Whoa! What the heck! Based on the level of opprobrium aimed at me in the last few days, you’d think I’d come up with a plan for health care or something. Instead, I just posted some ideas and hoped for debate. Well, I got it! I guess the internet works after all.
As regular readers may note, I have been away for the last few days so have not been able to keep up with the lively debate here and elsewhere. For the record, I had most of the ideas for the Best American Comics 2007 post (I wouldn’t be brazen enough to call it an essay) when I first read BAC 2007 two months ago but never had time to put it on paper until now, and obviously still haven’t had the time. For those who accused it of being rambling and vague, well it was because it was a BLOG post meant to inspire debate, not (unfortunately) an essay that I worked on for months and months. In hindsight, perhaps I should have given it a few days to mature, but I felt it was better to get it out before I left for SPX and was seduced by the charm and sincerity of the kids and forgave everything. It definitely could have used some tightening up, but I do stand by what I said.
That said, here are some responses to the responses, and before anyone gets upset or brings out a water cannon THESE ARE RANDOM RESPONSES WRITTEN IN MORE OR LESS REAL TIME AND NOT A TIGHTLY THOUGHT OUT ESSAY. You got that?
I do regret that my stream of consciousness writing seems to have left my central point misunderstood by nearly everybody, except this guy, who I never even heard of. Oh, and Ron Hogan who is apparently an amazing mind reader who parsed my actual arguments apparently. I’m especially sad that someone like Sean Collins think that I said this:
A conception of comics that invalidates Kevin Huizenga’s “The Sunset” or Anders Nilsen’s The End or John Hankiewicz’s Asthma is not a useful one to me, or probably to comics.
I haven’t read ASTHMA, but I’ve gone on record many times with my respect and enjoyment of Huizenga and Nilsen. But that’s because both of them do just was I was trying to encourage — they FILTER THEIR IDEAS THROUGH MADE UP CHARACTERS AND SITUATIONS. Nilsen can get a little haiku at times, but he also knows how to use thematic and story elements to construct a greater whole (DOGS AND WATER.) Huizenga is even more of a yarn spinner, although his concerns are philosophical.
Of all people, Alan David Doane, who has no love for me, comes closest to seeing what I was getting at:
This is a tough one. Heidi is well-liked in most quarters, but has never been a particularly compelling critic and certainly not someone whose tastes I trust in the same way I do her seeming opponents in this, Spurgeon and Butcher. That said, I agree with her on Fort Thunder’s lack of real impact as a generational paradigm-shifter (although what that has to do with Sergio Aragones, who knows? Isn’t he an evolutionary dead-end as well? Even if a great one?). She’s full of shit about today’s cartoonists not creating characters other than themselves, obviously: Street Angel, Wimbledon Green (as Butcher pointed out earlier), all of the Super-Fuckers, a big catch of characters in Jordan Crane’s Uptight, the work of Jeff Lemire, The Surrogates, Bluesman, Jesus Christ I could go on, and this is just off the top of my head. But again, Heidi’s not at her best constructing logical arguments. Which is too bad, because she’s kind of right about the Best American Comics anthologies. Kind of.
Wow, the enemy of my friends is my…friend? What’s to become of us? Perhaps my biggest gaff was not making it clear enough what I meant by “the next generation.” (And that will have to wait for different post.) I don’t think ADD’s list really proves anything, though. I love STREET ANGEL (and have said it here many, many times), but Jim Rugg is exactly the kind of “new mainstream” creator who deserves to be taken more seriously by the literary crowd. Kochalka and Seth (my praise for WIMBLEDON GREEN in the much hated piece was genuine not ironic) are both older, established creators — if they don’t know how to create a character by now, forget about it. I’d kind of argue with the rest of the list (and they certainly can’t compare with an 80s list of Buddy Bradley and Milk and Cheese) but we BOTH forgot the best example — Huizenga’s Jeepers Jacobs.
Several people brought up FLIGHT, and I *alomost* mentioned it in the original piece but even I knew that was too much. In all honesty, the FLIGHT kids are perfects examples of the “good hit, no field” phenomenon I’m talking about. They all draw like the dickens, but their storytelling skills are still developing. They are attempting to go in that direction, but a once a year anthology isn’t really the kind of regular work you need to mature and refine. (There are some of those economic concerns I spoke of at play here, but that must await a furthur essay.)
FORT THUNDER: Okay, maybe “dead end” wasn’t the greatest terminology but from a practical standpoint, unless you believe that all cartoonists should live in a squat and play in noise bands at night, it was just a wonderful one time thing, kind of like the Algonquin Roundtable, or the Left Bank Gang, or the Beats. From an artistic standpoint, the message was “Expressionism is great!” and they didn’t invent that. It’s great to romanticize the time and place and wish we had been there (I do) but no one who isn’t Brian Chippendale will ever do something like Brian Chippendale. Its beauty was in its complete idiosyncrasy. (That said, I came across an alarming anthology at SPX that consisted of young cartoon students drawing exactly like Kramer’s Ergot contgributors, and not in anything but a slavish way. Odd.)
