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
Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Books
Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Film
Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Recent
Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

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.