Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Read This, Too: glamourpuss

Read This, Too!

glamourpuss #1 (Regular Cover) If you only read Being Carter Hall, you may not know that I also enjoy comics beyond those which feature winged warriors smashing into their foes with a variety of archaic weaponry. No, your humble blogger also enjoys comics about art, and comedy, and history, and satire, and fashion.

Yeah, that's right, fashion. Like those super glossy magazines you see peering out at you on the magazine rack at your grocery store or local newsstand. Filled to overflowing with coutre and advertisements and Really Good Advice. Those proud periodicals which proclaim that not only is alright to be beautiful, its the only acceptable solution! And so I am going to talk to you about The High Fashion Comic Book That's "So Six Months Ago," Dave Sim's glamourpuss.

Photo-Realism from the Alex Raymond school of art. glamourpuss is several different concepts all rolled into one, primarily out of necessity. Artist Dave Sim (best known for his epic Cerebus) decided that his next major project would be drawing "cute teenaged girls in my best Al Williamson Photo-Realism style." And thus was the book was born, a hybrid of an self-examination of learning to ink in the style of Photo-Realists such as Williamson, Alex Raymond, Stan Drake, and Neal Adams, and a lots of images of models looking pretty. For a creator very frequently (and not entirely inaccurately) called a mysoginist, this seemed like some sort of joke when first announced.

But a joke it is not. The first issue hit without much fanfare for anyone save Sim afficianados and Sim bashers (notably, Gail Simone, a lady with such venom in her heart for Sim that it makes me wonder how she could come across as so affable). But whatever anyone, myself included, was expecting to get, we got something else entirely. The first issue details Sim's admiration of the Photo-Realists, and his early attempts to emulate Raymond's style, working from copies which had been photostatted so many times that the fine lines had long since merged into a blur. But right up against this was a bizarre monologue from the titular glamourpuss, supermodel and all around fashionista who's personal role model is Mahatma Ghandi, and who wows us with tales of her summer on the Left Bank in Paris in a Blumarine dress, earrings by Kenneth Jay Lane, gloves by Charter Club, and clutch by Jennifer Alfano.

Look at all of the linework on the dress... beautiful, and insanely difficult!  Every single line is laid in there individually to achieve the Photo-Realistic look.  Guys like Raymond and Drake were producing 6 three-panel strips with this sort of detail every week, nevermind the Sunday.Next to that is an advertisement for her "dream condo" toy, which brags that it is so "completely lifeless. Completely sterile. So authentic, you'll swear you've been transported to the Downtown Core of any major North American City."

And then we're right back to the history again. Just like that. And then we get a lifestyle article about the benefits of eating "fodd" instead of "concentrated, low-calorie food in pill form." This is followed by a piece staring glamourpuss's evil twin, Skanko. And no I am not making any of this up.

It might take you a few reads to get it, but when you get it get it, that ultimately this entire book is about the art, and the attempt to achieve the lost art of "beyond noir" Photo-Realism. The satirical commentary is just icing, filling in around Sim's often striking beautiful depictions of the models he sees in fashion magazines. This book is about these artists, and the influence which their comic strips had on the rest of the comics world, even now; the second issue features an interlude wherein Sim demonstrates the links between Alex Raymond, Milt Caniff, Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Art Adams, and Bruce Timm -- all of it illustrated spectacularly in black and white.

I'm not an artist by any stretch of anyone's imagination. But, as the saying goes, I know what I like. And one thing which I like is hyper detailed pen-and-ink drawing, without the use of color to help convey the story. Seeing Sim's work from issue to issue is not only very aesthetically pleasing, but also illuminating; you see the different styles grow and take shape. And when he talks about Bernie Wightson, and why his Frankenstein looks so amazing, I was so shocked I had to book the comic down to think about it. This history is fascinating, and being illustrated in this manner helps make it more digestable than any lecture could ever hope. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of comic book art needs to have this book on their pull list because this is like taking a seminar on Photo-Realism.

