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Ten Things: PROPHET

Abhay Khosla

It’s one of the more critically well-received periodical comics of the year, so THAT MEANS 10 THINGS about PROPHET by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Giannis Milogiannis, Farel Dalrymple, Joseph Bergin III, Ed Brisson, Eric Stephenson, Richard Ballermann, and FRIENDS and/or ACQUAINTANCES.

Usual Spoiler Warnings.  And usual quality warnings– I don’t know how I feel about how this one turned out; this turned out to be a tougher comic to talk about than I’d hoped– I got distracted a lot, I failed to say enough about the art really which is pretty numbingly stupid of me for a book where the art’s as important as it is here, and I don’t really know that I actually talked about anything important, and it gets a little creepy there at the end, so I thank you in advance for your generosity and/or I sympathize with your derision.  Anyways, I took a shot at it.  And yeah– eventually, we’re going to do really quick, sloppy 10 Things and get back to the original premise where it was quick and sloppy… that’s going to be how we do things from here on out.  I don’t know– now I have to debate what I want to do with the rest of my day; lazy day.  Okay.  Well.  It’s time to play the music and light the lights.

The PROPHET comic we’re talking about here is the resurrection of an earlier comic launched in about ’93-ish, that ended sometime in, I don’t know, 96-ish(?). They just started publishing it again, starting with issue 21 — I guess they thought the cuteness of starting a comic at issue 21 for no reason was worth potentially blowing their foot off with new readers. Sweet…?

What was the 1990’s PROPHET like? I don’t feel qualified to answer that. Or at least, I realized I knew someone else who could talk about the 1990’s Prophet, more eloquently than I could hope to.

So, ladies and gentlemen, here is Jon Davis, screenwriter, gentleman, and auteur of the upcoming web-series “Jon Davis Gets a Sex Robot” (now casting!), and a story about what the very first issue of PROPHET meant to him. As a preface, I wrote to him asking him if my half-memory of this story he’d told previously was true:

Oh, it’s all true. And a source of only good things in life, actually.

When I was in college, my roommate and I carved out the Prophet #1 cover, specifically the groin area and placed it over the light switch. So whenever we turned on the light, Prophet with his shoulder pads and creased face and small hands and bulging thighs and too many teeth looked like he was having a raging, angry boner. It never got old. People came into our room a lot. And it was a great conversation piece.

Did you know Dan Panosian inked this cover? I met Dan a few years ago. In our first ever meeting, I took a conversational risk and told Dan exactly what I did to Prophet. We are now very close friends. Sometimes, he and I, while driving to Vegas, talk about Prophet. About the boner. About life. That raging light switch boner has been an instigator of friendship twice in my life. In 1993 and 2010. 

Is that Prophet cover one of the best things that’s ever happened to me? Maybe. It’s definitely up there. I’d say it’s important, that’s for sure.

So, the relaunched PROPHET.

Start with description, categorization, classification? I’d file Prophet under “BIOPUNK SPACE OPERA.

Sometimes, I see PROPHET labeled as science fiction, and some ancient, dumbshit, kneejerk snobbiness in me twitches. Half-memories of ancient arguments that these things are DIFFERENT, of a different intellectual caliber, for a different audience, one cultured, the other beyond any ability to be civilized. Space opera was always hopelessly less than “true” science fiction (WHICH MUST NEVER BE REFERRED TO AS SCI FI because … I don’t even remember why…). I’m also old enough where “space opera” still buzzes in my ear with negative connotations, some ancient divide that started before my time because, I don’t know, Harlan Ellison and Andy Offut probably had words in some Society of Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Hilton ballroom soiree in Rhode Island way back when. (Offut was more a fantasy guy, but spare me a google search for a better name there). Space Opera was the world of Waldenbooks trilogies, bereft of Allegory or Extrapolation– science fiction’s critical secret sauces.

This was all before the “New Space Opera”, though– Iain Banks and his Culture novels; whatever else has gotten published after I stopped paying attention to science fiction. (I discovered girls, in a rainforest, so you can all suck it using your erotic mouths, non-traditional literary genres!)(I don’t know why; the future just got old). These are probably old, dead “rules,” and I’ve just forever got my backpack only on one shoulder, here. The last time I checked, the hot noisiness in science fiction was “mundane sf“, a depressing-sounding strain built around a hopeless surrender to the currently understood limitations posed by various scientific laws e.g. “science fiction … with advice from a scientist, and with an endnote by that scientist explaining the plausibility of the story“. Weee!

