Friday, July 30, 2010

Chronic Review: Glamourpuss # 14!

Glamourpuss # 14

Script: Dave Sim
Pencils: Dave Sim
23 pages for $3.00

I think it's healthy to check in on the things you loathe once in awhile. It keeps you fresh, focused and it prevents the mind from spitting out dogmatic nonsense. I'm not suggesting that you should hold a subscription to everything you hate. That would seem counter-productive to a life of happiness. I'm suggesting that after two years of taking pot shots at it, that it was time for Ryan Lee to re-investigate Glamourpuss and experience what I've spent so much energy bitching about.

Just to quickly recap - for the uninitiated, Glamourpuss is a very bizarre hybrid. It combines a history of photo-realistic illustration (focusing mostly on Alex Raymond) with anti-feminist social commentary. By hybrid, I don't mean that this is one narrative that intermingles these things. One half of the book is photo-realism, and the other half is fashionista hijinx.

I think I could probably write a book on this book, but of course we don't have the time or space for that here. A few thoughts on my revisit to the House of Sim:

1) Dave Sim is an extraordinary penciller

I know that should be obvious by now, but I'm telling you the truth - I did not really absorb this fact until I read Glamourpuss # 14. I mean, this guy can really draw. I like his faces, I'm especially impressed with the way he renders hair. I like his lines that convey motion. There are several points during the Alex Raymond bits where he is layering "ghost" lines into a figure or scene, and they look goddamn fantastic.

In the first panel, Raymond is shutting the door of his vehicle, and it casts a shadow on the vehicle that just looks....spookily true. Everything looks accurate. The people, the cars, the backgrounds, it all rings true, and this is not a guy with a stack of photos and a lightbox. This is a penciller with a mature style at what I would assume is the top of the game. If he gets better than this, that would be pretty scary.

2) The Concept Is Still Completely Untenable

I know that Dave Sim is an adult funding this with his own hard earned money, and he can do what he wants. Fine.

This thing is too weird for life. There are certain things that just don't go together well, even if both elements are positive. I know people who like shrimp and people who like ice cream. Shrimp ice cream is a BAD fucking idea.

The photo-realism bit and the social commentary bit just don't work together. Listen, norms are powerful things. Norms are more powerful than laws, and yet they are almost never written. They don't need to be written, they are simply understood. To not understand them is to demonstrate "otherness", and perhaps even madness. It's off-putting.

If you have a friend who walks backward in a circle at the top of every hour and sings "Every Breath You Take", you will not be that person's friend for long. There's nothing illegal about walking backward. And "Every Breath You Take", while overplayed initially, is actually a pretty darned good song.

But you just don't do that. It's weird. It demonstrates that you fail to understand the basic fabric of 21st Century American culture if you do that. That person may have a host of other great qualities, and they are all probably made moot by that personal tic.

I'm betting that you know people in your life who engage in this type of behavior, although probably on a less "in your face" scale. They are crusaders, martyrs to their own cause, and usually quite tragic.

They thrust their fist to the sky and say "But I'm RIGHT! It's silly and arbitrary to dismiss me just because once per hour I walk backwards, plus the Police ROCK! They're the ones who are being stupid, why should I have to change???"

And I suppose the answer is that they don't have to change. Feel free to be shoved under the rug and ostracized if you like, and sometimes the world needs a good revolution, and then you really need a committed fist-thruster.

But my reply to these tragic cases now goes like this: yes, it is silly and arbitrary to dismiss a comic because it combines two completely ill-fitting pieces into one absurd whole. And yet, that's the way it is. It's equally silly and equally arbitrary to ignore a rule you recognize just because it pleases you to do so.

Pick your battles, I say. Perhaps the point of Glamourpuss is for Sim to stick up a black-and-white middle finger every other month and say to the world "I'm doing it my way, and up your ass if you can't handle it!" And if that's the point, mission accomplished. Congratulations.

If the point is to be heard, absorbed, understood....this is just too weird for life. The presentation is getting in the way of the message. Pick your battles. What is it Kevin Spacey said in Swimming With Sharks?

"If you're not anti-establishment at age 20, you've got no balls. But if you're not a company man at age 30, you've got no brains!" I think the Alex Raymond stuff stands fairly well on its own regardless of where you find it. But the social commentary part? The part where we need to trust that the authorial voice isn't shit nuts as it skewers the culture? Glamourpuss shoots itself in the foot there.

3) Incidentally, some of Sim's shots at feminism in this issue are....dare I say clever?

The back half of the book is set up as a parody of the Facebook privacy issues. Glamourpuss industries develops a "microbeCHIP" that infects all connecting hard drives and ISPs and allows one to tear into a target's account that you want to be "more than friendly" with.

The last 11 pages are Facebook profile pictures of women complete with profile information and the results their use of the MicrobeCHIP.

"Belinda S graduated at the top her class and was immediately appointed CEO of her father's worldwide multinational corporation based solely on merit. After doing that for two weeks she ran for and won a seat in the House of Representatives, ran for President and then switched parties. It was a busy year!"

That's funny to me. The obvious fallacy of "solely on merit", even as it's laid out straight faced is funny. The "two weeks" bit is a nice jab. Of course the obvious retort is to deny the stereotype of the "fickle woman", and yet...there's something there. Isn't there? And it's fairly tolerable to digest when it's done in good fun, and that's the vibe I got from these pages.

Honestly, comics could use a good satire book or seven. I'm not convinced I'm in on all of the jokes, (not exactly sure what all of the Teletubby stuff was in the Bunny Frou Frou bit) but a lot of the Facebook stuff was enjoyable.

Nothing in here seemed as toxic or deadly serious as the "Voids" and "Lights" business back in the day. Is this Dave Sim's letter to the ether declaring that he still feels that world's become a bit too pussified (I'll agree with that) but that he sees the lighter side of it all now? I don't know.

It's tough to know how to process the philosophy of an author who doesn't know that the Alex Raymond bits don't go with the fashion plate bits. How do you know when the guy who walks backwards and sings Sting tunes once an hour is kidding?

- Ryan

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