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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Under the Radar's Protest Issue -- Indie/alt-rock magazine Under the Radar sent along their Protest Issue, which has a lengthy and informative section on politically-leaning bands and artists like Modest Mouse and Michael Stipe discussing their politics and how they navigate the minefield of being celebrity advocates for political causes they believe in. That section is fascinating and well-written...but it's not why they sent me the issue.

How disappointing, then, that the reason they did -- is on page 74, "Tights and the Good Fight," an article about what they call "political comics." It's a full-page, utterly bankrupt puff-piece featuring mostly toothless mid-level hacks suckling at Time-Warner's teat (plus one corporate comics temporary refugee selling to Image a title DC and Marvel likely rejected, but still not likely to be very good -- or politically significant) and passing it off as, gag, "political."

The three writers are:

* Brian K. Vaughan, who rarely creates a comic book I can stand and has changed the world not at all with his superhero book Ex Machina, the first issue of which was more than enough for me.

* Brian Wood, who has only held my attention with his most political work, Channel Zero (which he dismisses here as preachy and amateurish without acknowledging its immediacy and power), and with his least, Demo. The Under the Radar piece focuses on DMZ, which like Ex Machina, lost my interest before its first issue had concluded.

* And Mark Millar, who, Jesus, are his comics political? I like the guy as a human being and I love his Superman Adventures a lot, but any political message in his comics is usually buried in his wiseass self-satisfaction, and in any case the message is always lost in the joke he's made of himself over the years with his arrogant, desperate self-promotion. What was the political message of The Ultimates? The images that remain in memory are Captain America kicking a mentally ill monster when he's completely and utterly down, and Ant-Man assaulting his wife. Will War Heroes have anything valuable to say about the state of the world? Do you think I give a shit? Wake me up if it gets George W. Bush on the stand for crimes against humanity in the world court, or even calls for that to happen. (I will acknowledge that, published by Image, it's at least possible that could happen -- Time-Warner would sooner make Bruce Wayne a flaming homo for reals before they'd let Millar, or Vaughan, or Wood say anything true about our war criminal commander-in-chief.)

Fuck this shitty article on faux-political comics that utterly ignores vital comics with something genuine to say, like World War III Illustrated, The Filth, Shirtlifter, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Fun Home or even fucking Cerebus. This article might have had its origins in the best of intentions, but it's a slap in the face to comics creators who actually have something to say, and value that over the steady paycheck and ready promotional departments of two of the biggest comic book publishers in North America. Jesus Christ, they couldn't even include Garth Ennis in this sorry lot? Of course not, he might have said something true about something that matters.

It's amazing to me that a magazine that so obviously mines the most obscure labels and artists in rock music to find the gems contained in its music reviews pages, settles for the most facile, obvious and frankly shitty "political" comics to highlight in an otherwise excellent and important issue about the life and death issues of our time. No apparent effort was made to investigate the many political views of all stripes that can be found in mini-comics, alternative comics, artcomix or even goddamned Doonesbury.

But then again, maybe I shouldn't be so surprised at the tribute that Under the Radar pays to the most mediocre of corporate superhero comics and creators -- after all, look at the picture. Variant cover, anyone?

The rest of the magazine was fantastic. But it's not why they wanted me to cover it.



Blogger Tucker Stone said...

How can you write an article about political comics and not include, or at least mention, World War 3 Illustrated? That's incomprehensible. Thanks for this.

04 July, 2008 14:33  
Blogger Brian Wood said...

Hey Alan

Just to quickly comment that DMZ is by far my most political book, and fully jumps into the topical subject matters that I was only able to stumble around the edges of at the time with Channel Zero. Reading half an issue wouldn't communicate that to you, though, so I understand your comments.


04 July, 2008 16:44  
Blogger Phil said...

I've read almost every issue of DMZ and you should really give it more than half an issue before judging it. It's very complex and very political and I definitely recommend it.

I've also read the Under the Radar article and actually thought it was pretty good. You have to remember that it's only a 1-page article and that it's in a music magazine. There's only so much that you can get into with a 1-page article. Sure they could've mentioned WWIII or other such books, but a music magazine should be applauded for even tackling political comic books at all. I haven't seen too many non-comic book focussed magazines write about political comic books and most magazines that cover music, film, TV and the like mainly ignore comic books as an entertainment medium. I do certainly get your point that there are plenty of other comic book companies out there beyond DC, Marvel, and Image, and really this article should've been a 2 or 3 page article to fully get into the nuances of political comics, but I say that the mag still gets an A for effort. And I still think you should read more issues of DMZ, and I'm not just saying that because Brian Wood also posted a comment!

16 July, 2008 22:41  

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