Comics

Small Story: Joe Hill and the Birth of Pop Culture in Kodiak

Fire For Starters: Juggler and Fire-eater Dominico saves the show in writer Joe Hill's meditation on the role and use of popular culture in Kodiak.

Kodiak stands out as a profound work. A quick and easy read that offers readers infinitely more than at first glance. Almost literally, a gift that goes on giving.


Publisher: IDW
Comics: Kodiak
Price: $3.99
Writer: Joe Hill
Length: 22 pages
Contributor: Jason Ciaramella (artist)
Publication date: 2010-09

IDW’s latest offering, the one-shot Kodiak, scripted by the not inconsiderable talent of Joe Hill (the genius behind The Heart-Shaped Box and more recently the deeply-moving Horns), is a quick easy read. And simultaneously appreciating it fully is possibly one of the most demanding literary tasks you’re likely to encounter this year. Counterintuitively, its simplicity is the fertile ground for the layers of complexity the book eventually develops.

Not at all unexpected from the rising literary star, Hill has begun to establish himself firmly as the kind of writer who offers readers a headrush by deploying the ordinary, with the supernatural firmly locked in the natural world.

It would be glib to identify Hill’s writing, especially in Kodiak, as magical realist. But even this epithet does not completely do the writer’s work justice. In The Heart-Shaped Box, more notably in Horns and again in Kodiak there is a slow, steady piling up of realism. A solid-state reordering of the the supernatural as everyday.

It seems an unlikely opening gambit for a literary career. How easy would it have been for readers to simply dismiss scenes from the home life of a New England jazz trumpeter’s son in Horns as a thinly veiled screenshot of Hill at home with his parents Stephen and Tabitha King? It is an act of supreme skill and intense mastery of his craft that allows Hill’s literary realism to be so easily mistaken for resembling any actual event or situation.

What Hill so masterfully exploits and skillfully deploys is a vast array of genre detailing the wealth of the ordinary. In Horns he inverts Tolstoy’s famous formulation, suggesting perhaps that the unhappiness of unhappy families far from being unique, is woven from the infinitely recognizable, over and again. Hill is a literary Ozu or Fellini rather than a Tarantino or Rodriguez. Moms could easily once have been princesses, flighty airheads even. Pops could easily come to silently hate their sons for failing to develop compassion. And, as in Kodiak, boys will always be boys.

Kodiak starts with a framing of boyhood as a time of gathering tall tales. It is a tale of daring, of pushing and peering from the edges, or out from behind the curtains. It’s a story of getting caught after going just a little too far. Kodiak’s two nameless protagonists are brought before their object of fascination, Dominico the local Pub landlord, and told firsthand the tale of his encounter with a monster bear. It is a tale that has already swept through the village, one that has been added to with every telling, but one that the boys are just encountering for the very first time.

But the story itself is incidental.

What Hill offers instead is a deep and abiding meditation on the power of popular culture. Kodiak is Marlowe’s Faust rather than Goethe’s. The material Marlowe originally gathered from Der Faustbuch an earlier collection of folklore tales that offered various versions of the Faust tale. Kodiak is the story of the futility and the failure of the Faust character himself. A character predicted on the notion that superior learning would somehow produce superior achievements and high culture. As Marlowe proffers, this is a cultural project that necessarily ends in failure of the self, or as the early twenty century demonstrated, a cultural project that ends in fascism.

And Hill’s masterstroke? Kodiak’s piece de resistance? Casting Dominico as a juggler and tapping perhaps the most enduring of generic short-forms -- the Tarot. In one deft strike, Hill recalls the Juggler in the 2 of Cups card, juggling on the shore, waiting for his ship to come in.

Kodiak stands out as a profound work. A quick and easy read that offers readers infinitely more than at first glance. Almost literally, a gift that goes on giving. It is 15 minutes of your day that will continue to reward you with each read. It deserves to be read, to be owned.

9
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Laura Nyro's "Save the Country" Calls Out from the Past

Laura Nyro, a witchy, queer, ethnic Russian Jew, died young, but her non-conformist anthem, "Save the Country", carries forth to these troubled times.

Books

Journalist Jonathan Cott's Interviews, Captured

With his wide-ranging interviews, Jonathan Cott explores "the indispensable and transformative powers of the imagination."

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Coronavirus and the Culture Wars

Infodemics, conspiracies -- fault lines beneath the Fractured States of America tremble in this time of global pandemic, amplify splinters, fractures, and fissures past and present.

Music

'Switched-On Seeker' Is an Imaginative Electronic Reimagining of Mikal Cronin's Latest LP

Listeners who prefer dense rock/pop timbres will no doubt prefer Mikal Cronin's 'Seeker'. However, 'Switched-On Seeker' will surely delight fans of smaller-scale electronic filters.

Music

IYEARA Heighten the Tension on Remix of Mark Lanegan's "Playing Nero" (premiere)

Britsh trio IYEARA offer the first taste of a forthcoming reworking of Mark Lanegan's Somebody's Knocking with a remix of "Playing Nero".

Music

Pottery Take Us Deep Into the Funky and Absurd on 'Welcome to Bobby's Motel'

With Welcome to Bobby's Motel, Pottery have crafted songs to cleanse your musical pallet and keep you firmly on the tips of your toes.

Music

Counterbalance 23: Bob Dylan - 'Blood on the Tracks'

Bob Dylan makes his third appearance on the Acclaimed Music list with his 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks. Counterbalance’s Eric Klinger and Jason Mendelsohn are planting their stories in the press.

Music

Luke Cissell Creates Dreamy, Electronic Soundscapes on the Eclectic 'Nightside'

Nightside, the new album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Luke Cissell, is largely synthetic and electronic but contains a great deal of warmth and melody.

Music

Bibio Discusses 'Sleep on the Wing' and Why His Dreams Are of the Countryside

"I think even if I lived in the heart of Tokyo, I'd still make music that reminds people of the countryside because it's where my dreams often take me," says Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) of his music and his new rustic EP.

Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.

Film

A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.

Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.