Louis Falcetti writes for Bleeding Cool;
Chris Wisnia has created something so unique and huge that it’s hard to describe accurately, or at all. I’ve sat for hours coming up with lead ins to this review, trying to find the right angle to approach this bizarre, hilarious, insane and totally singular labor of love. I’m talking about Monstrosis, a comic series by Wisnia that is seeing itself in print for the first time, published by Slave Labor Graphics. You may be familiar with his work if you picked up the Neil Hamburger Comic Digest. After reading the 150+ page collection I wasn’t sure if what I was reading was parody, satire or a straight up homage. Thankfully, I found out after talking with him, neither does Wisnia.
“I don’t know the difference between parody and satire, but I’m pretty sure it’s both. I think the book is all three. I like to think I’m making fun of the source material to show how deeply I am in love with it, to share with everyone how fun it is.
You know, when you’re a kid, you think something is so fantastic, and then twenty years later you experience it as an adult and realize it’s a complete piece of shit? I’m trying to make a comic that is as much fun or as terrible as we all wish they were in its most ultimate form as we remember it.”
Monstrosis is the wet dream, love child of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Jack Kirby. It follows a cast of square jawed, hunky men with names like Dirk Doole, Agent Mull and Luke Luggash as they yell, plot and think loudly while on the hunt for communists. I think. It’s a comic that’s either about people turning into monsters and destroying their towns, or people who merely THINK that they’re turning into monsters and destroying their towns. Or it could be about the world’s greatest actors and whether or not they’re only pretending to be robots, or are in fact really robots pretending to be people pretending to be robots. Wisnia’s ongoing plot throughout the issues is baffling, exactly how it’s supposed to be. As the lunacy goes up and up so does the comedy.
This comic is so smart and so many things it’s hard to approach because every issue contains such well thought out humor, art and little details that serve as rewards for the faithful. Such as early on where the old comic cliché of the Incredible Hulk’s impossible to hulk out of underwear is brought up and skewered hilariously. Also there are lots of notes from the editor*. Lots and lots of notes**. Seriously there are just a lot, a lot of notes***.
One thing I don’t know if you know! Is that the dialog has to end with an exclamation point! All the time! Just another Silver Age convention that Wisnia deftly uses to praise and poke his favorite genre of comic books. Other ways are a little more subtle but add to the overall experience of the work. Such as the strong anti-military bent running through the books. Even though Jack Kirby personally sorted out ratzis with his fists, in the 1960s there was a growing underground consciousness in mainstream American comics and Wisnia has found ways to tap into that without posturing or pushing too hard in any one direction. Metaphor was big at the time as well, and this is a work that definitely abounds with metaphor. I probably should’ve used a metaphor in that last sentence, that would’ve really driven the point home. One particular metaphor has to be Doris’ own memories of the giant monster attack when she was younger which as the story unfolds becomes more and more clear that she was probably sexually assaulted. Of course that plot point is revealed in a hilarious way. I think. Again, you don’t know if you’re coming or going a lot of the times which adds for a tripped out experience you can take totally sober.
When asked about what draws him to the Silver Age so strongly Chris said,
“I don’t think comics or film or movies or art or whatever were necessarily better or worse during a different era, I just think different aesthetics and conventions are used, and you get used to one or the other, and you make associations with when and where and how you experienced it, and different things speak to different people, and I’m just drawn to 1960’s for my comics, 1940’s for my movies, 1980’s for my professional wrestling, and so on.”
Why giant monster comics though? Why this particular subset of a heady, bizarre genre?
“Who knows. I enjoy the kitsch. Those fantastic splash pages take my breath away with their enormous thick lines. They don’t take themselves seriously. They make me smile, sometimes at them, sometimes with them. I love how much detail Kirby can pack in a panel, with such thick lines. And such power! I love Lee’s over-the-top melodrama, but with this tone like, “You the reader and I the writer are having SO much fun, AND this is the greatest story ever published!” I think “low art” is often more revealing than art, because it boils things down to such a base, simplistic, naked level.”
Chris Wisnia does to Silver Age comics what Michael Kupperman does to American literature. This work firmly cements his place in the Rick Veitch league of comic artistry and satire, showing that not only can he firmly master the visual style of one of comic’s true legends, but that his knowledge of his subject matter is exhaustive, combining for a rewarding, smart, weird tome. Oh and did I mention the pin-ups?
The collection also contains giant monster pinups by such industry heavies as: Neal Adams, Dick Ayers, Simon Bisley, Brian Bolland, Geof Darrow, David Mack, Sam Keith, Alex Maleev, Ryan Sook, Jill Thompson, John Severin, J.H.Williams III and more. Also Bill Sienkiewicz, Mike Allred and Hebr Trimpe add their inks to a few pages as well, so to say that Wisnia is in good company is a bit of an understatement. These pin-ups, it should be noted, aren’t necessarily in step with the rest of the work. They’re not done straight for laughs, some of them definitely contain elements of humor however others, Jill Thompson and Sam Keith immediately spring to mind, are just breathtaking in their beauty and vision.
Wisnia explained to me how he came into league with such talented artists saying,
“I wouldn’t have begun this project if I hadn’t met and had encouragement and support from Dick Ayers. He was one of the few comics artists at San Diego’s Comic-Con 2001 who’d said he’d do a pin-up of one of my characters that I could self-publish in my book. On the trip home, in a bolt of shocking clarity, it came to me: Wouldn’t it be simply amazing if I made a giant monster comic in a Kirby style, and if Dick would ink it? And he agreed to do it, and then I started brainstorming crazy ideas, and that’s how it all came about. And then, when I showed three Ayers-inked stories around at Comic-Con 2002, THEN other artists actually took the time to look at my work, and started agreeing to contribute pin-ups.”
This book will explain why everyone should a-fear science. So get out your T.T.:No-Wop and call your friends who are fans of biblical non-fiction and tell them there’s a new Doris Danger book out, get me? And if you want to understand what any of that means you’re going to have to pick it up.
*A constant staple of mid 20thcentury comics, the notes from the editor would let readers know when and where something be referenced by a character or narrator could find the original story.
**Also it was a way for the editorial staff to lampoon themselves and each other, while painting the behind the scenes world of comic book making as a jovial, weird club house.
***Referencing issues that don’t exist except within Wisnia’s weird world, so don’t strain yourself trying to read every single one.
A perfect example of the book’s multi-layered humor. The first page is filled with obviously adult innuendo.