SMALL PRESS REVIEWS AND CEREBRATING LIFE'S LITTLE WONDERS
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Review -- Derek Van Gieson's EEL MANSIONS #3
Remember I told you about The Oldness? and you told me how ugly it was – the oldness, the oldness. I can hear the tumbrel wheels creek. So fucking ugly and coming so close to me.
– Gary Gilmore, noted executed murderer and cornea donator, in a letter to his girlfriend.
I know the name on the tip of your tongue
And I know that accusing look
Everybody knows I've been so wrong
That's the problem and here's the hook
– Elvis Costello
This ring don't plug no holes.
- The mother of my girlfriend to me when I was 16, drunk
Daniel Elkin: Where the fuck were we? Oh yes, one house, many mansions...
Okay, Silva – we're well into this whole Eel Mansions thing, aren't we? We've worked through our thoughts about issues one and two dropping pop culture references along the way like drunk girls throwing beads at Mardi Gras, hoping for, I don't know, what? Understanding? Attention? Because that's just what we do given the situation and the expectations and the booze? We've built a critical castle high on the hill, laying brick after brick of cognitive innuendo and charm, brashness and largess. And we've examined Eel Mansions as a fortress of artifice, encompassing the ''anxiety of influences'' of our ''cultural touchstones'' – but by doing so, thinking so much with our heads, I think we've missed its heart.
Reading issue three of this six-part series brought to my ears the rhythm of the crux of the core, the tempo of its center, the beating of its heart.
What if I were to tell you that underneath all its trappings, Eel Mansions is a love story?
Just look at all the interactions in this story. Janet and Frank, Fuller and his family, Wilma and that guy, hell, even Chee Chee and Bert -- there is a passion to their connections, an underlying obligation that motivates them to do what they do, and they do it out of love. In issue three, the record store guys interaction with Chet even points to it. Chet's buying “180 gram repressing of Anal Cunt, Discharge, Penetration and... Juice Newton.”
Juice Newton? Queen of Hearts? Isn't that all about what people do when wrapped up in love and obsession and anxiety of possession? Something about ''laying out another lie'' and ''Thinking 'bout a life of crime''? Why? Because ''that's what I'll have to do to keep me away from you.'' There's an inherent fear associated with the giving of oneself fully to the wiles of another's heart -- and that fear mixes with the sturm und drang of dopamine and serotonin and whatever native chemicals our brain produces when we go ga-ga -- sometimes we create demons and Zapfs, sometimes we create Doomin, sometimes our minds tell us Tales of Abstraction House, sometimes Milk City, sometimes Eel Mansions.
But whatever we create, it is an act of creation, which ultimately is the point of the whole thing. As Bryan Ferry once sang, ''Jump up, bubble up, what's in store?''
Love is a dangerous and wonderful elixir that we most often times would die to drink. We get drunk and it makes us... well … do things. They say love, even self-love, is the source of all hope, and therefore, all action.
So what do you think, Silva? You game here? Booze before comics, or comics before booze?
Keith Silva: Think of it: 'just a little further down the line,' in some quantum-Richard-Feynman-like-parallel-universe where the bongos are hot and the Robert Palmers are on the house, parallel-Elkin and parallel-Silva work thesis-wise on the many connections between Juice Newton's Queen of Hearts and Eel Mansions #3. Each persists, each 'knowing it ain't really smart.'' Think of it.
O.K., I'll bite and cop to your claim that beneath its cool resolve and reference obscura Eel Mansions is a love story, but sell me on exactly what kind of love story Van Gieson has on display in his shop window. Unrequited? Romantic? Physical? Sentimental? Ooh, there's a lot of that last one, fo' sho. Don't make me quote the Bible again, Elkin, please. [insert sound of resounding gong or clanging cymbal] Love fills much of the negative spaces in this particular wing ofEel Mansions, but would you say the vintages vary? How much is 'love' and how much is being comfortable in one's own skin, being O.K. with the bumps and lumps, scars and other weirdness of 'the self?' In order to love another person, don't we have to love ourselves first, you know, all that O.K. to be you and me horseshit?
I hope Van Gieson never tires slipping in cultural ephemera. As we've discussed were hip to that particular groove; however, Eel Mansions #3 drops much of the artifice, cuts the bullshit and as the (dated) tag line goes: gets real.
Fresh from her unfortunate run-in with the contents of a jar of Orson Mayo with Honey, Wilma emerges from her butter bean bath, scrubbed and clean and … a lizard, seriously, Lizard Lord Wilma, in full. She sheds her skin along and now it's all whiskey and word play. Bliss. The bouncer has left his post at the stage door and snuck out back to read some Bill Sienkiewicz comics. Except maybe for Bert (we'll get to him) Wilma's coming out seems to be the most healthy bit of self-actualization Eel Mansions has offered so far, but is that love?
And then there's Janet, that ''food baby'' she's digesting is the least of her problems. Janet is a great example of a likeable un-likable (un-loveable?) character. She's a rogue in every sense of the word. She's like Holden Caulfield except she's read The New Defenders. She could (probably) expound on Dragon of the Moon with 'a gleam in her eye' and then mock the offhand reference to Don Henley.
