Sunday, 23 August 2015

Oh God, Another Countdown by Lev Butts


I know, it seems like I just finished my last countdown. But once again, I find myself without an idea for this month's blog post. I used up all my righteous anger with Amazon last month, and it's been relatively quiet on the self-publishing front, so I don't have anything new to be upset about. The month before that, I gave advice on developing ideas, so anything I write about that will seem to be treading on my own toes.

and that never ends well.
I had thought about writing about creating convincing dialogue, but as soon as I sat down to do that, I forgot all the words. I could give you pointers on writing a self-published bestseller, but I'd have to do that first.

So that leaves a countdown. However, I am going to do it a little differently this time around. Last time, I held fast to my schedule and made sure I continued the countdown until it was done. I put new ideas aside, determined to use them when I was finished with the countdown. I wound up forgetting a whole slew of them, and by the time I finished the countdown, all the others had aged out of relevancy.

You know, kind of like these guys.
This time I will allow myself to deviate from the countdown if I have a good idea for the blog on a given month. 

So what's the new countdown about? It's an idea I had when I finished the last one. As you recall, the last one was my top ten books that had a significant influence on my life. While I was working on that list, I kept throwing out comic books, probably because of some ingrained literary snobbery that told me comic books might be too low-brow for this topic.

I realized, though, that the comics I kept throwing out were all very similar in one distinct way: They all dealt either overtly or subtly with how stories work. They were all to a greater or lesser degree "aware" of themselves as comics.

So this will be a countdown of my five favorite meta-fictional comic books.

THE HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Before we begin, though, allow me to mention a few titles that didn't make the list but are still worth a look:

Preacher - Garth Ennis (writer) Steve Dillon (art)


Preacher tells the story of Rev. Jesse Custer who, after being possessed by Genesis (a semi-divine result of mating an angel with a demon), goes on a quest to discover what happened to God (who abandoned His creations shortly after Genesis' birth and has become somewhat of a deadbeat dad). Along the way, he hooks up with two travelling companions: his ex-girlfriend Tulip O'Hare, a failed hitwoman; and Cassidy, a drunken Irish vampire and veteran of the Easter Rebellion. Together the three travel America and the world on a quest to find God and give him a good talking-to.

Equal parts irreverent blasphemy and existential meditation, the comic relies heavily on the tropes of the American Western: the ghost of John Wayne serves as Jesse's spirit guide; and they are pursued by the Saint of Killers, a reanimated bounty hunter who bears more than a passing resemblance to Clint Eastwood's William Munny.  At one point, Jesse even becomes the sheriff of a small Texas town. And as in any Western, the pages are filled with stunning landscapes from Monument Valley to The Alamo.

Unfortunately, I was looking for comics that dealt mainly with story in general, and Preacher is too specifically a Western to fit such a broad category.

Watchmen - Alan Moore (writer) Dave Gibbons (art)


Similarly, Watchmen, one of the first comics to be seen as literature instead of pubescent escapism, has too narrow a focus for my purposes. Where Preacher focuses more on the Western, Watchmen focuses more on deconstructing the tropes of superhero stories. 

Watchmen is set in an alternate reality closely mirroring that of 1980's.  The primary difference between our world and that of the story is the literal presence of superheroes, or masked vigilantes. Their existence, especially that of Dr. Manhattan (the only hero with true "super powers" as a result of a nuclear experiment gone awry) has dramatically affected and altered the outcomes of real-world events such as the Vietnam War and the presidency of Richard Nixon, who is now entering his sixth term as president. 

The graphic novel ostensibly tells the story of the the murder of The Comedian, an ex-superhero-turned-government-operative, and its unsanctioned investigation by Rorschach, another masked vigilante who has refused to retire despite the outlawing of unlicensed superheroes in 1977. As with Preacher, however, there is far more going on. The book also subtly examines the psyches of people who would choose to be vigilantes as well as underlining the dangers of allowing others (be they superheroes or the government) unfettered sanction to protect us.

Deadpool - Marvel Comics (creators: Fabian Nicieza & Rob Liefeld)



Deadpool is not a comic per se (though as the image above shows, he does have his own title). Deadpool is a super-anti-hero within the Marvel universe. He is, apparently the only character, though, who is aware that he is in a comic book. Deemed "The Merc With A Mouth," Deadpool spends much of his time conversing with the audience by breaking the fourth wall and arguing with the captions of his own comic panels. He's well worth the read, but sadly doesn't fit my purposes despite his obvious employment of meta-fictional devices since his adventures do not really delve very far into the tropes of story-telling as do the titles that do make my list.

Howard the Duck - Marvel Comics (created by Steve Gerber)


Howard the Duck has had his own title a few times since his first appearance in 1973 with the Man-Thing in Adventure into Fear #19. However, for most of these four decades, he has, like Deadpool, been a character moving in and out of other titles. Howard is from an alternate universe where ducks became the dominant species and now finds himself "trapped in a world he never made" (though now, apparently, it's a world "he's grown accustomed to") with a bunch of hairless apes. 

Howard's adventures are generally social satires or parodies of genre fiction (such as Kung-fu, Western, and Zombie films) with a meta-fictional awareness of the medium. His stories are existentialist, and the main joke, according to his creator, is that there is no joke: "that life's most serious moments and most incredibly dumb moments are often distinguishable only by a momentary point of view." However, while each of these things might be enough to qualify Howard for a place in my countdown, his story never quite gels into a sustained narrative, remaining primarily a series of loosely connected episodes. 

Issue #16 of Howard the Duck's first run (September, 1977), though, is well worth a place on my list if I weren't limiting this list to five entries. It is an illustrated prose piece in which Steve Gerber sits in a diner and discusses with Howard the ins and outs of writing and the comic book industry by way of explaining why he hasn't met his script deadline (a plight I am all too familiar with myself).

So there we go. Next month: Number 5 (assuming, of course, I don't find something better to write about).


6 comments:

Lydia Bennet said...

You cunning devil, you've got another five months lined up - especially clever, doing this month's about comic books you're NOT going to feature! Nice one! :) I must say, comic books/graphic novels are something totally outside my experience so far, so it will be interesting to see if I'm tempted to dip a tootsie in there - though I've seen a lot of movies based on them.

Reb MacRath said...

I'm with a Valerie here, admiring your slyness and originality--plus the brilliance of your opening with five not on your list. Wicked Lev! But I've only read only one graphic 'novel', Watchmen--and ran into such vehement reactions when I disputed its to be lit (art, yes...lit, noooo)--that I may have to follow you from a prudent, silent distance here.

Reb MacRath said...

Correction. I'm not with 'a' Valerie!

Nick Green said...

Did you ever read Ambush Bug? He was another 'self-aware' comic character, but in the DC Universe. My teenage self thought it was the funniest thing ever... I've not checked to see if it has stood the test of time. But I do remember that every single comic book trope was mercilessly deconstructed.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

I have not read a comic since the Beano. I wonder if it's a 'guy' thing, but I'm not sure it's even that. It's one of those worlds that I know nothing about but feel I ought to. Thanks for the introduction!

Leverett Butts said...

It's aight Reb. I still think highly of ye.