Friday, May 16, 2008

Lesser Known Joe Casey Comics: Autopilot

[Another in my random look at Joe Casey-penned comics that most people have either forgotten or just never heard of. As always, I will end my post by asking if it should remain forgotten or not. New posts happen at random.]

"Autopilot" showed up in a Dark Horse anthology called Reveal back in November 2002. I didn't buy a copy until just recently--when it came out, I read "Autopilot" right there in the store. But, if I'm to be a Joe Casey expert as some (well, Tim) have called me, I need them all, don't I?

And how could I not have "Autopilot," the semi-autobiographical comic by Joe Casey and Sean Philips? Hell, how can you? You want to know what was going on with Casey's Uncanny X-Men, Adventures of Superman and Wildcats runs? Look no further, good sir!

Really, this is a story that most comic fans should read. It is about balancing your real life including stuff like an uncle dying and paying the bills with these fictional universes that people care deeply about with your own hopes and aspirations of creating fantastic works of art. Those are three things that can rarely be balanced in any successful way and Casey knows this. And he tells us this.

His discussion of the "Franchise" team is frank and honest: "They offered you the gig. You took it. You did your job. Big sales. Big royalties. Big heat. Okay, not your BEST work, but you don't regret these things when you've just bought a HOUSE..."

I remember my favourite reply to anyone who bitched about Casey's work on Wildcats (not the book discussed above, but this does relate) was that he wasn't just ruining their favourite characters... he was getting paid to ruin them. Ho ho, aren't I clever?

But, that's what Casey is hinting at here: the reality of comics of is that it's a business and, ultimately, do you think a lacklustre run on Uncanny X-Men seems that bad when it bought you a house? Casey goes on to lament the fact that he couldn't do a better job, because that matters, too, but...

I don't know, which of these things matter more? Grant Morrison likes to discuss how these fictional characters are more real than we are, how they will outlive us all--does that mean that making them the best we can matters more than paying the bills? Or what about creating fantastic works of art? Creating the most literate and layered Superman story may be all well and good, but what if it does a disservice to the character? Some would say that The Dark Knight Returns did just that. So, did it fail at one of the three concerns I mentioned above while succeeding at the other two?

But, which one matters most?

Joe Casey doesn't write any of the comics discussed here. All ended prematurely (in my opinion) and were successful in their own ways (even Uncanny X-Men). But, do any of those things matter as much as real life?

The title of the story is "Autopilot" and says a lot about the work we read on a lot of corporate comics. How often have you read an issue and thought the writer was just going through the motions? Well, Casey is here to tell you that, yeah, that happens. But, writing comics is a job and can you honestly say you've given it 100% every single day at your job? We have these conceptions of what it means to be a writer, to be an artist, but it's a job. And sometimes you're tired or you need the money or your life has gone to hell and the work suffers. It happens to everyone, just not nearly as public... and just not in such an unforgiving atmosphere.

At the same time, does that excuse bad work? I don't think so... and neither does Casey. It's complicated. And there are no answers to these questions--at least none that make sense. As Casey says at the end: "You know you've pulled yourself up to something others DREAM about. You TRY to keep that perspective. / But REAL life waits for you in bed. She's warm and inviting, even when she sleeps. / You try to reconcile the fact that we're ALL products of hard work, luck, and fate. / You try to reconcile a LOT of thing."

Should this story remain forgotten? No. In addition to Casey's wonderfully honest writing, there's some Sean Philips art where he uses a much sparser style than we're used to. It looks very different from his other work and is very good. As well, it's only found in Reveal, which has lots of other stuff in it and you'll probably enjoy some of it.