Missed Directions: The Boulevard

Scott Allie’s incredibly atmospheric and deeply immersive Devil’s Footprint hit the popular consciousness more or less contemporaneously with the premier season of an equally phenomenal piece of television drama, Six Feet Under.

At first brush, the two properties seemed entwined, even imbricated, as if sprung from the same imagination. Even upon deeper reading, the textual interplay between the comicbook and TV show remains at a high pitch.

Both are the story of two brothers (who may well love, but cannot necessarily tolerate each other) struggling with the shadow-legacy of a recently-deceased father. In both stories, the character carrying forward the family business seems more interesting from the stance of narrative. In both stories, the counterpoint brother weighing in against their father’s legacy offers a credible opposition.

But while the HBO drama opted for a subtle strangeness that comes with the poetic tradition of magical realism, the Dark Horse comics created more sinister, and far eerier work but defining the family business as occult magick. While the Fishers of Six Feet Under had the ghoulish and grisly task of dressing the deceased for their funerals, the Waites of Devil’s Footprint confronted actual demons out for their blood oath-defined recompense.

Rightly so, the marketing campaigns for the two properties were wholly divergent. Despite their deep similarities, the two works were at their core distinctly dissimilar. If in no other respect than format, Devil’s Footprint told a very compact tale of a single engagement between the brothers and the consequences of their father’s sorcerous legacy. Six Feet Under was a protracted vision of the evolution of a family as it struggled with, and sometimes wrestled free from, the intangible but ever-present legacy of their former patriarch.

And yet, the slightly more than passing similarities do not easily fade. Which begs the question, is there a “Missed Direction” here? Is there some benefit to be drawn from a marketing and branding strategy that acknowledges the similarities, rather than downplaying them?

Not to suggest that independent creativity be compromised. Scott Allie’s work is clearly a unique offering, worthy of critical attention in its own right. Even in a world without Six Feet Under, Devil’s Footprint is a rewarding experience long after the cover has been closed.

But after the fact, once the creative process has ended, and disparate works seem to converge towards intertextuality, isn’t there an opportunity for acknowledging the similarity in pop cultural pieces?

The question at the core of this “Missed Direction” has very little to do with Dark Horse or Scott Allie, or even Devil’s Footprint. Right at the heart of this “Missed Direction” is the role comics play in the mainstream of popular culture. While shows like South Park or The Daily Show comment on current affairs as a matter of content, comics has historically always positioned itself to imbibe the zeitgeist as a medium. The medium’s central role in the daily popular imagination that has always allowed for this imbibing of the zeitgeist, has waned over time.

The Silver Age reboot of DC’s Justice Society as the Justice League, was one such response to the popular imagination. The renaming of the superteam was due to the overwhelming popularity of baseball and its marketing as league sport.

With branding and other ancillary cultural processes, processes not directly related to the creative process of storytelling, that actively engage the pop cultural mainstream, comics might come to occupy that privileged place again. As Pericles, Mayor of Athens suggested, ‘Everything good, should find its way into the boulevard’. With the recent resurgence of MAD and the topicality of such works as Marvel’s “Dark Reign”, comics might once more become such a boulevard for popular culture.