The Crypt Keeper & Cousin Eerie Don’t Escape from Guantanamo Bay


The Blood Brothers are back, from wherever they came from — which is old news reports on clown-faced serial killers, and nostalgia sites for the haunted-house hosts of vintage horror movies repackaged for pre-cable TV. They are the compelling community-guignol stage characters of Pete Boisvert and Patrick Shearer, participant observers to the morality-tale inhumanity which is epidemic in our species and of which the Blood Brothers are just the fright-makeupped mascots. (Their latest live-action EC Comic just closed at Brooklyn’s Brick Theater but will be re-possessing the place with a new episode in May.)

In the Blood Brothers’ world the tragedies of history are rerun pretty much as the same tragedies; this time (in Bedlam Nightmares Part One: Strapped In), abuse of captive mental patients and snakepit-movie stereotypes rise again with zero retribution or redemption, except maybe the sour self-awareness of the Brothers, MCs of their own story. At the start of this new series they’re walk-ons in it too, apprehended for a gulag asylum like the situational setup of some even-more-psychotic Stooges short.

These anthologies always run through exploitation cinema’s top-tens of human folly, including the spiritual seekers who don’t know what they’re dealing with and get more than they bargained for, in the evening’s standout segment, “Into The Life of Things” by Nat Cassidy.

Cassidy has a stereophonic ear for both the insider’s delusion and the outsider’s confusion (each of which will be duly punished) at a wilderness yoga retreat, where supernatural complications ensue which will land one lucky disciple in the Blood Brothers’ new place of residence.

As a believer sworn to silence, Stephanie Willing enacts a sublime kinetic narrative of danced and gestured expression (and embodies just as pristine pretention when her character breaks the vow), while Matthew Trumbull as her doubting husband paces out of his yoga-pretzels with a positively Chaplinesque totter, his expression set in a world-exhausted facial drawl worthy of Keaton — more of the Brothers’ history-repeated-as-not-so-funny — and August Schulenburg is tragic and hilarious as a guru spouting Cassidy’s gourmet psychobabble.

Highlights in other sections include Bob Laine as an eerily benevolent patient showing a new-guy around in what could be the plays’ most restrained performance (and thus maybe makes Laine’s character the most crazy), and Kristen Vaughan as the hospital’s burlesque-Ratched head doctor/warden in a role that goes over the top and still lands perfectly due to Vaughan’s understanding that the best buffoons take themselves completely seriously.

Toward the end the Doctor menaces one Blood Brother with a scalpel and ponders “what to remove,” then settles on “your audience,” addressing the crowd and cutting off the mass-killers’ attention supply. It could be that as the series progresses (one new show every other month) the Brothers in isolation will be forced to consider the consequences of their actions and the implications of their art. They’ll be really dangerous once they’ve lost their innocence.

Singular Sensation


The Chorus Girl Show
By Carolyn Raship

Dixon Place, NYC through March 31

The sepia backdrops of Carolyn Raship’s Chorus Girl cycle are like the skin canvas of a tattoo, and the stylized works would lend themselves well to that chic vintage medium, but these images endeavor to portray more of what’s on the inside of lives we know mostly from the surface.

Time tends to paint over personalities that don’t fit the picture, and Raship is fascinated by early-last-century women who came from obscurity and attained either prominence or notoriety in their lifetime, but tend to be forgotten or only sketched in today. She picks a pantheon of figures who started in the once-disreputable occupation of the show’s title, and emerged from the crowd-scene as famous names, breaking the mold of cultural prohibitions (Native American entertainer Princess White Deer), rising to serious artistic renown (screen icon Louise Brooks) and either coming to early ends or being too close to others’ (unwilling objects of scandal Evelyn Nesbit and Olive Thomas).

In some compositions Raship orders these life stories in the three-ring, Sistine Chapel-style montage known from Harper’s layouts of the time in the golden age of ornate paste-up, posing her subjects like figures of myth as if we’re seeing the blueprints of the carved monuments these heroines never got; in other pieces we seem to be seeing multiple chapters of the same woman’s life overlapping and interacting, an epic compression of incident that could be called personal-history painting.

