REBECCA VIPOND-BRINK

REBECCA VIPOND-BRINK

The Train Leaves In Thirty Days: A Matt Fraction Comics Survey

James Hepplewhite

A note from Rebecca: Making good on my promise to publish posts from talented authors about the things they really love, I would like to introduce my very good friend James Hepplewhite, a much more elegant writer than myself, no matter the topic, to introduce you to the comics of Matt Fraction. If you want to write about something that drives you wild, please feel free to submit it to me. Without further ado, James.

Let me introduce you to the comics of Matt Fraction. Which is a misnomer, because comics, unless you're a one man band, is an intensely collaborative medium. They're not really "Matt Fraction comics," they're Matt "Fraction and Collaborators comics." With that in mind, I'll go through four of the comics that Fraction has his name on.

Two will sound vaguely familiar, two won't.

The four comics:

  • Satellite Sam
  • Casanova
  • Hawkeye
  • Sex Criminals 

Satellite Samis a comic about television in the 50s, and also the period's prejudices. Gay characters abound, but only behind closed doors, mixed race parentage is a shocker and the story kicks off when a son discovers his father (a television space hero) had a predilection for bad women in garters, one of whom is almost certainly his father's killer.

Penciller Howard Chaykin overshadows Fraction here. In Chaykin's illustrious career, he is known for three things:

1) A legendary comics artist who invented many storytelling tricks used today.

2) Drawing women in garters.

3) A vulgar, lively wit. My favorite one so far, and one of the most tame. Also: Googling "Howard Chaykin interview" will provide at least 30 minutes of entertainment.

Fraction, being a long time fan of Chaykin, gives the man what he's known for. Satellite Sam is denser than uranium, openly salacious and devastating in its critiques. It is the only comic I can think of that made its own Tijuana Bible. Both are printed in a carnal, id-electrifying black and white.

If Mad Men was more brazen, it'd approach Satellite Sam.

Next, my adored Casanova.

Describing Casanova's plot is like solving a Rubik's cube on hallucinogens. Summarized barbarously: Timeline hopping bisexual super spy Casanova Quinn gets into real trouble. He disappoints his many fathers, chases the many instances of the Big Bad throughout the multiverse, and well, there's more surprises. 

Casanova is berserk with ideas, and spits them at the reader at a clip almost too fast to handle. Some of that is due to the early limitations of the series (16 page issues) but most is Fraction's fear that it would be the only comic he'd ever get to write.

The people pencilling Casanova are as integral to the comic as Fraction, Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon. Gabriel's work is pricklier and more lively, whereas Fabio Moon draws everyone gorgeous. Case in point: Sasa Lisi (an 8 1/2 reference, naturally) looks like the bewitching alien girlfriend of a million lesser sci-fi stories, but articulated as a full character by both writer and penciller.

And now, the hits. Hawkeye.

It's a story fundamentally about Clint Barton's (Hawkeye) stubbornness. He sees injustice, moves to correct it and then discovers he's in over his own head. His response is to dig further. In doing so, he discovers new allies and challenges, between fellow Hawkeye Kate Bishop and Mr. Barton's disreputable older brother. 

It's Clint Barton as Jim Rockford, which plays to Mr. Barton's history, a felon who declared he deserved to be on the Avengers as Tim O'Neil put it, "based on nothing more than his facility with a bow and arrow and an absolutely enormous pair of brass balls." Clint Barton takes on malicious Eastern European landlords the same way.

There are other reasons, of course. The main one is that Matt Fraction and main penciller David Aja were born to work together. Whatever page Fraction turns in, Aja makes better. Whatever emotional beat Fraction puts down, Aja makes frictionless, even while slowing it down.

The other reason? Kate Bishop. The capable heroine is explicitly Mr. Barton's equal and never far from a felicitous quip.  Combine with an early emphasis on single issue stories and Hawkeye is easy to understand and difficult to resist.

Sex Criminals is great for reasons so obvious, it's  easy mode. Mainstream comics hasn't had a really good romantic comedy in a very long time. There are exceptions, but Sex Criminals is merely a well-executed romantic comedy. For a comic called Sex Criminals, it's a light, earnest R. It is hard to imagine anyone but the most clueless being concerned about a comic that includes an image called "the Dutch microwave."

