The Devil Is In The Details — But God Might Be, Too : David Tea’s “Five Perennial Virtues” #12 : “Pearl”

Something tells me that if the late, great Steve Ditko didn’t harbor a sense of utter disdain for mysticism (I know, I know, weird considering he created the character of Dr. Strange) that he’d like David Tea’s comics : intricate bordering on the obsessive, singular in their approach, making little to no allowances for popular taste, and more than a trifle inflicted with/influenced by (depending upon one’s point of view) a kind of esoterically-flavored cultural and even political conservatism that probably doesn’t have much of a place in the MAGA clown car even though it shares at least a few of its goals, Tea strikes me as Ditko’s heir apparent and antithesis in almost equal measure, a “fellow traveler” who set out on a separate path. One that, crucially, doesn’t preclude the direct involvement of the supernatural in everyday life.

And, really, everyday life has always been — and remains — Tea’s focus, but he has a way of making even its most mundane minutiae seem interesting, alien, and altogether new. In the same way that a cat can be utterly enthralled with going after the same piece of string for the 10,000th time (and Tea has actually made a comic about that very subject), the unfolding episodic narrative that is Five Perennial Virtues can follow the same basic formula with entirely different results each issue.

Although, in absolute fairness, “results” may not be what this comic is even after — as cliched as it is to say something is “all about the journey,” in this case it’s nevertheless absolutely true. Issue number twelve of Tea’s irregularly self-published series, subtitled “Pearl,” has just been released and is laden with explication, extrapolation, and explanation — some pages are quite literally a “wall of text” — and yet, as is the case with life itself, we’re no “further along” in many key respects at the end than we were at the start. Hell, it remains an open question how much of this narrative is “real” and how much is a “dream,” but the damned thing is : at some point you stop caring about such trivialities and just accept what’s unfolding on the page for what it is — whatever that may be.

For my own part, I’ve long since stopped trying to define what I term, in wholly unoriginal fashion, the “David Tea comics experience,” and just kind of surrendered to it. This isn’t work that takes a page from any particular playbook or stylistic tradition, but likewise it’s too well-versed in the tropes and trappings of sequential storytelling for me to feel comfortable labeling it as “outsider art.” Tea is clearly schooled in how comics have been made — in how, the narrow-minded would argue, they “should” be made — but either through conscious disregard of said strictures or distinct lack of interest in maintaining/perpetuating them, his work has achieved, and continues to build upon, a loose visual and narrative language entirely its own.

There is no mistaking a comic by this dude for a comic by anyone else.

It is, therefore, wholly accurate to say that the nuts and bolts of what’s happening in Five Perennial Virtues #12 can be summed up as : “disheveled (possibly homeless?) Dave meets an attractive and interesting young lady, behaves oddly, and weird things happen — plus fourth-wall-busting philosophical asides,” but the thing about truth and accuracy that makes it such a pain in the ass is that it’s far too confining to apply to art. And so, as with the set-up of one of Tea’s plots, I look at the entirety of these comics as a springboard to something else, some other way of observing life on the one hand but also experiencing it on the other. I don’t know if that’s the intention, but then I don’t know that Tea can be accused of even having something as pedestrian as an “intention” in the first place. I recall, for instance, asking him a few years back when I interviewed him what his titular five perennial virtues were, and he told me that he was still figuring that out — but that he was pretty sure that, yes, there were five of them.

Take a moment and let that sink in : with nearly two decades of cartooning under his belt — a point at which most of his “peers” think they’ve got more or less everything figured out — David Tea is still feeling his way forward, learning on the job, deciding both what the hell he wants to do with his art and how he wants to do it. And that, right there, is what makes his comics not only interesting, but vital. Time will tell if the repeating symbolism and Biblical asides of “Pearl” are things he returns to or discards in future issues — if this is a taste of things to come or a one-off aside — but we needn’t worry either way : Tea will do what feels right on the page at the time, just as he’s done here.

Just as he always has. After all, I don’t think it’s ever been about creating the so-called “perfect” comic with this guy : it’s about creating a comic that is perfectly itself. His always are.


Five Perennial Virtues #12 : “Pearl” is available for $7.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at

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8 Shots From 8 Films: Special Robert Evans Edition

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

92 years ago today, Robert Evans was born in New York City.  He started out working in his brother’s clothing business but a chance meeting with actress Norma Shearer led to him becoming an actor.  And while Evans, by his own account, was not a particularly good actor, he did prove himself to be very skilled at playing the games of Hollywood.  Evans eventually moved from acting to production, first as an executive at Paramount and then as an independent producer.

