COLD HEAT has drugged me up

March 16, 2009

In my mailbox: Cold Heat #5/6 Double issue
By Ben Jones and Frank Santoro
Picturebox

I forget who said it, but when Pavement hit back in the day every band wanted to do the slant-rock thing but nobody wanted to suck.

So here’s this comic book, a pamphlet still.  The form’s not dead yet, like the 7″ single in its great last act. Or maybe this is more like a 10″ triple EP on multicolored vinyl, edition of 100, never to be reprinted. It feels like it has all the energy a band might pour into such an act, here in just two colors on 48 pages, with heft.

Story?  Yes.  Map: High school is HUGE.  If your teen emotions created druggy visions of Eyes Wide Shut and Kurt Cobain at Ninja School, you would be Castle.  She swims through conspiracy while learning that the Man is Very Bad.  I’ve read every issue and most of the Cold Heat Specials, where Santoro moonlights with other artists. Magnificent melodrama, not chained to sense.

Ben Jones, whose gift for stoner pidgin knows no peer, actually writes dialogue as well as anyone in comics. Cold Heat lives in the place where high school furies become real-world Furies, so it makes sense that Senator Wastmor talks like a drugged-up teen himself.  And what a creation, worthy of mudwrestling Hutch Owen.  He drops f-, a-, and p- bombs like Sluggo dropped beatnik rhymes in the Bushmiller 50s. This double issue had me laughing out loud a half-dozen times even while horrifying and confusing me.

Meanwhile, Frank Santoro’s art defibrilates the bipolar glories of two-color printing.  I’ve seen the best works that do this, like Mazzucchelli’s oft-mentioned “Discovering America,” and more than a few that use it as a poor man’s full-color.  For Santoro, it’s a chance to broaden the palette.  The textures, the varied media– it seems to go from marker to pencil to brush– and the layouts trust the images more than any work of 2009 thus far.

Back cover (detail) for Cold Heat #5/6

In particular, I’m thinking of the geometry of his larger pages.  As Castle stumbles through a druggy haze, diamond shapes surround and cover her.  The motif occurs throughout both issues, along with hunks of parallel lines that give the pages sweep.  It’s like a 60s version of Dr. Caligari at times, with a punk-rock Expressionism.

And then, certain images of Castle

Castle’s Face from Cold Heat 5/6

remind me of other images

Sheeta, from Hayao Miyzaki’s Castle in the Sky

that trust a few lines to be a living human face and bursts of color the emotion inside.  (On my weak days I’d go as far as a bunch of Russian icons, but that’s for the next post.)

The key to all these images, I think, is how they’re trusted as hanging posts. Nail an emotion on, wear it around.

***

To close, two things are missing.

First, where’s Tux Dog, the open-source character Jones created with cohorts in Paper Rad? And why has Tux Dog’s own site been co-opted by a site about hedge funds?

Second, where’s the music?  A key page in issue #1 has Castle listening to Chocolate Gun, shown as multiple panels of the same speaker, no words. Visual music a la Ruttmann, we write the sounds ourselves.  To me, the Gun points to Nirvana, but I think Ian Curtis’s Joy Division probably fits better, and listening to the Pixies while writing seemed right.  And since the Gun’s a “noise band,” maybe they’re more like Les Rallizes Dénudés or the Dead C, New Zealand’s finest.

But they mention Ziggy Stardust rip-offs.  So it could be just about anything.

So what to do?

Read issues 1-4 at Cold Heat Comics-dot-com.  Free online.  Get the new issue from Picturebox; I understand it costs money, less than watery beer with a meal of potatoes and canned peas whose painted-on colors hide the missing flavors at an overpriced fake pub.

Then read some smart writers on the same issue, like

Then form a band and write some Chocolate Gun songs and send them to J&S.  Makes sense to me, anyway.  There’s already a short film; there should be music that slants even if it sucks. Noise!

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