Thursday, December 11, 2008

Kill Your Boyfriend

Kill Your Boyfriend
by Grant Morrison, Phillip Bond, and D'Israeli
DC Comics, 1995

Garrett Martin: See, Grant Morrison doesn't just write superheroes. I missed Kill Your Boyfriend when it came out in '95 (by then my comic money was redirected towards the daunting task of tracking down all of the Fall's albums), and that's for the best, as I probably would've hated it. Despite what Matt Fraction says in this review, it's good I first read this as a 30-year-old, as my actual 17-year-old self would've been offended, even if only as a kneejerk reaction.

I didn't enjoy being hectored about being a highly uptight suburbanite back then, and probably wouldn't have been able to look past the drugs and sex and violence to realize how fun the comic actually is. I would've associated more with the dead boyfriend than the guy that killed him, even though I never read fantasy or sci-fi and was obsessed with generally pro-drug rock 'n' roll. I mean, I lived in East Cobb, of course I was Republican. I voted for Newt Gingrich, dammit. I was a scared, uptight idiot, and still am about many things. Despite already strongly loving Morrison in '95, I would not have allowed myself to enjoy a comic that seemed to glorify drug-use, teen sex, and murder. Yeah, I was dumb. And now I am old, or older, and regularly feel highly nostalgic for youthful experiences that I personally avoided when I was young. Kill Your Boyfriend reminds us how awesome youth is, even if you don't take anywhere near full advantage of that youth. And no, I don't think murdering sprees and general mayhem constitute that full advantage, but that's also not what Morrison is saying. Would you have liked this when you were a girl? Do you like it now? Did meeting Mr. Brown turn you into a modern-day Bacchante?

Hillary Brown: Well, gosh, getting married and going to college at age 18 isn't really all that decadent. I think I'm pretty much a square too, despite my love of violent, profane art, so I don't know if that means I am or ain't the target market for this book. I do wish I'd read it when it came out, but not for the reasons Fraction mentions as much as because of what followed, something Morrison acknowledges in the afterword (sidebar: Is Badlands called Heartland in the UK? Or is that just some sort of massive error?). Once, there was Badlands and not much else in terms of gleeful murdering couples on the lam, and then all of a sudden they were everywhere, shortly after Morrison completed his comic, which tends in retrospect to mute the impact of his entry in the genre. That's not his fault, of course, but it's still a factor. You see that sort of set up and you kind of automatically sigh and think, "Oh, mid-to-late 1990s, what the heck what were you on about?"

I think I wavered, in the reading, between real enjoyment and annoyance, and my guess is that that's fair. There is a kind of joy in the lack of a moral, such as when our heroine loses her virginity and complains that that moment is always disappointing in books and movies but to her it's brilliant, but there's also a hiccupy kind of pacing that comes off as immature. Maybe that's intentional, but it doesn't read that way. It reads as though Morrison didn't feel like writing the in-between material, the "how we got here from there" stuff, and wanted to keep the pace frenetic the whole time. I appreciate hyperactive art, but this is maybe a little ADHD at times. On the other hand, as you point out, at least it's different from the superhero stuff. Do I like it? Yeah, I guess I like it, but I still feel bad for the dead boyfriend too...

GM: The lack of dot-connecting is a common complaint about Morrison. I don't even really notice that with his superhero comics, but Kill Your Boyfriend does feel a little rushed. Considering the subject matter, though, that rush works to the book's advantage. Should the comic deliberate over ridiculously impulsive acts? Were you bothered by the jump cuts in Breathless? I think if the book was less breezy it would lose much of its impact, while also letting the horribleness of their actions seap in more. It'd make the book less fun, and, along with its unsmug and surprisingly charming cynicism, that fun is its greatest strength.

