Saturday, February 05, 2005

Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you
If you're young at heart
For it's hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind
If you're young at heart

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams
And life gets more exciting with each passing day
And love is either in your heart or on it's way

Don't you know that it's worth every treasure on earth
To be young at heart
For as rich as you are it's much better by far
To be young at heart

And if you should survive to 105
Look at all you'll derive out of being alive
Then here is the best part
You have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart

"Young at Heart" by Carolyn Leigh and Johnny Richards

As of last January 16, I am 45 years of age. I say this not for your sympathy, but to establish a point early on, nothing more. There's method to my age and song-quoting madness, bear with me.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usRight now, there is nobody with more hype and buzz than Bryan Lee O'Malley, the fellow responsible for the much-talked-about Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life Vol.1, as well as his debut effort Lost at Sea. Again, I know that most of you reading this already know that, so again bear with, OK?

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usI read Lost a couple of weeks ago, and Pilgrim a couple of days ago; I wanted to wait until I had finished them both before holding forth. And I had two initial reactions, one after the other: this guy's art is deceptively great; and I am nowhere near the target demographic for either of these stories. I felt like I was trying to hang with my daughter's friends, another pathetic old man trying to be (Dr. Evil voice here) all "I'm hip, I'm with it!".

It strikes me as odd that in a field which is concerned constantly with writing "comics for adults", and is often preoccupied with not seeming juvenile or childish, how few graphic novels are actually written for adults. And by "adults", I'm saying people in that over-30 years of age bracket, not the young, trendy, edgy, advertising-dollar-friendly 18-25 bracket. In most comics, especially Indie books, that I run across- all the protagonists are twentysomething or younger, like (in most cases), their author/artists, with that sexy "alternative" look, all baseball-sleeve shirts, black-rimmed glasses, choppy/long straight hair, belly shirts on the girls, lots of barrettes, clunky heels, all of them pretty as sin and most of them preoccupied with the very sort of thing that trendmakers and MTV mandate that one must be preoccupied with. And yes, I know, I'm simplifying and generalizing, and I could probably use better examples to make my point, but Jesus, Mary and Joseph, do I feel old and in the way after reading a lot of Indie output these days, and that extends to webcomics like Scary-Go-Round, Diesel Sweeties, Girls With Slingshots, Wapsi Square, and others. This is nobody's fault, creators are just doing what they know best, which is kind of the number one rule given to aspiring writers and artists. But I can't help but wonder- who's doing the comics for people in my age group and older? A cynic would answer that Marvel and DC are perpetuating their corporate trademarks with its hidebound continuity concerns for the aging fanboys out there, but what of those of us who don't particularly want to read Thomas/Conway/Wolfman-style comics until they're dead? The only Indie graphic novels or comics that featured older people as the main characters that I can think of offhand were Paul Grist's Kane (and he may have been in his twenties), and AiT/PlanetLar's Last of the Independents. I'm sure there are others, but they don't come to mind easily and for every one of them there are three DEMOs, Blankets and Couriers. DC, more so than Marvel, seems to feature more, shall we say, "mature" characters; scanning a recent issue of Justice League Elite, to name one of many, I get the idea that Green Arrow is probably in his mid-thirties, Flash in his early thirties, and over in Superman and the Batman books, especially Gotham Central, the title characters appear to be in their mid-thirties and some of the members of the GCPD older than that. And don't get me wrong here- identifying with the main characters is not absolutely essential for me to enjoy a story; one of my favorite comics series of recent memory is Courtney Crumrin, fer Chrissakes.. I try to maintain an interest in the new, and I haven't closed myself off to youth culture, film, books, music- at least not as much as many of my peers in the ordinary run of life have. Hence the song lyrics up top. Maybe I'm an arrested adolescent, who can say. But like I said earlier, ofttimes I read a lot of what is most hyped in Indie comics circles these days and feel like I'm trying to run with my son's buddies. I don't belong, and I can't relate.

So, long-winded rant aside, what did I think of Lost at Sea and Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life Vol. 1 ? I liked them. With reservations. Lost is the story of a self-absorbed, spacey young girl named Raliegh (age 18, but O'Malley draws her as if she was 12) who is traveling back home with some friends she met in college. Shy, self-conscious Raliegh is convinced that she has no soul, that cats stole it. Actually, Raliegh is suffering from a broken home (she has a silly, ineffectual, arrested-adolescent dad and a driven career Mom who are divorced) and is crushing on a guy she met online, and once met in person as well, and had a brief relationship. Raliegh keeps seeing cats, and eventually persuades her friends to catch some of them in hopes of getting her purloined soul back. Everybody has a lot of self-revealing scenes, they all bond, and Raliegh decides perhaps her life isn't so bad after all, because she has friends and they make her feel good about herself. And here's where what I said earlier comes into play; as a parent of two grown children, and as someone who went through a sizable amount of adolescent angst myself, I just wanted to sit her down and say "Raliegh, this, too will pass. When you get older, you'll look back and see how trivial your problems were and regret spending so much time being preoccupied with yourself". And perhaps this is what she realizes at the end, anyway- but it takes a fair amount of time to get there. On a craft level, O'Malley has a nice knack for writing dialogue, especially humor. Even though I never was comfortable being privy to the journey of Raliegh and her friends, I admired the natural, relaxed storytelling style O'Malley has. In lesser hands, this could be unbearably pretentious, but O'Malley never gives in. I like his art a lot more than his writing, even, and more on that after I've held forth on Precious Little Life.

I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim a lot more than its predecessor; it was a lot more lively and fun. It's about 3/4 rock 'n' roll romantic comedy, then (as I'm sure most of you are aware, so hopefully I'm not dropping spoilers here) it makes an abrupt, jarring switch into superpowered video-game style fighting which would be completely offputting if not for the fact that O'Malley builds up such goodwill with his note-perfect relationship stuff that he can hand this to us with a smile on his face, and we nod and say "that's pretty cool". It's very hard to resist that panel with them all standing in unison, pointing, towards the end. O'Malley has the stones to make his title character a bit of a self-absorbed dick; but he still somehow makes him likeable enough to where we hope Scott ends up with his literal dream girl Ramona, even though we develop an attraction to the high school girl named (for no apparent reason that I could ascertain) Knives Chao that he takes up with first. It's a neat trick. As with Lost (I'm gonna talk about art now), O'Malley has a deceptively simple art style, with his elastic-limbed, Lego-headed figures...but he can take his endearingly sloppy fat ink line and grant them all expressiveness to burn, plus he is outstanding at staging, composition, spotting blacks, and all that good old technical stuff. Like Andi Watson, whose work hums a similar tune, he is very good at saying a lot with little more than a few brush strokes. It's a nice ability to have.

So yeah, I liked both these books, Pilgrim more so than Lost. I'd give the former an A, the latter a B+. I will, of course, be right there with most of my Comics Blogosphereiversal peers when Pilgrim Vol. 2 comes out. And I hope nobody says "Go home, Grandpa, this is NOT FOR YOU!!".

Heh- Eddie Vedder reference.

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