Something changed in me over the last year, something noticeable. I began to actively hunt out new music on Spotify. Like many people standing at the threshold of 30 I was trailing behind me a history of bands and musicians that I liked and continued to cycle through almost on a schedule. Then I read something (skimmed) about neural pathways in the brain and how when new pathways are created we get smarter…or something. It said that new experiences were a way to keep our minds growing, our minds learning and working. Music was one of the examples that was listed as a simple way to get your brain working in new ways, giving it new sounds to experience creating new thoughts to learn from or play with or exercise artistically. The experience of listening to something new, a new performer or group, brings with it a rush, harkens one back to the halcyon days when nearly everything was new.
What I’m saying is that everyone needs to embrace the new and to break yourself out of the repeat, rehash cycles of media consumption. It’s scary and it’s time consuming and it feels weird but it is worth it. It’s this same feeling of “newness” (there’s gotta be a better way to say that) that washed over me again and again as I read Seth Kushner‘s Force Field Fotocomix Vol. 01.
Photocomix are something I have ZERO foreknowledge of, other than the review I already did of Seth’s work and even then it wasn’t like I went into that reading thinking “Oh, photocomix! Yeah I get this. Totally.” In fact just the opposite, I was wary as hell since the only pieces I ever came across that looked anything like Seth’s work were usually poorly done advertisements where you could tell the creative director for the business had a digital camera, a basic knowledge of photoshop and not a lot of time.
I remember hearing an anecdote on my way out of the San Diego Comic Con in 2010 regarding the Bryan Lee O’Malley panel, where some well meaning fan tried to credit Bryan with creating an entirely new comics art form to which he responded something along the lines of, “It’s just manga.” I bring this up because I’ve been singing Seth’s praises specifically around how it’s (legitimately) like nothing else I’ve seen before, but I don’t want you to think that I’m a starry eyed neophyte with no proper sense of history or world culture. Seth’s photocomix work has its roots in an Italian comic art form called “fumetti”. I know that from Force Field, from the “Understanding Photocomix” segment in the middle. The front cover may only proffer horror, romance and mystery but there’s some good autobiographical bits in there as well, offering insight into Kushner’s comics & photo past, his process and his artistic vision(s).
Now that I’ve properly talked at length about everything but the comics, how about we talk about, you know, the comics. “Costumed Characters” is reminiscent of The Venture Brothers in the best ways, as Duplicato (Ron Scalzo) and Fission (Christopher Irving) fight over the affections of The Tarot (Katelan Foisy), but will either of them be a match for the sexy swagger of Senor Amore (Dean Haspiel)? The color and lighting in the story are perfectly matched with the tone of the tale, vibrant red to space fire green (you know, like a fire in space? you can picture it), a dark bar lit up by crackling nuclear lightning before returning to a mellow yellow. The story works because while many (many many, far far too many) have attempted capes and cowls comedy falling short through unoriginality and groan inducing camp, Kushner’s piece is smart, funny and uses really striking multiplicity photography to help fully create this sordid super-powered slum.
“Spiders Everywhere!” hearkens the reader back to the glory days of horror cinema during the middle of the 20th century (how’s that for a smart way of hiding the fact that I’m unsure as to the real difference between 1950s and 1960s American Horror films?) where an everyday nightmare is blown up to it’s terrifying zenith. Especially if you’re afraid of spiders. If you didn’t get that from the title. There are spiders, like, everywhere. The previously reviewed “Complex” is here as well, not to mention a very heady sci fi tale called “The Perfect Woman”.
In both of these strips, as well as the others throughout the book, what’s truly amazing is that these comics succeed on every level. Some people burn through a comic book in five minutes, consuming their addiction like William S. Burroughs at a cat and opium party. Fotocomix rewards the reader who takes their time, it’s one of those things where you don’t realize how well done everything is because of how well done it is. There are no strings showing, no goofy costumes or hammy effects. The actors display an ability to drive the story while standing still and silent, that really says something. Not to mention the special effects where I genuinely found myself wondering “How did he do that?” I know movie magic type info shows have been on the wane ever since the switch came from dudes stunt driving motorcycles over flaming bridges to a room full of Korean animators working hard and silently for several months, so don’t just throw a “with computers obviously” kind of answer my way. Because it really doesn’t look like it.
The reason Joe Sacco’s work hit me hard when I first encountered it was because it was something I had never thought of, graphic journalism. It made so much sense but I just never could’ve come up with that on my own. That’s how I felt in Fotocomix, particularly the “Understanding…” section, where a brief look at Kushner’s photo profiles (of people like Douglas Rushkoff and Marc Maron to name a few) truly struck me in that same new way. There’s an Aesop Rock lyric I like where he says “Isn’t it strange how it’s a fad to bite your idols? When the whole reason you liked them was ’cause their shit wasn’t recycled?” That’s Kushner, his shit is not recycled. To take something as prevalent in this day and age, like comics, and to go out against the flow with something that doesn’t look or feel like anything else out there, that’s bold, inspiring and thankfully a joy to read.