Sex Criminals is about people who's ejaculation stops time. They put it to use to rob a bank, so they can raise money to keep a library open. (Awwwwwwww.) The first issue introduces Suzie and goes through her sexual awakening in painfully funny detail.

Zdarsky puts an indefensible amount of detail into the backgrounds. (See above.) There's never a page without a Sexual Gary poster, or a book title somewhere designed to get a laugh. Fraction feeds him with embarrassing moments from his own life, hurriedly veiled by a different character and lets the collaboration go. It is humane and kind.

Come back next time, true believers! (Is there going to be a next time? I legitimately don't know.) Maybe I'll write about ODY-C, a gender-swapped, psychedelic retelling of the Odyssey. Or perhaps Fraction's grueling Iron Man run that shipped two issues in a month for a year straight. Maybe I'll talk about his early work? The designs of the universe are unknown to me.

My Marathon Playlist

About Me, FunsiesRebecca Brink

Somehow y'all keep visiting even when I'm not posting, which means YOU ARE THE BEST. Thank you. I've been having very, very, very bad insomnia for the last two weeks in addition to the stress that comes along with starting a new job and finishing training for a marathon (plus, I've taken TWO injuries in the last three weeks of training which has been JUST GREAT). That's why I haven't been around. I will be around more. Soon. I might start doing more personal posts, narrative nonfiction, and artwork, because those things flow out of my brain a little easier.

The Chicago Marathon is tomorrow! I'm running for Advocate Illinois Masonic Behavioral Health, which provides low-income patients with comprehensive mental healthcare. I've reached my fundraising REQUIREMENT but I would love love love it if I got more donations. I'm able to fundraise through the end of the year, so if you happen to have a few dollars and want to help provide mental healthcare for the people who need it most, please head over to my fundraising page. I'll probably mention it a lot, because I care about Masonic Behavioral Health a lot.

In the absence of more interesting things to say, I'm just going to post my running playlist in order of artists. My theory through training was to only put songs I really, really liked listening to on my playlist, and for the marathon, in order not to repeat any songs, I've had to add some in that are sort of Tier 2. Anyway, here you go. It clocks in a 6 hours and 5 minutes JUST IN CASE.

 

Alexander

  • Truth

Andrew W.K.

  • Party Hard
  • She Is Beautiful

April March

  • Chick Habit

Bell Biv Devoe

  • Poison

Beyoncé

  • Drunk In Love
  • Partition
  • XO
  • ***Flawless
  • Video Phone
  • Countdown

Bob Marley

  • Is This Love

Bon Jovi

  • Wanted Dead or Alive

Britney Spears

  • Work Bitch

Bush

  • Machinehead

Buzzcocks

  • I Don't Mind
  • Ever Fallen In Love?

Chuck Berry

  • You Never Can Tell

The Clash

  • Rock the Casbah
  • Should I Stay or Should I Go

Creedence Clearwater Revival

  • Up Around the Bend
  • Fortunate Son

David Bowie

  • Heroes
  • Queen Bitch
  • Starman
  • Ziggy Stardust

Dead Milkmen

  • Punk Rock Girl

Dengue Fever

  • Tiger Phone Card

Diamond Rings

  • Wait & See
  • You & Me
  • Something Else
  • All Yr Songs

Dion & The Belmonts

  • Runaround Sue (by the way, between The Wanderer and Runaround Sue, Dion was a total hypocrite)

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes

  • 40 Day Dream
  • Om Nashi Me
  • Home

Erasure

  • Chains of Love
  • A Little Respect

Future Islands

  • Spirit

eorge Harrison

  • What Is Life

Janelle Monae

  • Tightrope (which, by the way, is MY FAAAAAVE running song)

Jay-Z

  • Picasso Baby
  • Somewhere in America
  • 99 Problems
  • Takeover

Jimi Hendrix

  • Foxy Lady

Joan Jett

  • Bad Reputation

Kanye West

  • Gold Digger
  • Gone

The Knife

  • Heartbeats
  • Pass This On

Kriss Kross

  • Jump

Lady GaGa

  • Applause
  • Born This Way
  • Bad Romance
  • Telephone

Led Zeppelin

  • Whole Lotta Love

Lorde

  • Tennis Court
  • 400 Lux
  • Royals

Matt & Kim

  • Daylight
  • Let's Go
  • Now

Nicki Minaj

  • Anaconda (that song fell into my training like manna from heaven)

