These might be the most important words in comics: "Hey, have you read that?" The medium's lifeblood has always been the word-of-mouth that passes from one reader to another. The only query that might surpass the above is "So, what'd you think?"
Here's where we put the discussion into Panel Discussion. Of course, we want to hear from you. Please join us in the comments below.
This week, pop culture critics Douglas Wolk, Graeme McMillan and myself talk about The Private Eye #2 and Julio's Day. One happens in the near future while the other takes place over the last century but people have things to hide in each comic. Read on to see why we think is good or problematic about each work.
Evan: So we've got Private Eye #2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin and Julio's Day by Gilbert Hernandez on tap this week.
Graeme: Two very different comics, those two.
Douglas: That is very true.
Graeme: Let's start with the beautiful, garish Private Eye.
Evan: Yeah, garish. That's a great way to put it. I love how the book fuses all these familiar genre elements: a flying car straight out of Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D., a Cthulu mask, brass knuckles out of a Mickey Spillane story.
Douglas: I really, really like The Private Eye. I can't describe its concept as easily as I can describe other Brian K. Vaughan comics, but I love the LOOK of it -- Marcos Martin is one of those artists who aren't nearly as well known as they ought to be, but he's SO good at playing with the page's space, and he's gotten right into the groove of landscape-format art.
Graeme: Douglas, doesn't this seem like a series that's far more ABOUT the visuals than any other BKV comic? The writing in it is very sharp (of course), and I love the genre mash-up, but this is ALL about the art for me. And the colours. I can't imagine this in print, the colours are so vibrant.
Douglas: And I love the old "do the worldbuilding first, then don't explain it and let readers figure it out as they go along" trick. I don't think Vaughan's done that before -- even Saga tends to be very easy to grasp -- and I'm enjoying going back over the first two issues and puzzling it out.
Graeme: I feel like this second issue benefited from not having the info dump of the first.
Evan: And Martin seems to have down a subtle shift in the framing in this issue. The first issue had more wide-angle shots -- better suited to the world-building -- and this one was more close-ups and talking heads.
Graeme: As if BKV got that out the way and was then comfortable enough to leave everything else to us.
Douglas: Side note: I'm very happy to see people who've done a lot of mainstream comics doing stuff on their own, online, and figuring out how to get paid for it -- see also the Lady Sabre Kickstarter that's doubled its initial goal in about a week.
Evan: Douglas, I spoke to Rucka about that very topic last week.
Douglas: Graeme,very true! It's definitely visually driven in a way that Y the Last Man and Ex Machina weren't (and Saga kind of is).
Graeme: Evan, the framing in this felt (appropriately) more influenced by noir movies, but entirely detoured by the colors/costumes. The focus on visuals feels consistent with what the book is about, though - The surface gloss and how it hides what's underneath.
Douglas: There's also a lot of wordless panels and sequences in this one. Martin's a really strong visual storyteller -- he can make images that are very simple but that you want to linger over long enough to catch what's happening in them–and so he's getting to do a lot of the work here.
Graeme: I wonder if Martin will continue to evolve his pacing/structure as the writing becomes more intricate and the story goes on.
Evan: Yeah, the scene where PI takes off the eye-black was oddly effective
Graeme: Look at how the colours shifted down a gear in that scene, too.
Douglas: As I understand, Saga is becoming one of the big backlist success stories of the moment; I wonder how many of its readers are aware of The Private Eye? They've been doing remarkably little to publicize it. Like, you'd think they'd at least email people who bought the first one to let them know the second one's out.
Graeme: This is a visually SMART book.
Douglas: (The downshift followed by the mostly-white wordless panel: YES.)
Graeme: Yeah, the strange release schedule/method here fascinates me. Like, the first one almost advertised itself: HERE ARE THESE GUYS DOING THIS CRAZY THING. But for future issues, how can they repeat that impact?
