Friday, September 30, 2011


(pictured above: God, I wish Judge Death was in this comic)

So, I moan about standard superhero stuff all the time. I believe the preponderance of the genre is holding back the medium of comics. I don’t hate everything with a cape, I just don’t see why everything needs a cape. However, there is an alternative to superhero/action stuff that I really have no love for. This alternative is often held up as a good example of what capeless comics can be. To me, such examples risk making the comics medium even less appealing.

I call this alternative Hip Lifestyle Comics. I really can’t relate to this stuff and I honestly can’t abide it. I don’t inhabit the world portrayed in these comics and I’d really hate to.

(pictured above: remove the word ‘else’ and you’re on to something)

From what I’ve seen of Jeffrey Brown and Adrian Tomine’s work (and I’ve seen quite enough thanks) they celebrate a kind of disengaged low impact way of living that revolves around second hand stores and coffee shops. I find this profoundly numbing. I certainly don’t find it cute or true to life. I actually think it’s a dishonest attempt by the creators to present themselves as sweetly flawed yet knowingly hip individuals. To me they are neither. To me they represent jaded cultural full stops. They are as relevant to me as the supposedly witty (but actually insipid) articles you find in Sunday newspaper lifestyle supplements.

I also find these insidiously self-aggrandising ‘real life’ comics to be deeply unamusing. They could at least provide a few laughs or something slightly life affirming. But no, Annie Hall these comics ain’t. Maybe overt humour is considered crude and cheap by these creators, I wouldn’t know, but I do know that there is something bankrupt in their aspirational alternative pose. When I look around at today’s world and see all the crazy, intriguing and outrageous things going on I can’t believe comic artists that make life seem so small are so widely embraced.

If I want an engaging reflection of the human experience in comics I’ll go to Satrapi or Pekar. People who have clashed with life and engaged with it and have something to say about it with a degree of passion and humour. Pekar in particular takes the seemingly mundane and makes you see the magic in it. Hip lifestyle comics take the seemingly mundane and make it even more mundane.

And it’s not dynamism for the sake of dynamism I’m seeking. I’m a fan of many quiet and gentle comics, films, literature and art. In fact, I seek out well crafted stuff that deals with the more understated moments and aspects of life. All I ask is that the work be somehow aware and genuine, maybe beautiful. I want it to ring true. What I don’t want is a lethargic wheeze by some competent yet non-unique cartoonist whose chief concern is peddling an image of himself as some cuddly, befuddled, Charlie Brownesque soul who knows his away around a vintage clothes store. This stuff is ephemeral and insubstantial steam - you see it, maybe it’s pretty, next thing it’s gone as if never there. If this really is the life of the artists concerned then all I can say is that they must move through the world like dull and disengaged ghosts, representing nothing more than wilfully thwarted human potential.

Hip lifestyle comics could send me running into the arms of Green Lantern. At least I’ll find some energy there and (perhaps) some imagination.

Here’s a link to a pisstake piece I did on these types of comics a while ago:


OK, I’ll quit going on about it because it really isn’t important if you take a larger view. It’s a big Universe out there and there is much to discuss, like …um …stuff and like coffee and CDs and, um, stuff.

1 comment:

  1. John Robbins contacted me. He wanted to post the following but the comment section was acting up:

    "I wouldn't lump Tomine in with the vanity comics crowd because I think his stuff does aspire to achieve well-crafted, intelligently written work that mostly has about it a bruisingly unsentimental truth. What I've read of Jeffrey Brown (very little) does ring true, too; but, as you say, it doesn't sufficiently engage - probably because there's usually a lack of conflict or causality in what passes for a story.

    In uninventive vanity/diary/lifestyle comics there seems for the most part a lack of quality of construction in the writing department. At the root of the problem in general is cartoonists with a compulsion to draw but with little writing ability. But it's also the medium's fault: you neither have to draw nor write particularly well to engage an audience with a comic. As I've said elsewhere: comics are so seductively easy-to-read that creators often don't put much thought into the craft of writing well - I think there's the knowledge there that no matter how lacking in writing disciplines, creators are not going to lose the audience. (I don't think prose lets you away with the kind of self-indulgent aimlessness found in comics.)"