Monday 19 March 2007

"Dying is pointless." (and Rule #5)

My pal Michael Evans emailed me in disgust a few days ago to say he tripped over this nonsense about the death of Captain America in the Guardian of all places, while looking for the obituary for the philosopher Jean Baudrillard. It was only a couple of days later I realised how clever that was.
Obituary . Jean Baudrillard. Wednesday March 7, 2007 Guardian Unlimited
"Jean Baudrillard's death did not take place. 'Dying is pointless,' he once wrote. 'You have to know how to disappear.' The New Yorker reported a reading the French sociologist gave in a New York gallery in 2005. A man from the audience, with the recent death of Jacques Derrida in mind, mentioned obituaries and asked Baudrillard: 'What would you like to be said about you? In other words, who are you?' Baudrillard replied: 'What I am, I don't know. I am the simulacrum of myself.'
Baudrillard, whose simulacrum departed at the age of 77..."

March 12, 2007 02:19 PM Guardian blog. Why Captain America had to die
"The superhero's demise is being analysed in the blogosphere as a damning indictment of George Bush's America.
You've probably heard by now, Captain America - the comic-book superhero - is dead. Certainly if you live in the United States, it's a story that's been hard to miss."

Here stands the noble chap while he was still a picture of health:

That's from one of the two issues I drew in 2004. I thought it would be a good move for the overall benefit of my career to do a short stretch of that kind of work as I had once been in danger of getting a reputation for not being a team player. That happened way back in '93 when I was writing a thing for Dark Horse's ambitious superhero universe, and got to sit in on the script committee for a session. I figured the experience might make for some useful observation. Now those guys are good at their jobs and long may they thrive, but there was one odd issue that came up during the long conference. Having created the superhero team at the centre of this 'universe', they put one member in there who died at the end of the first story. This is standard practice. I call it the Eden effect. These characters lived in a state of grace, and then one died. Mortality has now 'been seen' (remember that phrase) to exist in this 'universe' (Junior Juniper RIP, Thunderbird RIP... I'm embarrassed to admit I know all this crap). The character that had to be offed also happened to have the power to restore mortally wounded people to life by the laying on of hands. No more immortality. Symbolically it all fit exactly so. But one of the notions that got kicked around briefly was of bringing this character back from the dead, except that her powers would now be in reverse and anybody she touched would be turned into a zombie. I exerted all my energy to shoot that one down since it threw the whole universe out of whack, as horror stories operate on reverse principles and you can't play it both ways simultaneously (matter/anti-matter). Or you could, and it would be shit, and besides I'd be the muggins who was going to have to write this particular series. And what would I know, the kids would perhaps have thought it was a 'cool' idea. I lasted five issues before I got the boot.
(The ideal zombie story needs to take place in a separate world because it will be an atheistic apocalypse. It must annihilate without hope. The scene going on behind the end credits in the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead is what a good zombie movie is all about. I threw that in just in case you think I'm being snobby.)

Death in comic books is just this kind of clay pigeon kind of death, a video game where everything is back in place the next time you plug it in. And I'm not the bloke that should be writing it. In my own books, every character I ever offed I can explain exactly why it was done. No gratuitous death in my 'universe'. The only vid game I ever had any time for is the original version of Mario Kart. In fact, I'd play it right now if wee Cal was home from school.
When wee cal was actually 'wee' instead of six foot two, he said a thing which had an effect on my thinking. This was way back in August 1997, when he was five and the news was coming through about the tragedy of Lady Diana Spencer. The lad was getting pissed off because he wanted to watch his superhero animations, and the adults had taken over the television, and eventually he complained loudly and said what was on his mind. "I don't think she's really dead anyway, because you didn't see the car hit the wall".
This would become one of Eddie Campbell's RULES*.
RULE #5: In a visual medium, an event has not occurred unless it can be seen to have occurred. Thus, you can't refer back to something that only happened in a word balloon. Technically it didn't happen at all. (Well, of course you can do it, but you must recognise that your reader will probably be doubting your veracity. You may wish to use that to your advantage, but now we're getting complicated.)

Without wishing to get into arguments about Baudrillard, as I am not equipped to do so, this line, taken from a review of his writings, strikes a note relevant to the current blather, and allows me to exit without leaving you with the bad taste of comic books on your palate: "(essay by Baudrillard...) proposes the familiar notion that we are imprisoned in a world of media simulations, video phantasms, and that we cannot come to know the real not because we are ignorant but because we are overinformed: 'we will never in the future be able to separate reality from its statistical, simulative projection in the media.' This isn’t an uncertainty we’ve experienced in the past, but a brand new kind of uncertainty brought about by an excess of information."

postscript. My pal Evans is the fellow who killed me inThe Fate of The Artist. He would perhaps be fair in claiming as justification the fact that I had killed him in three other books. One day, when I think my publisher is not looking, I will tell you the whole sorry story, and how he got his ultimate revenge, apart from killing me I mean, because as I have been at pains to demonstrate, in comic books Death is pretty bogus.

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Blogger Damien said...


This is a thing on which I have been thinking, since Baudrillard's vanishing, and the subsequent spectacle of Captain America's Death.

Unfortunately, I think that he was right about this being the nature of the world.

