Funnybook Babylon

April 15, 2008

David Lapham Update: Goddammit, David Lapham

Filed under: Articles — Jonathan Bernhardt @ 12:58 am

hey wasn't this in a james bond movie or something Some of you out there in FBB Readerland who follow the site might be under the impression that, beyond showing up on the occasional podcast sounding like I’m phoning in from Atlantis, all I do is read the mainstream work of vaguely indie guys and then bitch either about them getting no respect for that work, or that they really should be spending their time doing something else. This is not true — I have also taken cheap internet potshots at J. Michael Straczynski and defended All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, as something much more engaging and awesome than a simple troll (turning it, in effect, into an amazing meta-troll!).

Well, now I’m going back to basics. The second issue of David Lapham’s Young Liars came out this past week. I’ve gotten around to writing about it now because I wasn’t sure I wanted to really sink my teeth into a full-on post about it until a couple more issues came out and I could get a feel for what Lapham was trying to do with the book on the whole, but then I listened to the advance copy of the podcast that went down Sunday and realized that fucker Pedro stole half of my lines about the book. So I’m reappropriating it, taking that shit back — and really, as of Young Liars #2, Lapham’s put enough on the reader’s plate to judge what’s to me the most important aspect of the book: the tone of the work, and the themes it’s starting to develop.

For those not in the know, Young Liars is an ongoing title David Lapham is writing for Vertigo, the DC imprint. Here’s why:

goddammit david lapham why you gotta go and make me side with the nazis?!

Lapham’s playing the C.R.E.A.M. card, and he’s basically right — I can see how self-publishing your own shit can be, well, less than an ideal way to hold down a home and a family. This is a discussion that we’ve had before at FBB, and that I’ve addressed once here and at least another two or three places on this big wide Internet of ours. But that last bit Lapham throws in there, past the Nazis and the snark and the fake press conference — the part about him taking everything good about about Stray Bullets and transposing it into this new-fangled cash grab of his? Yeah, Lapham’s lying. I don’t know if he even knows he’s lying, which maybe means he’s not lying. Maybe it just means he’s wrong. But the essential truth that Young Liars #2 puts out there is that this series is not going to be anything near as good as Stray Bullets, at least not yet, and probably not ever.

Because when he was putting in his wild girls and wussy boys and random, life-changing violence and black humor and depraved sex, Lapham forgot something: real human emotion. You know, the full spectrum, not the half-shriveled, misanthropic utterly fucking mean version of humanity that he’s working over hard in Young Liars. This book is basically Stray Bullets completely devoid of charm, and reveling in it. When Lapham fucked a character over in Stray Bullets, you never got the impression he was laughing at them while he was doing it. But the book’s main character, Danny, and the way he sees the world (and therefore, the way we see the world) lacks the perspective and intelligence of the presentation in Stray Bullets. When Annie X’s backstory — beautiful teenage model driven to various eating disorders by demanding, deranged mother; now spiteful, grotesque, and annoying — is summed up in the first issue of Young Liars in about four narration boxes over some ridiculously exaggerated depictions of Annie seeing some french fries on a table and immediately running to the bathroom to purge, I thought that the book was trying to turn the tables on me, and make me feel sympathy for a character I’d become quickly impatient with over the previous few pages. After all, that’s what Lapham did masterfully in Stray Bullets time and time again. But instead, it seemed like the book was delivering this with a nonchalant shrug and a dismissive wave, and maybe a little snicker besides. And I think that’s something that’s a bit of a problem.

Misanthropy has its place, to be sure. There’s even something admirable, from a theoretical perspective, about writing a story where the reader is supposed to hate everyone in it, and not despair for humanity, but start to actively loathe it. But in the end, that kind of bitter one-dimensionalism just isn’t that interesting, and I seriously doubt it can credibly support an ongoing series. And so far, all Young Liars has done is made me loathe the people in it — I mean, what do we have here? The story of a stupid, sniveling little shit-stain doing incredibly dumb things and trying to get into the pants of a girl who would be pitiable if she weren’t so terrifyingly insane? Everything is over the top, everything is exaggerated with a nasty, nasty bite that I don’t quite like. I almost don’t want to stop reading, because I’m afraid of what that jackal Lapham will do to these kids while my back is turned.

