COMICS: John Reviews “Seaguy” by Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart

Seaguy Volume 1

Seaguy Volume 1

WARNING: If you don’t like overwhelmingly positive reviews filled with glowing praise, stop reading right now.  Additionally, if you don’t like incredibly wonderful stories that are emotionally moving and chock-a-block with symbolism, Seaguy is a comic to avoid.

Did you ever get the feeling that everything worth doing has already been done?  That there are no more adventures to be had in this factory-farmed, mass-produced, flat-cultured world? Well, that’s how the titular hero feels every day in Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart’s Seaguy. Seaguy’s world is one supposedly in its “happily ever after” age, where all the villains have been defeated and all the heroes have retired.  Everyone spends their days laughing and playing in Mickey Eye Amusement Park, and their nights watching the Mickey Eye Show while eating dinner made from a mysterious pink foodstuff called Xoo.  Not everything is perfect in Comfort Zone 17, however, as a series of unexpected occurrences send Seaguy and his best pal Chubby Da Choona (a flying, talking, cigar-smoking fish) on an adventure to save a new friend, prove worthy of a would-be girlfriend, and discover the mystery of the moon meteorites. But nothing is as it seems on the other side of the moon, and you should never trust a butterfly…

Chubby Da Choona

Chubby Da Choona

Though it jumps wildly over the surreality cliff as early as the second panel on the first page, Seaguy is a book that can be enjoyed on multiple levels.  On its surface, it’s a very strange tale of action, science fiction and strange fantasy with a sad ending (which was never intended to be the final word, just the end of the first part of a true trilogy.)  In a slightly less overt way, Seaguy is a commentary on the Disneyification of modern culture and the Powers-that-be’s attempts to homogenize and commodify anything and everything. The world (as evidenced by Comfort Zone 17) has become so homogenized and safe that even Death Himself, once a terrifying and awe-inspiring figure, is relegated to the role of lowly gondolier and Seaguy’s black/white color-blind chess opponent.  The Powers-that-be created a general-purpose foodstuff from which they make every food available at supermarkets, further cementing their complete control over the population.  No one knows what it is, and no one bothers to ask (“I dunno what’s in the stuff.  It’s Xoo – It’s new!  It says so everywhere.”)  The story is rife with Disney homages/parodies, all of which are terribly obvious once you understand this theme, though more than one personal friend has informed me that they completely missed them on first reading (C’mon, people!  His name is Mickey Eye!  The entire theme park is branded with Eyes the way Disneyland is with Mickey’s ears!  And Disney is notorious for having every square inch of their theme parks covered with security cameras! /rant.)

Along similar lines, many comic fans see Seaguy as an indictment of modern superhero comics’ brand-centeredness and refusal to let their characters grow and change over time.  The gigantic double splash page flashback to the last great superhero battle against “Anti-Dad” is an obvious homage to the final battle of Crisis on Infinite Earths versus the Anti-Monitor. Further, the references to the “Dad Age” of superheroes when things were simpler and heroes fought against villains sounds suspiciously like the Golden (1930s – 1940s) and Silver (1950s – 1970s) ages of comics.  Indeed, Seaguy seems almost to act as an alternate path that comics might have gone down instead heading into the Iron Age.  In Morrison’s own words:

“I had the idea to develop Seaguy into a weapon I could use to fight back against the trendy and unconvincing ‘bad-ass’ cyncism of current comics, most of which are produced by the most un-‘bad-ass’ men you can possibly imagine. In the current climate, it seemed like an act of rebellion to deliberately create ‘the new sentimentality’ and produce work that was almost embarrassingly dripping with tender and awkward feelings.”  Those tender and awkward feelings provide the best moments in the book, and are a key component of my favorite theme in Seaguy.

Beneath the crazy adventure story, beneath the Disney culture commentary, and even beneath the indictment of superhero comics lies my favorite layer of Seaguy: the coming-of-age story.  Morrison has mentioned in numerous interviews that Seaguy is meant to be a trilogy (consisting of three 3-issue miniseries) that chronicle the three most important stages in the life of Seaguy: The end of childhood, the awkward transition through adolescence and the actualization of adulthood.  This first volume works wonderfully as a coming-of-age story, beginning with a naieve young man who yearns for adventure and ending with the death of innocence and the terrible realization that the world is a far worse place than it seemed.  Seaguy learns that the people he trusted all his life don’t really have his best interest at heart, that his heroes are either insane or sellouts, and that he is painfully alone in the world.  Sometimes adventures are not all they’re cracked up to be, but whether he remembers it or not, Seaguy is happier when he knows the awful truth than when he lives inside a wonderful lie.

Speaking of endings, I seem to be fairly unique in my love of Seaguy’s final moment, or at least in my reasons for loving it.  Before I picked up this first volume, I had the benefit of knowing that Seaguy would be continued in another volume and eventually brought to its intended conclusion.  With that in mind, what initially seems to be a return to the status quo of page 1 seems instead to be an inversion.  Seaguy seems more confident and clever, with just a hint of recollection behind his eyes.  It left me with the feeling that while things may seem the same for now, Seaguy knows that the real adventure is in finding out what the heck happened to the world, and ending Mickey Eye’s stranglehold on society.

Oh! I almost forgot!  This is a comic book, and Cameron Stewart deserves heaping mountains of credit for bringing the world of Seaguy to life. Not only does every relevant scene have that Disney fairytale charm about it, but every non-Disneyified detail is so horrifyingly rendered that it throws the rest of Seaguy’s surroundings into stark relief.  Backgrounds are fully realized and painstakingly detailed, helping the reader immerse him/herself in a world that, while completely bat-guano crazy, is also incredibly exciting and enticing.  Peter Doherty’s bright, vibrant colors make Comfort Zone 17 scream with radiance and cheer, which makes the later locations’ darkness and subtlety all the more powerful.  NOTE: the colors get even better in Volume 2, when the legendary Dave Stewart takes over. Then again, I’ve been known to buy books solely for his colors, so perhaps I’m not completely objective.

Seaguy is one of my all-time favorite comic series, taking a place at the table with the likes of Transmetropolitan and V for Vendetta. It’s a quirky story that combines light-hearted action, whimsical fantasy, deeply moving tragedy, shocking horror, shadowy conspiracy and multiple thematic layers.  I’ll just come right out and say it: You need it to live.  Now go buy it, or else the Mickey Eye Park security guards are going to throw a bag over my head and force me to work in the eyelash mines for the rest of my life!

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