces of diner are shown to be nothing other than Constantine’s mind at play. In talking to Pete, that same confined comics reappears. And at the very moment readers begin to sympathize with Pete, Frusin switches view. Looking at Pete’s frown of uncertainty, readers share a metaphorical wink with Constantine.


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Saturday, Jul 11, 2009

In early 1995, Craig Newmark, a newcomer to San Francisco began sending out a weekly newsletter of mostly techie events and opportunities (jobs, apartments, lectures, etc.) to friends of his. Now some 14 years later, because of Craig Newmark, many cities now have a one-stop spot where you can find an apartment, find a jogging partner, sell your old furniture, or even find someone to have a ‘casual encounter’ with. And all this you can do ad-free and free of charge.  For many of us, especially city dwellers and young people, Craigslist has become an everyday reality and an indispensible tool for carrying out our daily lives.


What, might you ask, does Craigslist have to do with comics and sequential art? Had you asked me this question last year, I honestly would have been hard pressed to come up with a connection. I Saw You, a collection of comics inspired by Missed Connections on Craigslist (as well as some from newspapers), now provides an answer to the previously posed question. 


I Saw You seems like a particularly interesting addition to the comics canon as it’s one of the first to utilize the internet as a subject rather than a medium. While web comics like xkcd, Achewood, and The Perry Bible Fellowship (all recommended)  have all eventually decided to offer hard copy paper collections, I Saw You went the old-fashioned ink and paper route from its onset despite its use of the internet as inspiration. This choice elicits some interesting questions: what might a traditional, paper-based comic offer that web comics can’t? What about the space of the comic book store as a place of community for the comics reader that is generally absent from the consumption of web comics? How has the internet changed one’s sense of community in general and how has it specifically shaped and affected the community of fans and creators of comic art? These questions will be examined in more depth in an upcoming Iconographies post focusing on I Saw You as a lens through which to understand the complex ways the internet has shaped comics and community.


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Friday, Jul 10, 2009

When you watch a lot of people float away into the sky, and then wake up the next day to find magic is real and your neighbor has mutated, you might think to yourself, ‘I wonder if the rapture just happened, and I didn’t hear the trumpet,’ or ‘there has to be a scientific explanation for this.’  Either way, Jim Munroe banked on this confusion in his works Therefore Repent and his new series Sword of my Mouth.  Both stories follow people during the near-future dawning of a second dark age, in which magic is real but mostly impractical.  Medieval alchemy is out the window in this new age; gold is almost worthless, so who would bother trying. Instead the magic is just weird, like when a woman comes into a bar with a cat on her shoulders that is clearly alive but is made of dust balls and string. 


Sword of my Mouth continues the narrative of the first book, but moves the story to Detroit and begins with a new community of people.  It makes sense that following this rapture event, there would be a political and economic collapse.  Some people have kept going to their office jobs in hopes that they will make the cut for a second ascendance.  There is still a president who is a friend of a Jesus-type person, though he has lost most of his authority.  All the same, people continue make most decisions based upon the moral codes on which they were raised.  People have rebuilt their communities in ways that are pretty similar to the social structures in which they have lived their whole lives, but decision-making and trade has become more localized.


The city is still considered a dangerous place.  Though not much more dangerous than before, attackers have adopted a different mythology and might have a mutated animal head or come swooping in as a genocidal angel with a machine gun.  The beauty of these books is that most panels depict lives that don’t differ that greatly from our own, so when something about an interaction is a little off, it is all the more striking.  In these panels, Munroe and artist Shannon Gerard present a stabbing in the railroad yard, displacing the human shapes from the limits of the setting’s space, while making reference to the new metaphysical order.


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Thursday, Jul 9, 2009

Some people move a lot, jumping from city to city, addicted to the newness and the ability to abandon their pasts.  Through this process, they begin to refine their autobiographic introductions.  After exchanging names, jobs, and past times, new acquaintances start to size you up not only based on what you say, but how you say it. Meeting people is easy when you have the story they want to hear, but figuring out just what that story is can be taxing, and the repetition and refinement of those stories can make you start to question what had actually happened. 
 
Local is mostly a series about that addiction and those disaffected left behind.  As Megan, the principle character of the work, travels from city to city, she tries on multiple identities until she starts to have trouble remembering who she is to which people.  Sorting through forgotten name tags at her movie theater job, she starts to make up histories for different names, slipping into simple pasts in each attempt at a new introduction and losing a piece of her self in the process. 


To capture the feeling of the city, Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly had their friends send them pictures of spaces in each place that they thought held some unique aspect of the local.  In this issue, the Oxford movie theater in Halifax, Nova Scotia serves to reinforce the idea that identity is in some sense performance in that people are going to watch actors on film.  Perhaps more importantly, it also plays upon the ease of worker substitution, as evidenced by the pile of abandoned name tags, each representing the forgotten past of someone who had worked there before.  As Megan sifts through names in these panels, she is touching objects that are representative of past employees who bore different proper nouns, but probably sold and tore tickets in equally efficient ways.


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Wednesday, Jul 8, 2009

More than gore for gore’s sake, the best zombie stories are about a force in society becoming normalized into a mob mentality.  Night of the Living Dead was about an African American man in the 1960’s fighting for empowerment among a white population.  Dawn of the Dead, set in one of the first mega-malls in the country, was about the growth of consumer spaces and how they were affecting culture. Of course, the gore is close to magic in these films. Someone recently informed me that the guts in the first were made with ham, but the depth of these works is in their overarching ideas. 


  Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead follows Rick, a former law enforcement officer, who wakes up in the hospital to find himself in a zombie apocalypse.  As his character emerges, we get the sense that he was a true believer in the old societal order and wants to rebuild the world in an image of security that never really existed. 


The failure of his utopian ideal is amplified through his encounter with the city.  As he reaches Atlanta on horseback in his sheriff’s clothes, we see the city is lost.  The café he passes has been spray painted, windows are broken, and a zombie lays propped up against a wall in a pile of trash like a wino.  Not much has changed, except mob rule has displaced law and spread to the county-side.  It doesn’t take long for Rick to be attacked by the infected citizens and run back to the safety of the rural.  The suburbs he and his group attempt to occupy are similarly overridden by these forces and are lost.  It is not until he arrives at a maximum security prison that he finally says, “It’s perfect, we’re home.”


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