Sieze the Moment! An Interview with El-P & Aesop Rock pt. I of III

el-p_aesop_rock_live.jpgTo mark the release of New York hip hop veteran, innovator and impressario El-P’s second solo album, and first solo effort in nearly five years, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, the Metabunker re-presents an in-depth interview yours truly conducted with El-P and fellow innovator and Def Jukie Aesop Rock in El-P’s home/studio back in the winter of 2003, originally used for an article in the Danish weekly newspaper Weekendavisen and published in edited form and translated into Danish at Rapspot. This, however, is the works – word for word, part I of III (here are part II and part III).

In the World

petits_riens_paris.jpgI hope you are reading Lewis Trondheim’s comics blog “Les Petits riens” – while at first sight perhaps seeming slight, it marks an exhilarating departure for his drawing and, by extension, his taking in of the world around him. As always laconic, he says he started the daily strip journal to teach himself watercolour, and that’s actually as good a rationale as any: while in terms of narrative content it is a continuation of his Carnets de bord, he allows himself more time with these journal entries. Always having focused on clear and effective narration, it is wonderful to see him spending more time observing things and rendering them in his well-known vivacious line, enriched by his much less expected lush watercolouring.

There’s already a book out, collecting a lot of these strips – check out du9’s review of it here.

Prototype or Parallel?

michelangelo_titian_madonnas_t.jpgOne of the discontents of art historical connoisseurship is how we, the practitioners, have been trained to hunt for the prototype of any given invention. We are so used to seeing precedents everywhere, even when dealing with some of the most original and inventive artists ever, that we sometimes forget how unpredictable art, and creativity, can be. If an earlier likeness of a given detail in a work of art can be identified, it seems the latter has to derive from it. This sometimes results in daring feats of historical contortionism on the part of scholars trying to establish how the artist can have seen and copied, or at least internalised, the prototype. As if coincidence is impossible and he could not have come up with it himself.

Mark on the Streets

ihjel.jpgIn the wake of the closure and demolition of Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen almost two weeks ago, the streets of Copenhagen have been hit with a wave of political graffiti and street art. Rapspot impressario and photog Klaus Køhl has been around, trying to take it in – check his reportage here.

Check earlier commentary on Ungdomshuset here and here, sign the petition put out there for a pluralistic Copenhagen, get the other side of the news at modkraft.dk and check this resource page, linking to a large number of news stories relating to Ungdomshuset.

High and Low II

dream_lie.jpgBecause I think at least bits of it are worth a second look, this is just to follow up on the discussion about modernism, high and low in art, and how all of this pertains to comics that Comics Journal critic Noah Berlatsky and I, amongst others, have conducted here and on the Comics Journal messageboard. Noah answered my critique of his article on the Chicago comics scene with the following message board post:

“It’s not the rise to prominence among the artistic elite, but modernism itself that’s screwed over the novel (somewhat) and poetry (thoroughly and completely.)

I think you’re right when you say that high vs. low culture is a strawman; I just don’t think it’s my strawman. It’s modernism and its bastard children that are obsessed with the distinction; I’m just reporting.

Arnold Drake RIP

stradv205_t.jpgOne of the great originals of the American Silver Age, Arnold Drake, has passed away. Mark Evanier provides a both informative and touching obituary. To me, Drake is significant for the creation of a number of characters and stories that showed the obverse of the four-color universes of other superhero comics of his time. “The Doom Patrol”, a group of freaks doing their best to act the superhero bit, is a bizarrely unsettling series, as if Drake was taking the bourgeois weirdness of things like Mort Weisinger’s Superman dead serious. It is funny and entertaining, but not comforting in the same way most of the other DC stories done at the time were. And then there is of course “Deadman.” This is the original angsting “superhero”, and, again, his endless The Fugitive-like search for his faceless, prosthetic-fitted killer – a search which promises no redemption – was not your usual superhero yarn. To this eight-year old it was positively haunting. As if all bets were off.

Say hello to Boston Brand for me, Mr. Drake!

du9 in English!

The premier French site of comics criticism has now launched an English-language version, containing selected content in translation. This means, for example, that you can now read Xavier Guilbert’s review of Shigeru Mizuki’s masterly NonNonBâ (which I also reviewed a couple of days ago), as well as interviews with Edmond Baudoin and Lorenzo Mattotti, amongst other things.

Also, and completely unrelated, the high and low-discussion continues at the TCJ message board.

High and Low

clowes_murder.jpgOver on the TCJ message board, Noah Berlatsky replies to my criticism:

“Hi Matthias. You raised some interesting points in your review. For myself, though, when I was six or seven I thought Peanuts was hysterically, fall-down-on-the-floor funny. Still do, for that matter.

I didn’t talk more about Chris Ware in the Schulz essay in part because, at the time, I’d just written a piece sneering at him. It was a review of the Comix Chicago issue from a couple of years back, and it used to be on the now-defunct Bridge magazine website. Anyway, I thought I’d reprint it as well, since there seems to be some interest. It’s now on my blog here:

http://eatenbyducks.blogspot.com/2007/03/boredom-on-infinite-earths.html

I’m not quite as high on Alan Moore as I was when I wrote this. I still think he’s pretty great, though.

And finally, in totally trivial and pointless quibbling, the Schulz essay was the first thing I wrote for the Journal, but it was actually published second. (It was in #265; the Spiegelman review was in #264.)”

Ghosts of the Past

azuki-harari.jpgMy first exposure to the work of Mizuki Shigeru was indirect, in the form of Miike Takashi’s wonderful 2005 film Yôkai daisensô (eng. The Great Yôkai War), which I saw last year. Amongst the most impressive aspects of that thoroughly enjoyable movie was the often iconically simple and inventive character designs given to the host of yôkai appearing throughout. Yôkai is the common term for the multitude of spirits and demons of Japanese folklore and author and mangaka Mizuki is probably their most significant ambassador to the world of 20th-century popular culture.

Mizuki being such a strong, simple stylist whose stories are celebrated widely in Japan, it was only natural that Miike would be drawing on his ideas and designs for his delirious yôkai epic. Now, however, Mizuki’s own work has at long last come to the west, and to great critical acclaim. His autobiographical masterwork NonNonBâ to Ore, in French just plain NonNonBâ, was recently recognised by perhaps the finest distinction a comic can be granted in the West – the Angoulême book of the year. And let it be said immediately: Mizuki, though far from epic in scope, does not let down the promise provided by Miike.

Puppy Love

anxiety_snoopy.gifThe most consistently readable, if also frustrating, new writer at the Comics Journal the last couple of years, Noah Berlatsky, has just put his first and best piece for the magazine, on the reception of Peanuts by today’s alt-cartoonists, online at the blog he contributes to. I often find myself disagreeing with Berlatsky, as will become apparent in the following, but the point is that he is worth spending some effort disagreeing with.