I have been thinking about this for a bit and wondering after the relationship between the magical renaissance of the 90s and the comics renaissance of the 90s. You have big ol’ honkin’ magician powerhouse in the form of Alan Moore, followed by the chaos magic darling in the form of Grant Morrison. It’s hard, too, to separate out the neopagan renaissance from the work of people like Neil Gaiman. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest one caused the other, but they formed something of a trashy archive in the Foucauldian sense, a set of practices and disciplines united by a common armature, a common set of intuitions and forms that made it easy for one to inspire the other.
I’ll admit to not caring much about any of these guys, by the way. I wanted and tried to care, mind you, because that is what the cool kids were caring about, but I ended up reading precious little of it. A small stretch of Shade, the Changing Man during its Vertigo years. Death: The High Cost of Living. I did have a poster of the Endless on the inside of my door, read with some enthusiasm the original version of Vampire: The Masquerade, but most of my comics reading was a bit more pedestrian. Only in the last few years did I finally read Moore’s most explicitly magical comic, Promethea.
When I started reading comics again about a decade ago, it was because of Warren Ellis’s Planetary. The way in which it approached the history of superhero comics as a kind of archaeology of the missing present hit a nerve and brought a trickle of comics back into my register. Funnily enough, though, when it comes to magic and comics, it seems like most of the discussions still hammer on about Morrison and Moore. It’s hard to knock the attention (Moore, especially, is a master of the medium, from a magical or literary perspective), but there is so much more than the M-club.
I recently picked up Southern Cross which was helmed by Becky Cloonan. The story is spaceship noir and it is riddled with magical themes (elder space gods again). More than that, the team of artists (Andy Belanger, Lee Loughridge, and Serge LePoint) have made careful use of line, frame, and color, to great emotional and sensuous effect. There are full page spreads where the fusion of geometric forms (curve and lines) approaches the sort of organization found in yantras. This is work that would make Kandinsky proud.
Warren Ellis managed to pack a walloping meditation on time and imagination into his Supreme: Blue Rose, in no small part thanks to the elegant and ethereal work done by Tula Lotay to render the drama. Lotay does remarkable work with her sense of fashion, taking with it the leap toward fractured messianic time that Walter Benjamin suggested was beyond it.
And don’t even get me started on Gail Simone’s latest project with Jon Davis-Hunt, Clean Room, which explores a very North American magical sensibility that fuses spiritualism, psychology, do-it-yourself self-help leadership events, and popular fiction, all under the rubric of a supernatural horror (itself a very North American trope). Whew.
I don’t think it is precisely correct to say that these books are doing magic, so much as that the study of them can be turned to magical ends because they so clearly employ magical forms toward aesthetic ends. There is something ever vital in weird fiction and it’s worth appreciating how much a part of modernity, too. Vital, in part, because it is weird, because it oozes out of some of the narrative conventions that would stymie it.
Philip K. Dick observed that the redemptive forces seemed to love the trash heap, loved the mess of popular culture, echoing unknowingly Walter Benjamin decades earlier. It is still singing and I think one of the things I might do is talk about those songs from time to time.