There seems to be a strain of scientific fanatacism, good story be damned, that science fiction sometimes seems to invite, even if to its peril, that I guess I’ve been / maybe-still-am jerk enough to be sympathetic to. Some shitty part of me’s always got the square/cube law in the back of my head, trying to ruin giant Kaiju monsters. (Kaiju monsters win anyways because of course they do, but). To be fair, though, as Bruce Sterling put it in one of my all-time favorite speeches: “A good science fiction story is not a ‘good story’ with a polite whiff of rocket fuel in it.”

There’s also obviously a strain of it that seems susceptible to subcults, rival schools, manifestos, fashion– the cyberpunk guys never really called themselves the Cyberpunk Pals; they thought they were the “Movement.”

But so, PROPHET: space opera– guys with swords fighting it out in a conveniently monster-filled expanse of outer space, plus the requisite amount of used-bookstore paperback covers sexuality (e.g. the last issue featuring one of the he-man protagonists straddled by some kind of cross between a salamander and a girl from the Freek-A-Leek video).

I’d throw on the word biopunk– not 100% sure if I’m using that term correctly, though. By biopunk, I just mean to say it’s more interested in wet things than sleek hardware, organic slop more than the ergonomic, erotic plugs and silicon ports of a William Gibson novel (the Sharper Image future Marc Laidlaw satirized in Dad’s Nuke way back when, before he became the Half Life 2 guy). (Yay, obscure references to books I read in high school! I’m building to a Robert Aspirin Phule’s Company monologue).

PROPHET’s built more on clones, monsters, slime, muck, decay, body horror than tech. The engine of each issue so far has tended to be a manipulated clone struggling to survive a hostile, alien environment. Actual, purposeful antagonists have tended to be rare– the only one that springs to mind had motivations as inscrutable as its surroundings; simple survival’s made for enough drama.

I do have one half-memory about the 1990’s PROPHET, that may be pertinent to chatting about the current iteration, though– but it’s not one google seems to be backing me up on, so buyer beware: did Rob Liefeld sell 90’s Prophet in the interviews of that era as an expression of his faith as some variety of Christian? Half-memories.

I didn’t read 90’s PROPHET so I don’t know how that panned out. You know: according to pre-release interviews, YOUNGBLOOD was going to be about celebrity culture; Hank Kanalz maybe didn’t get that memo.

Is there a spiritual reading to the current iteration?

Heck, that reading’s probably unavoidable with a title like PROPHET. One of the great delights of the current PROPHET comic has been the slow, gradual emergence of what looks to be one of the book’s major plotlines: the 90’s PROPHET surprisingly re-emerging at the same time as current-era PROPHET clones (i.e. the stars of the first few issues), who he insists upon murdering on sight.

I’ve never been able to make it all the way through most of your major holy books, but true prophets driven to slaughter false prophets of fraudulent dieties? That sure sounds like it could be a Thing from what little I did manage to read.

The bit about the spiritual reading of PROPHET that I’m keen on is how divorced the reader is so far to what they’re fighting over, how little the universe around them and its oblivious aliens seem to care. That appeals to me, that at the heart of the book is a religious conflict presented with a total apathy that is closest to how I consume and process actual religious conflicts. Most comics dramatize their religious conflicts– Marvel with its dirt-stupid evil Muslim aliens, or whatever. But I don’t process religious conflicts as dramatic so much as clownish, pathetic and primitive because blah blah blah, I’m close-minded and I don’t respect the beliefs of others, basically.

The book started with a heroic character wanting to restore humanity to the universe– an essentially religious mission– but the book has been subsequently ambivalent to that mission.  PROPHET has never attempted to buttress that first characters’ mission with any moral imperative, never argued any reason why it would be a good thing for humanity to be restored; indeed, if anything, later issues have cast that initial protagonist in a negative light, suggested that humanity’s restoration would plunge the universe back into endless warfare.  I haven’t read as much 2000AD as other people, but these themes feel more cynical and of that tradition, than the typical North American “Oh shit dude, it’s people that are the Walking Dead, like in the title you guys” speechifying from “proud liars and fraudsters.” No one in PROPHET seems to care about humanity being restored to the universe, except to the extent they’ve been neurochemically programmed to. No one in PROPHET is really even very human, at least under our current, maybe limited definitions. (See, Chip Zdarsky, re: science fiction about What It Means to Be Human).

