Thursday, 15 November 2012

Books: The Playwright


The Playwright
Written by Daren White
Art by Eddie Campbell

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Cloud Atlas isn't out in England yet - but it is out in the States and is probably the only film [1] coming down the pipeline that I have any interest in whatsoever (Yes - like any right thinking person - I totally despised (in the sense of both contempt and deep repugnance) The Matrix sequels and all that they stood for): and so - yeah - I've been bounced around the internet a bit trying to find all the things that people have said about it [2]. Which is how I came to this article [3] which makes a big deal out of the fact that Tom Hanks is often described as an "Everyman" to quote David Haglund (the guy who wrote the article): "The term dates to a time and place where anyone who was not a straight, white (and arguably even British) man was explicitly regarded by law and social norms as inferior to those who were."

When I read this - I thought: well - yeah - ok: we live in a multicultural world and we shouldn't privilege one particular viewpoint over any other and if the Romney Obama election has taught has anything (has it taught us anything?) it's that in the USA white folk can no longer enjoy being in the majority [4]. I mean - back when I was a kid I always used to think that in the future everyone would have brown skin - I don't know how scientifically plausible or not that may be (and I'm a little scared to google it - just in case my computer thinks I'm a racist) but regardless (same as always): all the old ways we have of thinking about stuff are going to become increasingly irrelevant and everything is going to change and (hopefully) one day soon we can all enjoy being a minority. But - saying all that: I didn't really agree with the article. I mean - "Everyman" doesn't have to be a white guy (if someone described Will Smith and Denzel Washington as being "Everymen" I don't think I would disagree) and it's interesting how in the article itself David Haglund says that Tom Hanks had Portuguese ancestors and his father’s side was mostly British - like - it's that cool? That the "Everyman" has a background that's (ever so-slightly) culturally diverse? But whatever.

These are the kind of thoughts that were pinging around my head when I started to read The Playwright by Daren White (sorry - never heard of him before) and Eddie Campbell (oh yeah - The From Hell guy!) a comic that's about a guy who's very much supposed to be a "Everyman" - only not the glamorous Tom Hanks type that everyone wants to be: but the lonely, loser, slightly freaky type that everyone fears that they are inside their heart (or is that just me giving away far too much of myself? I dunno...). Hopeless in love (no - wait - actually - make that: hopeless with all forms of human relationships), cut off from the world around him - he's the kind of person who would be ideally suited for his own verse in Eleanor Rigby: all the lonely people and all that.

I mean - before I say what I'm going to say: don't get me wrong. This is a marvelous little book: from it's bright yellow cover to the understated Eddie Campbell artwork (which is a lot more together than the scratchy and jaded black and white version you may be used to from From Hell) and the dour authorial voice that watches over everything in the third person ("The Playwright did this" "The Playwright did that"): it's well written, everything hangs together in a nice way - you know: it's a serious little comic book that knows exactly what it's doing and accomplishes everything it sets out to do. With the overall effect rather like  drinking a particularly fine cup of tea in splendid little village restaurant - where the coasters are little white knitted things and the cake is deliciously crumbly. It's a good book. And if you like your comics unfussy and with a stiff upper lip then you're gonna enjoy reading it.

But all I could think of as I read it was - does the world really need another book about how hard the world can be for a middle-aged, middle-class white guy? I mean - if The Playwright had been released in non-picture "proper" book form then I could very easily imagine it being the kind of thing to get nominated for a Booker Prize - you know? It has that whole kinda "literary genre" vibe to it. Thing is tho - as we move into the 21st Century - this seems like the kinda of story that we've already all heard a million times before. It's not so much that there's something wrong with the "Everyman" concept say [5]: but if you're going to use it - and you want me on side: then I'd prefer you'd use it to tell a story that hasn't already wore itself out. Or to put it another way: the first five pages of Grant Morrison and Chris Weston's The Filth manages to cover the same terrain as the entirety of The Playwright before it goes on the Russian space monkeys and attacks of giant sperm [6].

[1] Ok - fine. Also: World War Z. (2012: with zombies!? Yes please). But that's it.

[2] Out of all the stuff I've found I'd say that this New York Review of Books article is my favourite. If only for the bit when Ken Wilber describes Larry Wachowskis as one of the “most brilliant minds that I have jumped into a dance of intersubjectivity with.”

[3] Slate: Tom Hanks Is Not an “Everyman.” (there's really not that much to it that isn't in the title - but if you're really curious then you can read it here).

[4] I read this New Yorker article just the other day ("THE PARTY NEXT TIME As immigration turns red states blue, how can Republicans transform their platform?" Quote: "At the present rate, by 2016, whites will make up less than seventy per cent of voters. Romney’s loss to Barack Obama brought an end not just to his eight-year quest for the Presidency but to the Republican Party’s assumptions about the American electorate") so I guess all this stuff has been playing on my mind....

[5] In fact there's a Philip Roth novel called "Everyman" that I read once for a makeshift book-group when I just finished university - and (no matter how well written it was) - I kinda thought that story was boring then: and it's still boring now (maybe I'll change my mind when I get older and actually become the type of person these books are talking about? Who knows...? But I hope not).

[6] Of course - that's just where my whole tastes lie (and most of the time (it depends what mood you catch me in) I'd argue that the point of art (or whathaveyou) - and yeah for me anyway - is to show you something new and different and (hopefully) make you think about and experience the world in a different way): you yourself may be completely different - and there's nothing wrong with that (apart from the fact that you're wrong and you don't understand anything [7]).

[7] Ha ha ha - joke.

Links: Comic Book Resources Interview with Daren White and Eddie Campbell, Graphic Novel Reporter Interview with Daren White and Eddie CampbellAvoid The Future Review, Comics Should Be Good Review, Page 45 Review.

Further reading: From HellAlec: How to be an ArtistAmerican Splendor: The Best of American SplendorBreakdownsYears of The Elephant, Berlin, Make Me A WomanAsterios Polyp, I Never Liked You, The Filth.

All comments welcome.


Tam said...

This is why I ignore any tv shows about ty (except Alan Partridge)and any novels about writing / writers (Italo Calvino aside). Personally I think any creator who can't think of anything more interesting to write about than their own job needs to get out a bit more

I DO want to read Campbell's complete Alec though...

Got to say, I'm looking really forward to The Life of Pi film. I didn't think much of the book and can't even remember that much about it but it's Ang Lee making a film set of a life raft in the middle of a big ocean with a big stroppy tiger on it so it's bound to look somewhat awesome

Islington Comic Forum said...

Re: Life of Pi. Like they said on here ( ): "This movie essentially looks like an iTunes visualizer with a plot."

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