A whimsy lifts these spirits back out of the unknown and an occasional Gorey-esque grimness conveys a festive yet thoughtful psychic underpainting to the pictures’ mood, like Day of the Dead feasts for personas enjoying one more day of being larger than life.

These works are worth as many words as you can find on Raship’s inspirations, portraits of women meant to be seen who also will be heard. No few of these pop goddesses were material for mass-culture illustrators and photographers of their day, but not ones who were interested in revealing identity and painting in the rest of the record like Raship (a playwright as well as an artist) can do.

The images are up at a legendary New York performance space through March 31, in a show that’s been extended twice already, a fitting symbol of what’s here to stay.

What Comes Around (5)

The Top 5 things I didn’t get to in 2013

New Year’s is a time for reflection and aspiration, but these are fueled by fruitful regret! Over the next week or so (okay, by now it’s been more like months), we’ll be looking back longingly at art, comics, books and music I should have paid more public attention to in the 12 months just past — and pledging to make all our cultural appreciation immediate and immortal!

Chain cover

Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to YouTube by Trav S.D.

BearManor Media

Early in this family history of physical comedy, humorist, performer and variety-entertainment impresario Trav S.D. recalls how books alone brought to life a lost world of silent-movie comedy for him as a youth in the 1980s, noting the obstacles inherent in this activity as being like imagining the taste of gourmet dishes solely from food reviews. But Trav himself lays out a banquet of reminiscence, demonstrating how much of entertainment and edification occurs in the imagination, which is his most essential and assured medium. Like Wynton Marsalis, who was unjustly criticized in some quarters for acting, as frequent narrator of Ken Burns’ Jazz series, disingenuously “as if he had been there,” Trav wipes that concern away by making me feel like I was there. Also early in the book he proposes that Charles Chaplin held onto silent moviemaking so much longer than any of his contemporaries because he realized that the basics of storytelling do not require sound; Trav has a sense of the primal connections we make among events and with a work of art. That’s why his lively prose, itself dependent on words, paints pictures and conjures pratfalls — and historical turning points — that don’t just lead us to the source material but open a wide, clear window on it.ChaplinCoogan

It’s a common stumble of arts criticism itself that the act of analysis makes authors feel constrained to convey a seriousness in their phrasing that disserves the pleasurable values of what they’re describing to begin with — for pop to be honored, it doesn’t have to become respectable, and shouldn’t be. Trav’s prose is as energized and witty and open to the unpredictable and unforeseen as the high and low masterworks he considers; like all the best criticism it can’t compete with its subject but does complement it.

Trav’s cultural archeology is flawless, like he’s listening for the echoes of ancient laughter and feeding it new lines. He starts by explaining that some of the earliest clowns (performers preceding written-down theatre) were the mimes of ancient Greece (“mime” in this case for “mimesis” or imitation, placing them among the first memes); interestingly, this profession was so disreputable that it was strictly kept separate from the rites for the drunken god Dionysus, though it is hard to say now who has had the more enduring and fruitful Hangover.

Trav continues on through the Medieval-and-later European tradition of traveling pantomime and other entertainment, likening its temporary open-air stages to “the back of a pick-up truck” in the first of a book-full of phrasings in which he invokes historic practices by renewing them in the context of contemporary understanding. The conceptual continuum of Trav’s thinking is dazzling, as when he takes us through the centuries of suppression of European entertainment by the church, and the implicit origins of short-subject film comedy in brief scenarios played around or between more legitimate long-form culture (operas, ballets), as well as the disrepute that performers sustained across all these centuries, blowing through their material and your town fast. Life is short and feels long, so the jokes have to be even quicker.

KeatonFallLike a master career comedian (which he is), Trav retells stories that are old to him in ways that make them brand new, with both period patois and fresh turns of phrase. As important as it is to convey a thrice-told tale with its punchline intact, Trav also delves into not just the comic but the serious business of interpretations that have not been extracted before. His identification of early silent-comedy farce as a kind of proto-countercultural modeling of an anarchic spirit, and his perception of the greater role of blockbuster-scale disaster played for laughs (falling buildings, big explosions) as a diminishing of the individual’s scale by the very technology that’s also making these SFX advances possible, are all about what story is being told unconsciously by the jokes we tell on the surface.