Of course, this is all pleasurable when talking about the specific four corners of the book, but maybe troubling beyond that. I should probably have more of a fucking rooting interest in the human species than I do. If there were no humans, who would we make fun of on the internet? “Oh shit Oh shit,” your brain just said.

As referenced above, PROPHET is more a issue-by-issue pleasure. Each issue tends to shift protagonist, based on that issue’s artist with (seemingly) Simon Roy and Farel Dalrymple so far featuring the Clone Prophets, Giannis Milonogiannis featuring the Old Prophet, and Graham himself so far featuring the Old Prophet’s robot sidekick (plus a worthwhile selection of backup comic artists with 4-page art-driven comics). Each issue tends to “stand-alone” and feature a complete adventure, but with each issue published, a greater narrative comes slowly into focus: something about war… something about betrayal…

This emphasis on the “stand-alone” is maybe coming into fashion, too…? This last little while, maybe even the last couple weeks especially, I feel like I’ve picked up on this sentiment more than once– an affirmation of the importance of the single issue. (I feel like I’ve heard about more than one Marvel book where a focus on the issues is part of the sales pitch. I’ve just been chalking the mainstream end of that talk up as just ride!-ride-the-coattails-forever! on Warren Ellis’s well-received SECRET AVENGERS run, but I know I’ve read enough $4 comics that have gotten stuck in long, go-nowhere arcs with no end ever in sight — and I’ve probably put up with less of those than some of you may have– to chalk it all up as good news, as a W.  Still, pour Mountain Dew into a wine glass– you ain’t drinking merlot, all the sudden)

The positive thing, there: a comic that treats the issue like a destination is a comic more likely to go memorably off the rails, to feature brief, singular shocks that books oriented to larger arcs can’t accommodate. Obvious examples: The Doom Patrol– I fetishize the Monseur Mallah issue, the Beard Hunter; Daredevil– I’ve had that Inferno crossover on my mind lately; Sandman– Prez, the Serial Killer convention; I have half-memories that Neal Gaiman used to shout-out the Curse issue of Swamp Thing as being a turning point for him, as a reader. Heck, Gaiman built a pretty decent career off using the serial comic as a short story container– a career move that proved bizarrely un-influential, if you look around you now, anywhere other than online where the comic short story is arguably being resurrected.

(On the other hand, equal time: there were reasons people started wanting longer arcs, to begin with. No abscribing morality to a pendulum, right? So, I take this kinda talk just as fashion more than anything worth speaking about prescriptively, how-life-should-be, etc. And these were all diversions from books that would have been fairly memorable without them, undiverted).

PROPHET, though– well, it hasn’t gone too far off the rails yet. About every issue has featured a Prophet-character journeying from point A to point B. The structure lets Graham & co. focus on world-building, idea-driven digressions,  the contextual details that Graham was rightly praised for with KING CITY, small-moment storytelling (I especially liked the bit where one of the Prophet clones pisses off a cliff)(not because I got to see wieners, you don’t see wieners, get your mind out of the gutter). It’s a move that has kept the creators/book’s strengths in the foreground. The cost? Each issue has tended to end on a note a reader might say “oh, okay” to, more than anything one can imagine a reader feeling any emotions for, more than notes of tragedy or comedy, say. There’s usually not a sign of any structure being fulfilled to these issues other than the journey completed, travel to PROPHET being what fights are to other comics.

(Issue 24 with its poisoned, decaying Prophet clones comes closest to providing “emotional content”, I’d say, to the extent you care about that kind of thing– that was my favorite one so far, at least, though it’s pretty difficult for me to speak ill of time spent with some Farel Dalrymple art).

Half-memories again: old film reviews, science fiction writers of the hey-day complaining that the production design in ALIEN drowned out the science fiction– that was a thing some people cared about back when. So, granted: maybe I’m paying attention to the wrong things; history may not be on my side here.

The thing that makes PROPHET noteworthy more than any intrinsic quality is how it seems to be a little eruptive point for people otherwise bubbling under the surface. I’d somehow gotten wind of Giannis Milonogiannis’s OLD CITY BLUES in 2010 sometime– that’s all worth a look, by the by; but other people in the mix here– Simon Roy, some of the backup artists– are fresh names for me. A big part of the appeal of PROPHET is seeing Brandon Graham use the book as a stage for people he finds worthwhile, people in his “scene” (for lack of a better word).

