Sunday, 4 May 2014

Glamourpuss: Man Reads Fashion Magazine!

Glamourpuss #6 (March 2009)
Art by Dave Sim
ANDREW HICKEY:
(from the DC Countdown blog, 16 February 2008)
...It's really not what I was expecting, and it's rather interesting. For those of you who haven't followed Dave Sim's post-Cerebus career, he's been working on a magazine, Following Cerebus, which is irregularly published and even more irregularly distributed but which, when it arrives... has been one of the most fascinating comics-related magazines there is, filling the notional 'gap between Wizard and The Comics Journal'. While Sim's views on politics, religion and gender are so idiosyncratic as to bear no relation to the real world, his writing on comics, and his understanding of the tiny technical points, is absolutely enthralling - he seems to have a deeper understanding of the minutiae of the craft than anyone else writing about the medium, and the ability to convey this understanding.

The bulk of Glamourpuss 1 could very easily be a Following Cerebus essay, possibly entitled 'How To Ink Comics The Alex Raymond Way'. While it's layed out to look like fairly conventional 'sequential art' , the text in the speech bubbles, captions and so forth throughout the main portion of the book is for the most part a rather freeform essay on the inking techniques of the photorealistic comic strip school, and in particular Raymond.

Sim has decided to teach himself to draw like Alex Raymond (and given that these pages were done more or less in order, it's interesting to see the progression in his ability to do this, from the early pages where he sometimes ends up looking more like Patrick Nagel than Raymond, to the later pages where he's much more assured in his command of this style) and the art in the comic is split almost 50/50 between Sim's attempts to render photos from fashion magazines in Raymond's style (sometimes with the text veering into the same weird attempts at psychoanalysis/telepathy as the Dave Sim's Favourite Buffy Picture Of The Month section in FC) and his tracing of old Rip Kirby panels.
Glamourpuss #9 (September 2009)
Art by Dave Sim
The tracings are actually a lot more interesting than they sound. In the backmatter of the comic, Sim compares a panel shot from Alex Raymond's original artwork with one from a typical modern reprint of Rip Kirby, showing that the shoddy copies from which modern printings are taken lose almost all the fine linework that was originally put in there. Sim attempts in his tracings to restore that linework, resulting in a curious mixture of artistic styles (Dave-Sim photorealism, Alex Raymond-as-inked-by-Dave-Sim, John-Prentice-(Raymond's assistant/successor)-doing-Raymond-as-inked-by-Sim and occasionally Sim-possibly-unconsciously-doing-Gerhard). Some of this is gorgeous to look at (and I'm amazed by how good Sim is without Gerhard's help - Gerhard was the best line-art/photorealist draughtsman in comics, and Sim copes without him remarkably well) but what's really fascinating to me is the text.

I've always been interested in the combination of photorealism with non-fiction in comics (my own attempt at doing a webcomic, pretty much defunct due to lack of time, Dumb Angel, was in something of the same area) but reading someone on the top of his game explaining how to get the techniques he's using is absolutely riveting. At one point the comic actually turns into something approaching narrative - Sim tries to show the difficulty in creating narrative using photo reference by creating a six-page story using shots of the same model, with bizarre results - but for the most part it's a freewheeling semi-structured lecture on inking techniques.

Those who have been worried about Sim dealing with the fashion industry bringing out his misogynist tendencies have little need to worry, incidentally. While calling Glamourpuss' evil twin 'Skanko' is not exactly in the best possible taste, and his comment about wanting to do Alex Raymond style drawings of teenage girls is a little disturbing, there is nothing in here that would make me think "this is the work of an evil misogynist" were I not primed to look for that, and little that does even when I've got my misogynist-hunter glasses on...
Glamourpuss #18 (March 2010)
Art by Dave Sim
...Around the edges of the sequential material, we have a few pages of fashion magazine parody. I've found Sim's humour in recent years to be much less effective than it had been earlier, which I think is partly a function of his increasing detatchment from 'normal' society (it's hard to be an effective satirist of the current culture when you never watch TV, listen to the radio or go on the internet) and partly due to his increased admiration for borscht-belt comedians, a genre I've never been a fan of. To my mind, the humour portions of Glamourpuss have the same sense of trying too hard and not quite getting it that I've found from some of Sim's other recent humour stuff, but I'll give it a pass because I'm not at all familiar with fashion magazines, and it may be that some of the text in them really is as horrible as this (I did once look at Cosmopolitan's website for half an hour, and came out with terrible psychic scars I still bear four years later, so it's entirely possible). There are also one or two bits that really are laugh-out-loud funny - usually obvious jokes, but still good ones.

But all in all, Glamourpuss is intriguing because it's nothing like anything out there. The closest comparison I can find in terms of content is if you took twenty pages of Understanding Comics or the comics-history sections of Alice In Sunderland and wrapped them in five pages of Mad magazine. The formal experimentation reminds me a little of Alice but also of The Fate Of The Artist or even The Black Dossier (about which I do have more to say and will shortly).

Andrew Hickey can now be found online at AndrewHickey.info.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Whenever I hear anyone complain about how 'mean spirited' Glamourpuss could be to fashion magazines, I wonder if they've ever looked at one.

(Andrew Hickey was being quite fair about it, so don't think I'm singling the guy out- I've read other reviews that were less kind about the fashion parody aspect).

Reading Cosmo is like opening the puzzle box from Hellraiser. Or turning on the Resonator in From Beyond. It is the deranged prattling of sociopaths. Glamourpuss was far, far too kind.

-Wes Smith