It's not just pretty girls, either!  Look at the shading on the fender and compare it to the fashion pics.And it's funny as all heck to boot. The cover headlines alone range from the inane ("Pole Dancing For Pre-Teens: It's Never Too Early") to bizarre ("DELETE Laugh Lines! COVER Dark Shadows! DESTROY 99.99% Of Bacteria!") and everything in between. We get glamourpuss's "Really Good Advice (which shares space with the Swimsuit Issue), a series of potential superheroines (including GirlFlash, Leather Cleavage, Flowerbomb, and Veiled Threat), and glamourpuss's reflections from her annual trip to rehab.

A personal favorite bit of Really Good Advice: "Write your worries on a piece of paper, then burn it... Tell yourself that now those worries are reduced to ashes they no longer need concern you. (NOT recommended if one of your worries is that you might be a closet pyromaniac.)"

I've really only begun to scratch the surface of why this book has been a favorite from the first issue. There's no other comic book on the market which combines all of the different elements of glamourpuss, let alone does them which such style and panache. This truly is one of the overlooked gems out there on your comic shop's rack, and deserves a spot on your budget. Give it a try. You'll laugh, you'll admire, and you'll learn something to boot.

Looking for something fabulous to read? Then pick up Dave Sim's glamourpuss. You'll be glad you did.

Interested in reading more? Good! Check out the lesser-known titles reviewed in these other blogs and "Read These, Too!":

Adam Strange at It's A Dan's World

American Vampire at Doom Patrol

Astro City at K-Squared Ramblings

Booster Gold and Zatanna at Red Tornado's Path

Essential Man-Thing at Firestorm Fan

Forgetless at Girls Gone Geek

Franklin Richards digests at Once Upon a Geek

Peter David's Hulk at Fortress of Baileytude

Jonah Hex at Boosterrific

Scott Pilgrim at Toyriffic

Son of Tomahawk and Thor the Mighty Avenger at Aquaman Shrine

Spelljammer at HeroPress

Spire Christian Comics at Mail It To Team-Up

Strange Science Fantasy at Siskoid's Blog of Geekery

R.E.B.E.L.S. at Indigo Tribe

The Unwritten at Speed Force

Welcome to Tranquility at Girls Gone Geek


Siskoid said...

My main trouble with Glamourpuss is availability. I've got holes in my collection because the issues are hard to find. (And I can't open an account at a comic book store anymore because of addiction spiral issues.)

I enjoy the strange mix of history and satire though - this is like putting fashion mag pictures together and saying tey're a story, pure "closure" in action - but I'm waiting for Sim to come out with a phonebook so's I can have them all.

rob! said...

I've never seen the inside of an issue of Glamourpuss, it looks cool. I may have to pick an issue up and see for myself.

Rose said...

"Anyone who considers themselves a fan of comic book art needs to have this book on their pull list because this is like taking a seminar on Photo-Realism."

Unfortunately, Dave Sim's own approach to creating the art in "Glamourpuss" is more like "How to Make Photo-Realistic Art Without Really Trying," or "Photo-Realism for Dummies." Tracing images from fashion magazines and then adding some crosshatching on top is just plain lazy, regardless of the excuses he may give for doing it. Does Dave have anything else that he's doing right now? Is there any reason that he can't sit down and put some real effort into his art, especially since he is supposed to be, you know, an artist? Is there any point in discussing the lameness of his 'photo-realistic' style to people who will probably think of Dave Sim as a Great Artist no matter what he does?

Luke said...

@Siskoid -- I know Sim said that glamourpuss was not going to run forever, and that once he had finished the "lesson" he would collect it all into one big volume. I am pretty sure he said that he would try to keep the entire series in print during it's run as well, but I don't know if that is true or not. has most of the series in stock if you want to check it out and its not too much of a temptation!

The use of the fashion gals to tell a story always makes me laugh, because inevitably glamourpuss feels the need to explain to us what she is wearing and why she changed clothes. Like in the second issue when she explains (very calmly and rationally) that all of the world's problems could be solved by beautiful, intelligent, superbly-dressed women walking into the offices of world leaders and staring them down like a bunch of "Mama's Boys." It's bizarre and hilarious... not to mention strangely insightful into Sim's own opinions!

@rob! -- I hope you do check the title out, because there's a lot better illustrations in there than the ones I ended up going with. I didn't have the time to go through and pick and choose my favorites so I had to use some I had on hand.