My apartment lately is filled with these comics I’ve ordered over the internet, a couple that got sent to me. In arm’s reach, I have let’s see: Michel Fiffe’s Suicide Squad comic and ZEGAS books, Ryan Cecil Smith’s SF comics, Box Brown’s FUCK SHITS, something called DARK TOMATO, something called PEDESTRIAN, a comic about transvestite gentleman-bandits called DRAG BANDITS. Comics don’t really have the rival gangs like science fiction, everyone wants to be nice (YUCK), but it at least has these studios, cliques, small press outfits, lone operators out in the wilderness, micro-scenes, etc., that maybe aren’t really reflected in a Joe Average comic shop, that you could read comics and not be plugged into, not even know that you’re not plugged into. That’s only becoming more the case now with the internet, this centrifugal action.

So there is a kind of excitement of PROPHET, at least for me, where it feels like a slightly greater mass of comics-dom plugging into a community of cartoonists that would otherwise be scattered or it would take more of an effort on a reader’s part to connect with. I’m curious how much of PROPHET’s audience is interacting with it in that way.

I feel like the word we keep circling around is “fashion.” I guess I think PROPHET is a “cool” comic. I guess find it fashionable.

Its influences seem relatively hip. Metal Hurlant / Heavy Metal gets thrown around a lot in talking about the comic (usually referring more to Moebius or Corben than Serge Clerc); some Conan comics that’d be lost on me; based on Brandon Graham’s blogs, probably a mess of other comics I’m way, way too snooty for.

It’s more likely than not that the person with this Philippe Druillet tattoo would vibe way harder with PROPHET than I would. Or … at least their back would.

So, then: am I crowing about PROPHET’s merits more because those merits (single issue stories! funny acknowledgments of the importance of sex!) are unusual in the context of their publication, “scratching an itch” that had gone unscratched, etc.? It’s a serial storytelling environment; we can review these books in isolation from one another, but anyone who’s ever spread their comics across their floor and carefully chosen which book to read first knows that’s not how they’re getting read, right?

I mean, probably it doesn’t matter, but what’s interesting to me and why I raise this is that some kind of unspoken analysis does actually seem to be getting done by PROPHET readers. 9 times out of 10 that I’ve seen someone online reference PROPHET, it’s some variation of “I’m glad that SAGA and PROPHET are both coming out at the same time.” I feel as though I’m constantly seeing those two books being linked. No one seems to be consuming PROPHET in isolation. And the implication is always that there’s some greater good in that.

Why?

What is that greater good? If you’re reading both, is there a synergy to that linkage, some greater electricity for you that both are being published at about the same time, or is it just a curiosity, a quirk of history? Does one good science fiction comic make the existence of the other good “science fiction” comic better somehow? And if so, what does it mean? Is PROPHET good because it’s fashionable, or fashionable because it’s good? Does it matter either way?

In the most recent issue of PROPHET, issue # I don’t know what number because they started these things in the goddamn 20’s and I can’t even remember phone numbers anymore, and people think I’m going to remember some crazy arbitrary two-digit number– anyways, the August issue commences with Old Prophet riding an alien space-worm.

What the fuck is up with science fiction / fantasy dudes and worms? What is that even about?

I get why, if you’re Frank Herbert, you’d want to spice up outer space– I WIN I WIN BECAUSE I MADE YOU READ THAT.  When NASA’s not flinging robots out there, outer space is mostly some empty-ass, boring shit.  But … why is a goddamn worm so constantly salt and pepper and cumin for science fiction people? Why is THAT the #1 Alien Other spirit animal of skiffy?

Granted, according to the latest science, worms used in experiments on the space station not only “seemed to enjoy living in a microgravity environment,” but also received a lifespan boost. Pretty interesting stuff there, science. But that’s a fairly recent development, well after the widespread penetrance of worms in science fiction culture.

I haven’t dug any of PROPHET’s covers.

One cover will be a (digitally painted?) painting of Prophet with his back to readers, waving a wrench a knife at a bird. Another cover will be a (traditionally colored?) ink-drawing of Prophet sitting … somewhere?… with everything colored grey-ish brown, the color of fun. Another cover is back to the (some kind of) painting, of Prophet and … it looks like he’s stuck in a wad of bubblegum, and trying to finger-bang a pre-adolescent ghost-girl, and they’re all floating somewhere… somewhere black…?

This is made all the more difficult to comprehend by the fact this is a comic with Frank Teran’s phone number.