He lived a life as glamorous and tumultuous as the stars of his pictures and his memoir, The Kid Stays In The Picture, is considered to be one of the classic show biz autobiographies.  He hung out with cinematic rebels like Jack Nicholson and Robert Towne and counted Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a friend.  He suggested that Francis Ford Coppola should direct The Godfather and, when Paramount put pressure on Coppola to cut the film down to two hours, it was Evans who famously announced that a two-hour Godfather was nothing more than a trailer.  He lost Ali MacGraw to Steve McQueen and, again by own account, he lost a lot of potentially productive years to cocaine.  (The Cotton Club scandal is one of the wildest in the history of Hollywood, though it should be noted that Evans himself was never charged with any wrongdoing.)  But, for all that he lost, Evans continues to gain admirers as being the epitome of the producer who was willing to take chances.  For all of his flamboyance, Evans had an eye for good material and the willingness to protect his directors.  In many ways, he was as important to the cinematic revolution of the 70s as the directors that he hired.  When Evans passed away in 2019, it was truly the end of an era.

Here, in honor of the birth and legacy of Robert Evans, are 8 Shots from 8 Films that Evans produced, either as studio chief at Paramount or as an independent producer.

8 Shots From 8 Robert Evans Films

Rosemary’s Baby (1968, dir by Romnn Polanski, DP: William A. Fraker)

Love Story (1970, dir by Arthur Hiller, DP: Richard Kratina)

The Godfather (1972, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, Cinematography by Gordon Willis)

Chinatown (1974, dir by Roman Polanski, DP: John A. Alonzo)

Marathon Man (1976, dir by John Schlesinger, DP: Conrad Hall)

The Cotton Club (1984, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, DP: Stephen Goldblatt)

The Two Jakes (1990, dir by Jack Nicholson, DP: Vilmos Zsigmond)

Sliver (1993, dir by Phillip Noyce, DP: Vilmos Zsigmond)

Film Review: The Ledge (dir by Howard J. Ford)

One year ago, Kelly (Brittany Ashworth) and her boyfriend, Luca (Talha Senturk), were climbing a mountain in Italy.  It was a great experience, until Luca put his foot on the wrong part of the mountain and promptly plunged to his death.

Now, on the anniversary of Luca’s fatal fall, Kelly and her friend Sophie (Anias Parello) are planning on climbing the mountain in his memory.  However, the night before their scheduled climb, they meet four friends.  Josh (Ben Lamb), Zach (Louis Boyer), Taylor (David Wayman), and Reynolds (Nathan Welsh) have known each other since they were kids.  They grew up together.  They went to high school and college together.  Now, they still go on weekend trips together, hoping to hold onto some remnant of their disappearing youth.  They’re a tightly-knit group, even though Zach, Taylor, and Reynolds seem to be a bit weary of Josh.

Josh invites Kelly and Sophie to hang out with the group.  Kelly, who is still mourning Luca, quickly grows disgusted with Josh’s overbearing and toxic personality.  Leaving Sophie behind, Kelly returns to her cabin to get some sleep.  When Sophie doesn’t return to the cabin, Kelly steps outside to look for her and discovers and films the four men tossing Sophie over the edge of a cliff.

With the men now pursuing her, Kelly has no choice but to climb the mountain from which Luca previously fell.  The men chase after her, reaching the top of the mountain before her and leaving Kelly trapped between the rocks below and Josh above.  Josh says that he just wants the camera but Kelly knows that there’s no way Josh is going to let her escape the mountain alive.

There’s a slightly interesting idea at the heart of The Ledge.  While Josh is, from the start, an obvious sociopath, the other three men are portrayed with a bit more ambiguity.  All three of them know that Josh is dangerous and, when Josh initially kills Sophie, all three of them initially resist his demands that they help him cover up what has happened.  In the end, though, all three of them set aside their qualms and literally get blood on their hands.  Taking as individuals, Taylor, Zach, and Reynolds are all level-headed and even likable but none of them are willing to stand up to Josh and, when they get together as a group, only Reynolds is the only one to weakly protest their actions.  Even though Zach, Taylor, and Reynolds are not as vicious as Josh, they all became complicit in his actions when they decided that their loyalty to the group was more important than doing the right thing.  As such, it doesn’t matter that Zach has a family or that Taylor initially tried to calm Josh down.  It doesn’t even matter that the guilt-stricken Reynolds, at one point, allows Kelly to run past him rather than attempt to capture her.  For all of the guilt that they feel as a result of their actions, Taylor, Zach, and Reynolds are all complicit because none of them were willing to do the right thing from the start.  The fact that they don’t do more to stop Josh make them just as guilty as he is.

As I said, it’s an interesting idea but the film doesn’t really do much with it.  Indeed, once Kelly starts to climb that mountain, the narrative gets bogged down with flashbacks to her relationship with Luca and scenes of Josh shouting insults at her while she climbs.  The film features some striking shots  and Brittany Ashworth is a likable lead but the narrative momentum stalls out early.  It turns out that there’s only so much time you can spend watching one person climb and one person yell until your attention starts to wander elsewhere.  Much like Luka, The Ledge gets off to a promising enough start but then loses its grip and falls back to Earth.