Pulp Fictions: Richard Gehr on Lauren Weinstein and Nate Beaty
The Goddess of War
Lauren R. Weinstein
A blend of Marvel's Thor comic, a Wagnerian space opera, and Anthony Mann's Westerns, the first issue of Lauren W. Weinstein's The Goddess of War (Picturebox) introduces us to a world that is comic and tragic and ambitious as heck. Neither Weinstein's mostly clever Inside Vineyland nor her endearing and autobiographical Girl Stories suggested that she could take comics quite so far out as this. Yet there she goes—and I strongly suggest that you join her.
Flip over Goddess of War's oversized cover and you'll be unable to resist diving into Weinstein's tantalizing worlds within worlds. A cartoony schematic of a Jack Kirby multiverse positions the goddess's home planet in relation to our solar system, Valhalla, and the Milky Way Godplex. A smaller, scratchier inset map refers to nineteenth-century Apache Indian territory. A couple of pages later, Weinstein introduces one of my favorite Silver Age devices: the headquarters cut-away. Valerie, our heroine, resides in "the Headcave," a low-tech monster-island blend of the Fantastic Four's Baxter Building and Batman's pad. After bringing us up to speed on Valerie's Norse origins and her promotion from Valkyrie to war goddess, Weinstein plops Val, now tripping on the blood of Mayan virgins, into Indian country. Norse mythology rubs up against bloody American history—and then Cochise and Valerie get it on in an erotic time loop. Things go awry, as they usually do when gods and mortals mingle, and nefarious forces plot against Valerie, now seemingly incapacitated by a cosmic hangover. I've no idea how Weinstein will maintain the velocity of this freewheeling combination of ink and etchings, but I can't wait to see her try.
The Goddess of War sent me back to Weinstein's 2006 Girl Stories, which is full of the sort of "real-life emotional" teenagers LCD Soundsystem warn us about in "Sound of Silver." The emotional stakes are as high as the rewards are trivial in Weinstein's all-too-human suburban milieu of piercings and boyfriends and family dinners, which she renders in artistically diverse yet sweetly forgiving ways.
Most teenagers eventually become confused twentysomethings not unlike Nate Beaty, who bravely portrays his own emotional rollercoaster in the pages of his autobiographical Brainfag Forever comic, several issues of which have been collected in BFF (Microcosm). The cringey title references fibromylagia, a condition also known as "brain fatigue," i.e. brainfag. Beaty is a classic whiner in the hallowed autobiographical-comics tradition of R. Crumb and Joe Matt.
Beaty whinges his way up and down the Pacific Northwest coast, with longer stops in Portland and Orcas Island. A web monkey by day, he spends his nights drinking and drawing, using his own malaise for material. He eventually forgoes panels in favor of terse diarylike entries. And just when you're about to give up on this self-described "guilty cheapass" vegan and his love life (or lack thereof), he blows your mind with beautiful, thick-lined, tragedy-strewn, full-page drawings of Seattle or radiant renderings of Oregon swimming holes.
Beaty ends in 2007 pretty much where he began in 1999, complaining to/about his latest flame and threatening to finally start his "big book." Note to NB: Check out Lauren Weinstein, dude, and marvel.
You should also marvel at the first New York solo exhibition by Charles Burns, which runs from September 5 to October 12 at the Adam Baumhold Gallery, 74 E. 79th St. #1D, 212-861-7338. The show consists of Burns's original pen-and-ink art from Black Hole, Skin Deep, and much more brilliant darkness.
#1: Herbie and Rory Hayes