The Post That Wouldn’t Die continues to captivate the blogosphere, and many of my private conversations. My mom called to say she enjoyed it, which was nice. Eddie Campbell, ties it in with a larger thesis of conservatism breeding homogeniety in comics.
Frank Santoro author of STOREYVILLE, pipes up independently, and I would be overjoyed if his comments were substitued for mine, because he says what I was trying to say in a paragraph:
I feel like I need to be careful here because I’m not saying that I don’t like the new crafty, abstract work that was in evidence this year — I’m simply taking note that there is something new going on. And I like it. The work is beautiful. I do, however, lament the absence of strong characters in this new trend. Whether the comic is well-executed or dashed off what I notice is there isn’t much of a story or any real characters to identify with. There’s no distance, no mediator between the artist’s intention and the reader’s comprehension. I know I’m over-generalizing here. But it’s sort of like abstract painting, which I love, but often leaves me wanting more. Yet the work is usually so visually stunning that one has to hope that the craft and narrative elements will start to balance out. And, ultimately, I hold out much more hope for this approach to making alt comics than the rehashing of every Clowes, Ware, or Tomine story of the last 15 years.
I don’t mean to taint Santoro as an ally — he just happened to notice the same thing I’ve been noticing.
Of course for every person who shares the same concerns, there are the continuing grossly unhelpful over-generalizarions such as the reduction of my argument to “Chris Ware hates storytelling comics” . The worst offender is undoubtedly this guy who, shamefully, actually thinks he agrees with me . No you don’t, and just go away.
Independently, The Comics Journal crowd goes on for 14 pages over Craig Yoe’s yearly lament that “the kids can’t draw.” The Golden Age of comics truly was Roy Crane, and Craig and I probably agree on that.
Chris Mautner at Blog@ goes on a point-by-point rebuttal which has some interesting points, but I felt it misread what I wrote in several place. (For instance, I did post my opinion of FLIGHT in my follow-up.) Also, this interpretation of my thoughts is way off-base:
I found this sentence rather amusing, having recently read Bart Beaty’s Unpopular Culture, which talks extensively about how the current generation of European cartoonists like Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar have deliberately rebelled against the type of middlebrow sort of storytelling that Heidi (I think) is trumpeting here. These kind of art vs. entertainment issues exist everywhere. They aren’t especially particular to American comics.
While I take full responsibility for cramming too many ideas into one piece, nowhere did I call for “middlebrow” storytelling. I called for more craft in storytelling. Big difference. Also, Sfar, as I understand it (partially based on an unpublished interview I conducted with him last year) is also interested in a more meaty kind of storytelling. The website for Bayou, the line Sfar edited for Gallimard, cites as influences “Popeye, Alexandre Dumas, Asterix or Sempé. Or Crumb or Mark Twain or Georges Brassens.” That list is fine by me, and if its “middlebrow,” let ‘er rip. One Bayou title Aya, by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie, has been published in English, and it’s exactly the kind of storytelling I’m talking about — there are obvious autobiographical elements, but the material has been shaped in a literary manner.
Whoever said that my comments were used as a spinning wheel to grind whatever axe someone had sitting around that day probably had it right. From my vantage point talking to people and scanning the blogosphere, it’s very clear that The Natives Are Restless. The comics industry, which was on life support 8-10 years ago, isn’t eating Top Ramen for every meal, but can splurge on an occasional peanut butter sandwich. A retail community strong enough to organize; book chains with existing large, stable graphic novels sections expanding to include graphic novel sections for kids; major publisher attempting expansion with new imprints and platforms — these are all signs that a certain plateau of growth has been reached. We’ve reached the Pacific Ocean but now we’ve got to build a boat or a city and turn back, and no one wants to do that.
Part of the unrest involves issues of quality and lasting value. Mautner links to this review by Abhay Khosla which gives the otherwise well-reviewed Jeremy Tinder a whuppin’:
If you’re mistaking this comic book for autobiography, you need to start talking to actual human beings.
Live! Experience! Take drugs! You! Me! Dancing!
This comic book is not about anything resembling real people. The term you’re groping for is “hipster wish-fulfillment fantasies”.
Mautner links to the review as a rare example of someone being mean. The review is harsh, but perhaps necessary. (I haven’t read Tinder’s book.) There ar ea lot of books which get general praise without examining their flaws. And no I’m not going to name them right now. But as I’ve learned in my job as the graphic novel review editor for PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, praising everything eventually makes your audiences distrust you.
In all honesty, one of the reasons for my controversial ruminations was my recent office clean-up and a concurrent home cleansing. It was a sad and sobering task to go through two years of DC and Image comics. As I did so, Cindy Williams’ line from THE CONVERSATION went through my head. “I always think that he was once somebody’s baby boy.” With 16 years of on and off comics creation myself, I knew that each and every comic had gone into the world with some hope of touching someone, or entertaining someone. But now they were so much paper to be disposed of.
My home cleanup has been even more distressing. I HAVE TOO MANY COMICS FOR A SMALL NEW YORK APARTMENT. I’ve been deciding what stays and what goes, and there is a lot of knee-jerk nostalgia that goes into this. I have just about every graphic novel from most of the important publishers sitting in my living room, but I have been forced to adapt Draconian measures in order to get to my window sill. Every volume has been weighed and considered. Once I got going it was much easier, but there are still so many books that I want to read, or hope to someday read. But I know I won’t. But I’m afraid of tossing something that I’ll regret.
The entire comics industry seems to be going through this feeling a bit right now, hence the current surge in interest in reliable and intelligent comics criticism. There is more good material available now than there has ever been. It’s all the good new stuff AND all the good old stuff, from DENNIS THE MENACE to NEXUS to KRAZY KAT to ARMY@LOVE. Something for everyone. Throw in Amazon, eBay and BitTorrent, and you have a brain melting embarrassment of riches — and abject crap. Where to turn? What is lasting? Who is hot and new? Who is hot and old? Who will be seen as important in ten years? These are dialogs and arguments that are ongoing. These are the dialogs and arguments that interest me and I will continue to explore them here and elsewhere.
In the end, I remain somewhat bemused by the hostility and hysteria that my post engendered, even from people who basically agreed with much of what I said. I think it’s unlikely that my post will destroy indie comics, as more than one person suggested. The greatest irony of all is that the #1 complaint from my detractors is that the piece wasn’t well-structured; apparently this is more important in a blog post than in a comic book story, if I’m reading correctly. Or maybe I’m just being snarky.
Okay that’s done for today. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about sales figures again. Everyone loves that! See you back at the ranch.