Thursday, September 4, 2008

Marvel and DC

The following quotation is from an interview that Mike Jozic did with Seth in August of 2005. Seth had been working on Big in Japan for Marvel, and Mike asked him about his two years under exclusive contract to DC Comics.

Seth answered, "I adore the people at DC, [they] are really cool - well, most of them. [They are] really really warm and creative and have a fine attention to detail.
"At the same time Marvel is really supporting me and pushing me to take risks and do work that I think is really relevant inside and outside of comics. Marvel is little more crazy, I think, at least at this junction in space-time. And a skin-tight fit for my deviate thoughts.
"I told Joe Quesada and Paul Levitz a few years ago that I would like to be the guy who heals the rift between Marvel and DC, all they had to do was let me draw Spider-Man vs. Batman and I would take care of the rest. It's still an open offer, but maybe it should be the X-Men vs. the JLA. Might be more opportunity for humour in there.
"Joe was like 'Sure.' I think he was serious. I can't remember Paul's exact words. Something funny, I think, but crude."

Thinking about Seth's work for DC and Marvel respectively, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of them side by side. The work is not comparable exactly; I do realize that we are looking at figurative apples and oranges, but still, here are full page drawings of monstrous beasts from Willworld on the left, and Big in Japan on the right.

In Big in Japan, Seth kept the idea of "comic" square in the middle of the comic book. Nothing, certainly not the monsters, was taken seriously. (Though, for Seth, there was always some serious intent. His aim was always Truth in some form.)

Willworld, trippy and wierd as it is, and as much as it doesn't really aim to be explicable in the real world, is a serious sort of fantasy. Hal seems to be in and out of real danger, though the forms keep changing all the time. The art reflects the real, though hallucinatory, nature of the story. Big in Japan is pure silliness with a veneer of surrealism.

Am I making sense? I think you who know Seth's work understand what I mean, and can tell from even these two more-or-less representative pages. The Willworld one is page 73, and Big in Japan is issue #1 page 14.


j_ay said...

That would have been amazing to see Seth join those two companies together.

They’ve done it in the 70s (Spider-Man, Superman), in the 90s (Punisher & Batman) and around 2001 (Avengers, JLA) (after years and years of getting it sorted out)…Joe Q (Marvel) has other ideas (Daredevil, Batman, etc) but it seems that DC is the one to put the stop to this.

Seth, if anyone, probably could have been the perfect middle-man.

The comparison are interesting, but Willworld is so wild it’s hard to compare it to anything!

Vicki said...

Jay, I agree with you. Willworld is not like anything else anywhere that I have seen.

It's interesting that DC is the one to not want to collaborate with Marvel, and Marvel is the one to give Seth extra room to just do what he wanted to do. From what he told me, DC--as a Time Warner subsidiary--in his words, doesn't have to make money; they have plenty of cushion. Marvel on the other hand, operates on a much tighter budget. You'd think that DC would be the one to take chances...

david e. ford, jr said...

i realize that i am coming to this post a little late, but i have been spending a bit of time mining the posts on this blog, so bear with me.

it is interesting for me to be able to think a bit about the contrasts between these two particular works--though the relevance of the respective publishers has not much to do with my thoughts. i have only really been reading comic books for about 9 months and it was really with some of seth's books that i saw their potential as a medium on a par intellectually with the best of film, prose fiction, poetry and philosophy.

willworld in particular is definitely in my top twelve comics. it is clearly an extremely serious piece of work intellectually, philosophically and artistically speaking.

something that always strikes me about seth's work is that despite the fact that he worked under a variety of different writers, there is a remarkable consistency in the intellectual content across his books. i have tried to read other works written by dematteis and none of them comes anywhere near the level of willworld. i certainly cannot explain it, but it there it is.

i think the basic conceit in terms of the story that is being told in the book is a sort of schopenhauer-ian rehashing of the traditional green lantern origin story. seth's art--whimsical though it is--perfectly illustrates the notion of the world being separated into a duality of will and idea (or representation). seriously, anybody who can make german philosophy accessible has to be some kind of genius.

i always sort of viewed big in japan as seth's sort of paean to the world of japanese art and culture that were clearly so important to him. as you say, the whimsy is really off the charts--but this is precisely what make a great comic great--whimsical seriousness. it seems paradoxical, but its so true and it is something that runs constant through all of my favorite comics.

Vicki said...

I suspect that the consistency that you notice in the intellectual content of Seth's comics is at least in part because Seth insisted on having some part in the writing of the books he drew. Or at least he had some give and take with the writers and editors. Actually, according to Seth, Willworld was largely his idea. Look at this interview that he gave to Mike Jozic in about 2001to see what he said about it:

I don't remember Schopenhauer from college philosophy, but Seth's art at its best always has a combination of lightness/humor and deeply serious intent. He once said the following in a letter: "If you want to write about darkness, you will hit the mark most directly by telling a light story and letting the reader find the darkness. You must trick the people into understanding themselves." Paradox was one of his best weapons.

There is more to say about these things but it's time for me to get to bed.

That these comic books can stand up to discussions of this sort is a tribute to the lasting power of Seth's work.
Thank you.