No Doubt

  • Just A Girl
  • Sunday Morning
  • You Can Do It

OK Go

  • WTF?
  • White Knuckles
  • End Love
  • Do What You Want
  • Here It Goes Again

Pixies

  • Debaser
  • Wave of Mutilation
  • Gigantic

Regina Spektor

  • Better
  • On The Radio
  • Us

Scissor Sisters

  • I Don't Feel Like Dancin'

Sleigh Bells

  • Crown on the Ground

St. Vincent

  • Bring Me Your Loves
  • Digital Witness

Streetlight Manifesto

  • Here's to Life
  • Dear Sergio
  • We Will Fall Together
  • Somewhere in the Between
  • Punk Rock Girl (yes, I have two versions of the same GREAT song on my playlist)
  • Such Great Heights

Sugarhill Gang

  • Apache (Jump On It)

The Toadies

  • Possum Kingdom
  • Away

Wilson Pickett

  • Land of 1000 Dances

Young Fathers (btw DEAD is my favorite album of the year, hands-down)

  • No Way
  • Low
  • Get Up

The Zombies

  • This Will Be Our Year
  • She's Not There

 

Great taste in music or GREATEST EVER TASTE IN MUSIC? Only time will tell.

Why I Give Money To the Homeless, and You Should Too

Fact CheckRebecca Brink
  1. Because I have money to give. Even when I was “broke,” I was less broke than the homeless. I still had money that I spent on unnecessary shit. So I’d have to buy unnecessary shit one less time for every time that I gave money to the homeless, which, especially considering how much money it is to them, is not that big of a deal for me.

  2. Because I don’t give a shit if they spend it on drugs. Detoxing is a fucking nightmare. IF the person you’re giving money to happens to be addicted to drugs, it should not be up to you to determine when they detox. The best-case scenario is that they do it under the supervision of trained medical professionals, not while they’re starving on the street because so many people refused to give them money that they couldn’t afford food, shelter, OR a fix. So you’re concerned for their life? Well, theoretically, by not giving them money, you’re forcing them to die struggling on the street rather than slipping away in an overdose. Which death would you prefer? How on Earth do you think a poverty-induced street detox is going to end well? Help get them through until they can get help.

  3. Because they’re adults, and they can make their own decisions with their money. I’m not going to patronize other human adults - including the mentally ill, and yes, many of the homeless are mentally ill - by pretending that I know what’s best for them as regards the way they spend their money. It’s empowering to be able to make your own decisions. They have so little empowerment because they have so little money. I care for their dignity, I care for their empowerment, I want them to succeed, so I give them their money and I give them my trust as a fellow human adult.

  4. Because the money I give them is charity, not an investment. We talk about the money we give to the homeless as if we want to see results on the money we give, as if we expect them to use a few cents and make something of themselves with it, which is the most obnoxious buy-in to the “bootstraps” bullshit I can think of. All they can do is buy themselves a roof for the night or a little bit of food. Life is expensive. They’re not going to be able to get a permanent address, a haircut, a new wardrobe, and a job with your petty change. But at least they’ll be able to survive, and if you want to consider your charity an investment, consider the fact that they’re still alive and therefore still have a chance to be the return.

  5. Because the government isn’t going to help them. For one, the police SURE aren’t going to help them. But for another, funding for homeless assistance has been steadily decreasing in America. Homeless shelters are often full, there’s nowhere to get food, and community mental health clinics are closing with increasing frequency. They do not have the resources they need, and our politicians are entrenching them in homelessness. I do not believe in this form of governance. I believe the government should be investing in the welfare of its citizens, especially those who need the most help. But since that isn’t the case, I consider it my responsibility as a human being to help them in the government’s stead. I can donate to homeless assistance agencies, and I can give them money when they ask for it.


Stop being a patronizing dick and start giving your money to the homeless. There is no moral grey area on this issue.

The Aura of Artworks

Art, RhetoricRebecca Brink

I visited the massive Magritte exhibit at AIC today and am still trying to process it. I spent two and a half hours in it and had to take a break about 2/3 of the way through to go on Twitter and give my brain a break.

I try to bring a notebook and pen with me wherever I go so that if I have a brilliant thought I can write it down, but I particularly make a practice of it when I'm going to a museum, not so that I can write, but so that I can take notes:

I don't know that much about Magritte. I could tell you a lot about Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Lynda Benglis, Gustave Caillebotte; a fair amount about Robert Morris and Donald Judd, and a smattering about Manet. So if I have the opportunity to learn - and the artworks themselves are the best teachers, although great wall text is certainly helpful - I will take it.

