The Bricktosser

A place for me to rant, ramble and rave about all things comics related.

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Monday, January 23, 2006

League of Ordinary Gentlemen #1

After a few posts about the super-hero world, I've been thinking it's time to switch gears. I hereby innaugurate a series dedicated to the antithesis of the super-hero: the Ordinary Guy. In other words, Members of the League of Ordinary Gentlemen

Subject #1: Alec MacGarry

Alec is the star of a series of graphic novels which depect his regular, ordinary life. At least at first. As depicted in The King Canute Crowd by Eddie Campbell, Alec is a twenty-something working class Joe with a tilt toward the philosophical, the usual girl troubles, and colorful companions. Take note, we've got the basic template for League membership right there.

What makes Canute worth reading is the storytelling. Campbell's hero is thoughtful, witty, introspective, and funny, and this comes out in the narration and the drawing. For instance, this sequence:

That's poetry in pictures.

[I scanned the above sequence over 10 years ago, when I had a website about comics in late '93!]

When I first read The King Canute Crowd it was entitled The Complete Alec (I guess Campbell didn't figure he'd write so much more about Alec) and I thought it was fiction. As it turns out, Alec is a stand-in for Campbell himself, and much (if not all) of Alec is autobiographical. This makes for some amusingly surreal moments later as Alec starts hanging out with Alan Moore, as seen here.

Note the thought Moore has, feeling like he's in a comic book.

At this point, the comic is somewhat less about an Ordinary Guy, however. Alec has quit the League of Ordinary Gentlemen, and the comic is no longer stories about the guy you know who goes out drinking with his buddies, but more about the guy who collaborates with Alan Moore on a massive graphic novel about Jack the Ripper, who is about as far from an Ordinary Gentleman as you can get. Perhaps that's why, although I like a lot of later Alec stories, The King Canute Crowd and Graffiti Kitchen remain my favorite (as well as some of my favorite comics, period). It is amusingly surreal to read comics about one of Alec's friends reacting to seeing himself in comic form in an earlier volume, but at that point it's a different game.

Which leads to a segue about the appeal of the League of Ordinary Gentlemen. It's the Ordinariness. Over at Pretty, Fizzy Paradise, Kalinara has written an interesting article about the nature of hero comics. Her belief is that superheroes exist to represent the best of us, what we can aspire to. I agree with that. Ordinary Guy comics are the antithesis of that. I believe they would not exist of not for the super-hero comics which they are a response to. Comic after comic filled with characters who are described as being "olympic level" athletes at a minimum and who have super powers and/or vast fortunes on top of that-- after I while, that's pretty alienating. So, I believe, the Ordinary Guy comic was born as a result, where the very point of the comic is just how much of a regular, average person the hero is. More about this next time, when we look at the founding member of the League-- Harvey Pekar.

[A note on gender: I realize I am using "Guy" and "Gentlemen" to describe a phenomenon, and that rules out 50% of the population right away. I will probably talk about the male/female factor in a later post, but right now, it seems like a very male thing.]


Blogger kalinara said...

That's very interesting. I've never read The King Canute Crowd. I'd have to look into it.

I admit, I'm not as much for "ordinary guy" comics as I am for superheroes. Much in the same way that I prefer sci-fi/fantasy books to the general fiction books in bookstores. I like the dose of unreality.

But it really is great to see more of a variety in the comic medium.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Ken S. said...

I tend to read way more general fiction than SF or Fantasy.

[I have a bit of anti-fantasy bias, see my Seven Soldiers post-- and yet, ironically, I am in the SCA.]

OTOH, I read more Superhero comics than Ordinary Guy comics. I chalk that up to the fact that they aren't so many these days, plus super-hero comics have gotten damned good.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Frosty Snowbro said...

Interesting article. Stop by my blog too, man. We can help promote each other.

5:05 PM  
Blogger melvin p. mouse said...

I've always thought something along these lines, but haven't ever been able to put it into words. thanks. My favorite ordinary guys?

The protagonists of:
Its a Good Life If You Don't Weaken by Seth and Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks

10:04 AM  
Blogger Ken S. said...

Melvin: I like both of those, too, although I must admit I don't remeber the character from Hicksvelle so much as the story itself.

10:30 AM  
Blogger DerikB said...

Hey Ken, just found your blog. I like the ordinary concept... perhaps the protagonist of Ordinary Victories by Manu Larcenet (NBM). Check out my blog:

7:01 AM  
Blogger Ken S. said...

I haven't read that-- I'll have to check it out.

7:11 AM  
Blogger DerikB said...

I reviewed it over at Comic Book Galazy last week:

8:14 AM  

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