Evan: Vaughan says in the afterword that it exceeded expectations, so that's good, hopefully?
Graeme: Are they hoping we'll just continue to be all "Oh, wow, have you SEEN this?"
Douglas: That's possible. And it's possible that we will -- !
Graeme: I think it's good, yes. But I also wonder what the plan is to keep this going, for want of a better way to put it. This feels too good to just... run quietly, I guess?
Evan: I certainly hope this isn't something that gets abandoned for more stable, better paying work
Graeme: Like, I know they keep saying no print plans, but, man, I'd love to have this in a hardcover when it's done.
Douglas: I think it's meant to be about 10 episodes.
Graeme: Evan, Martin quit Daredevil for this, so there's that, I guess?
Evan: Wow, OK.
Douglas: I'd like to see that too, but I also admire the idea that it's just a place to work out a new form… straight to digital and designed first and foremost with tablet reading in mind.
Evan: Reading it in landscape felt like reading a Sunday colour comics strip in a newspaper years ago. That déjà vu was compounded by the fact that the journo cop looks a lot like Dick Tracy.
Douglas: I also love the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) the "cover" image this issue is also the final panel of the story!
Graeme: Yeah, I really enjoyed that. It's funny… that was also the gimmick of a lot of DC's WTF covers, where it DIDN'T work.
Evan: Yeah, that feels unconventional, just like so much else about the book.
Graeme: Maybe the plus is that the cover here is just a cool image with no baggage until you get to that final scene?
Douglas: That makes sense.
Graeme: There's no "AND THESE GUYS -- WILL SHOOT OUR HEROES!" blurb to spoil it. All told, it's one of those "Well, if only ALL comics were this good" things, still.
Which reminds me: Did you see the review of Daredevil that was essentially "I wish this book wasn't so good, quality is boring"?
Evan: None of you asked but I still feel the need to say that my favourite line from this comic was "Easy with my Christian, handsome."
Douglas: Shall we tackle Julio's Day?
Graeme: Yes! I am very curious what you two made of it.
Douglas: I encountered "Julio's Day" in its original incarnation -- in the second volume of "Love & Rockets," where we usually only got, I think, a page an issue, the idea being that we got lots of little fragments of this guy's life and had to piece them together. That's one thing that Gilbert Hernandez does in a LOT of his work: strip the story down to tiny moments that imply a lot more, and let readers work out how they all fit together for themselves.
Graeme: It's something that I was initially thrown by here: - The time jumps between scenes with no immediate signifiers. It was one of those things that made me realise how much I rely on storytelling crutches elsewhere.
Douglas: So I wondered if this version -- 100 pages long (one for each year of the character's life, although not one PER each year) -- might connect the dots a bit more. And... it mostly doesn't! I kind of feel like I should sit down with it at much greater length and work it all out. I caught a few ways that things tied together, but I'm sure I'm missing most of them. But it also doesn't have the insane momentum and scope of some of the Gilbert Hernandez things I like best -- Luba or The High Soft Lisp or Love & Rockets X.
Graeme: It is surprisingly complex, but also surprisingly... uneven, I guess? It felt very scattered to me, and not intentionally. Unlike you, Douglas, this is probably my favourite Gilbert yet. But then, I haven't read Palomar, and I find his work problematic in other places. It's his obsession with uber-large breasts, I admit. It's a weird fetishization thing of his that distracts from everything around it.
Douglas: Not a lot of uber-large breasts in this one, though, gotta say. Plus: gay male protagonist!
Evan: This was my first contact with the work and it felt scattered to me, too
Douglas: Well, Gilbert is totally problematic! Gilbert tries hard to be problematic!
Graeme: Evan, how long did it take for the book to make sense to you? Asking because I felt it to be "too long," if that makes sense. And, to Douglas, yes. Thankfully, the fetishization was kept to a minimum. Although, his cartoonish qualities weren't. For example, Julio's father's sickness felt like it came out of another book.
