Sunday, May 10, 2009

Graphic noir: Scalped, Vol. 4

Ed Brubaker's introduction to the fourth collection of Jason Aaron's comic/graphic novel Scalped offers a definition of noir that passes within hailing distance of my own. Writes Brubaker:

"[G]ood noir often has amazingly intricate twisty plots, but that's just icing on a dark, dark cake. Noir is about the characters moving through those plots, ricocheting like a banged-up pinball that only bounces

"Down

"Down

"Down

"Until — Game over. No match, no free play.

"And as you watch them move, you know their final destination, you recognize it ... because it feels inevitable. To me, that's the heart of what noir is, inevitability."
Your humble blog keeper had this to say when he set his mind to definitions (and that definition came in the introduction to an interview whose subject had yet a third definition of noir):

"For this reader, noir hits me hard in the stomach with an ending in which a protagonist goes knowingly to his or her fate. Call it resignation, even if that resignation is sometimes triumphant."
Scalped occupies a thought-provoking place in such discussions. For one thing, its setting on an Indian reservation helps freshen the noir tradition by keeping it surprising and contemporary. Noir is not a style, it's a way of grim life. For another, it's a kind of group noir. Everyone is trapped or doomed, not just some hapless protagonist.

Having said that, one story in this volume, which collects issues 19 through 24 of the comic, has a prominent character take a series of unexpectedly moral actions. I'd like to say that the character turns away from the noir and toward the heroic, but I won't. Instead, I'll take the story as gratifying evidence of noir's flexibility and vitality.

(Read more about Scalped at publisher Vertigo's Web site.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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4 Comments:

Blogger Paul Brazill said...

I used to like Brubaker's 'Lowlife' comics. And I read his remake of 'Prez' but I still haven't read much of his crime stuff which is almost as shocking as the fact that I have yet to see even 5 minutes of The Wire...

May 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Except for Harvey Pekar's "American Splendor," I had not read comics for decades until a few months ago, so I have lots of catching up to do. I had heard Brubaker's name, but I could not have associated it with anything until I read the "Scalped" introduction.

From a brief summary I just read, "Lowlife" looks as if it could have some affinites with crime and noir fiction. Thanks for the introduction.

May 10, 2009  
Blogger Loren Eaton said...

I wonder if noir is essentially classical tragedy without the moral-lesson component.

May 10, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Could be, though I'm not sure everyone in noir knows that he or he is doomed. Of course, my definition is not the same as everyone else's, which is part of the fun of coming up with definitions.

May 10, 2009  

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