Sim is very frequently accused by bashers as simply "tracing" models from fashion mags, which isn't really accurate. He takes the pencils off of a lightbox with the images, yes, but the pencils are not the important part, the inks are -- and the inks are all done by hand, with technical pen and brush. Any fan of black and white comic art would dig the linework in glamourpuss.

Luke said...

@Rose -- "Tracing images from fashion magazines and then adding some crosshatching on top is just plain lazy, regardless of the excuses he may give for doing it."

Except that's not what he is doing. On the now apparently defunct glamourpuss website, there was a video in which he demonstrated the process of getting the image from the magazine and then turning it into an ink drawing, and it was a lot more involved than "tracing." No one is going to deny the use of the lightbox, but the inking has nothing to do with that, and that's really the point.

As I said in response to rob! (I didn't see your comment waiting to be moderated before I started my response), the pencils are not so much important as the inks. The pencil drawings taken from the lightbox of the fashion models are there to provide SOMETHING to draw. In the last few issues, Sim has been doing a lot more non-traced/lightboxed/referenced work, as he has been showing real world scenarios involving meetings between Alex Raymond and Stan Drake.

Sim's merits as an pencil artist can be found in the many volumes of Cerebus which you can buy at your local comic shop. The Photo-Realist inking is a new thing.

"Is there any point in discussing the lameness of his 'photo-realistic' style to people who will probably think of Dave Sim as a Great Artist no matter what he does?"

I would ask you is there any point in discussing the merits of this art experiment with someone who has decided that Sim is not an artist? It's like the folks on CBR (who, oddly enough, seem to congrate around boards which Gail Simone posts on) who claim that because of the mysogonist claims made in "Tangent" that the Guide To Self-Publishing is also invalid.

Look, I'm not a Sim Apologist by any means. Besides glamourpuss, I own a handful of issues of Cerebus and Spawn #9, and that's it. The man has some opinions and attitudes which are rightly criticized. But to say he's just "tracing and adding some crosshatching" is harsh and mean-spirited, not to mention inaccurate.

I would suggest that if you read further along the first few issues, you would have seen what goes into Raymond's Photo-Realistic style, but your response clearly demonstrates that you have no interest in doing so.

Siskoid said...

The misogyny debate: I've read many authors who are jerks or who have contrary opinions. I don't have to agree to be interested, or for my thoughts to be provoked. In other words, I'm not bothered with Sim's sexism. Is he any more sexist than an artist who traces over porn stars and colors superhero costumes on them? He only articulates it better and to his detriment.

Which brings us to the tracing issue: When artists do obvious tracings in superhero comics (for example), it's bad art because it makes no point. It's not part of the storytelling. I'd read something like Glamourpuss if actually were a collage of fashion pics with superimposed narration. Why? Because it's part of the point. It's a surrealist or dadaist trope, like an exquisite corpse or automatic writing. Found object as comic book panel. The tracing argument is thus invalid.

Bubbashelby said...

I've never heard of this one but it sounds like a fun concept!

rob! said...

A teacher at the Kubert School once told us, on our first day: "Never draw what you can trace, never trace what you can copy, never copy what you can cut out and paste down."

Supposedly, this maxim originally came from Wally Wood, making the whole thing even more meta.

IADW said...

I was really looking forward to this write up as I've never heard of this before... definitely want to check it out a bit more now!

Luke said...

@Dan -- Glad I could be of service!

@rob! -- That is a hell of an anecdote! Yeeesh! That's hilarious.

@Bubba -- Definitely give it a shot. I have gave my spare copy of the first issue to a few friends and they all bought in.

@Siskoid -- "He only articulates it better and to his detriment." I have never heard that put better. Really, is he any worse than Erik Larsen, who has been known to go on his own inane anti-feminist rants from time to time? (Didn't he claim that a jury of women sided with Neil Gaiman because he was an "English rogue?")

I can divorce myself from Sim's personal beliefs because they have nothing to do with glamourpuss, which is, as I have said, all about the art.

Your statement of traced superhero art versus fashion collage is better stated than I could have done it, as well!

I am glad that most folks appreciated this post, and I hope you all check out the book.