Tag Archives: Oulipo

Weird Little Lines

by Chris Randle


Earlier this week I profiled the scary-talented young cartoonist Michael DeForge, who’s up for three Doug Wright Awards on May 7. But our interview ran long, and got nerdy, so I thought I would share a couple of the more illuminating excisions here.

CR: You recently posted a few pages from The Seed Stirs, a graphic novel that you started drawing last year before abandoning and pretty much destroying it. Why did you finally give up on it? Do you ever worry that something like that might become some fabled lost comic, like Al Columbia’s issue of [the unfinished Alan Moore miniseries] Big Numbers?

MICHAEL DEFORGE: I don’t think anyone’s keeping track of my projects very closely [laughs]. That one went through a few false starts. At first it had a premise that ended up – it was more about a kid’s relationship with his father, and that ended up being the bulk of Lose #3. Then as I kept rewriting it and reworking pages I ended going through three different revisions. Each time I got a few pages in…the final one I got about 17 pages in, I think. But there’s all these things I thought were wrong with the pacing and needed retooling, and some of it was just down to – I realized that I needed to draw it on bigger pages to do what I wanted with it. I just couldn’t use it anymore. And since then…I’d like to return to it, but I feel like I exhausted a lot of post-apocalyptic imagery in Lose #3, so I might want to wait a bit before I immediately return to that. The other thing is that post-apocalyptic literature is really in vogue, moreso than that comic is actually about the logistics of it. Lose #3 takes place in this wasteland, but it’s not a post-apocalyptic thing–

CR: It’s almost a subversion of it. It takes place in this wasteland, but nobody actually seems to notice or care that it does.

MD: Right. Which is a part of it, yeah, but The Seed Stirs was more about these kids living there. So I was afraid I’d be too influenced by a lot of the other stuff that’s happening right now with that. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to wait a few years and decide if I still liked the story.

CR: I guess you could always have chopped up the pages and turned them into a record cover, like Al Columbia apparently did.

MICHAEL DEFORGE: Oh, right, yeah. That’s a horrifying story.

CR: Tell me about the porn anthology that you’re co-editing.

MD: That’s with Ryan Sands, and the first issue will feature Johnny Negron, Derek Ballard, Katie Skelly…That’s been fun to work on. I don’t do a lot of work on that. Anything like that, I always feel like I don’t really earn the title of co-editor, because I’m so passive about everything. But I’m excited about that. Hopefully in the course of the two issues we’ll have a range of sexuality represented there.

CR: I was going to ask about that, actually, if there’s going to be female contributors, because it is great to have a mix of – to not just have boys doing it.

MD: Yeah. The first issue has one female contributor – we might have a second, but as of now it’s not confirmed yet [laughs]. And the second issue, I’ll be the only male contributor. We have less gay material than we might have hoped, but we’re not trying to include one of everything – a lot of the artists that we pick, we pick for aesthetic concerns too. We haven’t been super prescriptive about it, so we’re kind of just seeing how it goes. We’ve been picking artists who we trust and we think would make a diverse mix and seeing what the end result will be.

CR: You should totally approach Gilbert Hernandez [best known for Love & Rockets, but also his bizarre XXX miniseries Birdland].

MD: That would be a dream. That would be amazing.

CR: I think Birdland and maybe Colleen Coover’s Small Favors are…the height of porn comics.

MD: This year was the first time I read Birdland, which is a pretty crazy one.

CR: How everyone changes gender in the middle of it?

MD: Hernandez might be – he’s someone I came to way later, too, but he might be my favourite working cartoonist right now. I don’t know, tied with Clowes or Ware or something, but he’s been a huge influence on me despite my having only come to his work two years ago.

CR: I think he might be my favourite as well, just because we share more of the same cultural touchstones or aesthetic fixations. And I like how…rough his work is, especially in comparison with his brother. Even his clouds look like they’re from another world.

MD: Yeah, the amounts of weird tiny little lines that make up his textures are just amazing. He does my all-time favourite page layouts, I think.

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Tea With Chris: Vote Oulipo

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: Vibe‘s exposé of the venal rap aggregator WorldStarHipHop entertains and depresses at the same time – there are plenty of rich bottom-feeders online, but site founder “Q” must be among the most delusional, attributing his dubious achievement to a mystical revelation. Arianna Huffington would never explain her page views this cynically, though: “9-to-5 people love to see misery. People want to say, ‘I thought I had it bad, but look at these people.’ That’s what sells.”

Florida Republicans love restricting abortion rights, hate unhelpful legislative references to female bodies. So they’ve banned them too. Maybe a GOP representative is vying for Oulipo membership?

Light cones and “quantum financial products.”

Rich Juzwiak reminded me that I really need to read Hot Stuff, Alice Echols’ recent history of disco: “Echols examines gay macho (the 70’s trend that found gay dudes dressing butch to a stereotypical extent) as a mindfuck. Was it a way of balancing society’s expectations with gays’ innate humanity (allowing gayness to be tolerated as long as it wasn’t faggy), or was it more subversive, breaking the association of passivity and femininity with homosexuality, since so many man’s men-seeming dudes were taking it up the butt? Who knows? It’s so complicated! Echols ends the section with a quote from Guy Hocquenghem: ‘Our assholes are revolutionary!’ Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Carl: Margaux didn’t tell us she was working on a book, especially in such an awesome way.