I’ve followed Brandon Graham’s blog for some years now, and it’s a fine thing to follow– a collection of images and comics that suggest from where he’s constructing the aesthetic reflected in PROPHET. But having done so, I can say the part where he usually loses me is with covers, where it’s usually some manga girl with cat ears, on a robot bike, licking a popsicle or whatever. So, if I’m more generous about it all, I have to figure maybe I’m just not on the same train re: comic covers, generally, and say the things I like about PROPHET are at least built out of some of the same materials as this thing I don’t, you know?

So, I thought writing 10 Things about various Image comics would be fun to do because I’d get to talk about creator owned comics, and with all the hype of this year, I could do that finally with less of that sour taste I usually get from that enterprise. “You made this comic for no money out of love? Thanks– I needed something to wipe my butt with.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing that, but all the same it can be a bummer to dwell on. But with all the hype of this year, the Year of the Creator, I’m a little more okay with that, so here we are.

But here we are and we’re talking about PROPHET, a work-for-hire comic. And two or three lawsuits in, you’d really have to have your head all the way up your ass to think Image-logo is any promise you’re handing your money to necessarily ethical people, and everything’s going to turn out roses.

Who are we dealing with? Rob Liefeld. What does that mean? It’s hard to say– the fact he draws so badly tends to dominate any conversation about he guy, so you usually end up hearing either “Something something feet” (as a dude who’s not into feet, dudes being into feet is the most alien of space-worms for me), or “he created Deadpool!” Liefeld: 20-Year Businessman doesn’t get much talk after all that Weirdo Passion has exhausted itself.

I realized I had half-memories, again, people claiming that Image’s spectacular failure to timely ship DEATHMATE put stores out of business. Wikipedia on DEATHMATE includes a section labelled Aftermath. I thought it wise to put it  to a certain Mr. Brian Hibbs, for comment:

It wasn’t all Deathmate, for sure, because while late shipping books were a problem (oh yes!), the BIGGER problem was that all of the speculators left the market en masse, once they figured out how they were being rooked on their so-called “investments”. Deathmate was a problem… but Turok #1 and Adv of Superman #500 (The “Superman Returns!” issue) were at least as large of a disaster for the market… and they were right on time.

Other half-memories: attacking Alan Moore– though in 2012, that’s become more fashionable than anything in PROPHET. Google’s got my back on half-memories re: Dan Fraga, stating “you backhanded me in front of my 12 year old brother and the receptionist,” with Liefeld responding “You were a man, not a child. You acted like a punk and I popped you.” Googling Hank Kanalz finds you 90’s Peter David, talking about how Liefeld blamed the deficiencies of the first issue of YOUNGBLOOD on Kanalz (though to be fair, in an epically horrible series of essays from David, where he contorts himself into stating “Ultimately—insanely—the only answer [as to who created CABLE] would seem to be: Marvel Comics” as Liefeld ONLY created Cable’s look and name–!!!  The lawsuits we now get to read about are arguably only manifestations of a disregard for comic artists that existed way back when that zombie guy was in diapers).

So: nothing resembling a smoking gun; but nothing where I’m exhaling a long deep breath, either, and throwing confetti in the air.

I don’t know. If we wait to give our money to only Good People, we’d likely wait a long time. At the same time, Image’s marketing campaign in the last year has been built around positioning Image as some kind of ethical choice. I don’t think they’ve been wrong to do that– comics are a high-priced luxury good; thinking about the consumption of those in an ethical way doesn’t seem like the greatest burden. There are people whose comics I don’t buy (or TV shows I don’t watch)– and you know, people mind when you say that, but fact is I don’t miss any of them, not one bit.  There’s too much good stuff in the world to do that.

Hopefully, most PROPHET readers won’t be bringing the Joe-versus-the-Volcano level baggage that I do to this comic, any comic, these mountains of maybe-incorrect half-memories re: Liefeld, Harlan Ellison, Prophet’s boner, people I never met doing things I never saw to other people I don’t know. And in an ideal world, I could tell you that I’m feeling more okay with myself about buying PROPHET than I do when I buy the FLASH (the only DC comic I’m really reading these days) or FURY (same for Marvel, unless you count ICON).

Referenced above, sometimes the back-up comics featured in PROPHET are by Frank Teran.

Those are incredibly sweet.

