The five people who are eagerly awaiting my book on Grant Morrison and Chris Weston’s pestilent fantasy The Filth will note that the book has still not been released yet.
That I have failed to finish this project in time for the release of the hardcover edition of The Filth will surprise no one who has retained interest in the project for this long. The fact that said hardcover contains just the bare minimum of fresh material – a script for issue #6, some sketches that make the book even more difficult to read on the bus, the reheated contents of the charmingly crap Crack Comicks website – will also fail surprise anyone with a basic understanding of both comics and capitalism.
Good little enemy of the entertainment complex that I am, I paid to consume The Filth for the third time anyway. The hardback edition simulates the glossy colouring of the single issues rather than the battered bog roll of the trade paperback. It offers the reader a sense of solidity, of lasting luxury, that the previous editions lacked.
The Filth is a disgusting, slippery mess of a book. As Terrance Moreua said in the comments to one of my preview posts:
The visual grammar of The Filth is all over the place. The discontinuity being part of the point, of course. There are times when it seems to be Morrison’s script callouts (the tv cameras) and times when it seems to be Weston (background texture effects, etc) and times where it’s really fucking hard to tell (the goddamn photoshop transform tool effect to signify getting squeezed into the crack, or getting your personality fucked with in psychedelisex)…
Essentially, I find The Filth to be textually rich, garishly colored, expressively acted, disgustingly rendered and more. But comparatively poorly composed. I think there are too many components fighting for interplay. And while that’s part of the larger point, I think a little less noise and little more signal would have heightened the contrast between the two much better.
Another way to say all of that would be to say that The Filth is comics.
You’re probably used to having comic book adventures served up to you with that Bryan Hitch circa 2001 shine on them now – this surface slickness has been helping these paper-thing and decades dense characters escape into a cinema near you for what seems like forever now – but I doubt many of you are fooled into thinking these production values are a guarantee of permanence.
This Hollywood realism protects these ridiculous characters, gives them the illusion of depth, of life – it’s the old Stan Lee trick, performed in a way that offers less charm and demands less patience and investment in return. This hyper-real sheen also serves to make the frantic visual grammar of comics seem as plausible as Evans or Johansson, the actors who strive to make something whole out of the mess of science fiction, fantasy, meta-commentary, action movie bravado, soap opera plotting, brand management, advertising, broken ambitions, and absurdist pedantry of the source material.
So too with this new edition of the The Filth. Segura’s artful covers always looked like they should be somewhere better than your local comics hut, and with this new binding it looks like it must be the ultimate expression of a refined thought – something that may be discussed as yet another fucking “graphic novel”, if not quite as high art.
Like I said, The Filth is a sloppy mess of a book, its slick paper tendrils too gross and eerie to be easily admired (are those characters awkwardly posed or are they wobbling around that way because they’re tangled the puppet strings of the story), its tangle of structures too abundant to be lauded by decided and unconcerned minds (if the Crack runs through Greg’s kitchen instead of through all of us, does it make any difference?).
The escapism that Morrison and Weston have been selling and re-selling here comes pre-curdled, and its attitude is too crude for its lush packaging to feel like anything but a joke:
If The Filth was a person it wouldn’t look at the above Venn diagram and see a recycled Simon Munnery joke joke about how the best comics are merely aspiring to be shit art, it would see a pair of boobs and make you feel like a sexist pig for drawing them.
The Filth is a stupid subject to write a book about, I suppose, or at least writing a book about it probably marks you out as being stupid. Those same qualities that make the new hardback cover feel like a cruel joke also make the idea of writing some sort of definitive take on it seem foolish. Better, perhaps, to stick to essays – an imperfect form for unfinished thoughts, tangled up as it is with the idea of weighing, assaying trying something out – or to rework that old idea about creation a website that took you through various fragmented essays on The Filth and related subjects without every giving you the full picture.
The Filth is also an inevitable subject for a book, for me at least. Whether this is true because of my reactions to the comic require a book length exploration or because I’ve spent so much time talking about the idea of doing a book is irrelevant: they’re both symptoms of the way The Filth has infected me, and the outcome is the same in any case.
Like Greg Feely, I’m left with great fistfuls of shit and worms and weird looking brains with all tendrils coming out of them and no idea with what to do with the mess. The Filth tells us to spread it on our flowers but it’s hard to know whether that’s a challenge or an admission of failure.
What can I do then except continue to work on the book, trying to find a way that matches its bloggy messiness while also fulfilling the criteria of being a book, a complete entity, something with a sense of authority to it even if that authority comes pre-corrupted and slathered in ridicule?
Writing this book will require me to admit my own limited understanding of art, my endless immersion in banal fantasy, and my terror at my own inadequacy when confronted with the failure of my body, the bodies of the people I love, and the bodies of strangers all over the world. Writing this book will never satisfy my sense of self-importance: no one will declare me the enfant terrible of Scottish letters for writing a book about a comic like The Filth, it will solve no problems and change no lives, and I will always feel exactly what is wrong with it more acutely than the harshest critic I could imagine.
The only thing more embarrassing than writing this book is not writing this book, which would seem to me to be an admission that I am not even capable of this modest task, of committing to seeing this through.
In the absence of solidity or permanence let us agree, then, to pretend that there is some sort of fleeting dignity in this ridiculous work I have made for myself; perhaps there will be!