Always a Big Two rule: "If you don't see a body (and maybe even if you do), they aren't dead." Which is why, now that they've done it, I hope they leave Steve Rogers dead, even if they bring back Captain America; because Superman died in a random big fight, spawned some clones, and came back with lightning powers (or whatever), but... Well.

I hope they at least try to let their meaning be meaningful, is all I'm saying.

19 March 2007 at 01:03:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You make me chuckle! Truth in those rules, though.

I'm paying attention, even if communication is sparse lately!

19 March 2007 at 01:24:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Christopher Moonlight said...

"Junior Juniper RIP, Thunderbird RIP... I'm embarrassed to admit I know all this crap"

Don't be to quick to admit embarrassment. It comes off (in a way) as shame in liking comics. I see it happen all the time, and I don't think anyone realizes that they're doing it. I'm secure in my love of superheros. Sorry. I know I'm being to blunt. I did it yesterday at wizard world, and kept having to backpedal when I saw the expressions of shock on peoples faces.

"he said a thing which had an effect on my thinking."

That's why young people do such great work... well, when they do great work, it is ...they know, no limitations.

Death has a theme in comics, which has a lot of potential in comics, but has really not been explored to it's full potential. Frank Kane and I happen to be working on a story about it right now. He seems to think it's like 'Sex and the City' except it's Death and the City. Then I'll move onto my spoof, Vets and the Kitty. Hmm, maybe not. Off to me pit!

19 March 2007 at 02:06:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Er, how come Dawn of the Dead-type horror is okay, but Baldo Smudge stories aren't?

(not being narky, just corious)

19 March 2007 at 02:21:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Dawn of the Dead?
i couldn't sit through a Zombie movie to save my life. I just happen to have three teenagers who watch all that stuff and I see it as i walk past to get a cup of tea or coffee.

"Shame in liking comics?" you misunderstand me. I DON"T like them.

but whatever you like... that's okay. I don't tell you what to watch or read.

Elizabeth, Damien,
good to hear from you.

19 March 2007 at 04:29:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You hit upon one of my principle disaffections with mainstream comics (where "mainstream" means, er......Men In Tights): the persistence of a world without consequences. Does anyone really believe that Captain America will stay dead? Won't be cloned, respawned via time-fluke or parallel universe or plain old magic? Even twenty years down the line? Men In Tights comics are like the alcoholic who tells you that, yes, they've given up for good this time, this is a world with consequences that they're dealing with. Then they come reeling home drunk and spew all over the carpet.

A comparison with some other fiction:

I've been reading my way very slowly through the works of Cormac McCarthy recently, currently ploughing through the thousand pages of his Border Trilogy. The second book, The Crossing, is very long and comparatively uneventful as it details the journey of two brothers crossing the border into Mexico. Uneventful......until one of the characters gets shot, a moment of profound resonance that's haunted me for days. Cormac's world is ours: no one comes back from the dead which is what makes moments like this all the more affecting.

Re: Baudrillard and his "nothing is real". Much as I love the French and their devious philosophisings, those statements always make me think of the Zen parable where a novice monk says something similar to his Master. Whereupon the Master punches the monk in the nose and asks, "What hurts?"

19 March 2007 at 09:24:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...

When I heard about the "death" of Capt. America (I haven't read a suphero comic in many years), and how he died (sniper fire), all I could envision was The Red Skull slapping his crimson forehead and saying:


19 March 2007 at 09:46:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to john c: I have an abiding love for superhero comics ... provided they are presented as stories for children. The point of dealing with 'adult' themes in a story about a guy who dresses like a rodent in order to fight a clown, is completely beyond me.

to hemlockman: in the early 70's, the fanzine RBCC ran a terrific story entitled 'Massacre of the Innocents,' in which a gun-toating man with a grudge shot and killed a Kirbyesque Captain America, a Sprangesque Batman & Robin, and just about everyone else who wasn't bulletproof. It was quite cute.

19 March 2007 at 12:05:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Hawthorn said...

I'm sorry, I read all that the first time and just came away with a powerful desire to play Mario Kart.


Scott McCloud recently did a talk at the bookstore I work in, and mentioned to me after that we held the distinction of being the only place he'd been to since the event itself that hadn't asked him about Captain America.

Anyway, I think it's already been mentioned in some issue that he's not actually dead, but in critical condition somewhere. They aren't even going through the trouble of bringing him back, because they aren't going to bother with the killing.

Sorry this post was profoundly superficial, but then I guess so is the death of Captain America.

20 March 2007 at 01:30:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Hawthorn said...

Which reminds me, do you think the death of Captain America as metaphor for the end of the American dream under Bush is more or less viable than the Persian's in 300 as representative for Iran-US relations?

20 March 2007 at 01:33:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mikel midnight: Not saying you have a blinkered POV or anything but I think superhero stories can be both for adults and children, just like any other genres of fiction (ok, except for erotica).

20 March 2007 at 04:35:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Tim Hamilton said...

Woo hoo!
"Agents of Catalyst" or whatever.
I lasted 7 issues!
As least I didn't have to
draw the "Giant Gorilla" issue.

Tim Hamilton

23 March 2007 at 07:09:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Ms Baroque said...

It's like Chekhov (at the risk of sounding snobby): don't put a gun in the hallway unless you're going to use it.

Very entertaining! And interesting. And funny. I mean fun.

23 March 2007 at 08:10:00 GMT-5  

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