FINALLY, I never said I thought that BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2007 was a bad anthology full of bad comics. QUITE THE OPPOSITE. I think it’s a fine collection of great cartooners like Carol Tyler, Lynda Barry and Los Bros. Hernandez. There are obviously some weaker pieces in there as well, but why name names and make people feel bad? I also loved Ivan Brunetti’s ANTHOLOGY OF GRAPHIC FICTION, and have said so publicly and privately many time. To my dismay, a few of my supporters seemed to take my rant as a chance to say that there should be more Image and Vertigo or even superhero comics in future “best of” books. In words of a single syllable: please God, no.
Then there’s Stephen Hirsch, who represents the “I’m in grad school and must be rigorous” approach. He has some decent points in there, but in one post writes:
Heidi’s complaints are all based upon some normative idea of story that not only goes undefined, but is absolutely obscured by her citation of disparate, contradictory works and techniques as examples of good story.
By reacting to the book the way she does, Heidi implies that it’s canonical and gives it some authority that it doesn’t and shouldn’t have. I see comics as an art form refreshingly free of any rigid canon, and would like to see it remain that way.
Hm, an art form refreshingly free of rigid canon that…oh, might include disparate, contradictory works and techniques, maybe? Make up your mind.
Now then, even allowing as how I may have written a poorly structured piece, I was still a bit taken aback by the, well…intensity of the reproach. I wrote a piece of, admittedly, strong opinions which I meant to ENCOURAGE debate. I didn’t poison baby puppies in the park. Chris Butcher in particular is playing a real game of intellectual dishonesty with this.
You don’t get to write something like that and then play the “I was just trying to encourage debate!” card. Quite honestly, I don’t find that the arguments that Heidi has set forth are worth debating, or really, that they’re arguments at all. Further, I feel like even engaging it gives it an unwarranted weight, and I’m sorry for two posts on the subjects in as many days.
And what was my argument as Chris put it, that was so unimportant that he had to write three posts about it? I’m still not sure, but I think this is it:
You don’t like Houghton Mifflin, Anne Elizabeth Moore, and Chris’ Ware’s take on the best comics of 2006? Hey, neither did I, but at least I didn’t decide to blame a mysterious cabal of shadowy autobiographists/Art Spiegelman for it.
which WASN’T my point at all. I did like the book and said so. What I don’t like is the trend of valuing expressionism, formalism and “comica verité” for their own sake at the expense of what I would call “mainstream fiction”, or formally conventional but narratively complex stories such as Love & Rockets, Exit Wounds, Ode to Kirihito, Ice Haven (Shock!!) or American Born Chinese. And yes, Tom, I KNOW these works have all been praised and nominated all over the place. That still doesn’t mean we can’t examine them again and compare and contrast different lines of critical thought.
Since I am always being asked for examples, it is much more impressive to me when Rutu Modan, a 40-year old woman, writes a story about a rootless 20- something young man and makes it resonate with truth than when a 20-something young man draws endless panels of himself rootlessly doing things (Jonathan Bennett). One shows skill, the other talent. I can and do enjoy the subjective experience of what I shall refer to as “first person essay comics” but I generally (and this is personal taste mind you) admire narrative fiction more. And I think it is no giant leap of foolish conjecture to say that more up and coming cartoonists are interested in exploring “first person essays” than narrative fiction. And despite what many people are saying, I think this is an interesting topic for exploration.
(I should point out that Chris wrote a post on the book earlier in the week which I didn’t read expressly because I didn’t want to be influenced in the 11th hour by something I had had on my mind for so long.)
So great is the enormity of my suspected puppy poisoning in the park that something rather disturbing (to me anyway) happened. While my internet access was limited this weekend, one of Tom Spurgeon’s posts here got held for moderation because it had two links in it. My WordPress spam filters are strong, and more than a single link and a comment goes into moderation. (I get something like 1500 spam posts a day.) Tom was so alarmed by this that he felt compelled to post at Chris’s blog:
It looks like my comment privileges have been taken away by Heidi until she approves of what I wrote.
Or at least that’s what I take “Your comment is awaiting moderation” next to my last post to mean. I don’t know that anyone else can see it.
That is so achingly sad and beyond pathetic I’m even more stunned than I was by that original posting.
Chris was equally alarmed by the situation and raced over to the Beat to explain that Tom couldn’t post. To Tom’s credit, upon reflection he did suspect that it was just a posting glitch and not a vast right wing conspiracy, and apologized, and Chris allowed as how that might be it in his post, too.
That said, I’m saddened that I have fallen so low in Tom and Chris’s estimation that they’d – no matter how fleetingly – think me capable of this kind of censorship. For God’s sake — I posted my piece BEFORE I WENT AWAY FOR THE WEEKEND. Is that really the act of someone who is afraid of a withering rebuttal? I didn’t write that post to be popular, and knew there would be blowback. But I’m a grown up and I can handle it. Really.
To sum up, although my initial salvo in these matters may not have been as tightly structured (ah yes, good old structure) as it should have been, I do feel quite strongly about the issues at hand. I will endeavor to clarify and expand upon these thoughts at a more measured pace in the weeks to come. The nights and days are getting cold, and we’ll all have a lot more time at the computer. Doesn’t THAT sound fun?
PS: the title of this post is a quote from cartoonist C.F. during his spotlight at this weekend’s SPX (about which I HOPE to write more) — he was talking about the writers of the Valiant Comics of the 90s, but it seemed to on appropriate on many levels.