The artificial muscles in the severed robot head of Jack Kirby start shifting around. For a moment there, he looks like the piercing-eyed Superman of his original JIMMY OLSEN pencils. Hair starts sprouting, bushy and vegetal, until I find myself faced by Philip K Dick. Tendrils in the back of his head have connected to an old tape cassette in the bookcase behind him, a recording of Philip K Dick speaking, that came with one of a stack of issues of a journal about the man that I bought about five years back. (In a later issue, a woman speaks in wonder of the tape, saying that she sat transfixed “listening to the breath of Philip K Dick.”)
“It didn’t have to be Murphy Anderson and Al Plastino, you know,” he says. “I see entire worlds. Worlds that don’t fall apart two days later. It was 1970. They could have gotten anybody from that time to redraw those heads. What if someone had made the decision that being on-model didn’t matter? Imagine a DC that responded to Marvel’s perceived hipness a lot earlier — hell, they even tried, a little later, with things like PREZ, and the crazy stoned stuff Jerry Grandenetti was doing. Imagine a Carmine Infantino tripping his balls off in the office, yelling at people that the fucking heads need redrawing, fucking Kirby and his bullshit, and I don’t fucking care who does it, I can see the white light and God is telling me Alex Toth wants to fly so I’m going upstairs to throw him off the fucking roof –
” — and eager young freaks in the office, freed by a company structure even more chaotic than Marvel’s became now that everyone at DC is completely deranged by hallucinogen psychosis, go off to get a bunch of people to redraw Jack Kirby’s severed heads.”
Superman’s head by Robert Crumb: eyes bulging, leering at Jack Kirby spacegirls with their strong thighs. Big Barda from Kirby’s MISTER MIRACLE is Aline Kominsky-Crumb from Mars. Crumb cannot contain himself: he writes in new dialogue over Kirby’s. “I’ll show them! I’LL SHOW THEM ALL!” yells Supercrumb, and slices up the page so it cuts to Superman punching out a car. He doodles himself riding on the back of a Fourth World girl. They print it anyway.
(Robert Crumb hasn’t met Aline, his future wife, yet. He’s about a year, eighteen months, from that. But he’s drawing a character called Honeybunch Kaminski, over and over. Aline’s childhood nickname was The Bunch. Crumb is even harder on himself in his autobiographical comics after meeting Aline. DC don’t think to send pages to Aline, even though she was doing her savage, gleefully scab-pickingly grotesque autobio comics prior to meeting him. She did an open Q&A in the UK newspaper The Guardian in 2005 and half the questions were about Crumb. I don’t even know how much of Aline Kominsky’s work remains in print.)
Superman’s head by Philippe Druillet. A disease vector, a strategy of sickness. A low brow, burrning eyes. Skin like ancient lichen, hardened into a granite face. A Superman who has seen all of time. American children begin shooting each other in schoolyards just to escape the terrifying eyes of Superman.
Superman’s head by Shary Flenniken: in 1970, she’s just met Dan O’Neill, who’s already been fired a bunch of times by the San Francisco Chronicle over his comic strip ODD BODKINS (which he’s been drawing since the Tardis-year 1963), and is working up to his final firing, preparing to work twenty-odd Disney characters into the strip without permission. Dan O’Neill is, I suspect, a little crazy. He’s already muttering about the Mouse Liberation Front, essentially a one-man “copyfight” for the release of Disney’s characters into the public domain. (Walt Disney died in 1966, but there are persistent urban myths to the effect that his severed head exists in a state of suspended animation, in a cryogenic vault under EPCOT.) In their shared immediate future lays AIR PIRATE FUNNIES, a Disney parody/detournement/reclamation comic that Flenniken participated in “reluctantly”. But today, at Sky River, along with Berkeley Barb cartoonists Bobby London and Ted Richards, they produce SKY RIVER FUNNIES, run off on a mimeograph machine during the Sky River Festival, live and direct. Good artists, all, but it’s Flenniken’s exquisitely wandering, deceptively loose line that stays with me. Her Superman head is funny, knowing, button-eyed but with a hint of crazy, a Superman she could imagine at the Air Pirates table talking with Vaughn Bode while admiring Bode’s frosted nail polish, a Superman who could live in New York and laugh at Michael O’Donoghue’s sick jokes because he was Superman enough to take things lightly. (Flenniken worked with O’Donoghue at NATIONAL LAMPOON. In 1981, during his second stint as a writer on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, he wrote a sketch around the “Bizarro” concept in Superman comics, where there is a weird reversed-out clone Superman who does everything backwards, transposing it to America’s Reagan administration: “It am an international crisis! Quick, Bizarro President! Go to sleep!”) Girls all over America suddenly understand what Lois Lane sees in Superman.
(“Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” — GK Chesterton)
WORLD OF HURT, a webcomic you can find at http://worldofhurtonline.com , is kind of fun. It’s serialised newspaper-strip style, in black and white, in a classical art style of the form. It looks like blaxploitation, but it’s not homage so much as an attempt to find a pure tone in the subgenre. Jay Potts is doing strong early work, and I see much potential.
Oh, and http://www.witchdoctorcomic.com is mental.
I can be sent things via Avatar Press at Avatar Press, 515 N. Century Blvd., Rantoul, IL 61866, USA, but I cannot promise a response or a review. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, but I warn you, it’s a dump address, not my regular email address, so it can take me a few days to check it.
DO ANYTHING IS © WARREN ELLIS 2009, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.