The Tango Collection

Tango Collection
I recently wrote a foreword for The Tango Collection – a big fat book of comics about love by over 50 Australian cartoonists (plus a few New Zealanders, including Jared Lane, Tim Molloy and Toby Morris). The comics are selected from eight issues of Bernard Caleo’s love comics anthology Tango, each issue of which is organised around a theme (Love & Death, Love & Food, Love & Sedition, etc). The book is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now!

You can read my foreword below, or else just buy the book and read it in the comfort of your own (or a loved one’s) soft warm bed…

Tango Collection Foreword

COMICS: A LOVE STORY

If comics had a muse, she’d have crooked teeth and freckles and wear thick black-rimmed glasses and old fraying cardigans, sensible shoes and embarrassing shirts her mother chose. She’d also have deep-green eyes and piercings galore, a hidden tattoo, a deliciously dirty laugh.

In social situations she’d be awkward and graceless, always saying the wrong thing and then mumbling and blushing and just making things worse. But the really cool kids would love her anyway, because however clumsy and weird she can be, she’s also crazy and smart and beautiful.

At noon you’d find her at the mall, wearing Hello Kitty and eating junk food and queuing to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster for the seventeenth time. But on moonlit nights she would sneak out her bedroom window and run wild through the night, joining wolves and tigers and stray feral cats to prowl and howl and leap and hunt, through empty lots and jungles and bright endless fields, drinking blood and making love and sprouting wings to fly up into the star-filled sky.

She’d exasperate and irritate and disappoint and enchant and take your breath away. She’d be whispering poetry one moment, and talking trash the next. The sex would be fantastic, but a little scary. Sometimes, you’d just wish you never met her.

***

Such is life with comics – the ‘Beautiful Artform’, as Melbourne cartoonist Neale Blanden puts it. The bastard child of literature, art and junk culture, comics have usually flown below the radar, emerging only as commercial events and collectables, or as scandal – in the 1950s people burned horror comics; fifty years later, Australian customs officers banned From Hell, drawn by Brisbane-based Eddie Campbell.

This, for the most part, has been fine, for those of us who love comics. Down there in the shadowy nirvana of obscure art, we’ve been able to explore unsanctioned byways of creativity and imagination and keep them happily to ourselves. We were the chosen few, keepers of treasures unimagined by the rest of the world – least of all by the literati and the connoisseurs. In short, it was a secret, passionate, private affair.

These days, of course, things have changed. Our secret muse is now something of a celebrity, and hardly a month goes by without some new graphic novel getting a mention in the New York Review of Books or Artforum.

Comics once read by a few thousand people are being turned into films by people like Michel Gondry. And cartoonists like Chris Ware, Dan Clowes and Robert Crumb are fêted by the art world with exhibitions, dealers and lavish coffee-table books. This is, you understand, what we always dreamed of; at last the whole world understands what we’ve been saying for years. They finally see what we’ve always loved about our strange, quirky object of desire and are giving her the recognition she’s always deserved. At last, people get it.

But… well… things have changed. I mean, the love’s still there – don’t get me wrong. But sometimes it’s hard to share that love. When you see your special girl being swooned over at literary festivals and art galleries, at the Biennale and at Cannes (and you can remember when the beautiful people used to laugh at her funny teeth and strange personal habits!), it just feels kinda weird. And there are times when you can’t help but think maybe she’s changing too. A little self-consciousness in the way she flicks back her hair, the new designer glasses, occasional references to Derrida or Borges in the things she says…

You hope it’s just a phase she’s going through, part of the first flush of excitement at being discovered. After all, as soon as you’re alone with her, it’s still the same. All the old insecurities and fumbling awkwardness comes back, and you realise this is part of what you love about her: the flaws and the childishness, the stupidity and downright ugliness that sitbeside – or even inside – her undeniable beauty and brilliance. This, you decide, is what sets your love apart, what makes it different to the summer affair she’s been enjoying lately with that elegant, smart, cosmopolitan world.

