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      Nick Gazin's Comic Book Love-In #32

      September 8, 2011


      Hello All,

      I just spent the last five days in Atlanta for Dragoncon with some other VICE people. It was pretty good and way stranger than any of the other comic conventions I've been to. The Black Lips were with us for part of it and I got to meet Brent Spiner from Star Trek: The Next Generation, so it was pretty fun. When Brent asked me if I'd check out his website and I said yes he gave me this card:

      Here's some comics news:

      - Top Shelf is having a $3 sale, so check that out if you dig on Top Shelf's comical product.

      - My favorite monthly feature on Comics Alliance is up. It's called "Funky Watch" and it documents the most depressing and fucked up things that happened in Tom Batluk's daily comic strip, Funky Winkerbean. The comic, which I remembered being a dull thing about teenagers, is now about people who all want to kill themselves. I look forward to this column each month. I find myself wondering how Tom Batiuk finds the willpower to keep making these comic strips about how boring, sad, ugly, and hopeless life is.

      - This clip from an unreleased documentary called A Boy Named Charlie Brown has Schulz explaining why Charlie Brown suffers. God, I love to hear Sparky's voice.

      - Over on the Moebius fan Tumblr page, redrawing renditions of his Starwatcher image has become a totally awesome trend that I want to take part in.

      Well, enough hard hitting bullshit. Here's a review of Dan Clowes’ new hardcover rerelease of his classic comic, The Death-Ray.

      The Death-Ray
      Daniel Clowes
      Drawn & Quarterly

      What can I say about Dan Clowes that won't sound stupid? Nothing. I feel dumb just typing his name. Everything he makes is essential and worth owning. You should start with the comic book pamphlet run of Eightball, which rivals the original Mad comics for importance and quality. Then buy all the books collecting those comics. Then find the old issues of Cracked with his comics in them. Then get the albums he did art for, especially Las Vegas Grind, then go buy the skateboards with his art on them and the dolls based on his characters. Your collection will never be complete until you capture Dan Clowes himself. I advise you to build up to kidnapping and caging the greatest working American cartoonist, though. You can read The Death-Ray while you work out the schematics for the giant hamster cage and feeding tubes that you will need to build in your basement or garage.

      The Death Ray was originally released in 2004 by Fantagraphics as a single over-sized issue of Dan Clowes' Eightball series. This is the second time that a single issue of Eightball has been repackaged as a hardcover book, given a few new additional pages of art to complete the design and then sold for more money than the original. People don't take comic books seriously when they're sold in pamphlet form and bound with staples. Context is everything and if a comic is marketed and packaged like a book people still have a tendency to think, “Oh, this is smart, like a book! Not like those awful comics!” Although it bums me out that comic booklets are going away, there's something undeniably pleasant about owning hardcover versions of Dan Clowes' work. Also, everyone should know his work, so if a stiff cardboard cover makes that happen then that's fine. You may get tired of a lot of your modern comics collection, but unless you become homeless or are burgled by nerds you will likely keep your Dan Clowes comics until your death. You might as well own durable, nice-looking copies.

      If you already own the original printing, this comic might not be essential to you. It’s a reprinting with about eleven pages of new drawings that make up the front and back covers, end papers, indicia page, and a new title page with a beautiful double-page spread of the titilous Death Ray itself. If you don't own this comic then you should buy it, and you should buy this edition. Do it now.

      The Death-Ray tells the story of young Andy, a skinny teenage boy with dead parents who is raised by his senile grandfather and kindly Christian maid. He writes letters to a girl he refers to as his girlfriend who used to live near him, and he has one real friend: a dominating loudmouth named Louie. Louie and Andy hang around and complain until one day Andy smokes a cigarette and discovers that smoking gives him super strength. He's not as strong as Superman, but he can pick up the rear end of a car and beat people up.

      Soon he discovers that his father was a scientist who invented a death ray that looks like a cheap plastic toy that only Andy is able to use. It instantly makes anyone he shoots it with disappear with the sound of a pop. Louie convinces Andy to become a superhero, but there really aren't any villains for him to fight. Louie tries to goad Andy into fighting Stoob, a guy who doesn't seem all that bad, but they have built him into a total menace in their minds. Andy is kind of the bottom in this friendship. He is a lonely guy without guidance. The pair begin to mete out justice as they see fit. The story begins with Andy as a lonely, awful, middle-aged man, and then pulls a flashback to his childhood. It’s sad to see Andy as a lost little kid when you know how crappy his life is going to turn out.

      When I initially read this comic I didn’t understanding what Andy's problem was. I didn't relate to him in the same ways I understood and liked the characters in Clowes's other comics like Enid Coleslaw, David Boring ,or the others. In some ways it seemed to relate to a comic Clowes had done about a deluded superhero named Black Stockings or something like that. I learned from the press release included with the book that Andy's actions were meant to be a metaphor for America's actions post 9/11, which made sense once it was explained to me, but never would have occurred to me naturally. Not getting that Andy was about America policing the world is one of those things that makes me feel stupid when I read Clowes' work, because I'm good at getting subtle implications most of the time and discussing symbols in storytelling. Clowes is always about nine steps ahead. It's why I've had trouble kidnapping him for my Dan Clowes collection.

      Although I can't ambush and trap him, I was able to ask him a few questions about this book. I can't tell if he found them annoying or not, but I am pretty sure I wouldn't like to be asked the questions I tossed his way. Anyway, here's me asking dumb questions at a guy who might be a genius.


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