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HEY ALSO:

If you don’t have a comic shop in walking distance, you can preview/buy PROPHET starting with issue 21 at Brian’s digital comic shop.  I’ve also heard exciting rumors that you might soon be able to order a wife through Brian’s digital comics shop, one that almost speaks English.  Do you dream of marital bliss with a desperate communist?  Our operators will probably soon be standing by.

16 Responses to “ Ten Things: PROPHET ”

  1. Answer – “comics are a high-priced luxury good.”
    Question – Why is the comic book industry – an industry that forged its longevity and success on being cheap entertainment for kids and adolescents – circling the profitability drain and slowly but surely killing itself?

  2. So I don’t know if its just because I’m a new reader here, or if its because I was born in ’85, but I’m a bit lost on the deal with space opera. What is it that bothers you so much about the genre/term? Is it just the giving an adventure yarn rockets or clones and calling it science fiction that seems wrong or am I missing something?

  3. I think that people like that Saga and Prophet are coming out at the same time because both are flawed works, in a certain way. Prophet is imaginative and well-drawn, but doesn’t really provide an engagement with characters. My understanding is that Saga is very emotionally engaging for those that like it, but I wouldn’t know because I don’t really like the art. It’s the same sort of thing of why picking up a stack of comics from the comic store is more of a “meal” than just going to pick up one or two, the strengths of each aesthetic balance out the absences and weaknesses in the other things you pick up. By considering Saga and Prophet as “two good science fiction comics coming out right now” you get to consider it as a movement, a movement not characterized by any single flaw.

  4. I think that people like that Saga and Prophet are coming out at the same time because both are flawed works in their own way. Prophet is imaginative and well-drawn, but doesn’t really provide an engagement with characters. My understanding is that Saga is very emotionally engaging for those that like it, but I wouldn’t know because I don’t really like the art. It’s the same sort of thing of why picking up a stack of comics from the comic store is more of a “meal” than just going to pick up one or two, the strengths of each aesthetic balance out the absences and weaknesses in the other things you pick up. By considering Saga and Prophet as “two good science fiction comics coming out right now” you get to consider it as a movement, a movement not characterized by any single flaw.

  5. As someone reading both (and, right now, only) Prophet and Saga (okay, and Age of Bronze when it comes out which is never), I want to try to answer the question of what they have in common. And I think it might be a couple of things:

    1. Neither is straight science fiction. As mentioned above, Prophet at least has adventure and horror influences mixed in. Saga is barely even science fiction, really, except that it’s happening in space. I would say Saga is mainly fantasy that includes some science fiction elements (e.g., robots, rayguns, spaceships) in the vast array of stuff it tosses out every month.

    2. Both avoid telling the obvious story to give us the view from the ground. Prophet has the whole post-war-conspiracy-to-bring-back-humanity story going on in the background while we wallow in the weird, squishy alien culture and yucky sex. Saga is basically Romeo and Juliet, but ignores all of the obvious story choices that could be written about that and focuses more on adventure and parenthood.

    Anyway, gotta run. Maybe this post is insightful? Bye!

  6. Alex – Not that I’m Abhay, nor do I have the background in SF reading that Abhay does, but what I presume he’s getting at is a longstanding animus(? schism? disagreement?) between different practitioners of prose SF, most vividly characterized (for me) in the “New Wave” SF of the ’60s & ’70s, of which Harlan Ellison and the like were participants; at risk of sounding simplistic, it was an attempt to reject the clichés and genre tropes of earlier science fiction by introducing various literary techniques and thematics. However, particularly in the late ’70s/early ’80s, a sort of discouragement rose out of the phenomenal success of Star Wars and the like, which of course was steeped in early, comparatively simplistic movie serial and pulp SF stuff; its success was so great, that in the popular imagination it pushed back the clock for science fiction to those early days, to the point where some felt the intellectual project of SF had been smothered in crowd-pleasing shit. Setting aside “space opera,” I recall some big controversy over the use of “sci-fi” as a childish marketing term over the more descriptive, stately “SF”… but then, I could be misremembering the chronology, the details, etc.

  7. Ah! Thanks a bunch Jog, that helped a great deal.

  8. “SF” was also suggested because it could alternately stand for “Speculative Fiction,” the high-falutin’er term preferred in certain high-falutin’ quarters.

    And Abhay, as usual, the digressions are the point. A million OMGs for that Boulet link, the exquisite linework and dazzling storytelling sweetened by the unexpected reveal that it was a 24 hour comics project.