The note at the very top of the second page reads "I am lucky to be here." I wrote that in front of Magritte's The Human Conditiona spectacularly famous painting of his. I felt the same thing in front of Starry Night at the MoMA, not to mention in the presence of Kara Walker's sugar sphinx, or MoMA's Lygia Clark retrospective, or Tony Smith's Die at the National Gallery of Art, or Rodin's The Burghers of Calais at the Met or the Rodin Museum in Philly, or for that matter every time I get to stand in front of Caillebotte's Paris Street, Rainy Day, which I have the opportunity to do fairly frequently.

I recall Christopher Hitchens (I believe) saying that as a matter of principle he didn't believe that luck exists because events don't arrange themselves around our lives. I think he was describing fate, not luck. Luck is the good or bad things that happen to us as a matter of chance. It's a matter of chance that I am white and decently prosperous, was encouraged to pursue the arts as a child, live in Chicago and have the means to buy a yearly membership to the Art Institute and the physical ability to get there, plus the schedule to be there at my leisure and dedicate two and a half hours of my day to it. Those are things that are not entirely in my control.

I feel lucky to be in the presence of great works of art because they carry what Benjamin called an aura. I don't entirely agree with his thesis - Rodin's works were reproduced and because it was programmed into the medium I don't think they lost their aura - but it stands that original works of art carry the marks of the artist's hand or mind in a way that commercial prints of artwork do not.

I'm getting around to my point here, which is about how we value artworks. Not monetarily, although that follows in a capitalist economy, but in terms of what we consider "great." A work of art is an idea, and the way it's manifested physically. So the quality of a work of art depends both on the quality of the idea and on the quality of its execution. Great works of art are novel, intelligent, probing ideas that are put into physical forms that are skillfully created or conceived. They are the physical products of the most rigorous imaginations humanity has to offer.

And emphasis on rigorous. The majority of an artist's job is to think and think hard. To create not just a great idea, but a great way of expressing that idea to the public. It holds true over visual art, writing, poetry, dance, theater, and music.

So artworks are sort of like talismans. Their aura comes from the quality of the mind and the skill of the hand that produced them. You really cannot understand an artwork until you've seen it in person. I've seen art critics absolutely fail to understand a painting because - and it's obvious when it happens - they never saw the paint on the canvas with their own two eyes. Even with an artwork like Portrait of Ross, by nature, you can't understand until you've encountered the object and decided to take or not take a piece.

And when you see them, you are lucky to be there. You are lucky to have the opportunity, because a lot of artwork is produced in the world, but very little of it is truly great. Mastering your understanding of a great artwork brings you closer to the heart of humanity. Unfortunately I haven't done that with Magritte yet - I will have more to say about his way of tackling representation and language once I have some time to really think on it.

What do the clocks mean?

Rhetoric, Narrative Non-Fiction, ArtRebecca Brink

Since it's summer, this tattoo is visible the majority of the time, and it's an intriguing tattoo so I get asked about it. A lot.

"What do the clocks mean?" I'll give you guys a fuller answer to this question than I'm able to give people on the street. 

I'm a fangirl for the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres in the same way that I imagine a lot of you are fangirls/boys/people for Sherlock and Doctor Who and Game of Thrones and all that (I also love those things, but not as much as I love Felix). I hate saying that he was a participatory artist in the 1990s because I don't really think of his work that way; I see it as more neo-minimalist. It is also participatory at heart. And it's my blog, so I'll call it what I want, which I can't do when I'm submitting work to art historians because they have a rigid way of thinking about the world, not least of all because that's the only way for them to set up a value system for contemporary art.

Anyway. I fell in love with Felix in 2012. I was studying his work Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) which is on view most of the time at the Art Institute here in Chicago. Ross Laycock was Felix's partner. Both of them had AIDS. Ross died in 1993, after which Felix made Portrait of Ross. Felix died in 1996. 

Portrait of Ross is a pile of multi-colored, multi-flavored hard candies weighing 175 pounds at the outset, which was Ross's approximate body weight when he was healthy. Viewers are encouraged to take a piece. As the days go on, the pile dwindles, simulating the process of death by illness. The certificate of authenticity states that the owner provides "endless supply" of the candies, so eventually the pile is refilled.

