Geoff Grogan flays the Gray Lady and makes pop culture collages with her remains. They hang in galleries, where this irony gets appreciated. For his subjects, pastiches of Kirby and Lugosi, he prefers affection to irony. For proof, look no further than his latest comic book, Look Out!! Monsters.
The comic, a tabloid-sized Xeric winner that feels thick with ink, mangles more newspapers. He slathers an issue of the New York Daily News with washes, paint, and shreds of the Times. On them he builds a story of Frankenstein, a collage of body parts. A war’s on; the stiff-legged monster makes quick work of some soldiers before vomiting in front of a cathedral.
Grogan’s thick brushwork creates a monster that seems to wade through the pages. Reading the news beneath is a similar slog: we’re told of three drowned girls, the Taliban, infected birds, even a “battle with Nicole Kidman.” Any given day has the same sour words; when Frankenstein vomits, he splatters torn headlines in a double-splash. The most visible word: “Hell.”
From this point, Grogan unleashes color. A double-splash of red shows a 30s vision of science under the headline “Mad Doctor’s Work.” Kirby-fried energy engulfs the page, giving way to giant-sized Ben-day patterns, evoking both pop-art lithos and four-color printing. Underneath it sits a love story of sorts, with samples of the Thing’s blind girlfriend beneath an embossed rocketship (or nuclear missile).
At first, Grogan seems to lose the story’s handle. These color pages, peppered with lovers kissing and details from possible gallery paintings, lack the violent drive of the comic’s first half. Even the occasional black-and-white panels of Frankenstein seem muddier than his first appearance.
Yet a closer reading shows the earlier conflicts continue, formally. His sources, Universal monster movies and classic comics, pivoted on love as well as war. Frankenstein went up in flames, not for his appearance but his failure to treat beauty with delicacy. It’s a old theme, reprised with Ben Grimm, King Kong, and countless others.
Newsprint has its beauties, too: celebrities and underwear models. Grogan samples them on the cover, with Brittney Spears in the upper left, and fashion’s doppelgangers of real women on the back. Frankenstein couldn’t stomach the monsters in the news, and now he can’t stomach the ads either. His few second-half panels seem to show his fury at rejection, while the models kiss another.
The final image– an embossed bomber, an ad logo, and the Bride of Frankenstein screaming under a colorful layer of giant dots– ties everything together. It’s also an invitation to go back and find new meanings in this riot of color, newprint, and classic monsters. In his artist’s statement, Grogan cites the conflict of ideologies that marks the newspaper. His achievement lies in how he finds an analogue in classic pulps. Both have a home on that low-grade paper, but the pulps increasingly seem tame compared to the news.
Grogan has other comic works available. One, a work of nostalgic revisionism at ModernTales, left me cold, but Dr. Speck looks promising. A ‘pataphysical superhero tale with doses of Tibetan (Californian?) mysticism, he appears to wield the genre fresh. All Grogan’s work blurs distinctions. Seeing this artist and art professor prove the divisions meaningless yet again in a Xeric-winning comic reminds me of the best works that foundation has funded.
(The images are from Look Out!! Monsters, save for the top collage-painting, whose source I can no longer find. But it turns Jasper Johns’ “Target With Four Faces” into capes-n-tights, so I couldn’t resist the pillage. And yes, that’s not the Thing’s girlfriend in the art I sampled. She’s on another page, though.)