When Janet and Frank choose ''comics over booze'' and end up in Uncle Zucker's, Gandalf -- well, that's the handle Chee-Chee gives him later on, but it works for me if it works for you, Elkin -- says: ''Janet, did you know that Frank is still in love with you?'' Janet answers: ''shit, everybody knows that.'' She turns to Frank, who she thinks is obviouslygoing to be in on the joke, except he isn't. He walks away and all she can do is ask, ''Where you … where you goin'?'' Now that's real. Ain't got no snappy comeback for that one do ya' Janet? And, yeah, Van Gieson nails the look on Janet's face.
Where's the love, Elkin? I'll be over here by the ''in aisle seven, next to the giant Lion Force Voltron.''
Elkin: [cinching the belt on his silk robe and curling his toes in his loafers] Ahem... Silva, don't you know that the love you take is equal to the love you make?
[explosions resound and one thousand white doves take flight]
Eel Masions is oozing with love -- all the kinds of love there are. It's thick with the act of creation -- fecund one might say -- for all acts of creation emanate from some kind of love -- you know, what Lou Reed meant when he said, ''between thought and expression there lies a lifetime.'' And this is a book that celebrates the creative act. From the cartoonist to the musician, from the family man to the Wuppeteer, everybody is or was Making It -- ''make some room now, dig what you see'' -- taking the ephemera of experience and the hope of ideas and baking something new in the oven.
What is art but an expression of love?
Even the ''anxiety of influences'' is a matter of the heart -- we wear what we love like brown corduroy pants and paisley sweaters before the warming hearth. Swaddled in the influences we adore, we put on and throw out with reckless abandon.
Then of course there are all the allusions to the physical aspect of love. From Janet's offhand remark about Frank's desire for her, to Willma's suggestion after her butter bean bath.
It's the P-p-p-power of Love, and that shouldn't be news to you, dear Huey.
So much of the motivations in this series can be framed as responses to love, be they the love of a man for a woman, a lizard for a man, a man for his comics, a man for his music, or what have you. Even the comics within this comics focus on a love of what was or what will be, the act of storytelling, the rose that you better not pick because it only grows when it's on the vine.
Van Gieson is the Lothario of comics, seducing us with all the dangling sweet-meats necessary to let us know that he knows that we know that he understands us. But seduction is a dangerous game, especially for those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves, or our preference for sandwiches emblazoned across our chests.
Silva: Prove it, Elkin. Prove all night.
I won't split hairs about Eel Mansions #3 embodying a 'celebration of the creative act,' agreed, and I'll get to that in a second; however, what, if anything, gets consummated? Wilma and her keeper opt for Scrabble over whatever constitutes ''… unless you wanna --,'' which seems to hurt, apparently. Eel Mansions #3 flirts with love, but commitment … that's not so easy to find as say something in ''aisle seventeen next to the Fonzie statue.''
Chet proudly buys Queen of Hearts along with ''180 gram repressings of Anal Cunt'' with only a wry smile as to the rhyme or reason behind his decision. The heart wants what the heart wants. And then there's the conversation the Negative Orphans have about 'getting to first base [and] fifth base.' When asked what 'fifth base' is like, Matt says: ''I don't remember. I do know I had to take a number seven when it was over.'' That line should come with its own rimshot. Again, all talk. Habeas fifth base. So, Elkin prove to me there's someone in Eel Mansions #3 gettin' some and I'll discretely leave those lovers to their own lizard-like devices.
The 'creative act,' as you term it, comes from Van Gieson. Like the first two issues in this series he changes his style of cartooning to fit the various comics within the comic. In Eel Mansions #3 Van Gieson trebles his efforts and creates the best work in the series, so far. The backgrounds, by themselves, in Armistead's pilgrimage through Hell are top-notch then again I'm a soft touch for silent panels and eldritch architecture.
As a recovering MA in English, I get a good case of the ooey-gooeys when Van Gieson inserts the 'text' of either 'Tales of Abstraction House,' 'Doomin' or (for the first time in this issue) Janet's infamous 'Milk City' into the story proper. These stories parallel what's happening in main narrative to create dialogue between what's going on on the page and between the pages -- sorry, got carried away there for a moment.
This clever and creative approach to storytelling shows DVG's playfulness. At first, the bits from 'ToAH' do make for a head-scratcher because they so closely mirror the scenes taking place in Hell and at the Arrow Motel. These 'textual interruptions' will throw a first-time reader out of the story (which is the point) but once 'hip to the groove' it becomes as welcome as a hug or the chance to listen to 'Buckingham Nicks.' Damn, that band never had a legit shot, did they?
As for shots (and love) what do we get in the unpublished last issue of 'Milk City,' hmmmm? Well, more unrequited love, of course, as Barphisto sees the Satin Spectre and says to himself: ''Ah that crafty minx!long have I dreamed of kissing those lips, of those arms around me … oh, who am I kidding she could never love a big headed freak like me.'' Little does Barphisto know 'that crafty minx' admires his collection of vinyl and says to herself: ''this is my kind of villain.'' Again, where is the love?
