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Sunday, January 25, 2009

I Won!

Wait! Magazine

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The Gospel According to Mathews (v3.0): Guest Columnist Mykl G. Sivak -Comics and Me (and the upcoming SCSU 2009 Comics Panel)
Mykl G. Sivak

Comics and Me (and the upcoming SCSU 2009 Comics Panel)
By Mykl G. Sivak

To quote James Kochalka’s American Elf, I’m just like Prince’s mother. People seem to be able to tell this about me; I exude a dissatisfied aesthetic, I guess.

Once, a strange man came up to me on the wintry streets of New Haven and told me that everything was going to work out for me. Apparently, he based this conclusion on my haircut.

“It’s like Oliver Twist’s” he’d said.
“Oliver Twist was a street urchin,” I replied.
“But he wanted more.”
“Yeah,” I said. “More gruel.”

That dude was right. I’m some sort of masochist. Call me Michael Malcontent. I have a history of identifying problems, and then focusing on those problems obsessively until the focus grows to an anxiety attack. This transformation often occurs in the middle of the night as I lie in bed beside my sleeping girlfriend Jennifer, our cat Beatrix nestled into my crotch, hot anxiety burning a cigarette-hole in my over-caffeinated, tobacco-toasted cortex. And then I’m dressed. And then I’m driving, aimlessly across Connecticut highways. Call me Tiger, I pace in my tarmac cage. Luckily, the price of gasoline is down.

It happened last week. This time, I woke up Jennifer, and we took off Northward on Route 8, through Connecticut’s short hills and into Western Mass. We sped past Great Barrington, Pittsfield, the Berkshires to the base of Vermont, where the air is crisp, and the hills are steep. The full moon followed us all the way up. Long drives like that coax out the issues. They make you talk, because you’re tired and far from home, and the little towns look like dioramas, and you’re essentially trapped, and the destination is only half-way home.

At the turn around, the Jeep’s interior was a bubble of swirling, warm air and Camel smoke. Cooler air fluttered in over the top of the slightly opened windows. Radio rock of the nineties rang quietly from the speakers, almost quaint in its near-obsolescence. There were tractor trailers parked at the edge of Route 9, the apex of Hogback Mountain, beside the stained-log gift shop; we crept past. The idling motors, and the faint amber glow of trailer lamps, set a scene, and Jennifer asked me about happiness and if I ever feel it. “Not really,” I said. I was telling the truth.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Some are, no doubt, enzymatic, others environmental. I think a lot of it is socio-economic. But then I remembered a time when I was happy. Six years ago, when I received an email from Adhouse Books’ Chris Pitzer, who was then editing the 2003 SPX anthology. The email said the comic I submitted was accepted. That felt good.

That happiness was not based in egotism. It did not offer some type of perceived validation. It was something different. I had been a fan of the anthology (now in its forth year of a “hiatus” that shows no sign of ending soon) for years. I had seen the work of many of my favorite creators featured in the anthology’s pages. I was happy to be a part of that.

Comics, in their many forms, have always been an important part of my life. MAD magazine and Gary Larson were integral in the development of my understanding of humor. While still in my tweens, Matt Groening’s Life in Hell granted me a glimpse of the world that other “age-appropriate” media considered to cynical or sophisticated for my little child’s mind. Calvin and Hobbe’s showed me how intelligence is a specialized thing. Charles Scholz, through his Peanuts, revealed a secular Zen, a melancholy, yet hopeful worldview that could make the pope weep, while presenting so-called punch-lines that often operated more like Socratic queries. The reprints of EC’s horror and science comics, showed me the irony of terror and the macabre; they put fear into perspective, showed me that monsters aren’t as scary as real things like greed and hate. Comics rarely lied to me the way adult’s seemed to. I became aware of the writers and artist, working smartly behind the scenes. I envisioned them smiling at me from beyond the pulp, winking slyly, saying “you get it, kid.”

Then and now, comics speak from a position of populism, and common sense, and questioning. Sometimes they present ideas and topics that are uncomfortable (see Dave Cooper), but nonetheless significant. Artists like Jim Woodring illustrate the unwritable, wield abstractions with grace and eloquence. Comics offer perspectives that mainstream media will not and cannot. In a world of Frat movies, Super-bowl ads, celebrity tabloid television, and Bush republicans, they are the truest gauge of our societal souls.

By becoming aware of the frequent marginalization of comics media, I came to see that those in charge of rating things are often obtuse and idiotic. Comics helped me to shape a unique perspective, a freedom of thought, and a particular self-reliance. After all, reading comics is essentially a solitary activity, as is creating comics. To be comfortable with comics, you have to be comfortable with yourself. Comics don’t shout at you the way television does. They don’t beat the shit out of you like Rugby or Mixed Martial Arts. Through the shrewd mixture of words and art, a good comic kneads the reader/viewer into quiet, comfortable submission. They don’t think for you; they get you to think for yourself.

I attended SPX for the first time in 2003, after my comic was accepted into the anthology. This is where I met Ed Mathews of Popimage, Mark Wilkofsky of the New York chapter of Friends of Lulu, among many others. I saw that, though comics are initially a solitary endeavor, they open up the possibility of a special type of community. A thoughtful, vibrant and talented community, whose prime psychological directive is one of perpetuating creativity, freedom of thought and communal connection. That is good and important stuff. While, the war-pigs are blowing each other to pieces with increasingly sinister devices, while corporate suits are destroying humanity with their never-ending slew of sweat-shop chotchkies and ugly aesthetics, the comics community is engaged in a form of creation pretty damn close to the Aristotelian good. You can’t say that about Jessica Simpson, or the people reporting on the fluctuation size of her ass. Comics can be enjoyed viscerally, and they can be considered thoughtfully. They represent, probably, the most lively form of the artistic/intellectual process today. Take that, sumi-e! You too, slam poetry!

Now for the business stuff:
On April 18, 2009, I will be hosting a Comics Panel at the Tenth Annual Southern Connecticut State University English Conference. This panel is conceived as an opportunity for people in the comics community (readers, creators, and scholars) to gettogether, discuss and think about the thing that they love. My goal for this panel is to solicit the involvement of a broad cross-section of participants. Ed Mathews(Popimage) and I are reaching out to a number of creators and critics. In the democratic spirit of the medium itself, the panel is not restricted to students and scholars. Comics is an inclusive thing, and so any panel hoping to truly embrace the spirit of comics must also be inclusive.

If the response is a great as I believe it will be, the event will feature multiple panels across a day long event. Likely, there will be a “creator’s alley” in which creators will have the opportunity to sell/display their work and meet with fans. The ultimate goal is for this panel to grow into a yearly event.

Comics have done much for me over the course of my life. They have lifted me up when times were rough. They have challenged my mind. They have presented me with alternate and dissenting points of view when prevailing opinions seemed so hopeless and horrible. They showed me that I was not alone. They gave me something to talk about with my girlfriend at three in the morning while driving through Vermont.

Comics granted me a community to be a part of. It is my hope that the SCSU comics panel can become a vital part of that community, and offer that community a place to come together to discuss the thing that we all love.

What follows is the panel’s official call for papers. Please view the call as mere guidelines or suggestions. Topics not specifically mentioned are definitely encouraged. Anyone interested in presenting should contact me at the supplied email address.

Comics are awesome!