Anyway, there’s ostensibly a neat little mystery set up at the end of the first issue that will be our long term plot running through the series — it has to do with our plucky female lead being completely nuts — and Lapham’s obviously taking the long view here, so he’ll be on this for awhile. I’m not sure how I feel about Stray Bullets being basically held hostage by more or less its own shadow, but I’ll deal. There’s some other little stuff, too; Lapham wants this comic to take place Right Now or a couple years before Right Now, and doesn’t just attach specific year tags to scenes to make sure we know this, but is fully willing to namecheck, say, Guitar Hero, just to be sure. That’s kind of annoying, and his art has a definite vibe to it that doesn’t fit the “this happened last year” aspect of the book. Whatever. That’s fairly minor beef.

I’ll keep an eye on the book. It is David Lapham, after all. He is the best crime writer this medium has ever seen, so I mean, if I had to guess, I’d say he probably has an inkling of what he’s doing and where he’s going with this. The man has earned the benefit of the doubt (at least from me; alas, Jamaal is a harsher mistress). But I hope I don’t spend too many more issues split between wondering what the point is, and when someone will shoot that little bitch Danny in the head.

13 Comments »

  1. I added the first issue of this series to my buy list as soon as I saw the name Lapham (having loved Stray Bullets), yet I was completely put-off by the first issue. None of it came together for me, and I almost quit reading halfway through out of sheer boredom. I’m willing to give it another shot, though, and, if Vertigo continues their practice of releasing initial trade volumes of a series at a reduced price, I’ll probably be picking up the first trade. Hope it gets better. Or, better yet, I hope Vertigo picks up Stray Bullets instead.

    Comment by Pop-Monkey — April 15, 2008 @ 9:04 am

  2. Vertigo will not pick up Stray Bullets because of the new Time Warner contract system which makes Vertigo part owner of the property unlike before where sole ownership rested with the creators. That is why we have been seeing a stark drop in quality of Vertigo books with shit like UnMen and Vinyl Underground coming out. Before you people go all out Hellblazing on me saying Wood brought over Demo so your arguments are flawed, Wood was signed on by Vertigo before the new Contract system came into play. So until that contract runs out, Wood will still own all the rights to his own work.

    And BTW I loved, loved, loved the second issue of Young Liars. I know it feels a little cliched but there’s a whole lot of energy in there.

    Comment by Moored — April 15, 2008 @ 1:13 pm

  3. Moored,

    If anything, I was going to agree with you. Warner’s contracts are very unfavorable to creators in terms of creators keeping or managing their rights. It’s the same argument with Zuda….

    Anyway, I’m anxiously looking forward to picking up the second issue of Young Liars. Lapham is the man, although a lot of his work-for-hire stuff has been subpar. I don’t know if we’ll ever see Stray Bullets again. I don’t think the comic marketplace is ever going to really support a self-publisher again unless someone comes up with the next Bone or Turtles.

    Comment by Kenny — April 15, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

  4. I hate to be the capitalist supporter in all of this, since I’m the grandson of a socialist senator, buuuuttt. This isn’t 1943. This isn’t even 1978. There’s :01, there’s Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, independent presses all around, that are hip to comics.

    I don’t want to pretend like it’s easy, but someone with Lapham’s name and credits shouldn’t be able to take a “Warner’s Contracts are why I’m producing a subpar book” approach and get away with it.

    Comment by Joseph Mastantuono — April 15, 2008 @ 10:01 pm

  5. I don’t think Lapham’s saying that; he’s saying that work like this, for relatively big name people, is what keeps his water running. Much like our boys over at Wizard Comics, if he needs to get paid, he’ll do what he do to get paid. There’s no real begrudging that. The issue of whether he’s putting out a good book is an entirely different matter. Maybe Young Liars will get better, though, and maybe there’s a turn coming; it is only issue two.

    Comment by Jonathan Bernhardt — April 15, 2008 @ 10:43 pm

  6. Joseph

    I wasn’t implying that Lapham should produce a subpar book. I was simply saying that Lapham will not bring Stray Bullets to Vertigo. And I don’t think Young Liars is subpar. If #2 is anything to go by, we are in for a treat.