Trav has a gift for cross-referential metaphor, as when he describes Chaplin’s improvisation of his films as being like using “the whole apparatus of the film studio [as] his pipe organ to compose on”; this talent serves Trav well in divining the symbolism that connected certain performers to the strivings of their viewers, forming more than just a bond of stage-and-audience call-and-response, as with Chaplin the recent immigrant embodying America’s possibilities for self-re-creation and Harold Lloyd (whose hilarity ensued while he was trying to play by the rules rather than flout them like Chaplin’s character) embodying the consolidation of comfort and following of social standards felt necessary by more long-established Americans.

LloydClockTo make these links Trav carries an encyclopedic, yet discerning, knowledge of every era’s context, sketching what was going on around a given comedian’s defining traits (like the acrobatic Douglas Fairbanks — known as a comic actor long before he was an early action hero — being surrounded by the first superstar body-builders, the popularization of vigorous outdoor activity by iconic president Teddy Roosevelt, etc.).

Trav’s populist scholarship acknowledges the need to connect with listeners in the way that all successful theatrics and effective educational transmission require, as when his historical lens takes in both the true phenomenon of a suis-generis genius like Buster Keaton, whose instincts and inventiveness were innate, and the context in which this supposedly (and avowedly) untutored humorist had to be influenced by cultural advances in ideas that (as often happens) we view as rare and recent but in fact were enjoying a first surge of discovery at an earlier time before the lid came down again (in Keaton’s case, the models of surrealism to be found mass-market in L. Frank Baum stories, Winsor McCay cartoons, and outlandish amusement park design as well as art galleries and literary journals). “No one comes from nowhere,” Trav remarks; we are always learning, even and maybe especially when we are being entertained.

The book brings to life personalities that even in their day were known to us mostly as their press-managed projected shadows, but reading those outlines Trav comes up with inspired psychological profiles (as with the fatalism of Keaton’s Midwestern, abused-child-star upbringing translating into an existential stoicism in his roiling comedy and impassive persona).

In the same way that modern vernacular and references refresh and clarify his content, Trav remains adaptable to where the results of individual artists’ experiments lead; for instance, affirming that some kind of emotional relation is needed to follow a comedic character through a whole feature rather that the shorts that once dominated Hollywood, while also acknowledging that, for the right type of completely absurd personality (Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers), conventional story can be a constraint which ruins the new territory that visionary jesters can take themselves and us to. Form-follows-function can also point the way to shapeless silliness when that’s what does the job (and when it is in fact just defining a new geometry we had to traverse the whole contours of to see).

However, Trav has a connoisseur’s eye for what should be left out of the frame. He persuasively argues that the prevalence of radio as the precursor to TV refocused film audiences to the verbal from the physical in a way that impaired comedy when films went from silent to “talkie,” a case of technological advances actually representing a narrowing of options in the way we can fixate on them at first.

keystone-kops-grangerThe book is a continual valued tutorial; I hadn’t known that pioneering comedy mogul Mack Sennet is partially responsible for the Miss America Pageant as well, or that Jacksonville, Florida was once a movie-making mecca. And throughout you get an idea of the kind of master-class Trav could run on how to get to the heart of what’s funny by acquainting yourself with that heart of your own (while also training your mind to understand what subjects stick with the audience as an odyssey into how they make sense of the world, and not just a diversion from it they’ll quickly forget). “The bird doesn’t know it’s singing,” he says, “it just does it” — artistry is intuitive, and can be an intention of the soul even if the artist is unaware and the consciousness of this only comes in those who are there to hear the song.

The book’s handful of flaws warrant much fewer than a thousand words: The scarcity of pictures is something you miss once you have read these stories, though you don’t find yourself wishing for them while making your way through Trav’s illuminating prose. In a discussion of the limited opportunities for African-American actors in the silent era, a footnote mentions Charles Lane’s much-later cult favorite Sidewalk Stories from 1988 and then never brings it up again, a bit maddeningly. And an over-apology for Chaplin’s (silly, irresponsible) celeb-statesman defense of the Soviet Union, in the face of the tyrannical McCarthyism that got him kicked out of the U.S. for it and is deemphasized by Trav, seems the one time when his grasp of historical context and proportion eludes him.

