Hello, it’s The Trading Outpost—bonus tapes for The Trades, a podcast about comics and comics adjacent topics! With me, FST, is Aaron LaRoche. We recorded this episode before the US election, so if you would like to travel back to a more innocent time to hear Aaron and I squabble about if you should sign your ballot, the first fifteen-ish minutes of this episode are for you. This argument is a watered down precursor to the leftist infighting that will shadow our movements against oppression for the next four years; mark my words. We here at The Trades are the bellwether for the American left, which suggests the American left is going to have a lot of disagreements about reading superhero comics going forward. You should not, for the record, sign your ballot. Listen to the podcast here!
This month, Aaron’s fed up with the world, and so he’s partying like it’s 2006-2008 with Shadowpact, the Bill Willingham created, DC published, comic series about a magic bubble that Superman can’t punch. (1) The bubble is made of blood, and the members of The Shadowpact are all magic. He likes it because, firstly, some superheroes get evicted from their homes, and second, there’s a detective chimp. Aaron would probably no longer need any other comics if a detective chimp solo series came out. “He’s a detective!” Aaron exhorts me, and, by extension, all of you in our listening audience, to share his love, “And a chimp! How can you not enjoy that?!” I hate primates, because I don’t trust their hygiene standards, but I admit a soft spot for detecting. We are not, however, able to reach an interspecies detective detente on these grounds. More seriously, he enjoys the character driven elements, because he feels like Shadowpact does a good job keeping it interesting by focussing almost entirely on the day to day drama of the unlikely group of heroes, which I attribute to how soap operas are better than superheroes, because I am being a downer this episode.
Aaron’s also been reading deep into Harley Quinn’s character history, and describes it as rife with punching, which is about what one would hope for. (2) The comic he spent more time thinking through this month was Shade, The Changing Girl, (3) part of the Young Animal imprint with DC, and the laughter was audible in Aaron’s voice as he talked about the guy from My Chemical Romance being involved. It seems like it’s pretty good, though! The psychedelic inspired art reminds him of Grant Morrison’s time on animal man, but if instead Morrison had done a Mean Girls remake and Regina George were an alien. If that sounds up your alley, check it out.
Kevin Huizenga is a long time fave of mine, to the point where I decided not to date someone mostly because they didn’t seem impressed by a particularly good sequence in Ganges #3. (4) Huizenga’s Harvey nominated and multiple Ignatz winning series Ganges alternates and mingles experimentations in the possibilities for drawing abstract thought with slice of life style stories about some normie dude and his wife, which to be quite frank, if you don’t love that, you don’t love anything on this earth. This is my Detective Chimp. Huizenga also co-created, with Dan Zettwoch, Factual Healing With Leon Beyond, which is like the demented, lying, cousin of the kids’ trivia pages that used to come folded into Sunday newspaper. (5) So it’s not a surprise that Fight Or Run: Shadow of the Chopper, organized by Huizenga and published by the late, lamented, Buenaventura Press is another slice of high concept collaboration pie, but surprising or not it is a consistently delicious slice, and I’m grateful to Huizenga et al for preparing it, and to my local comic store for serving it up. (6)
Fight Or Run is a comics game, per the back cover, and the rules are intuitively simple. Two characters meet. They either fight, or they run. One character wins, and the other does not win. From simple chops by the eponymous Chopper which cut other characters out of the air to what might be the world record holder for comics’ most elaborate nutshot, one which takes place across nested panels and the inside of two dueling telepaths’ minds, Fight Or Run is a smorgasbord of good, clean, fun. A logical premise is offered, and a pleasing fulfillment is reached through the extrapolated details of character traits placed within that premise. This is basically my version of that ‘things fitting neatly inside other things’ subreddit. The premise is so clean and the execution is so tricky and enjoyable, it’s mechanically thrilling and beautifully executed. At one point, on a page facing a diagram of the fight-versus-run rule structure, fight fights (or runs from?) run. That’s the kind of next level good time on offer here. The game is a joy in its simplicity and in the ways it renders itself convoluted. It’s like the tidy minded satisfaction of solving simple linear equations but instead of lines, you get a telepath cold clocking another telepath in the junk. The slightly different execution of a few ‘characters’ on different pages suggested to me initially that someone besides Huizenga might have collaborated on a few of the pages, and I think I say as much in the podcast, but there’s no reason to believe that’s the case. The book has overall a consistent set of aesthetic concepts with regards to the character design, page layout, pacing and diegetic environment, sparse as that last one is.
One of the things that’s most exciting, and about which I want to think more, is how FoR sets up a relationship between sequence and space, which is to say the way the page is created to convey an idea of a location and a span of time in which things happen, and the page as a picture plane with plastic visual properties. In short, in a medium where ‘space is time’ is a cheapened truism, these comics insist on making the space in which the game is played a meaningful part of the action, and in reminding readers of the spacial properties of the page qua page. This happens in part because the picture plane reasserts itself through diegetic action- the elaborate telepath punch out requires the sequential logic of the panel structure to be understood before the picture plane can break it by becoming spacial again. Reading between these two functions of the page, and the ostentatious panel layout, brings readers back out to the level of the plastic picture plane.
For another example, we turn from fight to run.
Things happen in a space; the space of the page ‘maps’ a loop in time and space. Thus the space is both space/time, and the characters who run around it are both duck and rabbit. This seems like a very tidy explanation, and in some ways it is, but by being both it is necessarily neither, collapsing the conventions which would allow us to read one as standing in for or depicting the other. Hence, it reminds us that in all other cases on comics pages, both these things are still present—we read in time, which makes space operate as time, but what we read exists in the stillness and simultaneity of the picture plane, where time and motion are metaphorical. In that way, the system of signs proposed by space=time collapses into non function, and becomes, maybe, purely visual or purely spacial. However, because of the sequential nature of the chase, a premise we accepted by reading Fight or Run, we are pulled back to existence in time, and spacial readings are, in my opinion, fleeting and equally collapsible.
I’ve been trying to do a better job of reading texts without immediately trying to ‘solve’ them using other people’s criticism, but I am reminded of Roland Barthes on wrestling, where he reminds us that just because something has a plot doesn’t mean that the art isn’t in the sustained experience of each moment as a painterly tableau of emotion. Or, in Fight or Run‘s case, punching. (7)
- Created by Willingham, written variously by Willingham and Matthew Sturges, pencilled, presumably consecutively more so than concurrently, by Bill Willingham, Cory Walker, Steve Scott, Tom Derenick, Shawn McManus, colored by Chris Chuckry and Michael Atiyeh.
- I was not paying attention if he said what series he was reading. Hit him up at a glamorous NYC comedy open mic for more info.
- Shade the Changing Girl written by Cecil Castellucci, with art by Marley Zarcone. Published by DC’s Young Animals imprint.
- Ganges by Kevin Huizenga received 2010 and 2012 Ignatzes for outstanding series, and was nominated for the 2010 Harvey for Best Continuing or Limited Series. Factual Healing with Leon Beyond by Dan Zettwoch and Kevin Huizenga, dated september 2011 on inside cover.
- Fight or Run: Shadow of the Chopper, Kevin Huizenga, first printing November 2008 by Buenaventura Press. Unpaginated, all images from Shadow of the Chopper included in this post are excerpts from
- From Mythologies. This is the worst summary of Roland Barthes in this history of summaries of Roland Barthes, sorry uncle Roland. 8
- Not actually my uncle, only spiritually my uncle. (8)
- I mean, as far as I know.