Down in the writing trenches yesterday: needing to write, but having only ongoing pieces to complete (things I'm excited about but have become relegated more to 'job' status), I cast about for something to revitalise my enthusiasm. Circling and scrutinising my bookshelves a couple of times, even pulling off a few potentials, some old favourites; but nothing really grabbing my attention, nothing making me want to put pen to paper instantly. Still on the lookout, I picked up the envelope Joe McCulloch sent me from SPX some weeks back, where he was kind enough to pick up some comics I wanted. I read one, then another; the third is interesting, but the type to be mulled over before response. The fourth one is Mickey Zacchilli's Venom. It sparks. It's rather brilliant (in addition to being the perfect butt-kicking refresher that I needed). The thing that initially tickled/made me curious about Venom -before reading it- was the marrying of Zacchilli's approach and style with something as generic as a Spider-man villain. That, and seeing the amazing cover which convinced me it was absolutely going to work on some level. I'm as liable to roll my eyes to homages and mash-ups as anyone else, but Zachilli's straddles that line of affection and send up so beautifully and adeptly to produce something ebullient and funny and very, very good.
It opens with this double page spread, which has an aspirational-cool poster feel to it, thanks to the pin-up splay and Eddie Brock quote in the bottom right-hand corner, 'I live the life I'm living and I have no regrets.' It makes me think of the misattribution of quotes and information online: how words, images, and context are manipulated, and then spread to take on new life and meaning. The 'aesthetic' of racking up these empty life-mottos on Tumblr and Pinterest, rosary bead-like, in an effort to take individual comfort; insight, from phrases of vague, mass applicability. Don't we all live the life we live? No regrets! *Peace sign*
We're introduced to Eddie in the gym busy being hench in finest shojo-hero style: serious about lifting weights whilst being dramatically frowny and introspective. He's oblivious to all else, even fawning admirers, as he focuses on training so he can defeat his nemesis, Spider-man. The pulpy ease and linguistic cohesion of Zacchilli's style is deceptive in that it may not seem considered, but choices are made for specific purpose. For example, the thicker, bold marker overlaying lighter sketchier lines on Eddie's face below emphasises the clenched 'hnggh' of his expression to comedic effect. Similarly, its use to outline the weights gives them a depth and body that indicates how heavy they are. The hatched shading under Eddie's neck defining his exerted, popping muscles is great, too.
In between waiting for a show-down with Spider-man, Eddie hangs out with his alien symbiote friend who snarfs popcorn while he watches TV, training (of course) at the same time. 'Training. And waiting.' He washes the dishes, Eddie dries; it's a sweetly domestic set-up. Spider-man, meanwhile, skips merrily along on by some rooftop and the promised fight ensues. It's the kind that would give Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver a run for their money in effectiveness; lots of tumbling, and impasses involving holding onto (and not letting go of) bodyparts. Enthusiasm levels are questionable. An ice-cream van trundles past.
Zacchilli's quick, loose, flowing lines are an incredible fit in depicting the organic, oozy spread of Venom; even as the scribbly, energetic edge gives reminder to a bristling intent. Zacchilli employs a more pared-back iteration of her frenetic, markings-etched style here, so that jovial, relaxed tone is easily apparent. Lines and marks are present for a reason: signifying danger, anger, action, sweat; adding to a particular atmosphere. On first glance, they can make the page feel busy and messy, but subversively work to narrow the focus as to what's important/central.
There are a lot of extras in the comic, too: a womans supplement, cute ducks, skeletons, dogs, mice, anime, more excellent Venom poses, a pull-out, colour poster in the middle of Venom and Spidey fighting; an instructive tutorial on how to draw Venom- a process which involves drawing an egg > then the Earth > then a Cadbury Creme Egg... Zacchilli-filtered psychedelia. It's really interesting and fulfilling to me when cartoonists finish up a comic and then include material that takes a bit of a turn from what's been presented. It nudges a different part of my brain, without compromising the experience of what's gone before. Venom is so very very good, and I got so much from reading it- laughs and satisfaction, genuine joy, morsels to ponder over regarding function and form. Mickey Zacchilli proves that creating something short and fun doesn't mean making something insubstantial and forgettable. With work like this, Zacchilli makes loving comics easy.