    Also, thanks for making me feel even guiltier by association for continuing to support PROPHET. Not for anything about the comics itself, but for the creeping fear of wondering just how much the cover price is being funneled directly into the pocket of Rob Liefeld — who, in addition to his sins against art and storytelling, appears to not only to have indulged in casual assault upon his employee, but to have shamelessly BOASTED about it on his message boards.

    Ye gods. As wiser minds than mine have pointed out, it remains a persistent mystery why this industry is hellbent on rehabilitating Liefeld’s reputation. Whatever secret dirt he has on Jim Lee and the other Image partners, it must be juicy indeed.

  9. Dug out a copy of Ellison’s Edge in My Voice– can only find nice mentions about Alien in that book actually; worst it gets is he mentions it’s not as good as the Elephant Man at one point. So: my memory’s not right there, I guess…? Might have it mixed up with Carpenter’s version of The Thing, of which he writes:

    “If the treasures Carpenter sought to unearth are contained in the special effects lunacy of mannequins made to look like men, splitting open to disgorge sentient lasagna that slaughters for no conceivable reason, then John Carpenter is a raider of the lost ark of Art who ought to be sentenced to a lifetime of watching Neil Simon plays and film… pointless, dehumanized freeway smashup of grisly special effects dreck, flensed of all characterization, philosophy, subtext, or rationality.”

    I like that movie but I also like the word flensed. Now I have to figure out what I was thinking of re: Alien…

    But also this passage from his review of Outland might be helpful to give you a flavor of things– “Look: one of the basic tenets of good science fiction has alwas been that it has an intellectual content that sets it apart from and above the usual sprint of merely-entertainment diversions. While we’ll suspend our disbelief to allow James Bond or Burt Reynolds to jump a car in a way that we know defies gravity and the laws of impact or whiplash, we balk at permitting that kind of mickeymouse stunt in a sf film. Because we know that science fiction deals with the laws of the universe and its accepted physics.”

    Re: Boulet, his website has a great many comics, a pretty decent number of them worth looking at– also impressive are his youtube videos, of him drawing. Those explain how he did that much with a 24-hour comic…

  10. I buy both Saga and Prophet and I enjoy both. Prophet because every story introduces like a million weird ideas and Saga because it’s good, old fashioned BKV character drama. The sci-fi link never occurred to me, but I guess all my comics are either sci-fi, funny animals, or experiments in cartooning.

    When I started buying floppies again, my only criteria was they had to either be creator owned or the creator had to be in charge of the overall direction. I think you can only pick one or two ethical fronts to support before they start contradicting each other and “good” people wasn’t on my list this time. If it’s on your list, that’s awesome, but I have no idea what kind of person Pendleton Ward is and that was the dude that brought me back.

  11. Harlan Ellison is a ponderous old buffoon.

  12. From what I remember, Space Opera places science secondary to character and plot. Star Wars is the best example of Space Opera because, at no point, are you questioning how things work. Science Fiction is about questioning science and social norms. You’re playing the game of “What If” in Science Fiction. Star Trek is the best example of this.

    That’s why people dislike Star Wars introducing Midochlorians because it goes against the ethos of explain stuff in Space Opera for no reason. That’s why people disliked Star Trek Reboot because there is no explanation of how things work in the story.

    – G

  13. I like Prophet because I like the sense of the world that they’re building, bug-people and mucus-sex and all – it seems alienating at first, but it also seems strangely inviting; there’s something quite calming about seeing some caravan of big wormy things rumbling by, with peaceable slug people tending to caterpillar cattle. It’s a world, generally speaking, that has passed humanity by, and in general seems to be doing perfectly fine without grumpy ape-people running around to fuck it all up – and it’s telling that the reintroduction of humanity into this world comes as an unnatural and violent intrusion into a universe that seems to make more sense without us. It’s an effective work of art that can draw me in despite – or maybe even because of – the lack of humanity within it, and can even get me to see humanity as an unwelcome contaminant inside it.

