Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Once you see it, it’s so obvious. Whoever drew this panel from the May 1942 issue of Blue Bolt must have been heavily into Swiss artist FĂ©lix Vallotton, member of the Nabis, who had painted The Punished Crime (see how even the title fits!) in 1915, as the centerpiece of a triptych. Well, I just casually drop this fact to establish that you can trust me on stuff like this because ...

... let me now introduce you to German painter KRH Sonderborg, a post-war artist who is usually grouped under the label Informel—that’s roughly the European counterpart of abstract expressionism. (If you’re interested, there’s a good interview with the artist online here.) Some of his work looks very much like he had an affinity with comics, porous black silhouettes of building cranes or powerlines deviding the white, painted with a quick decisiveness that gives a psychological edge to the objects. Maybe best known of those is a portrait of an electric chair that fills the complete frame, with a curious eye for the way its parts have been assembled and screwed together, like a human perspective against Warhol’s oppressive silkscreen of the same object. Sonderborg’s most easily recognizable signature style, though, is painted in black and white diagonal splatter with just a dash of red added, spray drops of paint from the impact of color on canvas dripped along the lines of the action, accumulating into untidy power centers and sometimes repetitive forms like parts of machinery. And if you are a comic artist and stare at this long enough you will start drawing panels that look like this:

How serious am I? It’s difficult, because who knows, it might all be coincidence. But contrary to the single panel in Blue Bolt, which seems to reference the one painting and then everything goes its own sweet way, when I started reading Miller’s Holy Terror, I saw the shadow of the spirit of Sonderborg, at least for the first 50 pages or so. It did not make me think of a certain painting (though once I strated searching I immediately found one that was compositionally very close to a panel), instead for a moment it seemed again so obvious that Miller was heavily into the earlier painter. In my delight, I almost didn’t notice his book was challenged in its morals :-)(I might actually write it up at some later date, it’s a pretty impressive comic in many respects).

Oh and: Peace.

Monday, January 9, 2012

It’s nowhere near that bad, of course (and also the Swamp Thing would be in much more dire need of saving, if you ask me). But the final page of Animal Man #5 (DC) does indicate a certain emptiness at the core—it’s a story in need either of a character, or of some graspability to the evil forces that drive it. Well, they’re against life. And because they block life, Buddy doesn’t get to be Animal Man very much, only a guy running away from his own melting face, while his daughter, set up to be the more effective superpower, does not yet have the personality to handle it. Or maybe it’s just that both enemy and friendly forces are too amorphous, bloating up or cooking down all characters they occupy into formlessness, with the rot for now winning over the red (how’s that for a sound shift?).

The still glorious art meanwhile has solidified, away from the sketchiness of the beginnings to something more hard-edged, moving closer to the almost art nouveau tracings of Swamp Thing. It does feel less free, but even the inconsistencies are interesting and invite reading for content. Like the house in the country that has served the family as a base for the last two issues and first made me groan because of its unreal appearance, like a first computer rendering not yet completely filled out—it really has proved a diaphanous setting for unreal happenings, so that kind of fits. And thumbing back through the completed arc it even seems as if one could, by way of an academic exercise, read Buddy’s surface treatment, the untidy cross hatches versus the more orderly and compact blots of shadow, as indications of how close to his life force he is in a given panel. But still…

There is no real reason for disappointment. Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman have transitioned into long-haul mode, where they can introduce guest artists in ways that don’t hurt (the last few pages this time, and seemingly most of the next issue), and while the lack of character so far is sad, they now have a family on the run and hopefully much time to explore everybody in a little more detail. And maybe Buddy will even get to be Animal Man again.

Only they should get the Swamp Thing crossover done with soon. It’s getting old before it happens.