To Boldly Go — : Alexander Laird’s “Oubliette”

Purely as physical objects, Alexander Laird’s self-published comics are things of exquisite beauty : lovingly riso-printed, uniquely formatted, conceptualized to a degree that’s flat-out exacting, they stand as a testament to both dedication and determination in equal measure, their execution representing an inherently harmonious marriage with the singular creative vision behind them. I honestly don’t know of any cartoonist who works as hard at holistically integrating the creative with the technical, whose inner artist is so “in tune” with their outer artisan. Each of Laird’s books has the look and feel of an object carefully made by hand.

That being said, anything that is presented this well needs, by default, to feature content that lives up to its presentation, and that can be tough when you’re pulling out all the stops as far as production values go. Laird’s latest, Burg Land 1 : Sleemore Gank, certainly earned high marks across the board from me, but his earlier effort, Oubliette, leaves perhaps a bit to be desired on that score — but is still plenty fascinating as a prima facie example of a legit autuer finding their footing as they go along and developing the themes that would come to be regarded as central concerns in their work.

Stated less pretentiously, this feels like a “warm-up exercise” for ideas and approaches that would eventually end up becoming fleshed out more fully later. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that — in fact, it’s crystal clear that Laird’s been in firm possession of a vision for what he wants to achieve in this medium from the outset, it’s simply that this largely-wordless tale of explorer/academic Jest The Scholar venturing through the ruins of a thought-lost civilization and having to survive a monstrous onslaught of, well, monsters is, all told, a less-thoroughly-realized version of what this same cartoonist would do next.

Which, I admit, makes this review something of an unfair exercise on its face — after all, if I’d read this first, I might very well have been blown away by it, rather than “merely” being mightily impressed. On the plus side, though, there’s no question that I did still find it mightily impressive, so if Laird happens to read this at some point, trust me when I say : a win is a win. I still found this to be a remarkable work in the truest sense. And while I may not recommend it as highly as Burg Land 1: Sleemore Gank, I think its status as a kind of blueprint for that comic means that it could very well especially be of interest to those who, like myself, read the latter first.

Or am I wrong about that? I mean, if you’re a Laird “newbie,” this is certainly a great place to start and it gives you a flavor for his utterly unique methodologies and sensibilities. By turns frightening and fun, and drawn in a style that both reflects and magnifies the ultimately-optimistic outlook of its insatiably curious protagonist, it’s a comic about learning and exploration that learns and explores the medium’s formalities and, more importantly, its possibilities in unison with its narrative. I invoked the term “holistic” earlier, and there’s absolutely no doubt that this is a breathtaking working example of that principle writ — and drawn — large.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, then : this is not a recommendation tempered by any sort of caution — it’s an enthusiastic and unreserved one. Sure, I liked Burg Land 1 : Sleemore Gank a bit more, but so what? I liked that more than just about anything I’ve read recently, and the list of “stuff I didn’t like quite as much” includes a lot of damn fine comics. This is one of them and, furthermore, one of the better ones at that.


Oubliette is available for $12.00 from Alexander Laird’s website at

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The TV Set (2006, directed by Jake Kasdan)

Mike Klein (David Duchovny) is a scriptwriter who suffers from chronic backpain and whose wife (Justine Bateman) is pregnant.  Mike has developed an autobiographical TV dramedy about a young man trying to come to terms with the suicide of his brother.  He’s sold it to one of the networks but, when he tries to shoot the pilot, he watches as his original concept is continually compromised and diluted by Lenny (Sigourney Weaver), the president of the network.  After rejecting Mike’s choice for the lead role because the actor had a beard, Lenny forces him to cast Zack Harper (Fran Kranz), a mugging young actor who lets pre-stardom go to his head.  Lenny continues to change Mike’s concept until he can barely even recognize his pilot.  Will Mike be able to retain his vision or will network TV continue to be dominated by shows like Slut Wars?

Occasionally, you’ll see a film that was obviously made by a writer/director who was obviously looking to settle some old scores with the studio execs that he had to deal with in the past.  Christopher Guest’s first film as a director was The Big Picture, a sharp and clever satire with Kevin Bacon as a film student who discovers there’s little he won’t compromise on to get his film made.  Before Guest’s film, Blake Edwards lost a fortune making a film called S.O.B. because he wanted to get back at the people who he blamed for ruining Darling Lili.  Continuing the tradition of those films but moving the action to the networks, The TV Set was directed by Jake Kasdan, the son of Lawrence Kasdan.  Jake worked on a number of TV shows with Judd Apatow (most famously, Freaks and Geeks) and The TV Set feels like his chance to get revenge on any number of real-life studio execs.  It’s an insider’s view of what’s wrong with television but sometimes it becomes such an insider’s view that it becomes hard to relate to Mike and or really care about his show, which sounded pretty bad even before the network suits got involved.  Too often, it feels like the movie itself is more about settling personal grudges than saying anything about the state of television.

The TV Set has got a large cast, some of whom manage to create an interesting character despite Kasdan’s overstuffed script.  I especially liked Judy Greer, who played Mike’s always-positive agent.  I got the feeling that we were supposed to be as annoyed with Greer’s character as Mike often was but Greer gives such an energetic performance that it’s impossible to dislike her, no matter how far she went in her attempts to always put a positive spin on the bad news coming from the set of Mike’s pilot.  I also like Fran Kranz and Lindsay Sloane, who played the two actors forced on Mike by the studio.  Indeed, probably one of the film’s biggest problems is that all of the characters that we’re supposed to find annoying are played such likable actors that it’s hard to really sympathize with Mike when he starts complaining about them.  David Duchovny sleepwalks through the role of Mike but he’s not helped by a script that can never seem to decide if Mike’s supposed to be a visionary or just a hopeless naïve victim of the industry.

The TV Set, which was made a few years before the start of the streaming revolution, ends with a warning that television will soon be full of shows like Slut Wars and there won’t be any room for artists like Mike Klein.  The TV Set wasn’t wrong but what it failed to predict was that there would soon be other platforms on which the Mike Kleins of the word could broadcast their shows.