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Style Equals Substance?

by  in Comic News Comment

Sometimes, the style in which a work is presented becomes the substantive element of that work, a thematic tactic used to make allusions outside the confines of the narrative. Form often follows function, but sometimes, form is function.

So Matt Seneca wrote this pair of pieces about Grant Morrison’s short-lived revamp of Wildstorm’s Wildcats and Authority properties, both of which suffered from crib death after an issue or two, never to return. That makes them little nothings, overlooked and ephemeral curios, but that also makes them fascinating. Were these comics too beautiful to live?

I’ve got nothing to say about the glo-pop sex scenes of Wildcats that Seneca hasn’t already covered, but The Authority intrigues me, mostly because I dug it out of the bins and read it on the toilet (BIFF BAM POW, TOILET NOT JUST FOR SHITTING ANYMORE) today. And the toilet is the perfect place for this comic, which goes out of its way to achieve banality:

It’s astonishing to see stuff this actively drab in a mainstream comic, to own a commercial object that gives up this hard. The total lack of motion on the page, the failure of the grid to cohere into a single design unit, the choppy cropping that always fails to hit whatever germ of drama this rather pathetic scene might contain… there’s really no comparison to make, nothing I can think of that makes this much of a point about getting the mechanics of its medium wrong. …

Like I said, this isn’t just mediocrity — it’s aggressive mediocrity, visual art by a couple of talented artists working at evoking something. That something, of course, is the “real world” the comic’s titular characters are set to collide with, and while it’s still drawn on a page and printed on thousands of copies more, it gets closer to the gray ghost-guts of de facto existence we’ve got going here on Earth-Prime than anything pretty or even half-assed would be able to.

Of course, this being a Grant Morrison comic, this is done on purpose. In fact, the complete devotion to reproducing the mundane makes this the most visually important comic book of the past decade, outside of, I dunno, We3 (which was also a Morrison book, you see).


I’m not really sure who deserves the most credit here, but let’s just say that Gene Ha (lines) and Art Lyon (colors) combine to create the most brilliantly drab comic of all time. There is no How-To-Draw-Comics-the-Marvel-Way dynamism, no outlines around the panels, no bold four-coloration. Objects and whole panels go blurry, come at odd angles. Heads and bodies get chopped off, like someone’s not framing the image correctly. Panels and moments linger on mail dropping through the slot, alarm clocks, ashtrays, cups of coffee, cell phones– these are the things we look at during the day. This is what real life looks like when broken up into static moments. Pause a movie, it’s not always going to be a perfect image– blurs set in. Pause life, you might catch us staring at our breakfast.

This is a superhero comic? The title characters don’t even bother to show up in the first issue, coming late to the party. Most of the action is about a guy waking up, looking for his phone, going to work, and losing his wife. Sad white folks gettin’ divorced– that’s true literature! These nine panel grids of introversion, they’re the visual equivalent of the Raymond Carver style of writing hammered into me in college. Clipped sentences, sad actions. Grays, browns, a bit of mauve– the yawning colors of reality. At least, in comparison to the bombastic colors of comics from days gone by.

Small actions fill this comic– hitting the “End” button on one’s cell phone, stirring your cuppa– the kind of actions we don’t see in comics, that occur between the panels if at all, that aren’t important. Here, they’re given importance, shown to us instead of kicks and uppercuts. We do these things on automatic in our daily lives, and here, Morrison, Ha, and Lyons point them out. The dialogue is naturalistic, the actions realistic, the colors muted. This is the comic folks would read in a superhero universe, to escape from their fantastic, over-the-top lives. This is a comic for superheroes, not about them.

(The above was reprinted from a bit I wrote earlier this week on my other blog that no one reads. It turns out I liked what I wrote for once, so I’ve brought it over here to share with you, dear readers! I know I just killed the Brunch and everything, but I am doing a Brunch-like thing over there, at that blog you’re not reading. I call it /PHRENOLOG/– yes, complete with pretentious slashes. It’s in a different format and goes beyond the world of comics, but if you miss the Brunch and you want to be pointed to interesting things, go ahead and keep an eye on it. I’ll do it until I get bored or find something better to do! So, any day now.)

(Also, I miss tags. They don’t show up anymore.)