Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Vague Tales

The joke is that there is nothing vague about Vague Tales. It's chock full of comics that will melt your face off. Actually, that is not true - it is more of a bunch of comics that comment about how such extreme experiences have become cliched and vacuous.

Much of Eric Haven's past work trucks with archetypal comic characters and settings, and this book is no different. The main narratives star a brooding, crystalline alien named Psylicon, an evil witch named Ruin, an apocalyptic barbarian named Pulsar, and a sorceress named Sorceress. And eventually, the stories all bleed into each other. Ruin attacks the Sorceress; Pulsar defends her; Pyslicon is mysteriously aloof but intercedes in an unexpected manner. The whole enterprise is reminiscent of old cartoons like Thundarr the Barbarian or Masters of the Universe, only skewed with a touch of absurd realism. Haven is obviously poking fun at these story and character conventions, but it is also apparent that he also enjoys them and takes great joy in casting his own stories using them.
Thinking, in the Mighty Marvel Manner!
And if this book were simply comprised of those adventures, I'd simply say it was some sort of parody or homage to that genre of comics. But there is also the hulking, angry blonde man featured on the cover, whose presence is almost entirely unrelated to the way-out adventures. This guy mostly stands or sits around his house, gazes out the window, or knocks back some drinks, until a weird thing happens toward the end of the book that places him directly in the action. I am not going to spoil it, but they change the tone of the story and make it more of a commentary on contemporary fandom and/or media.

In the end, I feel that this story is more an exploration of the constant drive for bigger, better, and more extreme experiences that abound in popular culture (in the USA anyhow). The culture is driven by more intricate and complex special effects, blockbuster movies, and innovative video games. The net result, I am extrapolating from Haven's tales here, is that each amped up moment in the end leaves people empty. Or maybe it is the nature of such escapism to leave people unfulfilled. Mostly, stuff gets blown up just for the hell of having a big explosion, narrative be damned. What is clear is that those grand moments lose any kind of nuance or impact, forgotten in short order. All is spectacle, and the chase for such experiences is ultimately fruitless. Or maybe that is the more intellectual way of looking at the book, and I should just appreciate it for being a bunch of fun, crazy stories and not look for anything deeper.

That I got this much out of a relatively short 75 pages is noteworthy in itself, speaking to the great craft that went into these various narratives. This book is beguiling, silly, confusing, thrilling, and fantastic. Like much of Haven's prior work, it is also impactful and unforgettable.

I have been a fan of Haven's for a while. I have read all of his works, including the series Tales to Demolish and his books The Aviatrix and Ur, which was nominated for an Eisner Award. His comics are short, distilled, potent pieces of storytelling. They are weird, provocative, and delightful. His art style here reminds me of a combination of Fletcher Hanks, Herr Seele, and Jim Starlin, full of wonder and weirdness. Also of note, aside from making comics he was a producer for the popular show Mythbusters, which may account for his relatively sparse publication record. Haven sheds much insight into his work in this interview.

I had a hard time locating any reviews of this book, but the one I did find was laudatory and thoughtful. Rob Clough wrote that these stories amount to "images of a man-child, and it seems that Haven is satirizing that tendency toward indulging this sort of infantile fantasy as much as he is celebrating it."

Vague Tales was published by Fantagraphics, and they have a preview and more information about it here.

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