Saturday, September 13, 2014

Brian Evenson's Ed Vs. Yummy Fur

Brian Evenson, Ed Vs. Yummy Fur: Or, What Happens When a Serial Comic Becomes a Graphic Novel, Uncivilized Books, May 2014.

I just finished reading Brian Evenson's book Ed Vs. Yummy Fur: Or, What Happens When a Serial Comic Becomes a Graphic Novel. I can't, for the life of me, figure out who the target reading public for this book is? The couple of dozen people who read this blog (thank you!, thank you!)? Probably... but, putting economic concerns aside, I enjoyed it immensely. Contrary to my own prophecy I wish a long life to Critical Cartoons, the collection that it inaugurates (book 002 - judging from the three digits the collection's editor or editors are way more optimistic than I am - is announced already: Peter Schilling Jr.'s Carl Barks' Duck: Average American). 

Peter Schilling Jr, Carl Barks' Duck: Average American, not published yet.

This is clearly a Crib Sheet Collection, or, at least, it is, for now, before the publisher realizes that what people told him about comics being respected as an art form, not just for kids anymore (I know, ahem... Barks...) etc... etc.. is all a load of bullshit leaving said person with two options: shoot the collection dead or... publish another crappy book about crappy fucking Batman or some shit like that, preferably a coffee table book with lots of pin-ups by Neal Adams and Frank Miller, etc... etc...

I'll shut up now, don't wanting to give anyone any ideas to add more crap to the world and all...

Ed Vs. Yummy Fur does exactly what it says it does in the subtitle: Evenson performs a close reading of Chester Brown's "Ed the Happy Clown" in its three incarnations: serialized in a mini-comic; serialized in floppies (aka comic books); collected in a graphic novel (with three editions so far). What's interesting about this is that Brown lived these hinge times in comics history as internal creative conflicts, but not as formal dilemmas, as Evenson expected. No, what worried Brown, more than form, was time, deadline time. In the interview at the end of the book (and believe me, I know how difficult it is to interview Chester Brown!) that tension between what the interviewer thinks and what's really in the interviewee's head becomes clear. To Brown the mini-comic means all the time in the world to do whatever the cartoonist wants (s/he's in control of both the creation and the deadline; it's a hobby). The comic book means having to produce six issues per year which means, at 24 pages a pop, you do the math... Even the graphic novel (which, to me, is a format, as I put it at The hooded Utilitarian) is seen by Brown as something that's related to time... It helped him to stop being an enslaved traditional comic book artist (although... Chester Brown doesn't like the term "graphic novel" - he says so himself -; Evenson discovers the fact through an interesting close reading of Brown's own take on it: "graphic-novel"; Brown minimizes the expression's content through the use of the lowercase and the hyphenation undermining what some - Chester among them, but not yours truly - may see as a pathetic attempt to give comics a respectable bourgeois name).  

In Chester Brown's mind at the time (Yummy Fur # 1 was published by Vortex Comics in December of 1986) being a professional comic artist meant to stick to one character (Ed in his case) serializing the hero's adventures in floppies to collect the story arcs in albums a là Tintin (his example). As I said before the deadlines also worried him, that's why he decided to reprint his seven mini-comics in the first three monthly issues. It gave him a three month head start, being the series bimonthly after that. 

The Ed series continued until Yummy Fur # 18 (December, 1989). If we take into consideration that Guido Buzzelli published his La rivolta dei racchi [the revolt of the ugly] in 1967 (July, to be exact), the first graphic novel in the restrict field (and I don't mean "graphic novel" in the format sense this time, I mean "graphic novel" in the Eddie Campbell sense, i. e.: a self-contained story aimed at adult readers) we have to conclude that Chester Brown wasn't much of a visionary suffering during more than a year (since issue # 12 was published in September of 1988, the "natural" ending to the Ed story, as he put it) under the yoke of "the professional cartoonist." 

Brian Evenson isn't purely a formalist critic. He also explores recurring themes in the Ed series like scatology, sacrilege and censorship. I just wish that he didn't separate the two so neatly. When he analyzes the form he focus on the form and nothing else. Ditto if he's talking about the content. (One caveat though: since we can't separate form and content Evenson can't do what I say he does above as completely as I suggest.) I'll give you one example in which he missed a great opportunity to mesh form and content together. In chapter four Evenson takes a look at changes in paneling from comic book to graphic novel. His notorious example was taken from Yummy Fur # 8 (November, 1987; see below) which was cropped for the inclusion in the graphic novel (ditto).

Chester Brown, "Ed the Happy Clown: Lost Beneat the Sewers Part Two," Yummy Fur # 8, November 1987.

Chester Brown, Ed the Happy Clown, August 1989.

Evenson talks about the formal consequences, both good and bad, of the crop shown above. For me though, what's lost is an interesting parallel between the sewers and the intestine, the human organ that justifies the sewers existence. 

Chester Brown, Yummy Fur # 18, December 1989.

PS In a near future, I hope, I'll write about Chester Brown as a Gothic artist. Not "Gothic" as in pop parlance (i. e.: as the word is understood in a Romantic sense), I mean Gothic Gothic...

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