He can be allowed to miss one or two things since he is typically projecting magic moments and whole centuries of movement we otherwise couldn’t witness, or showing 20-20 vision for things no one saw at the time. His paralleling of the gruesome proto-torture-porn of the Three Stooges to the golden era of monster movies happening at the same time (the classic Frankenstein, Dracula and other franchises) is inspired, and causes a compact comic masterpiece in a brisk paragraph pointing up Larry, Moe, Curly and Shemp’s comparisons to slasher-movie/house-of-horrors psychos (fixating, or instance, on their neglectful, chopped or absent hair styles, which he likens to demented mad subgeniuses, head-hacking serial killers and patients shaved for brain surgery. Now that’s funny!)

HarpoLucyTrav needs to be as good an anthropologist as archaeologist in later chapters; silence can be right in the midst of modern commotion, but we don’t always stop to consider it that way. Harpo Marx was of course a lonely last-man-standing for pantomime in the center of hyper-verbal farces. Otherwise, Trav looks for flare-ups of the physical in our joke-obsessed current comedy canon.

Slapstick itself relies on the eyes, and the kinesthetic sense, and space, not words or explanations, though it does tell a story, like the dance that probably preceded spoken language among our ancient forebears. In this understanding Trav both tracks the persistence of precision slapstick — which mostly emigrated to TV after the 1940s, through veteran clowns like Red Skelton — and defines the debased variety (mere mayhem at the hands, feet and power-tools of the Stooges; mugging and contortions unconnected to the advancement of any story or delineation of any character by Jerry Lewis). He brings up the resurgence of formal clowning schools and popularity of theatrical clowning festivals throughout the 21st century world, and notes Sacha Baron Cohen as a standard-bearer (trained in this discipline and certainly a full-body comic in addition to his modern vaudevillian multicultural shtick).

Jim Carrey is conspicuous by his absence, perhaps lying unnoticed somewhere at the bottom of the Jerry Lewis file-folder, though I’d be interested to know what Trav makes of Carrey’s commute between pure farce and his Chaplinesque attempts (and occasional success) at art-house gravitas (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and Keatonesque darkness (The Cable Guy, I Love You Philip Morris). Trav does identify present-day makers of entirely silent movie comedies, and the success of his way of thinking is to get me noticing examples he doesn’t mention of surviving strains of visual comedy in venues where it feels so natural that I at first don’t realize that a revolution is being reborn — Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill’s drug-stupored flounderings in The Wolf of Wall Street; Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s Sisyphus-like struggles with fire-escape ladders and too-narrow doorways on Broad City; the improvised soundless side-stage café/cocktail-party business by the ensemble, especially dance-trained Stephanie Willing, in Ian W. Hill and Berit Johnson’s play The Strategist.

In short, and long, the show goes on, and while I didn’t want this book to end, Trav demonstrates that there is in truth no final act. Talk is cheap and laughs are gold, and in Chain of Fools Trav S.D. retells a grand story and epic punchline in your head, with a full and shining silence.

Part 1, Part 2Part 3, Part 4

No, Seriously, Stairs to Korea

cover flip

Indoctrinating myself with this disk (well, file) all month…the dead-Beach Boy angel-chorus and Miami-sound-machinery of “Paid Position,” the haunted player-piano and Eno hotwiring of “Josiah’s a Writer Now” (and the way it sounds like singer Will Vaughan is saying either “sigh” or “sire”); the lonesome drunk trumpet of “After You Die” and the interstitial muzak and the trapeze-ballet of intertwining backup vocals he does with himself and the way the whole set sounds like it starts on a triangle tinkle and ends on a bardic harp, and “Hey Roundheads” sounds like his best anti-American song yet, and I hope we can get him over here in not too long to do some more research. In 2013 David Bowie had the comeback of the decade, and Will Vaughan had the go-forward.