Ugh, I'm being such a 'Janet' right now, Elkin. I'm sorry. You want love and all I'm doin' (Doomin?) is lookin' to get laid. Alright, Casanova, sing to me. Sing to me of love Eel Mansion style and please explain your Texas wisdom about how 'a ring don't plug no holes,' the newspapers won't say.
Elkin: Oh Silva – don't you see? I'm not talking (necessarily) about physical love, that tangy taste in the back of your throat, desire and all that it entails. The love here is (mostly) motivation, the impetus to create, the first step of a thousand mile journey that begins in the heart. What is beautiful, even despair, originates from attachment. Those who make, do so because they feel it, baby. As Janet says towards the end of this issue, ''I may go back to Milk City, I just want to do it if I want to do it. Not because everyone's on my ass to do it.''
She says this line after our third trip into the pages of Milk City, where the princess would spy on ''a peculiar fisherman named Corey Mellowsworth'' – she admires his creative exterminations and imagines what he looks like ''under all that beautiful hair.'' Sure, Van Gieson plops some floating hearts around the princess' head, but what is this all but a song of the inventive and the imaginative? And this song is our song. We sing it as we lean and loaf at our leisure, as we wonder-what or mix-together or go so far as to take brush in hand, tune the guitar, stare at numbers in a new way, or even tap on this keyboard here. Hell, even getting up in the morning is an act of creation. We're all artists and musicians and chefs and mathematicians and scientists and poets in one way or another. ''... what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.'' Walt Whitman knew this, and I hazard to guess Van Gieson does too.
I'll belabor the point: the act of creation is motivated by love – and this book is filled with artists creating. From comics to music to storytelling to interviewing to playing scrabble to mixing drinks, it's all here right before you in vivid black and … ummmm … taupe?
How do you fight demons? First you gotta use some charcoal.
Banutukku Dirrigugim Ziukkinna – my point exactly.
Van Gieson loves our hard thinking, Silva. He's manifested Eel Mansions to be read with the head, to puzzle out pieces and ponder absurdities, to gather allusions and cut through illusions, but under all that is the coursing blood of the act itself. There in that viscous fluid is the song of celebration -- so bring your good times and your laughter too for it's a song of the artist, it's the song of myself. Eel Mansions is a love story as it is about inspiration. (and with that, Elkin kicks off his shoes and goes running down the street)
Still, all that being said, how is it that we've written over 5,000 words about this series in the last few weeks and not once – NOT ONCE – has either of us mentioned the preponderance of sandwich references therein?
Silva: I thought you signed on to bring the sandwiches, Elkin, it's your signature, after all.
You've brought me (almost) more than sandwiches can, my friend, you've reminded me why I cherish (the thought of always having) Eel Mansions on my bedside table: unpredictability. We all crave the pick-'em-up-put-'em-down drumbeat of constancy, especially in our comics. Eel Mansions embodies chaos theory in a comic book. Creativity finds a way. I never know what's going to happen next except I know I need to know. You know? That's the fun, that's the power of creativity or if you prefer (the power of) 'the life of the mind.' After all, when Lizard Lord Wilma and her delegation ''crawled up here,'' it wasn't only scientists who came, there was ''a musician … an artist … a storyteller'' and someone to provide, ''the sass,'' performers, creators and artistes all.
While all this barrelhousin' goes on, Janet's mantra of pleasing (pleasuring?) yourself first runs on a parallel course to inventiveness. Anything goes, yes, but it only goes (or don't) if the ''cruel god'' sez so. As fabulous a contraption as creativity is it needs direction, rails on which to run and gatekeepers to switch tracks, you know, a driver 'so lively and quick' s/he must be (like) Der-ek. Eel Mansions teems with gatekeepers, characters whose sole purpose hinges on access. Who has it. Who doesn't. And, of course, who wants it.
Banutukku Dirrigugim Ziukkinna, motherfucker.
Access goes both ways (don't cha' know) it's a matter of proximity. It'll take a good skull session to further work out the particulars of this gatekeeper scheme; however, I know it has something to do with what our favorite Englishman and possible (?) future collaborator Taylor Lilley calls 'interrogating the medium.' Now that's access. Comics are idiosyncrasy all the way down -- the heart and wanting and all that - -and yet there must be a set of batwing doors, a cape to tug on, some reference point, a spur on which to catch the conscience of the (Carole) King.
I think that's why we're able to have these discussions about love, creative freedom and Juice Newton. For as much asEel Mansions has goin' on on top (and it's significant) there's a whole lot more happening underneath. All the reader needs is a 'Bert,' maybe even a 'Jimmy,' an 'in.' Sometimes it's 'Pegasus' by the Hollies, sometimes it's 'Flash Marks' by Carel Moiseiwitsch and sometimes it's whiskey and Scrabble. Truths are hard earned (but they're there) and so what if every lizard lady, cartoonist and record store guy plays it close to the vest. Secrets are treasure in Eel Mansions, ''a sort of creative dirt road out of town'' and where it stops nobody knows.