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It's a Dog's World: A canine id factor hints at the secret desire that binds Silent Bob and Jay in Kevin Smith's contribution to 'Oni Double Feature.'

'Clerks' director Kevin Smith turns his film characters into comic-book heroes with a sexual subtext

By Richard von Busack

TALK ABOUT your sexual tension! Director Kevin Smith has been teasing fans for years with the apparently more-than-friendly relationship between his regular characters Silent Bob and Jay. The two stoners, seen in Smith's "New Jersey Trilogy" of films--Clerks (1994), Mallrats (1996) and Chasing Amy (1997)--are now starring in Smith's comic books for Oni, a publisher in Portland, Ore.

In his first appearance in Clerks, Jay (Jason Mewes) tips off the audience to his (perhaps) subconscious attraction to his mute pal, Silent Bob (played by Smith himself). Jay, a small-time reefer salesman who spends his days propping up the front wall of a New Jersey convenience store, tells Bob, "You're rude, but you're cute as hell. I'd like to go down on ya ..."

And then Jay snaps out of it, violently. The joke has gone too far. Pushing Bob, who hasn't responded at all to Jay's declaration, Jay says, "Hey, you faggot, fuck ya. I hate guys, I love women."

Currently, Oni publishes two comic books featuring Silent Bob and Jay, with a whole Jay and Silent Bob issue scheduled for this summer. Now in print are Oni Double Feature #1 ($2.95), scripted by Kevin Smith and illustrated by ex-San Josean Matt Wagner, and Clerks (The Comic Book) ($2.95), scripted by Smith and illustrated by Jim Mafhood, with a cover by Gilberto Hernandez.

The Silent Bob and Jay adventure in Oni Double Feature (the non-Smith half of the double feature is a self-congratulatory comic by Arnold and Jacob Pander about pirate radio) is titled "Walt Flanagan's Dog." Silent Bob and Jay get high and go for a walk. They cross the path of a yapping lap dog named Krypto, who belongs to comic-book-store hanger-outers Walt and Steve-Dave.

Walt and Steve-Dave run out of their house half-naked; they had been engaged in a game of "Comic Book Trivia Strip Poker" when Krypto's barking disturbed them. The two try to chase Silent Bob and Jay away. In revenge, our heroes decide to mess Krypto up with some secondhand hash smoke. The dog gets stoned and rolls over, sporting a proud erection.

The Freudian aspect of this tale is too rich to be ignored. Silent Bob and Jay's thing for each other is acted out on a canine surrogate. When touched below the belt--or where his belt would be, if dogs wore belts--Krypto begins barking furiously and chases the two around town.

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View Askew Productions: All about Kevin Smith's movies.

Oni Press: Publishers of Kevin Smith's comics.

The Kevin Shrine: A fan page with lots of pictures, desktop themes and even a virtual tour of places featured in Smith's movies.

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THIS CANINE panic is no doubt a symbol of society's furious reaction to homosexuality--especially New Jersey society's. Too extreme an interpretation? So, OK, here's another Smith plot, this time from Clerks (The Comic Book). Walt is caught in a Star Wars action-figures price war with Dante and Randall, the title characters from the film Clerks. Walt is almost traded to another male collector as a male sex slave in exchange for some Star Wars toys. Thanks to quick action by Silent Bob and Jay, who frame a male truck driver for sexually harassing them, Walt is spared.

In Clerks (The Comic Book), Smith has a great deal of fun devising imaginary Star Wars "chase" (i.e. "highly collectible") action figures, such as Handless Luke and Burnt Aninkin Skywalker. But Smith's work in both his comics and his films is most interesting when he drops hints about sexual politics that aren't supposed to exist in the suburbs.

Smith's last film, Chasing Amy, which was popular with younger viewers, seemed like a breakthrough because it was about sexual confusion. (Admittedly, the film treated the subject in the tentative, injured fashion that 20-year-old female singer-songwriters treat romantic love.)

Maybe the very circumspect way in which Smith approached sexual issues made the film safe for the suburbs. Those few viewers who took that badly flawed film seriously realized that Smith was really up to something by discussing homosexual panic in a straight-guy's movie. The director/writer was trying to battle his way out of the suburban homophobia that permeated his upbringing.

Smith's presence in the comic-book field is no surprise; he's an avid fan who's loaded his films with reference to comics. The fact that he is now creating comic books after becoming an independent-film darling lends prestige to the medium.

Unfortunately, although Smith's name is giving these underground comics prestige, he isn't writing the kind of material that might make it possible for a mainstream audience to take the art form more seriously.

I hope Smith will eventually use the comic-book format to create some more thoughtful work, as he did in the best scenes in Chasing Amy. Unfortunately, so far, in his comics, women are completely out of the picture, and the storytelling is a step backward into Jay's blustering dick-wielding world.

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From the May 7-13, 1998 issue of Metro.

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