Sunday, 2 March 2014

Spicy Space Stories

Strange Attractors vs Cerebus
Art by Michael Cohen
(from the introduction to Strange Attractors Vol 1: Chaos Jitterbug, Retrografix, 1996) 

"What is it about Strange Attractors anyway and why can't I put it down on paper?" 

...I'm really at a loss. When I think back to the first time that I read Strange Attractors my response (to the first issue) was uniformly positive, viscerally positive (if you will). The problem with attempting to analyse the reason for that positive reaction is that many of the initial questions remain. Let's take Sophie as an example. Is she a cliche character, a cardboard cutout? Possibly. Her gestures, her overall look and her dialogue are not very far removed from those of the female characters in "romance comics" from the forties, fifties and sixties. Is this intentional? Evidently, since the question is raised in the first place. She's a librarian, a curator, an archetype... or a stereotype. Archetype or stereotype - which is it? Well, I'm not sure. And not only am I not sure, but I'm not sure WHY I'm not sure. Let's even make the arbitrary distinction between an archetype and a stereotype; let's say (for the sake of argument) that the first is a foundation, a short-hand, a launch pad, a jumping off point. The second is a short-hand form, an icon and that's all that it is. Now if you'll grant me my own arbitrary distinction -- feel free to substitute nouns that you think are better suited if that helps -- it's pretty clear to me that Sophie is an archetype. There is more to the character than there is to any of the interchangeable heroines of the "romance comics". But what? Here's where the analysis gets very tricky. Is there anything that Sophie does or says, any variation in the way she is portrayed in Michael's pictures and Mark's words that would indicate larger doings than you would find in stereotypical "romance comics"?


The answer is yes and no. The overall impression, the overall sense of the book is that there are larger doings afoot. Sophie is a person and a person that I like a great deal, I likes her by about page 3 and I haven't stopped liking her since. I couldn't say that -- it would be ridiculous -- about any of the heroines of "romance comics" like Patsy & Hedy. Sophie is a likable person, it's just that there's no evidence as to why she's a likable person.

Opening an issue of Strange Attractors and starting to read it is comparable to walking into an environment that creates in us a pleasurable sensation at all levels. Your grandparent's house. Where you are sitting right now, you can't even picture the smell of that house, but the moment you walk in all of your senses, all of your perceptions and awarenesses seem to relax into the sheer comfortableness of it all.

Well, that's as close as I can get to it.

Sophie creates a level of perception -- as does the Strange Attractors comic itself -- that cannot be explained by analysing her component parts. Now, this would be no mean accomplishment in itself. But as you get past the first three or four pages, Michael and Mark do it again and again and again. Spicy Space Stories, Pirate Peg, Nurse Nebula. These are names that, alone, would create a sense of "camp", of stereotype, spoof, patronising parody. Nothing about them suggests otherwise as they are encountered each in turn and yet that perception of them is momentary, quickly replaced by an unquestioning acceptance, appreciation and, well, comfortableness. Spicy Space Stories. Sorry, I just wanted to type that again. Spicy Space Stories.

Heck, I give up.

Spicy Space Stories.

Nurse Nebula. Nurse... Nebula.

Dave Sim, Kitchener, Ontario
April Pirate Peg 9, 1996

In 1993 Michael Cohen and Mark Sherman began self-publishing Strange Attractors, which ran for seventeen issues during the 1990s. You can read Strange Attractors for free online at Web Comics Nation.


Tony Dunlop said...

This is why I liked the "graduate seminar in comics art" parts of Glamourpuss so much. Dave. Knows. Comics! He knows the vocabulary for it, and he knows, and most importantly can clearly articulate, why and how the vocabulary of comics is fundamentally different from the vocabulary of literature alone or visual art alone. Even though I don't read many comics anyomre, reading something like this makes me want to run, not walk, to my nearest geek-o-rama...uh, I mean comics shop.

Anonymous said...

Tony, I fear your claim runs counter to this example, which shows Dave admitting that he can't articulate the appeal of Strange Attractors.

But I am reminded of perhaps a better example: Dave's suggestion why someone reading a comic book would balk at a whole page of text -- the different parts of the brain involved in the different reading experiences.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, fob

Tony Dunlop said...

It's irony. He articulates exactly what's special about Strange Attractors by highlighting its ambiguity of category and its blurring of lines.