This post stems from Robert Adam Gilmour telling me of the need or intention currently in the air to revitalize EBD. I suggested doing a series of posts not about 'ingrained' influences, which are usually what process-oriented pieces are about, but instead 'deliberate' or conscious influences that one allows into one's work, to precipitate a change in approach. Things we want to learn.
Robert suggested i start off the series. I hope it will provoke the other bloggers here to redeem my bad writing with their better example.
I make comic-books, which clarifies most of my aesthetic preferences in the realm of art.
I wish i could draw the female figure with the elegance of Jeffrey Catherine Jones, and hope i may one day reach Alberto Breccia's or Bernard Krigstein's supreme indifference to elegance. Perspective to me means Moebius, not Ucello or Giotto; chiaroscuro Alex Toth, not Michaelangelo Merigi da Carravaggio. My interest in William Blake was awakened because i saw in him a proto-comic-book auteur. Even where i am inspired by Barnett Newman, it is because his zips showed a path to a deeper appreciation of the mystical gravitas of the common comic-book gutter.
So these are the things that i will often return to, but they are also the things i needn't really look at all that much, because i have to an extent internalized these influences.
And where drawing is concerned, this deep geology of influence is mostly a good thing. That's after all how drawing works; only with all the influence sifted through the prism of the practitioner's own personality do these layers of knowledge work their subtle effect. Drawing is linear, and should therefore show lineage.
But the essence of comics is juxtaposition, which is a part of composition, and composition works differently. It is a craft that needs the fresh glance, the quick look, the knowledge stored at the front of the mind, so to speak. Less intuition, more reason. It necessitates a different way of studying. And it in this area that i find i often look for new influences, new ways of looking, new ways of constructing not just the panel, or the page, but the entire approach to story. How you tell it, what you use to tell it with.
The point being, i've finally gotten round to reading Stephen King.
I'm reading It at the moment, and quite unexpectedly, i am getting a lot out of it.
For twenty-plus years i'd always maintained that mr. King's workmanlike, unadorned prose, his annoying habit of describing through brands or pop-cultural phenomena, even his ubiquity and his avowed dislike of Kubrick's The Shining, were of themselves sufficient reason not to read him.
I'd always, in the matter of doorstop blockbusters as it were, preferred the elegance and eccentricity of someone like Clive Barker, who prepared me for the 'difficult' prose of authors such as M. John Harrison, John Crowley, John Banville.
Boy howdy was i ever wrong.
I am finding It an astonishing read. Sure, the prose, when you step back and examine it on a sentence-by-sentence level, is ugly. But so is Hemingway's, or Faulkner's, and there is no reason other than class segregation to maintain that what is worthy in the one author is damnable in the other. Throughout It, King writes with a manic intensity that is exhilarating and infectuous. It oozes pop-culture, that intensity, and shamelessly uses anything it can lay its hands on to convey what it must to the reader. There is an urgency to his prose, as if it were written in direct dictation from the muse. Keeping up that earnestness for the book's entire duration would be quite a feat, as would be polishing your prose to affect such an earnestness, but either of which is the case, King succeeds at it.
Above all, though, it is smart. King is smart; erudite, even.
Despite his commendably working-class attitude towards pretention, and thus towards literary games of allusion, the guy knows his Horror 101, and if you look past the misdirection of brand-namedropping and pop music references, It pays honour to the greats, from Machen to Blackwood to Lovecraft. Once King is sure he's lured you in with his around-the-campfire Old Storyteller voice, he will hit you over the head with a chapter written from the point-of-view of the monster which he not only handles with great compassion (King's often touted as an example of the Horror-as-externalized-monster school, but few such writers would then show that even the monster has an inner life), but which he uses to summarize a distinctly Gnostic view of Evil without ever being boastful about his knowledge of such matters. Get this: he crams into a few pages of pulpy Lovecraftian cosmic horror fiction an entire world-view which scholars who write books about the Gnostics cannot seem to deal with except as philosophical abstractions. Their words remain mere words, whereas King opens up a place in your head.
So what does It give me, apart from its immersive qualities- the tension, the forward thrust of the narrative, the lovely nostalgic sheen of some scenes? (Scenes that hit the right spot considering i´m reaching that age where you can start to look over your shoulder without wanting to run back because you know those places are no longer outside of you but inside, now.)
The sentimentality, however effective, he can keep. The Bruce Springsteen-of-horror-fiction pose is extraneous. The assurance that imagination is powerful, a magick, is tempting but ultimately an affront towards the impoverished and abused; it is saying that added to the disgrace of their worldly station they are to blame for a lack of imagination (although certainly the case could be made that they suffer at the hands of those whose imagination is only shallow enough to serve their profound will to power).
No, the thing is this: energy. Energy, and trash.
I haven't reached the final page yet, but unless King blows it in the last few pages ( i am prepared to forgive or at least ignore sentimentality), I think i may conclude that reading It, and seeing the act of storytelling performed with such wilfull abandon, reinvigorated my appreciation of pop culture. If the genre of so-called 'literary fiction' is as mannered and put-upon and yes, as uptight, as its bourgeois provenance would suggest, then 'genre fiction' is the belching, farting, unrestrained undermind of its epoch. It is here that the real big questions are laid before us in all their nightmarish capriciousness rather than being politely ignored over cocktails.
In the end, pop culture is trash, of course, but it is our trash, collectively owned, and we must examine it openly and honestly, recognizing our hand in it. Anything else would merely be imperialism (taking, and not giving back, and thinking a higher power so ordained it).
I am, in short, inspired to take my inner academic for a walk across the trash heap and to hunt there indiscriminately for whatever detritus comes to hand and put it to use, instead of keeping it at arm's length to study it.
To tell him to relinquish control, and open up, and let the Weirdness in: