Desolate Skin.

*A short (extremely short) interview with Chris Ware over at FLOG!, in which he clarifies exactly what his new strip in the New York Times Magazine will contain: a new serial set in the world of Ware’s Building Stories (which you’ll recognize from McSweeney’s and Nest and other publications), about 24 chapters long, each segment corresponding to about one hour in the singe day the story encompasses. It begins this Sunday, and fans will be jailed if they miss it. Unless they don't have a newsstand that carries the Times or something.

Ha ha, imagine that! Running down to your local newsstand to get comics! Ha ha ha…

Desolation Jones #3

At this point, it’s clear that the book is operating largely as a collection of conversations between scarred persons, haunted figures, with a lurid detective plot humming in the background like an air conditioner. I think the scripts still date back a while at this point, but the book’s tone is curiously similar to the more recently-scripted Fell, in that mysteries only provide a backdrop to revealing conversations.

Nearly half of this issue, for example, sees Jones in conversation with a local porno actress; it’s mostly a lot of conversation regarding the L.A. ‘adult’ scene, much of it apparently fact-based (it’s certainly believable to this reader). But the meaning behind the chat nicely fits in with Jones’ conversations with Emily Crowe and Robina last issue, the former literally exuding the consequences of her past, the latter merely contemplative and on-edge. Both are essentially waiting for what’s coming next, Emily for Jones’ assignments (and more importantly his company), and Robina for additional problem-solving adrenaline; go ahead and connect that with Nicole’s comments made here on the girls she knows, all waiting for something else.

Nicole is also devoted (resigned?) to her role in the city, kind of a watcher over the less-experienced of her company. Emily and Robina (and, of course, Jones himself) are different brands of damaged, but they’ve also taken on new roles in the city, and all of them act as aides of sorts, if often only to those running in their pack. In this way, Nicole is from a different, yet connected world, sex joined with violence in both of them, but with opposing emphasis (porno is about sex, but violence is shown to often mix in, while covert operations are largely about killing, with sex used as a means to an end). It’s fitting then, that the former coverts Jones is pursuing to recover that nasty Hitler porn have taken up position in the adult film business; it’s hardly a step away.

The plot-crazy among this title’s followers might get antsy over the lack of significant story-forwarding this time out, but this is a cohesive, well-mounted piece, one that deepens the themes Ellis is working with; even if taken as mere padding, it certainly beats splash-heavy explosions or space-filling exterior views of buildings or terrains. Plus, it allows J.H. Williams III (pencils and inks) and Jose Villarrubia (colors) to play around with the visuals, adding another layer of story; Jones doesn’t talk much during that conversation, but his input is duly forwarded through his uncontrollable Desolation Test visions, which warp and pervert his perspective of Nicole to reflect what he’s seeing inside, even subconsciously. He views her at alternate times as naked and sickly, bleeding, bearing flowers with a black eye; it’s nothing difficult to decode, but it enhances the text in that it filters everything through Jones’ perspective. And with the level of cohesive detail we’ve come to expect from this visual team, it’ll be no surprise to note that scratchy lines and watery colors of the panels in which Nicole describes the rougher strains of the skin flick trade are the same thing that Williams and Villarrubia employ in the book’s proper fight scenes. Jones thus makes the sex and violence connections for us.

Really, everything in this series is glimpsed as Jones sees it, even when he’s on-panel. A fight scene in this issue will doubtlessly remind the reader of issue #1’s tussle, and it’s now clear to me that it’s Jones killing instincts that our view is filtered through, key moments repeated, slowed down for the analysis that Jones’ brain can provide, red circles identifying the most crucial points of attention. It’s a bit like the diagram that concluded last issue, boxes marking off Jones’ many deformities; the attention of the art is really Jones’ silent self-analysis. The interrelation between words and visuals is strong in this one, folks - it’s no wonder that the cover art depicts the mark of Jones’ arm bisecting an image of sex to the left and violence to the right; it’s his world, two similar facets of it, and he’s got to live in it. And how we experience it is awash in his biased optic narration.

There’s also humor, naturally, whether it’s Ellis’ typical erudite bludgeoning (“I just kill people, Frank. I kill them and I fuck their heads and leave their bodies in the street as a warning.”) or Williams’ bending of a panel border to accommodate a ruffian’s flailing head and arm, like a Looney Tunes lamppost. There's a lot of great things. Really there’s no excuse for not reading this. It’s by quite a wide margin one of the best things being put out by the Big Two today. I commend it to your attention, on the off-chance that you're not reading it already.