What Comes Around (4)

The Top 5 things I didn’t get to in 2013

New Year’s is a time for reflection and aspiration, but these are fueled by fruitful regret! Over the next week or so, we’ll be looking back longingly at art, comics, books and music I should have paid more public attention to in the 12 months just past — and pledging to make all our cultural appreciation immediate and immortal!


Human Gain by Stairs to Korea

Do not maladjust your set, Human Gain will seize your satellite playlist and make you feel as good about life as possible while convincing you that you can be better. Like a renegade self-aware social-network server that opens into the parts of your life you leave unposted, this album uploads your foibles for all to see and your joys for you to remember. “All of Your Friends” is the epitaph-update for self-conscious hipsters who might like to outlive the moment, and “Rabbit Years” is a headlong wedding-vow from people too preoccupied enjoying life to record it. But Stairs to Korea have registered it all, in glittery tones of icy electronics that come in multiple candy-syrup flavors; the sound-palette is like a careening ghost-taxi high-speed-haunting the radio and deck of every car it astrally crashes through, from bouncy Liverpudlian pop to Prince-like big-band gymnastics. Songwriter Will Vaughn’s wit is unsparing and generous at the same time, one of many paradoxes that dynamic harmonies hum between. The self-doubters of “She’s a Waste of Time” and the all-access haters of “Guy Fawkes” jostle past each other and try to avoid that taxi, but the hits keep on coming in the most fatally infectious parade of pop confectionary and Wilde-ian wise/assery of 2013 or any year this century. The vibrant cultural tangle and infectious ease of post-imperial Britain texture and illuminate this tuneful, attuned work, from the crazy unafraid tone and tempo shifts of “Paid Position” to the moody sinewave tide of “Rome Beware,” both of them delivering messages that make you think twice or at least once, and the latter mocking its own synthesized grandeur while ascending on the updraft of its well-earned ambition. When humans gain, that doesn’t leave any of us out, and if when music hits you feel no pain, Stairs to Korea’s truth can never hurt.

[Revolution on sale:]

Part 1, Part 2Part 3, Part 5

What Comes Around (3)

The Top 5 things I didn’t get to in 2013

New Year’s is a time for reflection and aspiration, but these are fueled by fruitful regret! Over the next week or so, we’ll be looking back longingly at art, comics, books and music I should have paid more public attention to in the 12 months just past — and pledging to make all our cultural appreciation immediate and immortal!

power of glamour-1

The Power of Glamour by Virginia Postrel

Time had a good run for four billion years or so, but it’s been replaced in our priorities with space — our understanding of dimension, in the theoretical-physics sense of parallel realities and not just geographic expansion, has overtaken our nostalgia for an idealized past or optimism for a perfected future; we could have the better life, the cleaner environment, the fairer society now, if we could make the right choices we know every moment’s particle pivots on and just bring the perfect world into focus with the space we occupy, like two projected film frames being synced up.

Virginal Postrel maps this perception of possibility in her fascinating study, out last December, The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion (Simon & Schuster).

PoG glasshouseHer subject is the allure of what we don’t have and feel we are in line for, be it social utopia or personal wealth or fulfillment in romance and creative expression. She shows how popular figures, widespread symbols, sought-after objects incarnate or refer to these desires, and how, by the nature of their personal significance, these icons are subjective, and subject to shifts in context of era and culture — how, for instance, the impoverished Depression era could glamorize sleek luxury (without taking account of industrialization’s costs in pollution and drudgery) while the comparatively materially satisfied current generation of Americans elevate the rural and organic (editing out the agrarian life’s difficulties and disease). 

This is not a book about style (Postrel has done one of those too); the author is examining not intrinsic worth or beauty, but an appeal that is ascribed to things. The icons of glamour — wind turbines, sporstcars, Marilyn Monroe — are not the Platonic “forms”; not the ideal, but the echo, the symbol that plays the superlative on television (or movies, or political conventions or sports arenas or shop-cases) and projects it on our dreams…or is the screen for them.

