Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur
jducoeur

TRoOB: Glamourpuss (no spoilers, because really, there's nothing to spoil)

TRoOB, for those who came in recently, is The Review of Obscure Books, my occasional comics review column. (It doesn't come out often nowadays, mostly because I'm embarassingly behind on my reading.) I've been doing it for over 20 years now, and its remit is especially to review the relatively odd and little-known books. And surely, little is odder than Dave Sim's Glamourpuss.

Sim is best known for the book Cerebus, the longest limited series ever. By a couple of years in, he had declared that it was a 300-issue story, and he stuck to that. Sadly, Dave went slightly nuts somewhere in the middle there, and the result was a deeply flawed masterpiece, with 100-odd issues of brilliant (and often wickedly funny) satire followed by increasingly abstruse (and sometimes downright dull) philosophy and fictionalized biography. Particularly conspicuous was Dave's misogynistic streak, which got pretty brutal after a bad divorce.

So it was with trepidation that I saw his new book, which from the cover was obviously some sort of parody of fashion magazines. And honestly, I still can't say whether the book is any *good*, but it's fascinatingly strange.

This is the peanut butter cup of comic books: two utterly unrelated books crammed together. Half of it is exactly what it looks like -- an utterly vicious satire of the fashion world. There is no story to it whatsoever, although there is a cast of characters: the model Glamourpuss, her despised sister Skanko, her shrink Dr. Norm, and so on. The art is *entirely* traced / adapted / parodied from fashion magazine advertisements, with the humor coming from the tweaks and changes along the way, as well as the editorial content surrounding it. (The characters exist only in that surrounding text.)

Glamourpuss herself is an odd combination of Dave and his neuroses: at once an utter dimwit, yet often insightful (and brutally funny) in her deconstructions of the world of "high culture". I have to say, as an outlet for Dave's disgust and anger with the world, it's a well-chosen target. And heaven knows, there's a lot of material out there.

What makes this book strange is the other half of it: an illustrated history of the neo-realist movement in comic strips. Yes, this has nothing to do with the more visible half, and he's utterly unapologetic about that. The comic veers, page by page, back and forth between perfume advertisements and 1950s art history.

That said, it works in its strange way. The satire keeps the biography from getting as turgid as Cerebus got in its bad stretch. It *is* sometimes dull, but also sometimes oddly fascinating. For example, issue 3 spends ten pages digging into a photograph of Milt Caniff and Alex Raymond, which looks friendly and collegial on the surface and yet, when he looks at all the tiny details (blown up in his drawings of the picture) gives hints that these guys had a terrible rivalry going on; he then digs into why Caniff might have had cause to really hate Raymond, as the two of them drove the field of comics art forward, stealing ideas along the way.

More than anything else, this is a comic book of obsession. It's been no secret that Dave is obsessed with fine-line comics art, and with women and the way they get used in modern culture. So he's built a book that is simply an excuse to explore those passions. The result is unbalanced, strange and erratic, and yet his passion continues to carry it through. Every issue, I find myself asking, "Why the heck am I buying this?" And the answer continues to be, "Because it's still strangely fascinating."

So I can't exactly recommend it: I suspect that this is one of those tastes that is only going to appeal to a modest number of people. Personally, I find it incredibly uneven. But if you have a taste for the weird, it may be worth checking out an issue, and seeing if this particular collection of obsession works for you...
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