I don’t get comic books. That may not seem like a big deal; some people don’t get true crime (get) or anime (don’t get) or Bollywood (totally get) or science fiction (get, but only Samuel Delany and that’s just because there’s lots of deviant sex in his books) or whatever so-called genre there is to get or not get – doesn’t it seem like there are more genres every day, like porn: whatever you’re into there’s a sub of a sub of a subgenre just for you and the handful of others whose prenatal hormone mishap or relationship with their mothers have cursed (or blessed?) them with the same particular inability to get off on anything else? – but I can’t help feeling that somehow not getting comic books is a serious handicap right now, when our mass entertainment landscape is dominated by Batman and the rest. I try. I went to see The Dark Knight. I saw a couple of the Spiderman movies. Superheroes are one thing on paper – I went to art school; I’m a big fan of drawing, and I appreciate that there is some great drawing in comic books – but these movies with live actors playing superheroes always look to me like some guy forgot to take off his Halloween costume and everyone is pretending they don’t notice. It’s not a generational thing, though there is a mark on a timeline, maybe a fuzzy mark, that separates the era when little boys saw their lives through comic books from the current era when everybody (except me) sees their lives through comic books. Maybe it started when Pollack and Rothko etc. were knocked off their high modern pedestal by Rauschenberg and Warhol and, well, Lichtenstein, but I grew up in the 60s; I should have got in on the ground floor. Other boys my age carried comic books around with them. I had a couple Archies books, which I liked okay, but I’m sure the Archies don’t count. Maybe it’s a straight boy thing. Lip-service to change notwithstanding, mass media is still mostly created by straight boys. The inscrutability of comics certainly wasn’t the only thing that shut me out of the world of real boys when I was a young homosexual. Whatever the reason, superheroes are not my native tongue, and they say there’s a certain age past which it’s very difficult to learn a new language. I fear I will slowly lose my grasp on a world increasingly mediated by a popular mythology of superheroes. It’s way beyond the books themselves now. I think the actual publishing of those books, pamphlets really, printed on soft newsprint and sold in dusty little mom and pop stores, must be, if not over, at least a much smaller industry than it was in say the fifties. Keep in mind that I am relying on a version of the history of comics that I’ve mostly unconsciously composed in my head based on, at best, indirect observation, eavesdropping, misreading of magazine headlines, etc. I dated a guy briefly in my early twenties in the early eighties who was an artist at DC Comics. He drew Superman for a living. We met at the Ninth Circle, a hustler bar on 10th St. at the very ass-end of the West Village being at all counter-anything. A. had studied at SVA, I at Parsons, where our teachers were the last generation of artists whose teachers worshiped at the altar of Abstract Expressionism but whose students were painting, you guessed it, comic book characters, on canvas, and selling them in trendy galleries in the East Village. The night we met, I followed him to an after hours club on Houston St. and watched him dance maniacally to Gang of Four. I found him more intriguing than attractive. He lost his job at DC, and, whether he told me this or I assumed or fabricated it in the intervening years in order to create bit by bit, like we always do, a cohesive narrative out of events that most likely at the time didn’t cohere, let’s say it was because the comic book industry was on a downturn. I hate this word because it’s indiscriminately applied, but in the case of A. it’s accurate to say that I “dumped” him. One day he called from the corner of First Avenue and asked if he could come by. I said yes for no other reason I can think of than that I was a coward. I let him buzz for a while; then, someone must have let him in the building because he was knocking on my apartment door. I stood perfectly still on the other side of the door so he wouldn’t detect movement through the peephole until I heard his footsteps fade slowly down the hall toward the front door. Later that day I found slipped under my door a handwritten letter several pages long full of wistful regret about the demise of punk and the cynicism of the art world in New York. Many years after I left the city he got my address somehow, and now he sends me letters dozens of pages long, typed with an old manual typewriter on the back of Xeroxes of band fliers and newspaper photos of high school athletes and violent crime victims, which I assume are references for his work. He makes a living now drawing custom pornographic comics for people who are into torture, mutilation, Nazi medical experiment fantasies, stuff like that. When his letters arrive, before I read them I turn them over and leaf through the backs of the pages. Sometimes there’ll be a copy of a rough draft of one of his porn comics. I’m not particularly turned on by Nazis, but I get these comics. Batman, not so much.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
My Take on Comics.
I thought I'd share with you a short essay I wrote for my class, Postmodern America. The assignment was to write a personal essay addressing the question of whether one thought of oneself as a modernist or postmodernist. Here it is: