Charles Burns Trade Post: X’ed Out, The Hive & Sugar Skull

x'ed outBack when Charles Burns’ X’ed Out was first announced, I’m pretty sure I was still at Wizard. The idea was that he’d publish this story in three parts over the course of years. At the time, I don’t think I’d read Black Hole yet, but was still curious about the book. Even so, I figured I’d wait until the entire thing was out in the world before I read it.

Cut to a few weeks back when I was looking at my library’s art section and found several shelves dedicated to books on the history of comics and even a few seemingly misplaced graphic novels like X’ed. I grabbed it and put in a request for The Hive and Sugar Skull immediately after getting home and read them all within a few days of each other, which is definitely the way to go unless you can sit down and knock them out one right after the other.

the hiveThese three books chronicle large chunks of Doug’s life. Doug’s a dude who liked to dress up in a Tintin mask (called Nitnit in the book) and spout half-written poetry off to the sound of noise collages at rock shows while in college. He had a girlfriend, but left her for a girl he found far more interesting named Sarah. In a lot of ways, Sarah changes his life. He finds a fellow artist in her, someone who actually does more with her talent than take awkward self portraits with a Polaroid. But, like Doug, Sarah has a lot of other things going on, including a crazy ex boyfriend.

None of this is expressed as linearly in the book as in the above paragraph. We cut from periods of Doug’s life — usually designated by haircuts, chubbiness and scars that you just have to pick up on — to a Nitnit-inspired world filled with overly mean lizards, red and white eggs and bed-ridden versions of the women he loved who birth those eggs. I’m far from the best person in the world to analyze anything, but upon my first reading, I saw this world as the place Doug retreated to to punish himself for not being the person he thought he could be.

sugar skullWhen I finished Sugar Skull I felt very much like I did after watching David Lynch’s Lost Highway for the first time. In both cases I felt moved by the ingestion of art I just partook in, but knew that I wouldn’t actually understand it without repeated attempts (or possibly ever). Some people love having every beat and moment explained to them — and I honestly wouldn’t mind an in depth conversation about these books in the next few weeks before the memories begin to fade — but man, I love this kind of thing. It’s not the sort of entertainment I put into my brain often, because of general parent-related tiredness, but when I do, this is exactly the kind of deep, dark, layered story I want.

 

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Arty, Cross-Medium Double Feature: The Giant Mechanical Man & Shoplifter

I haven’t been blogging too much lately as regular readers can tell. I’m not sure why that is. Sure, I’m busy with a new gig, but I also don’t have the same burning desire to write down my thoughts about everything I see, hear or read. But, I do still love having this page here as my little corner of the internet extolling the virtues of the things I love. It also works as a pretty handy external memory because mine is getting worse and worse and these are some stories I want to remember.

the giant mechanical manA few weeks back I realized that I’ve moved out of my “watching people kill or get killed” phase and wanted to move into some more emotional offerings. I’ll never stop loving action and horror movies and I do feel like they are a great distraction when you’re already feeling incredibly bogged down by real-life emotional matters, but once things equalize a bit, it’s nice to see if the ol’ heart can take on a movie meant to do more than thrill and spill blood.

So, with that feeling in mind, I went looking around the Netflix queue to see what was available and landed on The Giant Mechanical Man. I only knew about this one because I’m a big fan of Jenna Fischer from The Office and saw her tweet about it. The film about a pair of wayward souls who discover each other in Detroit also stars Chris Messina of The Wendy Project fame (another beloved show in our house), Malin Akerman and Topher Grace. Fischer’s husband Lee Kirk wrote and directed the film.

The movie follows Fischer, an awkward adult who doesn’t quite know what she wants to do with her life and Messina’s title character who dresses up in a giant suit, paints on makeup and walks on stilts as a piece of performance art. The two eventually find each other while working at a zoo to make some scratch and develop a genuine relationship in a world seemingly filled with plastic, surface-y characters played by Akerman, Grace and Harry Crane (er, Rich Sommer).

For me, the cast comes together really well to tell this story so concerned with authenticity, Art and honesty. I also really appreciate that the movie was shot in and around Detroit. I grew up less than an hour away from the city and while it wasn’t a regular destination, I have a soft spot in my heart for it, especially when it’s treated as more than just a place where awful things happen. The fact that this true love grew there was a nice part of the story that just struck me. I’m glad I made this one of the first more emotional movies I watched this year.

shoplifter That feeling of opening-up has also spread into my comic reading. The last time I went to the library I found a different section of trades in the sci-fi section (the other two are in YA and kids) and saw that they had Michael Cho’s Shoplifter. I immediately snatched it up because I’ve been following Cho on Twitter for years now, love his style and had been wanting to check this book out since I saw him posting about it.

The graphic novel — a sequential story told all in one volume as opposed to the monthly comic book format everyone’s familiar with — stars Corinna Park, a woman in her mid-to-late 20s working for an advertising agency. But, that’s not what she wants to do with her life. She wants to be a writer. This entry level job wound up taking off, sucking her focus and making her kind of hate her life a little bit, what life there is to hate. The title refers to her not-too-often habit of stealing a magazine while buying other goods at a corner store near her house. After meeting a guy she likes, she starts thinking about making a huge change in her life, though even that doesn’t quite shake out like intended.

I really enjoyed this story. The story itself is not one unlike the kind you see at the heart of a lot of indie movies like Giant Mechanical Man or The Lifeguard, the idea of not knowing what the hell you’re going to do that swirls around creative types in all mediums. Cho literally adds his own style to it by using a visual look that uses black, white and pink (instead of gray). Pink might seem a bit one note for a lot of people, but it works as well during the day as it does at night and adds a kind of frosting quality to what Corrina’s going through. This isn’t real life for her, it’s just the gussied up version she’s living for now until she figures out the real thing she wants to do.

As a wannabe writer myself, I can’t help but instantly fall for Shoplifter like I have so many stories like it in the past. I am super on board for anything else Michael Cho wants to write and draw about. His is a voice I can relate to and appreciate.