Remember when comics were referred to as “the funny pages”? Of course, now a lot of comics are digital and you probably aren’t reading them in the newspaper anyway, and many of them are, in fact, quite serious. Or, sometimes, they can be used to address very serious topics while still being funny. This week’s Stack Overflow: a few comics that somehow intersect with the news as of late.
I first read Elk’s Run nearly a decade ago, and at the time I have to admit that I wasn’t very impressed. But I re-read it recently because a tenth anniversary edition was just published last winter, and this time around I felt that there were some frightening parallels to our world now.
The small town of Elk’s Run was formed as a haven for a band of Vietnam vets who didn’t like the country they returned to; it’s closed off from the rest of the world, accessible only through a tunnel (closed at night), through which supplies are delivered. It’s a tiny utopia for those most of the people who live there, but there’s unrest—and it comes a head when a child is accidentally killed by one of the men trying to flee the town.
John, the leader of the town, is an extreme figure who seems almost caricatured. He’s the one who can’t stand dissent, whose wife sticks up for his every decision even as the rest of the population begin to question his methods. But it really takes the youth of the town, the ones who never agreed to this life, to take a stand against him.
The story touches on some hot-button issues, but particularly the ends to which somebody will go to defend what they insist is right—and how far apart two opinions of what is “right” can be. My one critique would be that John is so extreme that it is hard to sympathize with him; even if you were somebody who would share some of John’s values, you could tell that the author thinks he’s too extreme and probably wouldn’t want to read the book anyway. Still, with the way that our nation has become so polarized, this us-vs.-us tale seems somewhat relevant.
I had not read the first season of Kaijumax, but I got an ARC of the first volume in Season 2. It appears to be a world in which Kaiju (giant monsters) exist, and there’s a team of enforcers who capture them and throw them into prison: Kaijumax. The first volume focuses on Red Humongo, a paroled Kaiju who just wants to go to work and earn a living, but then his brother breaks out of Kaijumax with a fellow prisoner and comes to crash at his place.
The comic itself gets a lot of its humor from playing with the tropes of giant monsters mashed up with human concerns: Red’s house appears to be a derelict train station; his phone is a news truck with a satellite dish on top, and his lunchbox is a truck of some sort. But there’s also some social commentary at play here: the anti-Kaiju comments made by the human workers is a reflection of our own real-world prejudices. There’s a human teamed with a giant robot out tracking down an escaped monster, and the conversation they have is about whether Kaiju can actually be reformed—whether they really need support and rehabilitation, or if they should just be thrown into K-Max and left to rot. Yeah, it’s a fun, giant-monster comic with huge, building-smashing fights, but it may also make you a bit uncomfortable when you read it. And that’s a good thing.
Truman Capote wrote a well-known book, In Cold Blood, about horrific murders that took place in Western Kansas in 1959. His book is about the murders and the search for the perpetrators, but although he traveled to Holcomb himself and interviewed people for the book, he is not really present in the book itself other than as the narrator. Several years ago, two films (Capote and Infamous) both told the story about Capote himself; this graphic novel does the same. While it does cover the actual murders, it is very much a story about Capote: why he went to investigate this story, his difficulty relating to the Midwesterners, his friendship with Harper Lee, his interactions with the two suspects. While Capote in Kansas is based on actual events, it is fictionalized: the ghost of one of the victims appears and has conversations with Capote at times, and the author admits that he takes some liberties with the facts. The artwork is vivid and striking, and the story itself is fascinating, albeit morbid. One thing I remember about In Cold Blood (which I read several years ago) is the way that Capote really helped us get to know people: the townspeople. the family that was murdered, and even the murderers themselves. This book tries to get into Capote’s mind—what drives him, why he wants or needs to write his book.
The news has been pretty rough lately, and I’m not going to pretend that reading a book about silly cat cartoons is going to bring any sense of resolution to your life, but it may offer at least a brief respite. So here’s your comedic relief for this post. Three cats—Lupin, Elvis, and Puck—report on the happenings around their house, from a feline newscaster’s perspective. For instance: “The Man has to get up early tomorrow. Here’s Elvis with continuing coverage.” And then the other two cats report live … from the Man’s bed, where they are monitoring the situation. Georgia Dunn (a cat owner herself) is great at seeing things through their eyes: moths, bacon, moving to a new house, preparing for a new baby, vacuum cleaners. It may be just what you need before you dive back into more Breaking People News.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of Breaking Cat News from Andrews McMeel and ARCs of the others from Oni Press.