Sam Ombiri on Men’s Group The Video by Ben Jones
I find I am often longing for a great comic. This longing has the feeling of a hole with a specific shape that only allows a corresponding shape to fit in. I suppose there’s no sense in wondering why I want to read a good comic; I mean I don’t want to read a bad comic as far as I know, although I don’t mind reading a bad one. There’s a lingering dissatisfaction that often comes from reading good work, taking it for granted how good the work is, and then moving on to the next good work to take for granted. There’s something rather depressing about it. It seems to me that Ben Jones’ work is often consumed along in this manner.
It’s apparent when I run into a knock off of Ben Jones’ or Paper Rad’s work that it’s being done by someone who totally missed the mysterious and vague point of Ben Jones’ work. Which to be fair seems mysterious even to him. In an interview in his book, Men’s Group The Video, Ben Jones says “I don’t get Gumby. You can’t say he’s well animated. I didn’t even watch Gumby all that much as a kid. I’m not trying to call back to some 1970s nostalgia. I’m not using characters for their pop iconographic value. I’m using them as language.” He later says “I’m trying to use Gumby for what Gumby was intended for…” to which he adds “I’m deadly serious about my characters. I don’t mean this as a joke: I feel like Shakespeare, and I’m using star-crossed lovers. I’m very much interested in my characters as much as Shakespeare was interesting in using cheesy things like lovers and kings to tell interesting stories.”
Men’s Group The Video benefits by not being jam packed with a lot of comics. This allows the comics to be more closely examined by the preceding text casually asking questions about the comics. In the case of Gumby, Ben finds himself optimizing what Gumby’s presence in Ben Jones’ work represents or invokes or communicates.
There’s an interview where Kevin Huizenga says “Ben Jones has always been really inspiring to me, I think it’s because- this sounds stupid- he is very creative. He just comes up with amazing things. His work is unified in a strange way, too. It’s hard to explain. The way he’ll just draw a comic about muppet babies as if it’s no big deal and they’ll be rapping or something. It’ll be really funny but beautiful and scary too.”
Men’s Group The Video is packed with what appear to be, metaphorically speaking, a magnifying glass to what Ben Jones is doing with the comics language (as well as other mediums). He has created this mythology of this collective called Men’s Group The Video that in a certain sense exists. The idea or the impression of the existence of the collective is used as a language of sorts to communicate a certain feeling Ben Jones is trying to get at. It also allows him raise new questions in this mode of communicating. Some “members” of this collective write essays, some, like the painter Joe Bradley, write poetry. Some “members” like Dan Nadel interview Ben Jones. Reading these texts are important in relation to the comics, because while the comics are immensely strong on their own, the comics are even more so felt with a certain depth. They also give loads of clarity, and somehow create more mystery simultaneously to the comics and art Ben did in Men’s Group The Video and the work he did with Jessica and Jacob Ciocci in the past.
Ben’s work often seems to be about solving the mystery of him drawing what he did at the time that he did it. Ordinarily with most other comics, it would seem goofy to question the drawings in this way. It seems fitting to ask the question despite the goofy nature of the question, but the ingrained nature of what he’s drawing is goofiness. Ben doesn’t have a big answer to this question he just keeps circling it with more art and comics that don’t cease to be compelling.
Cement Mixer – 11-8-18 – by Caleb Orecchio