A while back, the Beat’s own Henry Barajas – tireless observer of Kickstarted comics that he is – took some time to preview a crowd-funded book by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Jimmy Broxton, and Juan Santacruz. Sex and Violence, Vol. 1 was laid bare (spread-eagle, perhaps) to its supporters this past week, after reaching its funding goal. The only hurdle yet to cross is for Palmiotti, Gray, and cover artist Amanda Conner to actually sit down and sign the damned things. I was part of the crowd that funded Sex and Violence; I expect I’ll get my copy in the mail any day now. In that copy, and in everyone else’s, too, there will be my name (my government name, my “goes on job applications” name), thanked for helping to finance, well, sex and violence.
I wonder if this bizarre offshoot of buyer’s remorse is common amongst Kickstarter supporters. The thing is, it’s not exactly remorse. It’s more like Schroedinger’s cat, where a funded project exists in a quantum state of being both satisfying and regrettable until you get your copy and find out for yourself. “So, goofus,” the dialogue begins, “why did you throw money at it if you weren’t sure you’d be happy with it?”
I’m not sure I have a good answer for that. I like Jimmy Broxton’s art, I guess. Getting an Amanda Conner art print or whatever else is pretty cool. As writers, Palmiotti and Gray have yet to grievously offend me, but then again, I’m not exactly snatching Freedom Fighters off the racks so roughly that the staples kink. It almost, maybe, makes a little more sense when I take the long view and consider the status quo of adult-people comics today.
Joe Casey, agent provocateur, just released a comic called Sex, which I saw praised on Twitter as “the most 2003 comic of 2013.” Brandon Graham’s Multiple Warheads, a book I love without qualifiers, started as a porno gag strip in an NBM anthology. Matt Seneca’s Very Fine Comix debuted with Daredevil 12”, a XXX Marvel comic spoof; Jane Mai just put out Blumpkin Spice Latte, a zine that’s 99% dick talk (with the best title of 2012). Sex is in the air in comics, these days, but it’s kept its edge, sticking mostly to the dim corners or weird vortices of the market.
Violence, of course, is the foundation modern comics were built upon, and the sword that they live and die by to this day. I shouldn’t even need to point out examples, but the “big moments” in the Diamond-distributed scene always revolve around bloody carnage. Think Damian Wayne, freshly skewered. Glenn from The Walking Dead: turned into a piñata. Avatar Press is its own thing entirely. Both Mark Millar and John Romita’s certified hit Kick-Ass and Frank Cho and Joe Keatinge’s upcoming Brutal have promo art that looks jacked straight from the cover of Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power. DC Comics’ big multimedia tie-in for the quarter isn’t just a fighting game, it’s a fighting game built by the people who make Mortal Kombat.
So in this rough-sex-and-eyeballs-popping milieu, Sex and Violence seemed like a romp. Sure, it was being pitched as tawdry, sleazy, exploitative, and unshakably macho despite itself… but sometimes the grindhouse is the place to be. All of this is very much after-the-fact justification, but it seems to add up. But that just takes us back to Schroedinger’s cat. It could be fun and trashy. If could just be trashy and a little sad. I paid my admission, so the least I can do is find out.
There are two halves to Sex and Violence. You’d think that with the title structured the way it is, this duplex approach would lend itself to a sex story and a violence story. It almost does (one tale is certainly more violent than sexual, and vice versa for the other), but not enough to comment on the idea at any other point in this piece. The book starts with “Pornland, Oregon,” illustrated by Jimmy Broxton. In what starts as a sideways riff on the movie Hardcore, a young woman is made a deep web sensation forevermore by being murdered in a snuff film. As it turns out, in one of those funny coincidences life likes to play, her grandfather is a retired Mafia hitman, and all expected murders and executions follow in due course. The second story, drawn by Juan Santacruz, is “Girl in a Storm,” about a lesbian NYPD officer who becomes obsessed with spying on her beautiful neighbor, and has to deal with the small complication of that neighbor already having a woman to keep her bed warm. Things, as they must, get more sordid from there.
So is it any good? Jimmy Broxton’s minimalist (and very British, in a way I can’t put my finger on) style sells “Pornland” rather well. Abetted by Challenging Studios’ color palette of blue, grey, purple, and what I can only call “various shades of Dave Stewart red,” Broxton makes “Pornland” into something not unlike the crime media of the 70s, when character actors could still look like the bottoms of feet: Get Carter, The Outfit, The Squeeze, some imaginary episode of The Rockford Files with more exposed breasts… In fact, the plot of the thing is pretty much Get Carter with some serial numbers filed off, and things like “a vaguely sympathetic hero” and “romance” bolted on like a new spoiler on a Gremlin. That’s not bad, mind. If you’re going to be something in the avenge-young-relative sub-genre, Get Carter is really what you want to be.
On the other hand, “Girl in a Storm” is just… there. The story strains to be Brian de Palma, which is a noble ambition until you realize that Brian de Palma is usually straining to be other people (in this case, a Sapphic voyeur version of Rear Window) – it’s a well that quickly dries up. Juan Santacruz is a veteran superhero artist, and that’s a downside here. Instead of a claustrophobic, psychologically maladjusted story of obsession, passion, forbidden desire, violence, and all those other things that we pretend not to love, the leggy all-but-baby-oiled figures and brightly-lit colors give the whole thing a plastic shine. The look of the strip – which, in a strip about looking, is really the most important thing on multiple levels – isn’t enough to elevate an uninspired script, and both sides end up worse for it. If “Pornland” is Get Carter, “Girl in a Storm” ends up as a post-depilation-culture take on something like a Christina Lindberg movie, and not one of the really twisted, memorably corpse-mutilating ones like Thriller.
So this is what’s going to have my name tucked away in it, until we’re all dead and beyond. I don’t feel particularly embarrassed about this, I suppose. I probably should, and the sting is probably lessened by my name being so generic as to sound like an ethnic take on “John Smith.” Only half of Sex and Violence is really any fun – a statement more true than I intended it to be when I typed it – and I overpaid, based on that math. It’s not egregiously offensive (by comic book standards) and it’s not a work of genius. It just exists, and me with it, twins conjoined at the donation. It’s hard to work up a head of steam one way or the other when both pleasure and disappointment come mild.
LTZ sells comic books, and infrequently contributes to the Beat. He even more infrequently contributes to his own site, Nowhere / No Formats. He tweets about how hard this rigorous schedule is at @less_than_zero.