by John Holbo on March 9, 2006

Here’s a lovely little video that, near as I can tell, has not gone nearly so viral as it deserves. "Superman lay broken … La-da-da-da-Daa."

The naive beauty of it – part childcult, part cynicism about fight scenes – is what Daniel Clowes is getting at, I guess, in this interview.

As a kid, I was really attracted to superheroes, but I never read the comics. I’d buy every single comic, and I had some connection to it, but I didn’t like them, really. I remember talking to my other friends who read superhero comics, and they liked them on such a different level than I did. They were like, “Yeah, when Iron Man fights the guy, and punches him in the face, it’s so awesome!” But it had this pop-art iconographic quality to me that was really charming, and I just loved that aspect of it. I always gravitated towards that part of it, and I could never quite get past that, and that’s what I was going for. I wanted to create a story that lived up to the iconography, but also had something else going on.

If you don’t know who Clowes is, you should. (Go read wikipedia or something.)

Back to the video. It’s by graphic artist Chris Appelhans. His site is here. He has things for you to look at (just click through); and listen to, if you like sweet kinda-Cat Powers piano primitivism plus plangent, warbling vocals. Sticking with pictures: "Ninja" (in honor of J. Quiggin’s recent post.) Additionally, a small confirmation of Clowes’ thesis about the superiority of icons over fight-scenes; ponder the steampunk Alice in Wonderland sketches. Lovely. Take a look at "Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum". Very City of Lost Children, but where do you go, story-wise? Fight-scenes, that’s where, once you’ve armored up so extravagantly. Corollary of the ‘gun on the wall in Act I must be fired in Act III’ principle. Then you’ve left your source material too far behind, I wager. But maybe that’s inevitable in this fallen world. (Naturally, if Appelhans proves me wrong, I couldn’t be more delighted.)

I just read a comics anthology, Flight 2 [amazon], which I bought in part because I instantly adored the Appelhans cover art, which you can see at this very extensive book site. Browse and admire the bits. Then notice that it is, in fact, part of a larger site. Which is mostly a blog. With links to lots of online graphics stuff. Poke around. And they’re bringing out Flight 3 [amazon]. Now, going back to Appelhans’ site, we find the fallen figure on the Flight 2 cover started out here. A gentle giant, childlike but dangerous due to lack of coordination, perched on curly elf toes.

Anyway, Flight 2 is highly satisfactory, but its consistent visual attractiveness significantly exceeds its narrative virtues, I found. There were funny bits, exciting bits, and something that really gives you that Edward Gorey "The Fatal Lozenge" feeling, but via stick figures on post-its. But mostly it felt workmanlike in the story department, with really nice art draped over various sturdy narrative frames as the real attraction; mood the chief effect. Maybe this is partly because several of the pieces are slices out of longer-running comics. Often in those cases you need to read more, and the effect is cumulative. But the nice pictures come through immediately.

I got the video link from Kip Manley, a while ago. If you haven’t noticed, he’s got Long Story, Short Pier up and running again, and a fresh new video link awaits you today. I got the Clowes interview via the ISB.



rilkefan 03.09.06 at 4:07 am

Saw that a long time ago, so it’s got to be a little bit viral – oh yeah, here. So much for my objection.


John Holbo 03.09.06 at 4:36 am

Yep. Puny little J&B link didn’t do the trick. Try again.


SusanC 03.09.06 at 6:34 am

Yes, that video is very cool.

I recently went to the Gothic Nightmares exhibition at Tate Britain. It’s quite startling how many of the comic book cliches were already present in William Blake and Henry Fuseli – skin tight costumes, fight scenes …

I blame the Romantics.


Kip Manley 03.09.06 at 9:16 am

Blame manga, too, but also anime, especially that darn Miyazaki, and even the Disney revival that started with Little Mermaid and ended wherever it did: Lion King, some would say, though I’m grumpy, and usually insist on Ashman’s death. (Also, blame Brad Bird; Iron Giant was far, far more successful than Warner’s accountants will ever know.) There’s a number of Pixar animators in the Flight crew. —The strong roots in animation, I think, have a lot to do with how they can sidestep the cruft of comics qua Yankee comics and cut straight to the iconic heart of the matter.

Anyway, think of Flight as maybe the Metal Hurlant of its particular revolution: awful pretty, thin on story, a few too many bits about conventionally pretty girls, mostly notice served that even more astonishing things are going on around it. —I’d link to Scott McCloud’s intro to the first volume, where he elucidates his tribal theory (of comics, but also); it seems to have fallen off the web. So here’s an old post quoting it at some length; and here’s a photo of the placemat he sketched for us in San Deigo, which is pretty much identical to the one he sketched in Seattle that’s mentioned. (The Griemas stuff is, by the way, a gloss.)


Maria 03.09.06 at 10:19 am

I went to Gothic Nightmares, too. I was a bit stunned by how puerile it all seemed. I’d take the Watchmen over it any day of the week.


Ben Alpers 03.09.06 at 10:58 am

For those interested, Scott McCloud’s introduction to the first Flight volume can be found here (thanks to the Internet Archive).


Ted Friedman 03.09.06 at 11:20 am

Thanks for the link – I love that video! It’s a great mixture of ironic detachment and heartfelt emotion – a postmodern mix I’ve always been a sucker for. The video works a lot better than a recent attempt at an “adult” Superman comic that got a lot of press: It’s a Bird by Steven Seagle. While that chose an autobiographical meta-route, “Superman Lay Broken” just digs deeper into the heart of the mythos. There’s an earnestness about it underneath the irony that reminds me of the great run Scott McCloud had on Superman Adventures, a kids-comic spinoff from the Saturday morning cartoon. Actually, Bruce Timm’s designs and Paul Dini’s scripts for those cartoons also often captured this delicate pop blend of self-aware iconography.


Sebastian Holsclaw 03.09.06 at 11:43 am

I recently saw that Gorey has two new compilations. How did that happen without me noticing?


Hazyl 03.09.06 at 12:40 pm

Manga? Anime? Miyazaki? What do they have to do with fight-scenes in American comics? Or did you mean Flight?

Speaking of which, some of the Flight artists have webcomics that are actually much more interesting than their work in the anthology. Kean Soo’s Jellaby and Hope Larson’s Salamander Dream are really charming (both are available here), Kazu Kibuishi’s Copper is quietly brilliant and Derek Kirk Kim has been producing some of the best comics around for quite some time now.

Oh and hello all! It’s my first time posting a comment here though I’ve enjoyed readinging this blog for some time now. The Mieville seminar was brilliant.


Gary Farber 03.09.06 at 7:10 pm

Jeebus, you make me feel stupid. I look forward to the day I can afford to get video over the internets. I thought Ghost World was a great comic and a great movie.

Beyond that, if I had the bucks, I might like that stuff.

I remember why I stopped being able to buy comics: when they started costing more than twelve cents a piece. Who could follow the stuff, other than by borrowing, and such, after that? Who are you people?


theogon 03.09.06 at 8:05 pm

John, dear, you’ve put me in geek heaven. This is why I visit this site.


bob mcmanus 03.09.06 at 8:06 pm

“Who are you people?”

They are a lost generation, Gary. “The generation that forgot Fauvism.” it will be called. They were right to try to ban the damn things in the fifties.


John Holbo 03.09.06 at 8:25 pm

bob is just upset because I don’t like Victor Mature movies.


slolernr 03.10.06 at 1:51 pm

That was teh awesome, except that the Superman at 1:28 looked annoyingly like John Kerry.

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