There's a lot going on in that artwork. For one, for his candy piles Felix generally chose to use one flavor and color of candy (see Placebo). Ross is the outlier here, which says a lot about how Felix felt saw Ross and why he loved him - the artwork is full of bombast and color, it's a kaleidoscope, there's the act of matching color and flavor and having so many different kinds of candy to choose from. Ross was not a monolith, he was a whole and complex human being.

Then there's the act of depleting and refilling. Many critics (and I have read just about everything there is to read about this artwork) claim that this is a way to watch Ross die, the way Felix had to, and inasmuch as that's the case it was a way for Felix to "rehearse" his feelings about death. "Rehearse" is Felix's word, and he used it - to my memory - to talk about the act of letting go of artwork and putting it out into the public space. I think something else is going on in Portrait of Ross entirely.

Because it's an endless supply. The body never dies. It's depleted and refilled. That's not the process of death - that's the process of resurrection. Rather, it's the process of life: We shed skin cells and grow new cells; trees shed their leaves and sprout them again come spring; stars explode and swallow planets in the process, expelling particles into space, and eventually the force of gravity gathers the particles in new combinations and forms new stars and new planets. Felix didn't make this artwork to have Ross die over and over - he made this so that Ross would live indefinitely.

And inasmuch as that's the case, it's the most beautiful elegy I've ever seen in my life. I am heartbroken and in love.

What do the clocks mean? The clocks are Felix's artwork Untitled (Perfect Lovers). When the artwork is displayed, two matching clocks are hung on a wall lying tangent to each other. This forms the illusion of an infinity sign. Fresh batteries are put in, they're set to the same exact time, and they're started at the same exact time. Eventually, because of natural variations in the batteries, one of the clocks starts to slow more quickly than the other, and it stops ticking.

It's a meditation on time and mortality and what it's like to watch someone you love - your perfect lover - die. And not just that, but to know your time is approaching, too. It's the sensation of having this love that feels like it could go on forever (into infinity) but facing the bodily reality that it can't. It's the sensation of being a man with AIDS in a couple.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres had the great accomplishment of expressing that very complex, very particular, very core human experience with two simple wall clocks. Try telling me that any author has ever expressed an idea as elegantly as that. Try telling me that anyone has ever used any medium so well as Felix Gonzalez-Torres used his to express the most vulnerable parts of the human experience, death and love.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres is the single greatest artist and rhetorician I have ever come across. By many, many heads. I aspire to that level of genius and ability, and I know I will never reach it.

Felix is a personal love of mine. I could proudly have his work tattooed over my hands and my sternum and my neck and pretty much my whole body. Felix saved my life. One day in 2012, when I was doing my primary round of research on Portrait of Ross in L.A., I was reading through a stupendous interview he did with Tim Rollins. At the time, I was considering the possibility of applying to graduate schools for art history programs, which is why I was doing all this work. It was the summer. I had been in an abusive relationship for seven years. I was obsessed with the idea of having obligations: Obligations are the reason that I stayed in that relationship. I had made a commitment and I was going to keep it come hell or high water because keeping your commitments come hell or high water or predation or abuse is just what you do. I had married this man and no matter what sacrifices were asked of me I was going to make it work. I was a doubtful but dutiful Christian wife.

Then I read this:

 

I have a major problem with the cultural traps and constructions of God. I think that it is a good excuse for us to accept any kind of situation as natural, inevitable. Once we believe that there is no God, that there is no afterlife, then life becomes a very positive statement. It becomes a very political position because, then, we have no choice but to work harder to make this place the best place ever. There is only one chance, and this is it. If you fuck it up this time, you've fucked up for ever and ever... There's nothing except here - this thing, this table, you, me - that's it. That becomes a very radical idea because you have to take responsibility to make it the best.

"It is a very good excuse for us to accept any kind of situation as natural, inevitable." I must do my duty. I must fulfill my obligations. I must stick to this commitment no matter what the consequences are for me. This is what we are meant to do.

I left my husband about two months later.

What are the clocks? The clocks are my new conception of god: I do not believe in god anymore. I believe in the power of the human imaginative capacity. I believe in the possibilities that come along with change. I believe in letting things go. I believe in working with the real resources we have at hand to create something new and better. I believe in art.