Endless Reentry: J. Torres, "Li'l Jinx" and "Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus"
J. Torres is a mature, creative voice, a powerful storyteller, and a gifted intellect. Exactly the kind of person you'd want reimagining a classic from your childhood.
Early on in the Introduction to Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus, you'll find the kind of writing that is easy flawless, the writing that Greil does best.
The piece is titled "Where I Came In", and it relates the narrative of Greil himself making an appearance in the story of Bob Dylan. They were both younger, and the story plays out "In the summer of 1963, in a field in New Jersey". After a few songs, Joan Baez introduces "a friend", whose name Greil misses. Bob plays and the magic happens. After, Greil and Bob share an exchange over Bob trying to light a cigarette. Greil is enthralled, Bob is dismissive of his own talent. For both of them, this is only the beginning. The moment is mythic without either of them realizing it.
The secret of course, is that Greil doesn't enter once, but twice. The first time is as a fan, that summer in Jersey, the second, as a critic. In the intervening pages, Greil charts Bob's phenomenal success. From around about that summer, hits like "Blowin' in the Wind", "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll", "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" seemed to catapult Bob into the limelight. Suddenly Bob Dylan was everywhere. And, just over half a decade later, Greil reenters. "This is where I came in, as a writer--six years after the show in New Jersey, at the end of Dylan's adventure as an oracle on the run…".
And the super-secret secret? It's that Greil isn't the only one who enters twice. Bob himself makes a reentry into his own career, much, much later.
Without either of them realizing just how much so, that first skirmish between Bob and Greil really was mythic. Both were absolutely right in their assays of the situation. Greil was right about Bob being the phenom Bob himself truly didn't want to be. And Bob was right. Bob himself needed desperately to escape the shrine his own life and career was being built into.
When Greil reenters, this time as a critic, it is not to chart the course of Bob's career he had hoped to. "The story I followed, was in its beginning", writes Greil, "the story of Bob Dylan as he tried to transcend, match, avoid, deny or escape what he'd already done… This chronicle really begins with Dylan's 1970 double album Self Portrait; by the end of the year, the Beatles would be defunct; Jimi Hendrix, a great Bob Dylan fan, and perhaps his greatest interpreter, perhaps in time maybe a partner, would be dead; and the notion of Bob Dylan as someone who could not open his mouth without telling his own kind of truth would be gone, too. So I began as a disbeliever: Is that all there is? This can't be all that there is… If the decline, a kind of public disappearance, became a given in itself, what was not was the almost biblical story the music would tell: that it would take Bob Dylan almost twenty years to play his way out of the trap set for him by his own once-upon-a-time triumph…".
Greil's reentry is the one in which he tells the story of a decline, followed by a rise. Bob's reentry is the story of how he can rise again, after having escaped the pernicious twofold anonymity and ubiquity his art has had to endure after his early successes. Without ever mentioning it, this idea of reentry runs forcefully, almost like a theme throughout my conversation with J. Torres, the genius behind Love as a Foreign Language and most recently, the writer of Archie Comics' reboot of Li'l Jinx.
It's not the Li'l Jinx you recall from some years ago. Time has passed and Jinx and her gang of friends have finally made it into high school. She's older now, but is she more grown up? What's the psychology of Li'l Jinx?
"That's one of the things that I'm examining", J. enthuses, answering the question. "Y'know, it's a coming-of-age story so certainly she's matured a little bit, but she is only 14 or 15. And like all of us, we kind of think we're grown up, but we're not really at that age. And you learn a lot along the way. And the dynamics between her and her father, I think, a lot of people can relate to. Just thinking you're older and moving out into the world, and trying to take command. And you think you're invincible, but of course you're not. A lot of these similar coming-of-age themes are things we're playing with in the book".
J.'s reply hints at a third kind of reentry, one made by us as readers. How do we ourselves reenter the world of Li'l Jinx, now that so much time, both in our own lives and in hers, has passed? He does this by finding those touchstones that we can all recognize, both in our own lives, and the lives and experiences of the characters that come to decorate the years. But how does J. find a place in a market overloaded with Young Adult fantasy, like the Harry Potter or Twilight series?
"The interesting thing", J. begins, "is that you mostly cited film. But if you look at television for preteens and teens, particularly on Nickelodeon and DisneyXD, it's mostly situational comedy set in a high school or something like that… it could be a drama school or a summer camp… it's mostly slice-of-life, comedy, coming-of-age type concepts. So I don't see this Li'l Jinx as bucking a trend, but it does follow a kind of tradition of television for kids. I've actually had some experience writing for DeGrassi Extra Credit television show. I did some episodes for them, and some graphic novels for them. I think of Li'l Jinx being in the same ballpark although Jinx is a lot less serious and more goofy, and over-the-top. So yeah, I think the stuff is out there, at least on television for kids, and it's not the fantastic stuff we see in the movie".
It's J.'s discussion of his work for other media that keys me into the idea that Li'l Jinx might be a reentry of his own. J.'s body of work is simply voluminous. He has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate an amazing artistic range, one that sees him having mastered various many genres. But, in the sense that Bob Dylan needed to, does J. himself need to escape, only to reenter?
J. Begins by describing the life-arc of his creative years. He meets his wife and their relationship deepens, eventually culminating in marriage. During the high-romance-of-it-all, they travel extensively. After marriage they have kids, they settle down. J.'s reality changes. But what changes has his creative process undergone as a result. "It's very interesting that you ask that because I've given it much thought recently", J. begins, "When I first started out in comics, I always had a sort of drive within me to do all ages material, or to do some kind of younger readers material, regardless of what else was going on. Even if I get a mainstream Batman gig, I still wanted to do stuff for kids, for an all-ages audience. Not just write for 'mature' audience. And vice versa. There was a time when I was doing a lot of all-ages work for DC, mainly their Johnny DC line, but I tried to have a hand in doing books for adults as well.
"So, I started out that way. And I always wanted to write all-ages books, and books for younger kids, and for a while there, the first half of my career, the only kids in my family were nephews and nieces, and of course they were really young. So you have this goal in mind to write for children, but it didn't really become as 'urgent', for lack of a better word, until my siblings started having kids, and we started having kids. Because then it became part of your daily life. You're looking for material to read to them, they're gravitating towards certain books, and well, I usually end with 'that's too old for you'.
"My four-year-old for example, really loves superheroes but you have to really filter what he sees, and look for material that's age-appropriate but is still entertaining. So it became almost more important to me, after I became a dad, and after I became an uncle. Also, previously I had this goal in mind, 'make kids comics, make all-ages comics', but it was such a, for lack of a better word, 'vague' category, and almost too large. When you say 'all-ages' it's supposed to mean appealing to as many people as possible. Or some people say it's to appeal to everyone, but that's not possible. So when I started having kids, and I became an uncle, and began to see my nephews and nieces learning to read and becoming interested in specific subjects, it start to crystallize for me and I started to understand more how to put these stories together".
More than anything, J.'s response speaks to a reentry of a fourth kind, a sort of endless reentry. Far from the artist needing to reenter after their success, or the fan reentering as a critic, or the adult reader reentering the fictions of their youth, this fourth kind of reentry seems infinite. It is something that has gone with J. since the very beginning, and yet only now, and at every moment that he accepts a new gig, does he begin to reenter this ambition of his younger self.
If anything, Li'l Jinx grown older speaks to exactly this kind of endless reentry. The idea, that some things simply deserve to last forever.