Comics Review

Short reviews of the Read, the Recommended and the Aspired

Parlour who?

Feminism in India has uploaded a few little comics by graphic artist Harini Rajagopalan today – beautifully done – some of them really funny – like the take on right-wing-enforced marriages promised by politically backed-up moral polices all over India on Valentines Day. But then comes one on ‘parlour aunties’ (groans…) and it is problematic.

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Copyrights: Feminism in India/Harini Rajagopalam

Rajagopalan writes: “Parlour aunties have this amazing talent of shaming you by asking you the simplest questions. It’s just one of the examples of everyday sexism. Though you can’t really blame them for thinking that only married women should have sex (or only women who have sex get Brazilian waxes). It’s so intrinsic to our patriarchal society.

What does a cartoon do to our mind? Among other things, it stereotypes. For example, a typically misogynist cartoon that depicts a woman driver screwing up is ‘funny’ because it stereotypes the notion that women cannot drive. If it was simply about the cartoonist’s aunt, it wouldn’t have been ‘funny’. In Rajagopalan’s case, she chooses the ‘parlour aunties’ to mouth the voice of patriarchy (or in other words, to demonstrate the symptoms of the disease named patriria – coined by a friend). Why choose them in particular for a cartoon theme? There is a certain kind of ‘vulnerability’ that customers are exposed to in the hands of a beauty parlour-worker attending her. When it comes to waxing in particular, it is probably even more so – given her submission to the (wo)manhandling of her helplessly and awkwardly exposed body and also the sheer pain involved in the process. Is it a form of not-so-passive aggression that leads us to looking at such a parlour-attendant as a foe, who we then have an easy right to stereotype?

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Indian ‘Devi’s, Western ‘Diva’s

I first called this piece Indian ‘Devi’s, Western ‘Diva’s And The Dubiously Superheroic Aesthetic of the Slice of Fucked-up Femme-life. Then it sounded too long! But that is what it is all about, really…

It was a matter of real excitement when I got to know about Shekhar Kapur’s ‘Devi’ (the 21st Century Indian superheroine presented by Virgin Comics) from a friend.

devicoverSpoiler Alert: The magnanimous maiden in the cover is not exactly Devi, the goddess, but Daanvi, the demoness– the evil alter ego who, while infesting the human host Tara Mehta (or whoever in the Mehta family she could put her tentacles on), literally grabs her soul and shakes and squeezes till all the traits of greatness, kindness and other beautiful qualities oozes out. Daanvi is as hot and dashing as Devi and her human hosts are. But she is blue…dark-ish. And she does not comb her hair as well…

The following is a list consisting of traits of beauty and ugliness extracted from On Ugliness:

Beautiful: pretty, cute, pleasing, attractive, agreeable, lovely, delightful, fascinating, harmonious, marvellous, delicate, graceful, enchanting, magnificent, stupendous, sublime, exceptional, fabulous, wonderful, fantastic, magical, admirable, exquisite, spectacular, splendid and superb.

Ugly: repellent, horrible, horrendous, disgusting, disagreeable, grotesque, abominable, repulsive, odious, indecent, foul, dirty, obscene, repugnant, frightening, abject, monstrous, horrid, horrifying, unpleasant, terrible, terrifying, frightful, nightmarish, revolting, sickening, foetid, fearsome, ignoble, ungainly, displeasing, tiresome, offensive, deformed and disfigured (not to mention how horror can also manifest itself in areas traditionally assigned to the beautiful, such as the fabulous, the fantastic, the magical and the sublime)

Apparently Einstein had said this once: if we want intelligence in our kids, we should tell them fairy tales; and if we opt for greater intelligence, then more fairy tales it is! Now I am not entirely sure if it is one of those fake quotes that go in the name of the man who is most famous for being the traditional mad scientist role-model for any damn copycat of a CN animator, but the point hits home for us fairy tale suckers. Fairy tales teach us violence, obscurity and absurdity of life; possibly also some morals and hints of those morals being brutally violated while the reader is looking the other way– leaving it to the imagination of the virgin little brains (as if there’s such a thing, says Azzarello’s Batman) to develop on their own, to cope with all the real stuff, you know? This is what Wallace Wood possibly subtly shows in his pornographic adaptation (no prize for guessing of what) Malice in Wonderland: Alice is back after a rendezvous of growing and shrinking many an organs and this is what the withered white-haired mom shrieks out:

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Malice in Wonderland: Wallace Wood

Sex apart, like fairy tales, in many ways comics teach us a lot about life in general. (Let us mostly restrict ourselves to full-length graphic fictions that I have read, okay? Otherwise I might just be able to finish this piece in about another decade.) There is not much that may happily call itself an immoral abomination and get away without being incorporated into comics.