HB: Well, that's true, and you may be right, but you can be quick and breezy and light without making the reader feel s/he's missed something, can't you? For example, when you get around to Joann Sfar's The Professor's Daughter, you'll see that that has almost perfect pacing, with a maximum of speed and a minimum of jump cut. And, yes, the jump cuts do bug me a little in Breathless, even as I recognize that they're an important innovation. They can make me feel jittery and as though I'm in the control of a person lacking both marbles and direction, which is a useful artistic experience but not one I want to have all that often. It's not necessarily that the book needs to be more deliberative. I think it's just that it doesn't really make me identify all that much with the characters because it feels as though the book espouses their philosophy of carefree violence, and there's something that really bugs me about that--more so in this case than in a lot of others. It may be going too far--it is, in fact--to say that Kill Your Boyfriend reminds me of Garth Ennis's less successful efforts, but it's very hard to do this kind of thing super well. Malick did, but maybe he set up better the bleakness against which rebellion is necessary.

GM: See, I'm normally very bothered by violence like this, but it doesn't bug me in Kill Your Boyfriend. The book is so light and joyful that it's hard to take the violence seriously. This is just about the frothiest piece of spree-murdering teen fiction around, and I disagree that it espouses a philosophy of violence. The violence is just a metaphor for that exciting moment on the edge of adulthood when you realize you're capable of living your life however you choose. They're not saying it's fun or cool to kill people, but that you don't need to be constricted by all the preconceptions that family and society have prepared for you. It's like all seven volumes of The Invisibles rolled into one slim graphic novel. Kill Your Boyfriend makes that point in a giddier and less cynical manner than something like Natural Born Killers. It's closer in spirit to Bonnie & Clyde, which does a great job of making you almost forgive them for their horrible crimes. Also, though, comics are a less visceral and immediate artform than film, so maybe that's why I can easier distance myself from the violence of KYB than similar movies.

I enjoy Kill Your Boyfriend less for the message and more for the execution. I like how the plot jumps from scene to scene, how Morrison doesn't waste time meticulously setting up every moment. And I've always loved Phillip Bond's art, which is wonderfully cartoonish without becoming too abstract or unrealistic. He doesn't have the often startling detail of Frank Quitely, but Bond might be my favorite frequent Morrison collaborator.

HB: Or, you know, it could just be that you love Grant Morrison. I think you've definitely got some good points, and, again, I can agree with an anarchic philosophy to some extent, but challenging authority doesn't have to go quite so far, does it? Ugh. I'm draining all the fun out of the book. I completely agree that it far surpasses Natural Born Killers in just about every way possible--it's
like The Buzzcocks to Natural Born Killers's Insane Clown Posse--and you're right about the art being a kind of candy-coated pleasure to look at. Sometimes I just Morrison weren't so explicitly concerned with bucking the status quo, and I do think it's something he's grown out of. You can continue to be revolutionary without always defining yourself against something. But this is grouchy and dumb. People should read the book.

GM: I'd say other high-profile writers are more guilty of pointless status quo bucking and hipster contrarianism. That's what I think about a lot of Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis comics. Whereas those two often coast about in hypercynical mode, Morrison's comics are usually pretty positive and hopeful. And maybe the end of Kill Your Boyfriend is supposed to be a downer, with the girl living the sort of life she had hoped to avoid, but I see it more as both acknowledgement that that "normal" life isn't quite so bad but also reinforcement of the idea that you need to embrace your youth while you can.

How do you feel about people calling this a "pop" comic?

HB: I totally agree that those guys are more guilty, but neither are they as canonized. I forgot about the end of the book though! I don't think it ends up a downer, although I'm not quite sure how to interpret it, other than thinking it's funny. Maybe it's an insight into your parents' lives? A hint that they, too, were once like you, and that a quiet suburban life doesn't preclude excitement in your earlier days?

What do people mean when they call it a pop comic? That it's not grim?

GM: Maybe not Ellis, but Ennis and Preacher get more love in non-superhero circles than Morrison or any of his comics.

The pop comic thing, which Fraction mentions in that review above, refers to how it's fast, short, and, y'know, teenagery, like it's the comics equivalent of that fucking Supergrass song about being young and having fun. Maybe Brit-pop comic would be a better tag?

HB: Because it implies cheekiness? Yeah, I think that's an accurate tag and not a dismissive one in my opinion. But I like things that are fast, short, and teenagery.

GM: Yeah, it's not supposed to dismissive at all. It's sad anybody feels the need to specifically point out a "pop" comic, though, since superhero comics pretty much always should be inherently short, fast, and youthful, but whatever.

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