Postrel excavates with diligence and insight many things you recognize but realize you don’t know — the Rosetta Stones and commercial scripture of our current era, e.g., who actually held the first fashion show, and when the open theater of billboards and store windows first collected around a community whose aspirations they both spurred and articulated. In images we can see as icons of the old-fashioned, like the proper and put-together Gibson Girl (a late-1880s magazine- and print-illustration archetype), Postrel illuminates the roots of a later empowerment that this affluent and leisurely yet often solitary and always self-possessed figure, a significant departure for its time, set in motion and marked the progress toward.

The book takes care to be true to the sensory enjoyment or spiritual attachment under discussion, with phrasing and interpretations as artful as its subject matter, and an observant interplay between the text and images which specifically illustrate or thematically resonate with it, from art-deco murals to the Shanghai skyline to one particular valedictory photo that echoes back to the book’s first page in a way that shows Postrel’s encompassing vantage point and persistent attention.PoG military

She makes novel connections and certifies unpopular but incisive outlooks — as with the reasoning that early automation, with its fear of (then mostly male) workers being replaced, helped bring on the glamour and fantasy of cars (a machine you control) and self-reliant hyper-masculine movie gangsters and superheroes; and the realization that rappers’ supposedly crass bling obsession is not garish consumption but conspicuous positive visualization, from a class to whom economic and household-technology advances that the majority considers basic are not at all evenly distributed.

Too many sociologists deny the inexactness of their science, but Postrel understands that the observer must admit, embrace, their participation to report with any authenticity on how cultural influences work on the human mind; to this end her fluency in pop culture, her accounting for a range of its sources from 1600s Japan to modern hip-hop, and her consideration of the most seemingly ephemeral or widely dismissed expressions of it — comics, Star Trek fandom — are all the more persuasive.

As a scholar who partakes of as well as reflects upon the phenomenon, Postrel’s reasoning respects the public’s ability to discern the effect of glamour on them, as a connection we “know to be false but feel to be true,” as with superheroes, a symbol cited as clearly aspirational because the popular audience knows it is purely unattainable. Postrel builds a good case for why those aspirations (of the powerful being, the beautiful princess, the esteemed writer or accomplished adventurer) can be beneficial — not just in mentally escaping misery but successfully striving to leave it behind, or in envisioning the not-yet-possible to create needed inventions, etc. — as well as the dazzle of glamour’s more common critical identification as a spur to admire tyranny and terrorism or see life as one long disappointment.

PoG deco clipThe flaws are barely notable in the book’s captivating whole, though scrutiny of the type Postrel herself practices directs our attention beyond the surface. A faint market bias seems to poke through in passages like the one where Postrel catalogues the (very real) drawbacks of wind power in detail while only alluding to the illusions of nuclear by pondering if wind will go the way of “electricity too cheap to meter,” which only readers of a certain age or wonkiness will recognize as the Peaceful Atom’s old slogan. Editorial adjectives are reserved for counterparts Postrel has an apparent personal hostility toward — the “crabbed” and “desiccated” John Berger is a lot more fun to read that those who haven’t would surmise from the way he’s portrayed here, though Postrel has good points about the limitations of his inquiry.

And at some points she seems to overrule her own arguments to back away from even mildly dissident conclusions — in a spotlight on the visual archetype of The Striding Woman, she marshals many quotes from across history and from men, women, political individuals and commercial institutions alike to confirm the encouragement or exploitation of a feminist impulse in this image, then at the end says it conveys “a more universal allure.” But as rightfully universal as this vision is as a symbol of freedom and assurance, it always draws its appeal from an implication of what women couldn’t do before — and that can be a symbol to men who want to expand their possibilities too (like fashion photographer Richard Avedon, who is quoted as being inspired by the photos of Martin Munkacsi, an auteur of the confident, striding professional/fashionable woman image in the 1930s), but it is always keying to a specifically gendered sense of restraint and liberation (even the unconventional male identity reflected in Avedon’s interests and form of expression); sometimes a symbol isn’t “more” than it seems because what it seems is everything.
PoG future

Nonetheless, Postrel’s omnidirectional frame of reference rejects checklists. Any concern a reader of a given ideology can raise finds the book revolving around to a full and considered context (as when, apropos of the above, the chapter on contemporary glamour takes account of the action-heroine as icon of what viewers feel persistently missing in their life and society). Postrel processes events and adjusts the shape and breadth and texture of her observation to the profusion and evolution of its subjects in ways that diverge from the distance and retrospect of much social criticism and study; avoiding either political agendas or prior intellectual conclusions, her ability to assume the perspective and engage the vocabulary of many contexts and tastes, to navigate among multiple cultures (both historically established and spontaneously synthesized), makes Postrel one of the most indispensible intellects and credible observers in our perpetually morphing and exponentially diversifying social fabric.