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Bolland’s Killing Joke: Reworking One’s Own To Glory

The more you try to stay away from the DC, given the gory, the loud, the stereotype, the cliche and the sheer political incorrectness, the more DC lures you with its irresistible gory, loud, stereotype, cliche and SHEER political incorrectness. Who doesn’t like tidbits of barely implicit animated child-porn with morning tea!

We are all going straight to the hellhole of Arkham along with Alan Moore some day.

Killingjoke

Batman The Killing Joke (1988) is arguably Moore’s best – surely one of his best in the Superhero series, specially for its ambiguous ending, where Batman starts laughing uncontrollably with Joker at the latter’s joke about two madmen escaping from an asylum; the city police patrol waits in apprehension with their bright headlights silhouetting the pair, as the reader’s eye gradually pans to the incessant raindrops falling at their feet. But it is a great book also for the Red-hood reconnection from the ’50s, one of the liveliest Bat vs. Joker fight scenes and the BDUMPs – the gates of the tunnel of madness closing one after another behind Commissioner Gordon, as they often do when you or I end up having a real bad day.

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Does Batman finally kill Joker? Or the contrary? Or do they embrace in a passionate kiss (and a lot more) as The Hooded Utilitarian (don’t confuse him with the Hooded Justice or any of the other fictitious heroes) suggests! Although it is a matter of contemplation – if the Bat vs. Joker story indeed ends in the mood for love, what would the nature of that love be! A totally evil and insensitive guess would be Naturally Born Killers! Ouch.

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However my point of interest here is not the story itself but the reworking of the pictures in the book by the artist Brian Bolland in the year 2008 for the republished deluxe edition. As a Batman-veteran, having read enough of him and having followed Christopher Nolan long enough, thus getting somewhat used to the rants of the enemies-till-death-duo (gays/two faces of the same being – sounds familiar?/just the superhero vs. the archvillain – which would be naive – unless you’ve already seen Unbreakable), the initial theme of the book seems less striking. What acts as a winning factor for this book is Bolland’s haunting version of the Joker – as Tim Sale says in the foreword of The Killing Joke: Brrrrrr. I just got chills.

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Two Books On Nude People

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This year I attended a Comic Con for the first time, held at a venue close to a busy highway, next to a tech park, thus possibly losing bit of its bookish nature. But I overreact. Comics are not something restricted within the pages of books or magazines, not even the webpages. What was it that Scott McCloud  narrowed the definition of Comics down to in his pedagogical analysis? “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response of the viewer”. Such a juxtaposed pictorial story-telling has quite an increasing omnipresence in today’s world with the growing recognition of the power of images on human mind, thus transforming standard approaches in cognitive science, technology, politics, entertainment and economy, which are not at all unrelated fields. As it was evident from the various shops of clothes, food, bags, accessories and glittering advertisements at the fair. It is interesting to note that even at a conference of the Comics-people, there is an half-conscious effort, or at least an allowance to label and thus demean this immensely powerful medium to be either some sort of a demented child-lit – occupying the realm of the mindlessly absurd and the listlessly colourful, or the semi-pornographic sexualized world of the superheroes.

Not that any of it made this Comics fair a failure. What is an effort without a host of points that can be raised against it! Of course I bought plenty from those abominable shops of non-books and cursed myself loads. But there were a handful of shops that saved the day. One such was the Harper Collins stall, where I found the two graphic memoirs that I want to talk about here – both with lots of nudes in them – both thought-provoking and interesting precisely not because of the aforesaid reason.

The first book is world-famous (naturally I’m talking about a world where non-Comics-readers do not exist) for the issue it raises and represents in this format, and also for its honesty and its awesomeness – if you really ask me. I am talking about Comics-maker Chester Brown’s `Paying For It – A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being A John‘ –  complete with a mildly megalomaniac foreword by Robert Crumb, tactfully making relevant points in the intervals of being Crumb.

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From – Paying For It

The other one – not so famous and not so awesome as a book of images, not even a Comics but a book of what the mass mind usually expects books to contain – words and illustrations, but raises equally interesting questions in the reader’s mind – Conversations In The Nude by Delhi-based journalist Mihir Srivastava. Nevertheless it is a book about drawings of people in intimacy (read nudity, though I am not convinced that these two are remotely equivalent) – which naturally draws a parallel to Brown’s book, which depicts his sexual interaction with various prostitutes of Toronto city.

From – Conversations In The Nude

Objectively and somewhat morally the questions that these two books generate have certain similarities. Buying the books from the same stall without noticing the likelihood at that moment, it was too much of a coincidence and thus too tempting to write a joint review of the pair. Trust me, both are worth paying for.

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