Which is one of the things that make this book so great. Bernard Caleo (who’s had a very special relationship with the muse for many a year) has assembled a big fat stack of stories that demonstrate a lot of what’s special about comics. Not just the obvious stuff that everyone’s read about in magazines and seen on gallery walls; this is comics as they really are when no one else is looking, comics below the radar, comics that grow in the secret quiet places in our lives. Comics full of memories and dreams, stories silly and sad and beautiful. Comics that might have been drawn by your neighbour, or your workmate – who you never even knew could draw, but what a surprise: they’re really good! Because one of the great things about comics is the people who make them.

It takes all types, of course, but in my experience, a higher than normal ratio of cartoonists are really nice people. They’re a little bit crazy, maybe, but you have to be to fall head over heels for the comics muse – and even crazier to stick with it long enough to actually make the things. Comics look easy – and in some respects they are. I mean, plenty of really great cartoonists are far from natural draughtsmen; a certain level of looseness is quite acceptable in comics circles. But take a look at just about any random page in this book. That’s a lot of drawing, right? At least two or three – sometimes nine or ten – separate drawings on each page. Comics are easy to start; not so easy to finish. And to get really good at this takes a lot of dedication. Cartoonists don’t just draw; they write, they design, they tell stories… I know cartoonists who watch movies over and over, studying the way pictures are used to transition from one scene to another. Who spend years practising inking letter-forms as neatly (or as expressively) as possible because, as a friend once said, lettering comics ain’t writing, it’s drawing. Who conscientiously try out every inking tool they can find (pens, felt-tips, brushes, brush-pens, crow quills, dark pencils, charcoal, paint), never resting till the right one comes along. Cartoonists have long conversations about things like cross-hatching, whiteout, the virtues of different brands of paper and eraser – I apologise, but it’s true. We can be really boring when we get going.

Another thing about comics people is their powerful appreciation for all kinds of forgotten byways and junkyards of culture and art. From Michael Camilleri’s wonderful take on Marvel Comics-style fight scenes (‘Limpid Biscuit’) to numerous references to zombie movies and children’s picture books, this book is best appreciated with a totally open uncritical acceptance of our whole culture – the high and the low, the fair and the foul. Because it’s all part of the bubbling dream-soup we grow up in and live in and write and draw about. Comics soak up our dreams and nightmares, wherever they’ve come from, and then shape them into something personal and meaningful and often very beautiful. And for years, Tango has been putting it on paper for the rest of us to read.

In here, you’ll find some of the most memorable of those comics, by cartoonists from Australia and New Zealand – from the haunting hallucinations of Jo Waite to the methodical precision of Bruce Mutard. There’s humour, joy, pain, pleasure and queasy recognition to be found here. Stories of sadness and loss, domestic familiarity, youthful passion, perversity and lust. Because Tango is, after all, a romance comic. Love, like food, can deliver nausea or bliss in equal portions. And isn’t that what life is all about?

***

So enjoy this serving of comics as they are known to those who know them best: small, secret stories that will slowly creep into your mind and haunt your dreams. Here’s your chance to meet that fabulous muse everyone’s talking about in an intimate, friendly setting, away from the art world poseurs and the literary celebrities, where she’s able to relax and be herself – quirky, candid, playful and real.

But be careful. You just might fall in love…

Buy THE TANGO COLLECTION, edited by Bernard Caleo, published by Allen & Unwin.

10 Responses to “The Tango Collection”

  1. Ryan Buck says:

    Your observations of the current trends to legitimize comics is wonderful. I can’t wait for “her” to get over the rich kids and their fancy cars and return to me and my broken bicycle.

  2. She’ll be back, Ryan, she’ll be back…

  3. Travis McGee says:

    I’m not sure whether it’s a generational disconnect, or something else, (I am in my early twenties and have never really had any status anxiety about reading comics), but I’ve never really felt any kind of sympathy for this kind of viewpoint. With all respect to you Dylan … this introduction of yours strays too close to a line of complaint that gets me really irate – that comics books have somehow ‘strayed’ from their junk origins and should just go back to being trashy FUN!

