Do Anything 017 by Warren Ellis

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It’s right there on the cover of Jack Kirby’s 1980s miniseries SILVER STAR, a comics version of a screenplay he wrote and never sold in the 1970s: “A Visual Novel.”

I guess Jack didn’t fancy using the term “graphic novel,” perhaps because it’s so intrinsically linked now with Will Eisner, whose paperback edition of his CONTRACT WITH GOD had the term affixed to it in 1978.  Which has lead many to consider Eisner the coiner of the term.  In fact, “Graphic novel” is said to have been coined by fan writer Richard Kyle, sometime between 1964 and 1966.

In 1976, Jim Steranko’s CHANDLER: RED TIDE has the term Visual Novel on the cover and Graphic Novel within its preface.

(And DO ANYTHING 2 would be the world as seen from the stage of Jim Steranko, who described his late 60s op/pop/psych/design style as “Zap Art.”  Zap Art!  That would have been a good Jack Kirby style name too.  And Kirby’s intrinsic to Steranko’s artistic DNA.  Hell, Steranko got his first work at Marvel by inking two pages of Kirby.)

Also 1976: the inside flap of Richard Corben’s BLOODSTAR describes the work as “a new, revolutionary concept — a graphic novel.”

(Or DO ANYTHING 2 might be about Richard Corben, admired by Will Eisner and Robert Crumb, the connection between Meat Loaf – Corben did the cover to BAT OUT OF HELL, being recorded here in 1976 for release in 1977 – and Harlan Ellison, who in 1976 is recording HARLAN! HARLAN ELLISON READS HARLAN ELLISON, and, my God, Harlan knows everyone, knows where all the bodies are buried, can probably do a reasonable facsimile of their voices, and yes let’s not disturb him before we get completely sidetracked into a DO ANYTHING 2 that is all about Harlan Ellison’s sentient kitchen table.)

(1976 soundtrack: “Anarchy In The UK”; “The Boys Are Back In Town”; “Oxygene”: Bowie’s STATION TO STATION.  Joy Division have formed.  Black Flag have formed.  Throbbing Gristle have formed.  Brian Eno’s all over the place, recording, producing, collaborating.  Eno on his art education in Ipswich, sixty miles northeast of me: “Everybody thought they could do anything.”  Things are in the saddle.)

GRAPHIC STORY MAGAZINE.  Graphic Albums.  Sequential art.  Picture Novels (1950, entitled IT RHYMES WITH LUST).  Illustrated novel.  Comic-strip novel.  Manga, and then Original English Manga, a much-derided term that actually has precedent in UKBD, an attempt by Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury around 1983 to find a cross-Channel term for comics that wasn’t “comics.”  Bande Dessinée, the French (and therefore Franco-Belgian) term for comics, literally means drawn strip, and is usually abbreviated to BD.  UKBD was a brief and valiant effort to establish a British comics form that took its cues from the riches of Europe rather than the pervasive American form (which had, by this time, entered into a sick vegetal symbiosis with the classical, very compressed English form into what you might call “2000AD Style,” which itself was already being interrogated and hacked around in the monthlyish WARRIOR comics anthology by, among others, Alan Moore).  UKBD embraced the Ligne Claire of Phil Elliot, the Atom Style of Rian Hughes, the post-Herriman emotional truths of Ed Pinsent and (particularly, brilliantly,) Glenn Dakin, (who in the mid-Eighties drew comics that sounded like the best bedroom indie you ever heard), even the Kirby Style of Shaky Kane (because it represented the alternate-world Kirby who eschewed the vodka martinis and Op Art of Steranko for handfuls of dried psylocibin while designing the Skylab naked atop the Eiffel Tower).

And, of course, Eddie Campbell.  (And DO ANYTHING 2 could just as easily be all about Eddie Campbell’s notion, which I believe was explicated during an interview with Alan Moore conducted in ESCAPE, of stories not as structure but of an organic nature, shaped perhaps like a branch.  Found stories.  The allusion to the vegetal and plantlike doesn’t escape any reader who’s still conscious at this point in my terrible Narrative.  But it also signals a possible release from mine and Jack’s compound of Architecture and Design (even though Eddie appreciated Jim Steranko as a man who knew how to draw a man in a good suit and a thin tie) into the world of nature and discovery, forests of ideas, hidden cities in the jungles of comics…)

(But I am in control.  I am wiggling a rusty screwdriver into the Kirby head’s amygdala.  Eddie Campbell and Burne Hogarth’s Tarzan discover an overgrown structure in the jungle.  It is Francois Roche’s Spidernetthewood, the web-like building designed to be subsumed and hidden by the forest it’s built in, until, five years later, it is part of the ecoscape, invisible until you walk into it.  And inside, atop a rotting plinth that you belatedly realise is composed of the bodies of Len Wein’s Swamp Thing and Steve Gerber’s Man-Thing seized by cellular coma in the act of copulation, is Alan Moore on his ultradimensional stone throne, pointing an armoured finger at you and lurching forward and his scary atom eyes are burning into the front of your head as he says “There is no escape from structure.  You are reading this inside a machine for living in, from a surface that is the end product of hundreds of years of industrial processes, and also you forgot –“)

Story-strips.  UKBD didn’t stick – maybe it was never meant to stick, maybe it was just supposed to make people think – and I remember the subheader on ESCAPE changing from UKBD to “Story-strips.”

Story-strips.  Is an interesting term.

ANYTHING

Been sick.  Sick like dog.  Another time.

COLOPHON

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 warrenellis@gmail.com, 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.

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