Jessica Jones: Alias

I started out watching the TV series, not realizing it came from comics. Jessica is a former (minor) superhero turned private detective.

The genre of retired superheroes who function mostly as normal humans, but occasionally dip into their superpowers, is fertile, partly because superpowers can be a metaphor for extraordinary human abilities, like those of an artist or an athlete. Watchmen has several such crossover characters.

I read the recently published collection of the 28 original comics into four trade-paperback volumes. They came out in Marvel’s MAX series of R-rated comics. They are comics for adults. The first word in the first volume is “fuck.”

Jessica is typically flawed P.I., with personal issues that haunt her and multiple vices. But, like Chandler and Hammett heroes, she has a solid moral compass and gets the job done.

Like other noir P.I.s, Jessica uses violence when she has to. She can beat people up because she’s a superhero. Violence is a staple of the noir detective novel. Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe, and Lew Archer are all tough guys. Maybe in reality being so tough isn’t required for good P.I. work, but being tough enough to be invulnerable is an archetypal male fantasy. There’s a deep-seated fear in our DNA of annihilation by violence that hasn’t been banished by just a few short millennia of living in society where violence is relatively rare.

Each of the four collected trade-paperback volumes covers one story arc.

The issue covers are painted in a great abstract style. I assume this is the work of David Mack, who is credited with cover art.

Michael Gaydos’ art style is appropriately noir. It works really well in places where it can tell the story through pictures. But there are several long dialogues where the repeated drawings of the speakers are too redundant. This is one place where the comics convention of putting dialog only in balloons on pictures should probably be changed. A page of text with the dialog, and a couple inset illustrations of key moments would be more effective.

Dean Wallraff’s Comic Criticism

I have no special expertise in comics. I am a fanatical reader of good literature, and a fairly accomplished photographer, so I have some visual sense. I started learning to draw a couple years ago when I won a free class at a local arts center in a raffle. So I’ve started drawing a cartoon character named ZenDog.

A lot of comics bore me. Superheroes, the main staple of traditional comic books, don’t interest me in their traditional form, though they can reasonably be compared to the Olympian Gods in ancient Greek and Roman mythology. But their stores are so much more childish than the deep Greek myths.

Household trivia don’t interest me much, either, though they are a staple of newspaper comics. Household trivia is fashionable in the literary world, e.g. Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, which I found a big bore.

I’m interested in comics for adults. It’s a bit disheartening how many of the topic 100 graphic novels listed on are for kids through teens.

I can’t stand ugly drawing. Mozart, depicting the evil Queen of the Night in the Magic Flute, wrote one of the most beautiful arias of all time. Some comics drawing, e.g. Robert Crumb, shows a world that’s ugly on the page. I don’t want to look at page after page of ugly.

It’s difficult getting the proper balance of text and pictures. Often, there is so much dialog that successive panels have to keep depicting the same thing. The visual repetition serves no artistic purpose. Sometimes the conventions of an illustrated book, with text outside the illustrations, would serve the purpose better. There is a tradition of German illustrated books from the 15th and 16th centuries (see Chapter 6 in Meggs’ History of Graphic Design) that could be an influence on comics today.

But I do like comics. This name is unfortunate, because it implies the genre is always funny. The French term “bandes designées,” meaning, basically, “designed strips” is better. The main function of a critic is to help other readers appreciate the art better. Some critics so obviously hate the art they write about that they can’t help anyone appreciate it.

I hope that I, as an outsider, can contribute an interesting perspective to the world of comics.