Saturday, November 5, 2011

Blogging Through a (Comic) Book: Bad Island pt. 1: A Preface

I just picked up Bad Island by Doug TenNapel. If you've heard of Doug, it's because you've met me, played Earthworm Jim, or (more unlikely) played The NeverHood. It's probably only the best computer game to have ever been made, and almost no one played it.

So, here's the thing: Doug is a gifted artist, at least with a brush. And I've bought almost everyone of his graphic novels. Gear (his first), and Earthboy Jacobus are my absolute favorites. At some point, however, the comics just became not worth buying. There came a point where it seemed like the stories weren't quite justifying their ticket prices of 10, 15, or 20 dollars. Which is a shame. I really like supporting art that I can really get behind, and Doug's art is there. If the man released a limited edition hard bound art book, I would save up and buy it. Seriously: he's a monster with an inking brush.

At first I figured it was just diversifying taste that did it. I went through some pretty profound personal changes, and my tastes in other areas changed, so why not this one? But I noticed that all his books contained the same arch: lazy layabout learns responsibility; saves day. Next I noticed it was the clumsy way in which he implemented religion into his books. I'm not at all opposed to the (smart) integration of religion into art. In fact, I often think the best art is in some way religious. Two of my favorite authors (Grant Morrison and Alan Moore) have often talked about how their fiction is a way to communicate their "religions" (quotes were used because they don't have formal codified religions, but do have a particular way of viewing the world that they want to show others). The way CS Lewis wove religion into his Silent Planet Trilogy and Until We Have Faces? Profound. Profound while being blatantly Christian (at least in the Planet Trilogy). The Fountain is my favorite movie, and that's Aaronofsky essentially laying out his view of how reality works. Or should.

But Doug's stuff is clumsy. I never open a book from Doug and wonder if the protagonist will convert to some version of Christianity by the end. It's a no-brainer in a way that kills any would-have-been-well-implemeneted religious tension. But even that could be easily looked over. It definitely weakens a story to have an alien promoting communion (but not an alien version of communion. No - an alien confirming our very human idea of communion, as if Jesus might only save them if they can come to him on human terms), or a man that tries to pass off the traditional Christian creation story as some kind of indecipherable myth (spoiler alert: it's not), but these things don't kill a story. No, in the end, what made it so hard for me to justify throwing down that hard earned dough is the disneyfication of his stories.

By disneyfication I mean the tendency of movies made for family (or mass) consumption to throw out a cacophony of loose threads and subplots into the central narrative, many not actually adding substance to the work as a whole, just for the sake of having a long form 3rd act resolution. Not only does Jeff win the skating championship, but he gets a contract with the skating company, so now he has enough money to pay all of his mom's medical bills and get his little brother out of debtor's prison. His dad may not come back from the dead, but his dad's ghost does appear to say, "Hey, your stepdad might not be me, but he's a good guy, and you should give him a chance. Also, there was no magic in those shoes: the magic was in you the whole time." He also gets the girl and his lost dog comes back. And his stepdad gets his job back at the dirt factory. With a promotion. Endings that are so relentingly saccharine, there's no freedom for you as the viewer to interpret or even have your own reaction. It's too airtight and spelled out, and that's what killed it for me.

After that long intro (in which I can't emphasize enough how great of an artist Doug is [if he'd kick that horrible digital habit], and how great Earthboy Jacobus and Gear are. Seriously. Stop reading this, get those, then come back here), I started this entry to say that I just picked up his newest book (from the library. Like I said: I'd love to buy a new TenNapel joint, but I can't justify bad art) and I want to blog through my reactions as I read it. And here we go... on the next post.

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