    I like Saga, to be perfectly honest, almost entirely because of the art. I tend to think Vaughn’s character work often leans way too far towards the cutesy end of the spectrum, and much of the dialogue between the main characters makes me wonder if he’s ever actually known anyone in a relationship or has just watched a lot of sitcoms and rom-coms.* I mean, that first scene in the first issue, where the two are carrying on a conversation while she’s giving birth – medically unassisted birth, I should add – and he’s tossing in some romantic cliche about how she’s “never looked more beautiful”? Shit, Vaughn, that is some prime corn there; it took strength to get past that. Then there’s the usual case of Brian K. Cliffhanger Syndrome, where each issue ends with a cliffhanger, no matter how forced or banal (this issue’s shocking twist – the dude of the couple has previously banged some other lady besides the lady of the couple! Quelle horreur!) There’s the general sense that the premise of this comic may be Vaughn taking his elevator-pitch gimmick and tossing out lots of little gimmicks instead of stretching one over the course of an entire series. But almost all of that is made up for by Fiona Staples’s art, which is amazing, and which I’d love to see paired with some other writing, maybe by, I dunno, Fiona Staples.

    (*I had similar problems with Runaways. Half the dialogue coming out of those kids mouths was shit that no actual teenager has ever said or would say – I mean, seriously, Brian Vaughn, have you ever met a physical, flesh-and-blood teenager who unironically refers to their parents as “rents”? – and then there was the little kid, who I know Vaughn based on his little sister or something, but came across as way too much “grown adult trying to write a small child,” which is to say, half the time she sounded like a Family Circus cartoon, and half the time she sounded mentally disabled.)

  14. I’m only reading Prophet, not Saga. Vaughn’s writing and particularly characterization is often too precious and cutesy for my taste — I feel much the same about it as moose n squirrel does.

    But I’ll probably pick up the first (cheap) Saga trade and see what all the fuss is about. And hopefully I’ll like it the way so many other people are… though most often I see Saga praises phrased in ways that make me think “Oh yeah, these readers are far too impressed with Vaughn. They have no hipster/cutesy/b.s. detector. They’re the same people who came in late and speak of Y the Last Man as if it were as good as Sandman, when really Vaughn will always just be ‘a TV writer’ to me, and I’m not ashamed for discounting him in that respect, because his writing does seemed to have a ‘dumbing down’ effect. Y was really just like a decent movie, in my opinion, not a landmark work of fiction in any respect. Though… I guess Vaughn’s technically ‘okay’ sometimes, in the same way Bendis is or used to be.”

    I think Prophet’s the best comic out, though. So refreshingly original and innovative.

    I don’t think it really qualifies as a “space opera” — even to those who might deign to use the term — because don’t most “space operas” have more, er, involved emotional relationships between lots and lots of characters?

    Lastly, I seem to remember Gaiman mentioning the POG issue of Moore’s Swamp Thing far more often than THE CURSE issue… I’m pretty sure reading the POG issue on a lark was what made him want to write comics.

  15. I missed that this was here, somehow.

    Best one yet, really liked it. I had to budget some time to read the thing, because he puts so much time into the links.

    I also enjoyed the TCJ links, where liefield laughs his ass off at the tsk-tsking from bendis. Doesn’t that seem, in some way, like the only rational response to all the moralizing that comics engenders/indulges in?

    Maybe it is the “herois” subject matter, but I can’t think if any other medium where everyone is so concerned with the right and wrong of its consumption.

    The closest thing I can think of is rock in the ninties, and “not selling out”. Which was just as silly. When Izzy Stradlin quits GNR because he’s afraid he’s making too much money, you know there is wrong-thinking somewhere.

    Comics seems to not only judge the artists quite severly, but also the people consuming the stuff. You can be a poser or unhip for buying the wrong record, but the judgement for reading the wrong funnybook can be pretty severe.

    And I would say the people are hardest on themselves, you know? I think that people hold themselves to a very high standard re: funnybook buying patterns.

    I am pretty sure that there a bunch of people who wouldn’t touch Cerebus with a 10 ft. pole, yet own Eminem or UGK albums w/o a second thought.

    People seem totally comfortable watching and making Roman Polanski movies.

    I just think that people can get very protective of their celebrities these days. For most of the people with moral exceptions in their comics consumption, that celebrity is Jack Kirby, For the rest of the four-color world, it’s Superman. And those two camps probably don’t understand each other at all.

    So yeah, Prophet. I don’t really mind that Leifield gets the checks, me. He does seem kinda like an asshole, but I don’t see why that matters so much. And anyone who refuses to capitulate to public shaming earns a little of my respect on GP.

    Thanks as always, Abhay. Your time and thoughts are appreciated.

  16. [...] It’s this seemingly endless hunger, this constant focus on artistic and imagined economies, that provides the emotionally connective throughline that Abhay Khosla failed to detect in these pages: [...]

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