Comics

Inherited Soil: The PopMatters Exclusive with Robert Venditti

Robert Venditti arrives at the comics medium as a fully formed artist, vested in the act of making a critical choice of medium. But he enters the popular psyche like Tom Waits or Harry Houdini, an artist in the midst of transitioning into becoming a performer. Perhaps this is what makes his recent Homeland Directive spellbinding.


The Homeland Directive

Publisher: Top Shelf
Length: 148 pages
Writer: Robert Venditti, Mike Huddleston
Price: $14.95
Publication Date: 2011-07
Amazon

Robert Venditti comes to us fully formed. A young artist but an artist nonetheless, Venditti is already in the throes of working out themes that connect his various and disparate works. We he says late in our interview, "I wanted to write a woman because it's something I hadn't yet done" in an almost conspiratorial tone, there can be no doubt as to his bona fides. There's something deeper at play for Venditti, a kind of working through of talent that he manages to involve the audience in time and again.

His responses push me back. I had been expecting a comicbook writer, a mind steeped in the medium of comics. Instead I encountered an artist, on the cusp of breaking through the solitary endeavors of being a writer and about to become a performer in the public life. "Because it's something I hadn't yet done"... the words ring out from the deeper recesses of an artist dissatisfied with typecasting his talent.

There's a searching need that seems to drive Venditti. It's not at all unlike That Need that biographer Michael Feeney Callan identifies in the young Robert Redford when he refuses $10,000 a week because television is simply not the right move for him. Venditti is deeply meditative about the world, and his books are his public performances. He is the Grand Entertainer wrestling with the issues that beset him and beset America.

"I would love it if that was the case," he says in answer to a question I pose about moral rejuvenation in this new decade, "but it's so hard to say. Things are just so acrimonious in America right now. It's gotten to a point where you can't be a Liberal or can't be a Conservative without having the other half of the world…." He stops to correct himself, he'd meant "other half of the country".

But his verbal slip does betray a deeper insight. The idea that wrestling with an American identity today is definitive of the broader role played by America in a global psyche. This is what elevates Venditti's work above role of rockstar, recasting his projects with a wider, global audience. He's not just Muddy Waters escaping the South as much as escaping poverty, he's Jagger and Richards' Stones on their own American adventure, he's Coca Cola spread out across Asia and Africa.

Venditti continues his thought: "It's gotten to the point where you can't be a Liberal or be a Conservative without the other half of the country hate your guts. People act as if there's no common ground between us but of course the world is nothing but common ground. It would be wonderful if that were the case. If sort of out of the ashes of something like 9/11 we all became a better country, I just don't know. Everything is so hyper-partisan. Everything is just so overly politicized to the point where you almost can't have reasoned debate about anything anymore. And it's also to the point where I think a lot of people feel like, if they're Conservative on one issue, or Liberal on one issue, then they must be Conservative or Liberal on all the issues. So if I am (this is an example) for lower taxes, then I must also be pro-life… Or if I'm pro-environment, then I must also be pro-choice. "

"We set ourselves up for this. We're trying to act as though the candidate is our soulmate, when obviously he's not. You get two guys to choose from. Both of them are going to be like you on some things. They're going to be unlike you on some things. Are they like you on the things that are more important to you and unlike you on the things that are less important to you? If so, vote for them."

There's a heightened drama to watching Venditti's mind work. It's easy to get the sense that more is happening than should be happening. My question was directly about Venditti's new book, The Homeland Directive that, in shipping this week, missed out on the sublime act of coinciding with the Fourth. "Are Gene and the Guys, who at the opening of The Homeland Directive find themselves on the horns of a moral dilemma, emblematic of a new way of thinking?," I had wondered. Venditti's response had been to tease out inner conflicts that plague the project of reconstructing a national identity and a national idiom.

This is very much the action of an artist in transition to performer. I'm reminded of Paul Auster's deeply moving essay, "A Prayer of Salman Rushdie" in which Auster identifies the primal solitude in being an author and the act of immense strength it takes to connect with even another author. I'm reminded also of writer Martin Amis' essay "Thinkability" which introduces his collection Einstein's Monsters. In it, Amis is troubled by the physical distance that removes him from his family life and what this distance might mean in the case of a nuclear attack.

Late in the interview, when both Venditti and I have been talking at length, his mind still reaches for what is beyond its immediate grasp. He breaks through the Fifth Wall of solitude and enters the stage of public performance. What connects these disparate projects; Venditti's sci-fi masterpiece The Surrogates and its sequel Flesh & Bone with his comics adaptation of the Percy Jackson series with his current work The Homeland Directive is Venditti himself.

Knowing Venditti only through his work I had asked him about Surrogates earlier in the interview. It was the basis for the eponymous film starring Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames. At one point Venditti offered that with The Homeland Directive he'd wanted to offer readers the inverse trajectory that The Surrogates. "In The Surrogates you know what the villain's plot is, but you don't know who the villain is. In The Homeland Directive you know from the very opening page who the villain is, but you do not know what he's trying to do. I wanted to see if I could do that. I wanted see if I could build a story where you know who the bad guy is from the opening, but you don't know what he's trying to do and have that be the big reveal."

But that wasn't my opening gambit. In knowing Venditti only through his work at the beginning of the interview, I attempted to position him within the framework of comics. But this tactic would prove wildly insufficient to the task of coming to grips with the core of Robert Venditti as an artist. With the ancillary materials in The Surrogates, and the visual rendering of The Prophet and of Greer, the lead investigator, I had assumed that this was a postmodern interpellation of the so-called British Invasion of the comics industry. In my mind The Prophet was clearly Alan Moore, Greer was visually a younger Warren Ellis.

But Venditti's response stunned me. "My experience with comics is really so young," Venditti offers, "I read my first comicbook in 2000. And even to this day I think I've read maybe one Warren Ellis comic. Of course I read comics by Alan Moore, but it was funny how I came about him. Basically a friend of mine had introduced my to comics with Kurt Busiek's Astro City series. I read the Confessor storyarc and really liked it. So I went down to a comic shop near my house; I'd never been to one by this time. Looking around at the books that were there it was very daunting to me because all the Marvel and DC stuff were at issue 762 or whatever. So there was this line of comics that had just started up at the time, with some lower numbers. 1's and 2's and things like that… so I bought those simply because I wanted comics I could start off with early on in the system. And it was the (Alan Moore conceived and written) America's Best Comics line. I started reading Tom Strong and Promethea and I was 'Oh this Alan Moore guy is pretty good… what else has he written'. Watchmen."

Robert Venditti had entered comics as a fully formed artist. In my assuming of him a long history steeped in the medium, I was wholly under-prepared. Venditti was immediately evocative of promise and the terror Scott Fitzgerald articulates when describing America. When Greil Marcus wrote in Mystery Train, "To be an American is to feel the promise as a birthright, and to feel alone and haunted when the promise fails", he could be describing Venditti.

And to come to grips with Venditti, this fully formed artist who actively chose the medium of comics, I would have to go even further.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image