This is another in the series of angry rants that I like to describe as 'My Falling Down Stage.' I came to it through a deep frustration at the lack of chances we are taking and the safe warm blankets that are masquerading as art these days. Peter Blake admitted in a 1985 interview to being the person who upsets society. I applaud him for evoking an emotion, it may be a cruel one but it makes you (and me) feel alive for that split second when the art hits your senses.
Art is all around us. It permeates us at every turn and every flourish. It is gloriously present in the art form of comics. The art form that so many of us choose as an avenue to express wild and succulent emotions, loves, hates and on occasion our morbid dirty little secrets.
Our inner lives deserve exploration. So explore them we do.
The world is an open book. Every nook and cranny of it is ripe for exploration and explanation. Go wild inside and outside the panels. Feel the creative flush in your cheeks and in your balls (female genetalia is also welcome).
I took a run (and a charge) at describing my frustrations of one type of comic. Have a read. If you agree or disagree then please let me know.
Autobiographical Comics - let's have it!
What drives people to talk about themselves. In general terms it's a need to make sure you are still there, still a part of the planet. Art has been about the self as much as it has been about the outside since it began. From the very choice of the subject, through how the artist goes about creating it all the way down to how the viewer interprets this object.
So, and here we get to a thorny subject. Why does the current state of autobiographical comics irk me so? It hasn't always. I have been quite vocal about the first person narrative over the years. Some of my favourite books and comics that I reread regularly have been about the creator themselves. There is no doubt that Portrait of An Artist... by James Joyce is a masterpiece. There is no doubt that James Kochalka or Bob Fingerman put out amazingly good comic books. All the above are based on something personal and autobiographical and real.
All the above are also raw and honest and insightful.
So where do we go now? The internet has now arrived and wedged itself into our brains, lives and souls. A medium that is so self involved that it defies shame and becomes a transparent window into our snowflake moods. Everyone is granted that voice, and mostly are granted that voice to talk endlessly about themselves. It is now a world full of fragile egos and manipulated outward facing personalities. This eems to have evolved into a factory line of similar looking comics that scrape at the banal lives of their creators with only the quirky and cool excuses for narrative.
It is my solid (and old and grumpy) opinion that there are waaaaay too many autobiographical books. Some are to be admired but in a big brown mass only few are the peanuts to be picked out.
Before I began this piece I thought that I would (listen to the 'I' ringing out throughout this piece incidentally) research what counts these days as an autobiographical comic. Those books that have been released in one form or another over the last few years. I didn't want to get (too much) flack for not looking into the subject sufficiently. So, my first stop was over at a well known webcomic platform. One with Hundreds and hundreds of strips. I searched under the term 'autobiographical' and looked at the first few strips that came up. They were both about a couple sitting on a couch talking. Both were done in a Manga style and both made me want to vomit in their messy self indulgent cutesy styles.
Where is the edge? Where is the raw emotion? Where is the honesty? Where is something vaguely worth reading?
OK, I'll go deeper. What else is about? I have a couple of shops near me that have a good Small Press and Indie section. I'll head there to have a look.
Hmmm, Katzine by Kat Chapman, that's pretty good. Tille Walden, good stuff again. But, as much as I love these titles I'm looking for something that is a little less sedate and a little less safe. What is there out there. I want a comic that shouts at the world. Not one that curls up on the couch with a their socks off.
So, I found a couple. Not, to be perfectly honest, as many as I expected. The first one is £4.50, not a crazy price but then again neither competitive or even close to worth the money I'd pay. Opening the first one on the centre pages I find it is about a couple chatting in bed about their day. I explore more, oh look a cat (again). I picked up the second one - it's about the author and their cat (seriously?) Now, don't go screaming 'HE HATES CATS', I really liked Maus and that has cats in it!
Keep going. Here's another one. It's about a trip the author took to Hamburg. He's walking about, looking in windows....... oh look its raining. Is that it? I'll try one more before I feel that I have to claw my own eyes out. This one is about the creator taking a walk again, oh look he likes trains! FUCK ME!!!!
The one question that won't leave me is - 'Who do they expect to be interested in this story?' Are people who like cuddles, cats and walking going to be flocking to buy these books? I'm going to hazard a fucking guess and say probably not.
This should be a genre full of free thinking and vigor. They should contain moments of observational gold. They should pioneer the experimental format with thought provoking bare honesty.
Everything at the moment seems safe and banal.
'Just because you can does not mean that you should', seems a mighty strong piece of advice in this year of 2017. Where are the Eddie Campbells, the Harvey Pekars, the Joe Saccos, the Marjane Satrapis? Instead we seem to be stuck with the 'Idle but cool Movement'. We are sitting in a trend of smugness so loud it's like nails on a blackboard. The rules of life should make the rules of an autobiographical comic. In other words, there are and never should be any rules. I want to see the bare naked revelation of your life, what goes on behind the closed doors and in the embarrassing moments. Not this stream of boringly catatonic cack.
I got sent a comic to review recently that was about the friendship of three people. ''That pitch has relatively interesting prospects' I told myself. 'Keep positive', I told myself. On opening it I saw that it was about how they met at University, that they all had things in common and how they are friends now....... That was it. I messaged the creator asking who it was aimed at, I presumed it was for some University/Class Reunion. Nope. It was for sale! I didn't message him back. It is that level of complete and shameless self-involvement that seems to be a big part of the problem. Simply because it is autobiographical doesn't mean that it shouldn't be interesting. It doesn't have to be full of car chases and explosions but it does have to have something that engages. In real life a conversation can engage the detached observer but it has to have something, anything will do, just something of interest.
Another recurring subject seems to be people creating comics about music or bands that they like. Have you ever sat in a bar and listened to people at a neighbouring table talk about a band they just saw? Or listened to someone talk about how an album inspired them? Or got in a car on a long journey and that friend or colleague has played you a mix tape they have prepared? Yup, boring and self involved (again). It is the equivalent of making Mixtapes and selling them. It is the equivalent of walking round wearing an obscure band T-shirt. It is only interesting to you. It is also (I'm using this word once again) safe.
Take a big bite. Go on. Be brave. Show me your failings and your inner self. Don't give in to showing people what you want them to see or what you think is cool. Show them your real self. Those moments will, I guarantee, be more interesting than this shite. Never hold back. Swear and shout at the world. Some people won't like you for that, but Fuck Them! Everyone should be able to state their case without fear or repercussion. State yours.
I have and it feels sooo much better.
And please, no more cuddling cat stories.