Postrel’s eye takes in and evaluates with attentiveness and originality a panorama of human condition, period and place, and all its fine details and ephemeral shades of feeling and impression. The Power of Glamour is the almanac of the space we occupy as ever-differing people in the shifting world we collect around ourselves, a history-in-progress of the destiny we make up as we go along.

Part 1, Part 2Part 4, Part 5

What Comes Around (2)

The Top 5 things I didn’t get to in 2013

New Year’s is a time for reflection and aspiration, but these are fueled by fruitful regret! Over the next week or so, we’ll be looking back longingly at art, comics, books and music I should have paid more public attention to in the 12 months just past — and pledging to make all our cultural appreciation immediate and immortal!


Matteo Scalera

Europe is America’s alternate dimension, the Old World we base the euphoric and treacherous arcadia of elvin fantasy on, the future that never arrived for us in stylish 1960s sci-fi and romance movies, the contemporary land where we’re always appreciated more than our culture accepts itself.

Italy especially assumes this mantle of mass myth-marketing, an artistic mecca that has seismically radiated styles and sensibilities since the Renaissance and draws the world’s attention while stirring in all its creative fruits. The best Westerns were shot by Sergio Leone (in the Spanish desert) in the 1960s; the vocabulary of vampires and superheroes and fashion icons is most fluent in this cultural cosmos.

One of its most insistent emissaries in 2013 was comic artist Matteo Scalera, his spattered, serrated style the essence of bravura midcentury art-gesture while being the definition of graphic eloquence.

Scalera’s frame traveled centuries and continents and dimensions; Black Science (Image Comics) was about such explorers themselves, caught in a kind of cosmic iPod shuffle after a reality-crossing experiment mishap; but Scalera was in the nosecone and supremely confident of each crash-landing. Writer Rick Remender has mapped an odyssey across every landscape we know better than the lives we escape from, dropping his characters with vivid believability not into the most reflexive worlds of wish-fulfillment but through all the most garish of pulp and B-movie terrain, from evil laboratory to treacherous swamp to wicked castle to high-tech, primitive battlefield, all with parallel-world roulette spins (deranged regal frog-kings, a united archaic Europe beset by space-age Indigenous colonizers, etc.) and Scalera visualizes an atlas of what never was, in careening widescreen canvasses of sanity-straining surreal sensation.

Plummeting from an American-pulp concept of the future and stars to America’s founding myth of frontier courage, Scalera staged an eternal drama of desert survival struggle, with inhuman criminals and vengeful lawmen playing out the primal conflicts of classic Westerns in the trappings of our more recent legend, the 1970s gangster saga, for Dead Body Road — his Tarrantino-esque graphics conjuring the sun-blasted blank slate of the endless highway and the angular edges of old-school muscle cars puncturing the elegant swirls of Black Science’s hallucinatory surfaces. Scalera choreographed a ballet of wreckage, both emotional and mechanical, and the unblinking brutality from writer Justin Jordan was matched to a very clear-eyed morality, for the most horrifyingly mesmerizing and meaningful comic crime drama since Darwyn Cooke’s Parker graphic novels.

Scalera always benefits from the blessings of strong and visionary colorists; the baking hues and dank shadows of Moreno Dinisio in Dead Body Road animate Scalera’s savage stark linework and black edges, while the otherworldly surfaces and substance of Dean White’s painting in Black Science push Scalera to a reality-breaching sense of possibility (as the alien illuminations and slashing clarity of Val Staples complement Scalera’s grinding, muscular composition on Indestructible Hulk over at company-owned Marvel).

Scalera speaks our own mythology back to us, in ways that always take us farther than we knew possible, and keep the real world safe for imaginative grace.

Part 1, Part 3Part 4, Part 5