For the last issue I had some problems with Matt’s lack of specificity in his complaints. Sure, it’s easy to call Crumb a misogynist, and it sure feels right based on his past work, but using specific examples would really bring it home. Well, this time around he uses plenty of examples of Crumb’s racism, and I’d have a difficult time arguing with any of them. He also takes aim at six other male cartoonists from the time. Still, it’s not about them, they’re just a useful example of the culture in the 60’s. Matt spends most of the rest of the comic going over his own history of racism, although I’d argue that one racist comic in high school is maybe not enough to still be calling yourself a racist today, especially because a defining characteristic of racism is an inability to see yourself as racist. The point is that he’s learned from it and grown as a person; is there any chance of similar growth from Crumb? Based on his “defense” of this problematic work, it doesn’t seem likely. So here we are: Robert Crumb has made some racist comics over the years. Which leaves me with one simple question (that’s going to have a different answer depending on who you ask): what’s his legacy? It could be argued that underground comics would have never made it, uh, above ground without his work and influence. And I’d still argue that some of his comics, especially the ones where he unflinchingly deals with his own neuroses, are brilliant. Does it all get chucked into the racist bin? Can we separate the worthwhile stuff as a society and use that while downplaying or ignoring the racist books? Hell, I don’t know, I’m just some guy who writes about comics. They’re interesting questions though, and this comic is as good a place as any to start asking them. $8
Full disclosure here: I was a big Robert Crumb fan back in the day. How could you not be? He’s long been one of the best comic artists to ever live (I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag and even I know about the wonders of his crosshatching skills) and he influenced more than one generation of cartoonists. Still, his portrayals of women and minorities was more than a little problematic. I’ve been meaning to go back through his comics but haven’t done it yet, meaning I’m just going to review this comic and not all of Crumb’s work. This is a shorter comic than I was expecting (6 pages; Matt does list that fact on his website, so that’s my fault), and a good chunk of it is Matt’s history with the man and his art. As it should be; it wouldn’t be much of a comic if it didn’t show his perspective. One thing I was hoping for here were more direct examples of Crumb’s problematic work. I get it if he’d rather not draw his own versions of those problems, as that would just perpetuate it. But I was looking for references to a few comics/graphic novels that were particularly problematic, and he doesn’t list any of them here. Well, he does list one story, but that’s only to illustrate that Crumb has apologized for some of his past stories. So should Crumb’s work be consigned to the dustbin of history? Based on this comic alone, no. But Matt also has a second issue where he deals with the racial aspect of his work, so my conclusion could change after that one. As for this one, it’s still an intriguing and thoughtful read, but it would have been helped by some specificity. $7
The saga of the leather pants continues! And I hate to skip right to the end (or technically right past the end), but Matt mentions that the next issue is going to be about the origin of the pants, so we all have that to look forward to. I get that the written word can sometimes come across as unintentional sarcasm, but I’m genuinely curious about the story of these pants. Anyway! This time around the pants find their way to Lisa, an older (i.e. 40’s or 50’s) lady with a couple of kids, an obnoxious and needy partner and a yoga instructor that’s the source of many of her sexual fantasies. We don’t see the pants for roughly the first half of the book, which is where we learn all about her life and how desperately trapped she feels in it. Not that she hates being a mother, she just always imagined something more in her life. Once the pants show up, as with past comics, everything changes. She’s noticed where she was previously invisible and has the newfound confidence to go along with it. Her yoga teacher notices too and asks her out, which is the subject of the rest of the book. These Dark Pants books are fascinating for the look they take into what people would do if they felt like they could get away with anything, whether or not acting on their fantasies would help them in the long run, and whether or not they even want to go through with their fantasies when the moment strikes. And hey, next time we get to see what it’s all about, maybe. There’s a lot to this series, and it’s well worth a look. I also saw on Matt’s website that he’s made a couple of comics about his problems with R. Crumb, and I’ve been thinking along the same lines lately, so I might buy some copies of those to see what he’s thinking. Not that I needed to mention that in a review of another of his books, so check out Dark Pants! $10
Dark Pants #3
I’ve been wondering what those pants were up to. In case you missed the last issue, this series is about a pair of pants and their effect on a person at a particularly important time in their life. This issue takes place in 1988, and it deals with Phil and his fumbling realization that he’s gay. For the younger readers with little context, let’s just say that it was a whole lot tougher to realize and accept that you were gay in 1988 than it is in 2017. Well, in America, anyway. Well, most parts of America. Well, some parts of America. So far. Unless this current administration criminalizes gay marriage again. Anyway! I’ve wandered off the point a bit, probably due to my constant low level dread of what a President Trump can do. We quickly see Phil fantasizing about making out with John Stamos, but he fights against the feeling. He’s hassled by a bully at school, has one true friend that he hangs out with, a counselor that’s trying to help him, and a girl that he’s desperately trying to convince himself that he likes. Then, during one creepy walk home, somebody (we know who from the last issue, of course) tosses their pants off the car window and they literally fall onto his head. He likes the style and notices how clean they are, then goes about his normal life until his friend suggests they go out to a place that Phil has heard is a gay hotspot (his friend doesn’t know this). So Phil dons the pants and approaches an older guy to buy them drinks. The guy responds a little too positively for a nervous Phil. This all finally leads to a momentous party where everything in Phil’s life collides, but I’m not going to tell you what happens there. I will say that the pants do move on, so we get to see what happens (theoretically) in the next issue to them. As for this issue, it’s one of the better coming out stories that I’ve read, even if he technically doesn’t even come out. $10, but again, this is one hefty comic.
Dark Pants #2
A little note for future people who send me comics to review: if you include the phrase “a mysterious pair of trousers,” you have increased the chances of me liking your book exponentially. Of course, then you have to work up a plausible reason as to why there would be a mysterious pair of trousers in your comic, which is why it helps Matt that that’s already the subject of his comic (as the title may have implied). This is the second issue, but Matt assured me in the letter he sent with his comic that each issue follows a different person in different neighborhoods of Los Angeles as they each discover these trousers and experience some sort of life change associated with them. In this issue we start off with Milena, a young college girl who happens to be a virgin. Which wouldn’t be notable, but she’s also writing a sex advice column. Anyway, she’s still living with her family and is increasingly unsatisfied with the situation, and one night she finds the previously mentioned mysterious pair of trousers on her porch. They don’t belong to anybody in the house and nobody has any idea how they got there (although I’m guessing the previous issue might clear that up), but they increasingly weigh on Milena’s mind, until eventually she wears them and decides to go out on the town. The pants are a rousing success, or at least they are in regards to her finally hooking up with some random guy at a bar. From there we see her finally getting the nerve to ask out the creep on the bus that she has a crush on and what happens because of it. And far be it from me to give away the ending, but it looks like the pants will be moving on in the next issue to another person. Where do they come from? What do they do? Are they just pants? Maybe all these issues will get resolved, or maybe the pants are just a good excuse to tell a bunch of different stories. Either way, it was a thoroughly entertaining and engaging comic. That $10 price tag is a little steep, but there is a lot of comic here, and we do get some color before it’s over. Check it out, jump onto the journey of what exactly the deal is with those pants! $10