To the ebullient Kacie Baum: I am sorry. I loathe admitting it, but that sly devil with the haircut somewhere between Alec Baldwin in Glenngarry-Glen-Ross and Mike Score from Flock-of-Seagulls, Matt Baum (pictured) … was right. Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, Baum knows pornography when he sees it. And apparently I wouldn’t know porn if a succubus with blank eyes, bat wings and dozens of phalluses ejaculating from her ‘lagoon of mystery’ beat me about the head and shoulders … or something like that.
I wrote a post for this here Two Headed Nerd web thingy a ways back about my support for a dense, inscrutable and downright weird creator-owned comic, Black Kiss II, by no less than the flaming genius-God, Howard Chaykin. At the time, Black Kiss II was getting banned in the UK and in Canada quicker than you could say Jenna Marie Massoli. My essay was less about Black Kiss II or censorship — I was happy to admit I had no idea what was going on or if it was any good — and more about supporting offbeat and oddball creator-owned work over more milquetoast fare.
Podcast raconteur and fellow THN anarchist, John Littrel, recently talked on the Burnt Weiners podcast about reading several comics long after his enjoyment had ceased. Let’s call this behavior: ‘hate-reading,’ which is slightly different from hate-watching i.e. watching a TV show for the purpose of enjoying the badness, but close enough for my purpose here.
I’m not a hate-watcher, I don’t see the point. There’s too many good comics, TV shows, movies, etc. to have to put up with the sub-sub-subpar. I’m willing to give something more than one or two issues, sure, and I’m loyal to my favorite artists, writers and directors, but only to a point. If something is bad, reprehensibly awful in one way or another, what’s to prove (to whom?) to stay until the bitter end? This reminds me of a ‘Seinfeld’ episode when Elaine writes a fake number on the back of a sandwich punch card in order to put off a guy, ‘denim vest.’ She was one punch away from a free sub (and maybe a captain’s hat) when she mistakenly handed the card off. If a free sandwich AND a captain’s hat were up for grabs every time I read a bad comic, I might be tempted; it better be one ‘hella’ nice captain’s hat.
ANYWAY, I kept buying and reading Black Kiss II. It went from odd to strange to obtuse to whatever is beyond obtuse, ludicrous (?). The sex never lets up and neither does the violence. When a character is killed (and a lot are) it’s always at the precise moment s/he is inserting their sexual organ into some orifice or having something inserted into one (or more) of their own orifices (sexual or otherwise) and, of course, often at the same time. Sometimes, too, you know, to mix it up, what’s being inserted isn’t always a body part, which isn’t weird, on the face of it, except when it’s hinted (not shown) to be more animal than mineral. Yeah.
Black Kiss II didn’t quite reach Salo proportions … then again, I can’t be sure, I’ve never seen Salo, I have some scrap of decency. I read issues #1 – #5 of Black Kiss II and gave #6 a ‘skim it.’ I had seen enough to get what was going on; I think. The sex and the violence were one thing; however, the story was pointless, which brings me back to seer of seers, Matt Baum. See, Baum saw the futility from the jump. He could tell the story was apt to end in a gangbang of confusion — lotta’ arms and hands, elbows and knees, one big sweaty ball of ponderousness going nowhere; masturbatory in every sense of the word.
I saw the same thing, only I was waiting for Chaykin to quit f’ing around and get down to business. He never did, maybe that was the point, dunno. The choice to hate-read is as personal as the choice to pleasure-read, the difference lies in one’s perspective. To borrow from that great balladeer of the American songbook, Kenneth Donald Rogers: ”you gotta’ know when to hold ’em/ know when to fold ’em/ know when to walk away/ and when to run.” I stayed at the table too long, it happens to everyone, except, maybe, Matt Baum.
Life’s enough of a crapshoot to put up with sh#tty comics (I believe that’s a ‘Littrel’). So, why is every comic reader I know guilty of this … what (?) … sin? Some Einstein once said: ”Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Is that it? Are comic book fans insane deviants, chasing the dragon, thinking (hoping) next issue is going to be better: ‘no worries, Chaykin, Johns, Vaughan (certainly not BKV!, never!) will turn this around, right? right!’ With our mouths pressed up against the great teat of the LCS, how do we know (admit to ourselves) when enough is enough?
I don’t buy into the notion it takes a big man or a small man (with a big mouth) — remember that short-lived THN column (?) I wonder what ever happened to the guy who wrote it (?) — to admit when he is wrong, busted and bested. Admit it. Move on. Mistakes get made, why else do pencils have erasers and all that nonsense. (This time) Matt Baum was right. As for moi, Black Kiss II hasn’t put me off idiosyncratic and personal work; and I’m sure there are more Black Kiss II’s in my future, enough to stage a decent orgy or at least a key party. I love auteurists and since there is no accounting for taste …
My postscript comes from that doyen of comic book nerds, Aaron Meyers, who saw Black Kiss II through to its black-and-white-several-severed-penises-later-end and saw it for what it is. In a tweet, now lost to history, Meyers wrote, ‘all I can say about Black Kiss II was that it was a comic book.” Amen, Meyers, amen. And by the way, did you see Howard Chaykin has a new series coming out in July? He’s only on art this time, Matt Fraction is the writer. The comic is called Satellite Sam. Think it will be any good? It’s got Chaykin, after all.
Keith Silva works in television, it’s a small space, but, hey, it’s show business! The rest of his time he writes for Comics Bulletin, Read Comic Books and his blog, Interested in Sophisticated Fun?.