Wednesday, 12 August 2009


Stop me if you’ve heard this one already, but it does deserve a non-bloodied smiley face...

After being silent since March, Andrew Rilstone has bounded back into blogging with nothing less than a sixty page PDF zine! This is like when Marcel Duchamp claimed to have retired from art, just to work on his biggest piece yet! In the circumstances I’m even willing to forgive him for calling My Chemical Romance a “punk band.” Though I’d already embarked on The Olde Print Days of Lucid Frenzy, it was a Bugpowder link to Andrew’s writings which encouraged me to start blogging. And he’s remained one of my favourite writers on matters comics and filmic.

Though having said that, he has at times reduced me to a state of teeth-gnashing envy. Sometimes he has said things I wish I could have said first, or even as well. (For example he points out that many of the moments of synchronicity in Watchmen aren’t there to make any specific point, so much as create a world of synchronicity which the story needs to marinate in.) At others, he says things which soon as said seem so bonecrushingly self-evident I feel a fool for never noticing them. (Stan Lee introduced an element of ‘realism’ to the superhero genre, but at the same time filled it with metafictional conceits by making “Smilin’ Stan” an audible presence in his own comics – of course he did!) It’s like I study every line, every damned line, only for Andrew to come along and point out some fresh angle of perspective that has been there all along. “But you were looking so hard at the trees, old bean. What about the wood?”

Such a perspective (and I use the word advisedly) is particularly welcome when comics like Watchmen and internet criticism combine into truly virulent nerdism. I’ve lost count of the websites I’ve seen which have gone through some comic, annotating it panel by panel, in their ceaseless search for ‘clues’. All the while oblivious to the fact that the medium of comics lies in, like, connecting the panels, dude. It’s like studying music by examining each note in turn. The technical term is “missing the point.”

One of the interesting features of Andrew’s zine is that it is just that – a zine. Partly this is a metafictional joke, a comment on the grubby things we read and wrote back when Watchmen first appeared. (Hence the use of retro fonts.) But its more than that, the various pieces at first seem to be about separate subjects (Watchmen, Supergirl, the comics you read as a kid). But you soon realise that these components all slot together into one overall argument, a single subject studied from different perspectives. (I got all carried away on his comments board and called this “argumentative origami”!) A series of blog entries, posted however closely together, would not have the same sense of simultaneity.

Of course there’s an irony here in that our actual back-in-the-day zines rarely did this, at least not at any conscious level. We merely tapped them out on typewriters or (for the fancy) word processors until we had enough words to release. (When you start to follow a writer everything they say becomes a piece in an overall puzzle you assemble of them in your mind. But each piece is standalone.) But like a modernist painting it demonstrates something zines can do which blogs can’t.

I left some (very) cursory comments on Andrew’s blog. But one of these days I really will write my own perspective on Watchmen...


  1. Thank you, Gavin. Or Captain Courageous, as I still think of you.

    If it's any consolation, and at risk of turning into a mutual admiration society, I head a similar head slappy moment when you pointed out the similarity between Superman and John Henry (lor' lor')

  2. What's that you say? Superman like John Henry?

  3. I hope to crikey that you're not thinking of us when you say

    I’ve lost count of the websites I’ve seen which have gone through some comic, annotating it panel by panel, in their ceaseless search for ‘clues’

    'Cause we ain't never done that

  4. With a mixture of embarassment and relief, I have to admit not having followed Mindless Ones that much!

    Never saved the links or anything (never intending to go back), but I've seen sites which literally posted a page at a time with lots of annotations and background detail discussions.

  5. On reflection "I've seen sites which" may have been a more accurate statement than "I've lost count of." I never tried counting 'em in the first place!