Thursday, January 12, 2006

Who Thought Kurt Cobain Had Anything To Do With Rebellion?

Everyone knows the one about the latent political symbolism of the X Men. Written against the background of the emerging civil rights movement, those that wanted to find politics, could find it - in neat metaphors for the repression of minorities in the form of mutants. Or in the Mutant Registration Act, that was the kernal of the early story as a parallel with the Nuremburg Laws, while Malcolm X or the Black Panthers were manifested in the character of Magneto, the bold revolutionist who refused assimilation on human terms providing a stark opposition to the reformism of Xavier. In the later sixties, youthful drop outs with minds tweaked on acid would see echoes of themselves in the blossoming of extra-normal powers of perception in the students of the X university and isolated home town teens getting turned on by the freak evolution.

I've recently become rather enamoured with graphic novels, the €20 + tag provides quite the block, so lets call it an aroused interest as opposed to a full blown decadent infatuation. Channel Zero is the work of Brian Wood, the first in a series of graphic novels that play off the slogans of the anti-capitalist period, and the more technical minded fantasies within it. Ward sees comics as an outlaw medium which are perfect for the expresson of political dissent. Channel Zero is essentially a comic about turning off the TV, to follow Le Tigre its about getting off the internet and on to the street. As the introduction by Warren Ellis puts it "pop culture rolled over and died sometime ago. Some people actually think Marilyn Manson is scary, that Kurt Cobain actually had something to do with rebellion." Into this stoked pile of shit enters the the Channel Zero narrative, growing up as a student in NY prior to 9-11, Wood obsessed over the idea that Rudi Guiliano's political reign would go national, alongside a rejuvanated christian right and a bolstered imperial ambition in the contintental south -this is the world of Channel Zero. In a wave of moral hsyteria the state has introduced the Clean Act with a huge bureacucracy censoring DATA deemed dangerous to the moral and security fabric of the nation, wheat pasters are routinely shot, the American population is made suspectible to propaganda through chat shows and is ever further removed from the reality of geo-political politics.

Enter Jennie 2.5, like the main protaginist in a William Gibson novel, tattooed all over with the brands and logos that proliferate and polluate her visual horizons, she is geeked and ready to use her technical skills to undermine the whole god damn mess by hacking the TV stations and broadcasting her own anti-system propoganda. Along the way she deals with the consequences of using a mainstream medium to propogate rebellion, how politics can manifest itself as dead words in the mouths of sub-cultures and the consequences of state repression. Woods graphic design background makes a bold break with traditional comics, its stark black and white style aping the DIY photocopied seriousness laden in punk zines. Its failure is in a coherant politics, everything that is seen as against the American beast is who-haa-ed up with out any real questioning of the content. Still anyone with an interest in Cyber Punk ought to check it out.

Maus by Art Spiegelman is a two part comic which attempts to come to terms with the author's fathers experience in the Warsaw ghetto and later in the camps. The narrative contains two elements, as the cartoonist illustrates his own relationship with his rather irritant father the aged Vladek, and a history of his fathers experiences during the holocaust. Spiegelmann uses an old comic device to represent his characters, turning jews into mice, poles into pigs and germans into cats, all in an ironic nod to propoganda posters issued by the Reich during the period. The first epsiode of Maus, saw the cartoonist win the Pulitzer prize, a rather handy anecdote to throw in the face of those who willfully defy the notion that there is any intelligence in comics. The comic may not hold the same impact as a Primo Levi novel, but its purpose stands as the authors own attempt to come to grips with his family's experiences, as he navigates his own sense of identity and guilt over living in a world without the same repression, and a refusal to understand the experiences of those that survived.

Another comic that bears some similarity to Maus is Joe Sacco's Palestine, his illustrated journal of his experiences in the aforementioned occupied terroritories at the tale end of the first intifadia. Most of Sacco's experience seemed to have consisted of listening to the stories of those living in the Gaza Strip, these he illustrates with a stark dignity that brings a sense of the personal to what can often seem like an overmediated situation. As with Maus, Sacco's comic reaches out to an audience that may not neccesarily read the more weighted standards on topics that are so gravenly serious. Again, this effect can be seen in the work of Marjane Satrapi, who uses a simple comic book form in Persepolis to trudge up memories of her childhood under communist parents in a secular Iran before the revolution and the pass over to eventual fundamentalism. She is a master of the daily anecodotal, illustrating political upheavel through the prisms in which it made itself felt to her, primarily through family members and school. Her follow up volume sees her contend with exile abroad as her mind dwells on the situation at home.

Some other graphic novel authors I've yet to get around to but come highly recommended include Grant Morrison, who was responsible for revisiting the Batman series with a gothic eye for the darkness implicit in the tales of Arkham Asylum, much of his influence can be seen in the latest Batman movie. Morrison also created a series based on the adventures of the Invisibles, with the lead figure, King Mob named after the London based situationist group of the early seventies. He also riled the tabloid press in the eighties with a strip called St Swintins Day, a urban drama about a young teenager who dreams of assisinating Thatcher. Alan Moore is another British comic author who's V Is For Vendetta is about to make it on to the silverscreen, again there is meant to be a latent political content in this tale of life and resistance in a fascistic post nuclear war based Britain. Maybe its a spurning on from the cinematic wonder of Frank Miller's Sin City, but I think I can see myself being drawn into these wonderous little worlds for a period.

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Soundtracksforthem specialises in iconoclastic takes on culture, politics, and more shite from the underbelly of your keyboard. A still-born group blog with a recent surge of different contributers but mainly maintained by James R. Big up all the contributers and posse regardless of churn out rate: Kyle Browne, Reeuq, Cogsy, Chief, X-ie phader/Krossie, Howard Devoto, Dara, Ronan and Mark Furlong. Send your wishes and aspirations to

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