Evan: I got the gist right away and liked it overall but struggled to care about some of the characters.
Graeme: That's the unevenness I was referring to before; there wasn't a consistency in tone.
Douglas: One thing I find fascinating about Beto's stuff is that he can make "tacky/sleazy" a deliberate tonal choice, and does it way more often and for longer than most other "highbrow" cartoonists.
Graeme: I'm torn on the gay male protagonist bit. On the one hand, yay for not sensationalizing it! On the other, Julio seemed more asexual than gay and his reaction to the grandson was... odd.
Evan: The broad humour didn't always mesh well with the sleazy, fantastical and horror beats
Graeme: Douglas, his consistency with tacky/sleazy as aesthetic is one of the reasons I have such problems with his work overall, even if that wasn't the case here.
Douglas: Evan, yeah, I think that's the thing: there are a lot of Gilbert's characters, even very minor ones, who are permanently part of my brain now, and not many of the characters here are anywhere near as lively.
Graeme: And Evan, yes, the humour and the horror and everything else didn't make sense.
Evan: I did like how the family lived on the fringes of the 20th Century. It reminded me A LOT of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' 100 Years of Solitude. The weird almost-incest, characters with the same names and weird proclivities, home-as-a-black-hole-you-can't-escape, the outside world as an exotic dangerous place, nature as this karmic equaliser …
Graeme: Evan, I think you have managed to make 100 Years of Solitude sound amazingly unappealing by accident.
Evan: Well, I don't mean to. But those things are there, right?
Douglas: Also, it's not really a secret that G.H. is really into 100 Years of Solitude–there's a conversation about it fairly early in Heartbreak Soup!
Douglas: Graeme, my take on Julio's sexuality is that it's interesting to have a really, really, really repressed protagonist around whom everything else in the story revolves. But that also creates story problems...
Graeme: I feel that even his repression was repressed, though; it felt less as if he was repressing his own urges as Gilbert was avoiding the subject.
Douglas: So the thing I really loved here, as always, was Hernandez's artwork. That page where the grandson is walking in the snow out in the middle of nowhere and the clouds are just a few hatched lines: SO GORGEOUS.
Graeme: Gilbert-as-artist does environment really well. The various transition scenes that just focus on the surroundings and weather are all lovely to me. I think he's stronger at that than at character work.
Douglas: What this really made me think of is this: you know how you might have a favourite art-film director? And sometimes they make masterpieces, and sometimes they make this weird little slightly malformed slip of a movie that you're still fond of because it's so obviously theirs? Even if it's not actually anywhere near as affecting ast the masterpieces? That's where I am with Julio's Day.
Graeme: Yeah, I can see that. I almost have the opposite reaction: I liked it, but what I found off-putting was what I would term Gilbert tics.
Evan: I just wanted it to feel more... lyrical? Like that on book of his a few years back, with the orange groves?
Douglas: I tend to like artists for their tics in general... the things that sneak into their work even when they're trying for something else. Evan you're taking about Sloth!
Graeme: Douglas, I agree wholeheartedly about liking artists for their tics. It's just that there are also artists whose tics I don't like, you know?
Douglas: Yeah, this one's his Another Woman rather than his Hannah And Her Sisters, I suppose.
Graeme: But both are... valuable? I don't know; I suspect this may give me more of an "in" into Gilbert's work in some way.
Douglas: Which would make Fatima: The Blood Spinners his... Melinda and Melinda?
Graeme: I know that my first thought when finishing it was "I REALLY have to read Palomar." Marble Season is Radio Days, then?
Douglas: ...It totally is! Marble Season is his cute, simple, lightweight story of a particular happy moment in childhood.
Evan: I haven't read Marble Season yet.
Douglas: Which means that Palomar is Annie Hall and… please somebody stop me now, thanks!
Evan: Ok, we're done here.
Graeme: Next: Why Jaime Hernandez is actually Julie Delphy.