    It’s silly because there are still plenty of junky, fun comic books out there if you want that; they never went away. And the prescriptive emphasis that comics ‘should’ be this way, that somehow they’re more pure and authentic if they remain the obscure ‘bastard child’ rubs me the wrong way; is it an aesthetic mistake for me to prefer and seek out works of textual and artistic sophistication?

    I guess it’s further reflection of my tastes that I find the image of this muse seeing a blockbuster 18 times and then telling me their whimsical daydreams cloying and a little obnoxious…

    All that being said – it’s great to see you back in action on this site.

  4. Travis, it’s not textual and artistic sophistication that I’m complaining about – quite the contrary. It’s the pretentiously self-conscious baggage that often comes with being part of the literary and art worlds. And I say that as someone who has spent more than his fair share of time at literary festivals and gallery openings. After all, many of the more interesting writers and fine artists I know have similar ambivalence about that baggage – which is one reason some of them have embraced comics (along with ‘outsider art’ etc).

    I guess my introduction wasn’t clear enough, for which I apologise. I’m not nostalgic for trashy fun superhero comics or anything like that, but for such magical moments as first discovering the intensely personal, beautiful and lyrical comics of Ed Pinsent, Glenn Dakin and Chris Reynolds in tiny small-press anthologies like Fox Comics and Fast Fiction. Or finding the work of Ben Katchor or Jerry Moriarty in the earliest issues of Raw. Back then (yes, I’m old – this was the 1980s), few people outside of the tiny alternative comics world were even aware of these wonderful treasures, and we spent a hell of lot of energy vigorously trying to get the wider art scene to recognise them as important work.

    These days, thankfully, that’s happening at last, which opens up more opportunities for great artists and writers like Chris Ware and Charles Burns, Joann Sfar and David B. It also means I don’t have to hunt through obscure mail-order catalogues to find those treasures; I can just go down to the local library and there they are.

    But there are dangers out there in the art world, just as there are in commercial comics or in permanent obscurity – and all of those have claimed the artistic integrity of more than a few cartoonists over the years. Success is wonderful, but it can sometimes be poisonous.

    So – in short, I’m not complaining about textual and artistic sophistication, I’m just trying to express a wary note of caution about literary and artistic respectability. Because, as generations of writers and artists have found before comics came along, respectability is a double-edged sword…

  5. Or another way of putting it is that sometimes literary and artistic respectability comes at the price of literary and artistic integrity. Sophistication is a means, not an end – and it’s definitely no guarantee of depth or personal worth.

    I hope that makes my point clearer…! :-)

  6. Travis McGee says:

    Dylan – that’s all the more clearer to me, and I guess I have a tendency to charge off on misguided crusades in comment walls …. clearly given the continuing interest you show in your comics of the role of the artist, and the problems that beset the act of artistic creation, this reading should have been more obvious to me.

    I suppose the danger of respectability is very creator driven in that as a comics consumer it only effects me in a roundabout way…

  7. Hi Dylan,

    I’d love to read this book, but do you know if it’ll be available in the US at an affordable price since only two sellers on Amazon have it for 40+ USD.

    Thanks!

  8. Hello,

    Bernard Caleo here, editor of Tango, yes that’s a darn good question: you could get it from Allen and Unwin the publishers direct, but that would probably push it up into the same bracket

    http://www.allenandunwin.com/default.aspx?page=94&book=9781742371436

    I have spoken to them a couple of times about US sales and from memory it will get distributed there in September, but I will enquire again this week and get back to you here…

    Bernard

    Bernard Caleo
    Cardigan Comics
    cardigancomics.com

  9. Hmmm. Is there any way to RSS subscribe to comments?

  10. At the bottom of the page (under the Creative Commons license) you’ll see a link to RSS subscribe to comments. That’s not just for this post, though – it will subscribe to all comments on the site.

    If you prefer, flick me an email and I can let you know if Bernard comes back with any more info.

Leave a Reply