    Comment by Moored — April 16, 2008 @ 1:08 am

  7. Moored, where are you getting this information about Vertigo/Warner contracts?

    I’m looking at Young Liars #2 right now, and the indica states the contents of the book are copyright “Lapham Inc.” Likewise, a lot of other new people (Harvey Pekar, Jonathan Ames, Percy Carey, Darren Aronovsky, Mat Johnson) have been coming in and doing OGNs at Vertigo, and none of those people, who have found success in other media, seem like the type to cede a bunch of rights to their work just because it’s a funnybook.

    So what am I missing?

    Comment by Chris Eckert — April 16, 2008 @ 11:03 am

  8. Look at it again. It says copyright Lapham, Trademarks DC. That means part ownership. All the people you are talking about worked under contracts before the new contract system was put in place. This same contract system was why we did not have a Sandman special from Gaiman this year as this is supposed to be an anniversary year. Gaiman was interested but he could not accept the contracts. And not all info is available on the internet.

    Comment by Moored — April 16, 2008 @ 11:37 am

  9. Splitting trademarks and copyright is hardly “part ownership”, but you’re right. But again, this is hardly a new practice at Vertigo, or in ‘creator owned’ comics in general, to my knowledge. Looking over a bunch of indica, (as well as DC’s corporate website at http://www.dccomics.com/about/?action=copyrights )

    A lot of contracts apparently do give trademarks to the creators: pretty much everything Morrison and Ennis do, they and their artists have the trademarks. Most of Ellis’s stuff too, though for some reason on Global he splits the copyright with DC but retains the trademark. Azzarello got trademark for Loveless, and Vaughn/Guerra for Y the Last Man.

    On the other hand, DC holds the trademarks for Azzarello’s 100 Bullets (and partial copyright?) and Vaughn’s Pride of Bagdhad. They also hold trademarks for DMZ, though I don’t have a copy of Northlanders to check that.

    So I really don’t see how any of this can be chalked up to some sort of “phased in” contract; Azzarello apparently ceded rights to the 100 Bullets trademark about nine years ago, but got the one to Loveless only a few years ago. Brian Wood, who you said got grandfathered in, does not hold the trademark to his longest-running Vertigo series. And hell, apparently Vamps, which came out in like 1994, was done under a contract where DC retained the trademark to the title “Vamps”.

    And absolutely none of this could logically have effected the Sandman special and Neil Gaiman. Neil Gaiman doesn’t own the copyright or trademark to Sandman, and never has. I understand that not all info is available on the Internet, but this is sounding oddly conspiratorial and I’ve not heard anything about this, on or off the Internet. So you understand my skepticism.

    Comment by Chris Eckert — April 16, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

  10. Yes, it seems some of it has been happening before and I may have not been correct completely. I am speculating but here’s what I think. I don’t think Vertigo would let a completely new creator into their fold so easily. So I would think they wouldn’t have let Azz a completely creator owned contract right then, but near Loveless’ time, since he had become a known name he could command a creator owned contract. Things like this happen all the time. Wildstorm does creator owned stuff but the creators of Highwaymen weren’t given creator owned contracts, instead Wildstorm bought the rights, because they were too new to be allowed that luxury. I don’t understand why Vaughn’s book doesn’t have complete creator ownership. Vamps is from way back in 1994. That wasn’t a time when creator owned contracts existed like today. So that doesn’t surprise me.

    Yes, Gaiman does not own Sandman. But there are plenty of other characters in Sandman that he does own.

    I understand your skepticism because I cannot possibly furnish you with any proof, but possibly in months to come it might be more generally known. Otherwise you are free to not believe me.

    Comment by Moored — April 16, 2008 @ 3:00 pm

  11. 1. Many books, including the Invisibles, started around the same time as Vamps, but allowed creator ownership, including trademarks.

    2. Neil Gaiman doesn’t own anything for Sandman.

    Comment by Chris Eckert — April 16, 2008 @ 3:40 pm

  12. Hmmm, guess I should just shut up then. Must. Make. Sure. Of. Facts.

    Comment by Moored — April 16, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

  13. Chris,

    I always thought Gaiman had some sort of ownership of the Sandman stories, but I did some very basic research on Google and couldn’t find anything. The only thing I found is there’s possibly a gentleman’s agreement for DC to not do anything with the Sandman characters without Gaiman’s consent. So, that was new to me! I learned something today! lol

    Comment by Kenny — April 16, 2008 @ 4:36 pm

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