Classes officially done for the semester. Rejoice. Book Rec: Johnny the Homicidal Maniac: Director's Cut by Jhonen Vasquez I'm betraying my number one Internet safety rule (do not discuss Jhonen's comics lest you be googled), but I feel up to the challenge tonight. After all, I'm praising his work here because of the strength of writing. It should be obvious by now I enjoy horror. It should be equally obvious I enjoy: Modernism, philosophy, character portraits, distinctive art styles, and art for the sake of art. Now toss that all into the black ink filled blender of Jhonen Vasquez's twisted brain, sprinkle liberally with violence, and you get Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. For the uninitiated: Johnny is a homicidal maniac. He kills people because he can. These revenge fantasies are over the top and darkly humorous. He meditates on the meaning of life (there is none), his continued existence (why why why), and the destructive power of sleep (casts doubt on reality for the lines blur too easily). He speaks to inanimate and imaginary objects, and believes one wall in his home must be kept wet with blood lest the being on the other side breaks free and destroys us all. He also enjoys tacos, classical music, and drawing his own stick figure comic. There are those who will claim there is no merit in Vasquez's work because of the violence and absurdity. I counter that these dark sequences are designed (aside from Jhonen's explanation of his use of violence to address personal demons and the necessity of fiction to vent our collective frustration and anger to prevent real life crimes like the murders illustrated in Johnny) to reflect on a much darker aspect of humanity we don't admit nearly enough. If it does not affect us personally, it's not our problem. Johnny can go around killing hordes of people at a taco stand, yet no one can recognize him because it didn't involve them. Impalement behind the school yard? At least it wasn't me. War in another country? Not my problem. More so than that, Jhonen created a very memorable world based in absurdity and expressionist-like black and white art. For example, Johnny's t-shirt changes its message to reflect the thoughts of the character, even if those thoughts are pure nonsense. The labyrinth of underground torture chambers is filled with ironic punishments for viewing oneself as the only worthwhile being in the universe. This self-centered mindset is the basis of almost every murder in the Johnny collection, even if the crime is as petty as bumping into Johnny and not saying anything. Is Johnny the Homicidal Maniac right for everyone to read? Of course not. Neither is Maus by Art Spiegelman (some people just won't get the animal imagery and will refuse to look past the Polish people portrayed as pigs to understand the point of the book) or Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (some will undoubtedly hate it because it presents one political ideology in a major conflict over another). In fact, the entire graphic novel genre (Johnny is stretching it with that; they were comics compiled into a book, but Vasquez did edit out some of the filler to make the story a more cohesive whole) is highly polarizing, as some can't get past their belief that comics and cartoons are only for children and any adult who reads them is an idiot. If you can handle some ultraviolence, give Johnny a try. Otherwise, please to enjoy Maus or Persepolis or Watchmen or Sandman or any other graphic novel that tries to be more than just one type of literature. They really can have merit when done well.
Labels: book rec