Further afield, it’s sad to see LCD Soundsystem stop (and especially not to see them live this weekend, since I never have), but as Nitsuh Abebe eloquently limns in this New York Magazine piece, they’re doing it to leave the most perfect history behind them. The deftness of that gesture is like everything they have done – working with the ultimately mundane material of scenes and sounds and collector-ness but seeking the exact place in those subjects where they crack and let the whole universe in. Their humour, always double-sided, murmurs, “This would be bullshit, except that it’s my life.” And at that point the specific milieu ceases to matter, because that’s a T-shirt everybody can wear.

In a similar spirit, this is an obvious choice, but there’s nothing gained in clever ways to say goodbye.

Otherwise, if you are in Montreal tonight or any of these places, do whatever you must to catch the current Destroyer tour. (Except try to get in with fake ID when you are actually of age. Events witnessed last night told us that was a dumb idea. Get yourself real ID, okay?) There were people at the show last night who said they came prepared, even wanting, to dislike it, and could not. Freed of the need to play guitar by an eight-piece swirling horns-and-pedals-and-everything band, Dan Bejar becomes a whole other performer – not an extroverted one, quite, but a crooner who exudes relaxation and pleasure in the company of these people and all this sound, not to mention a healthy bang on a tambourine. If he’d done this a decade ago it’s hard to imagine how swish he’d be at it now, but fuck regret, the time has come. Also, the crowd last night was B-A-N-A… y’know what I mean. Gonzo excited. Their ironic moustaches were standing on end. Only one note: Soundmen, please keep keyboardist/vocalist Larissa Loyva’s voice higher in the mix. The duets are important. Not to pick nits. We Destroyer devotees are arrant knaves, all, believe none of us, but go thy ways to a clubbery, posthaste.

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Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson

Tintin in Tangier

by Chris Randle

It’s often said that Tintin is the world’s most famous Belgian, perhaps because it sounds like a syllogism: a fictional character from a notional country. And the intrepid boy reporter has been appropriated far beyond Wallonia, for purposes alternately pornographic, postmodern and Spielbergian. My favourite of these detournements is predictably Breaking Free, which recasts Hergé’s characters as working-class radicals in a didactic struggle against Thatcherism. That almost seems pious next to X’ed Out.

Charles Burns’ new book is the first of a trilogy, oversized and full-colour in the Franco-Belgian tradition.  Most people reading this probably know Burns best from the portraits he’s drawn for every cover of The Believer, but his major work up until now was Black Hole, a serial-turned-graphic-novel about teenage stoners giving each other sexually transmitted mutations. The horror in X’ed Out is more implicit; it unnerves by infecting Hergé’s bright, clean world with images from ’70s punk culture. You could call it Tintin and the Lower East Side.

Bandaged and bedridden for unexplained reasons, a kid named Doug slides through time and space whenever he swallows enough medication or stares at the wrong Polaroid. Burns’ alienated performance artist bounces from a no-future Pacific Northwest into some city out of the dystopian adventure Tintin never had. William Burroughs is a big, clammy touchstone here – the grumpy lizard-men, rivers of industrial sludge and North-African-ish setting all feel like his kinks. The two worlds eventually bleed into each other: Nitnit is Doug’s alter ego both in the realm of “the Hive” and on stage in Seattle, where he reads cut-ups over feedback before the main act runs out of patience. (“I mean, what do you call that, anyway? I guess it was art.”)

So far Burns is only gesturing at a plot. (Doug’s dying father and the self-destructive photographer he’s fixated on appear only briefly in the parasite landscape, the latter as a cliffhanger.) The primary attraction is watching a great cartoonist experiment. This one has never worked in colour before, and his deep, dark inks diverge sharply from Hergé’s ligne claire. Following his pastiche’s adaptation to those rounder, cartoonish lines, I saw new resonances between the two artists: Burns’ usual style is far more elaborate than his model’s was, but their techniques both feel methodical, controlled.

Not all of the riffs are so intriguing. While Tintin always chased after that little white dog, Nitnit searches for a cat named Inky, and the critter might as well bat readers on the nose. But I loved how Burns recycles one familiar image to fill Burroughsworld with mottled red-and-white eggs, culminating in the creepiest-looking omelette you’ll ever see. There’s a single notable female character in Hergé’s strips, matronly diva Bianca Castiafiore, and our hero’s intentions towards her or his bawdy sailor friend remain pure as Snowy.

Chris Ware once said: “Tintin was fundamentally too sexless to really catch on in America.” Yet Tom McCarthy’s poststructuralist romp Tintin and the Secret of Literature argues that “Hergé, like all good Catholic boys, has a filthy mind…[Castafiore’s titular emerald] is a clitoris, duh.” Burns’ pregnant allusions to “breeding” imply where his X is marked. Like fellow cartoonist Joost Swarte, who coined the phrase ligne claire, he draws out the fucking repressed by that flatness.

A smooth surface can intimate freakiness of its own, though. The hybrid sections of X’ed Out are filled with suggestive abstractions: Doug’s scar becomes Nitnit’s cartoon plaster, his hair spikes out into a punkish variation on Tintin’s trademark quiff, and entire panels are taken up by blocks of colour or symbols. It reminded me of TNT en Amerique, the most radical Hergé revision of all. Jochen Gerner’s comic, which sprang from the cartooning equivalent of Oulipo, reduces Tintin in America to a blacked-out series of broken phrases and neon signs.

Gerner later said: “I dismantle a given material to make something else of it…I did not see this book as a ‘technical feat’ but as the discovery of a secret passage, of a dark track followed to the end.” When William Burroughs and Brion Gysin joined forces to spread their gospel of divine deformity, they gave the cut-up technique a slogan: “Rub Out the Word.” You know what Tintin means in French? “Nothing.”

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