200810071231Today’s “It Kids” of snark and anti-establishmentarianism, Tucker and Nina Stone, are interviewed by Chris Mautner at Blog@Newsarama. Depending on your point of view, you will find them to be ultra-haters or honest proponents of an outsider viewpoint. Nina, who is new to comics, comments on the rollout of her exposure. Sometimes it pays off:

NS: OK. I saw that some of [the site comments] directed toward me were saying things like “this is like jumping into chapter seventy in a seventy-five chapter book and you really shouldn’t expect to understand.” And, you know, I learned from my American Splendor experience. I didn’t like the comic – and my opinion was based solely on that comic, at that time. People “commented” that I should really read his older stuff to get a better picture of what he’s really all about. So, I read a bit of his older stuff and watched the movie…and now I totally adore Harvey Pekar. And his wife. And I get it. I get what the comic was about, how it came to be, why it was successful, etc.

Sometimes it doesn’t:

So, after reading Final Crisis and all those comments, I decided to go to DCcomics.com, and spend a little time around there. Maybe there is some little primer there? Well, there actually IS some section that says “New to comics?” — so I clicked on it and it’s basically — I found it really funny because it has a FAQs page with minimal links and the questions are: “What are comics?” “Where can I buy comics?” “Where can I learn about comics and the comic fan community?” “And How does DC Comics, WildStorm, and Vertigo fit into all of this?” None of those FAQs really helped. So I clicked on Heroes and Villains and basically it tells me that to get caught up I need to read — 52, was that it?

Tucker argues from a more informed viewpoint, and once again, depending on which side you’re on, he’s either a connoisseur or an elitist:

It’s the same standard—that if it’s good, then it’s art, and if it’s not good, well it’s comics and you should shut up–over and over and it shouldn’t be because comics are in the same exact some marketplace as everything else. They’re not fighting for the comics dollar. There isn’t a comics dollar. They’re fighting for the entertainment dollar, It’s not just that manga sells more. Comics are up against TV, movies, video games, playing outside with a rope—run of the mill super-hero comics are fighting for the same free time that everything else is fighting for. It’s not enough that a comic is entertaining—it’s got to be more entertaining then it would be to watch a cat do something cute on YouTube, because that’s what it’s competing with for my time.

Stone also deals directly with the problem so many critics have: Contact between author and subject is all too possible and taints the whole barrel:

I made the mistake of responding directly to a creator who didn’t like the way I treated his shitty comic book. Back and forth, debating it like we respected each other’s opinion when in the end, I didn’t feel any different, he didn’t like me, and it wasn’t like he was going to break down and admit the thing was trash, and it wasn’t like I was going to lie and pretend I was kidding. At the end I felt dirty. I shouldn’t have done that. That’s me though, I had to learn. Now, I think I would just not get into it with them.

Dc-Universe-0-CoverIn a way,Tucker Stone is saying the most obvious thing possible: We should raise the bar to separate what is considered good from the vast sea of mediocrity masquerading as the majority of comics. And yet so many people spend so much time talking about that mediocrity. Dick Hyacinth picks up on the theme:

Comics readers seem to love the mediocre. I don’t think the problem with comics criticism (in a broad, broad, very inclusive sense) isn’t that it rewards terrible, bottom-of-the-barrell work; it’s that it rewards second-rate work. Any stab at respectability, no matter how modest, is too-often greeted with hosannas. I’ve seen people laud Kingdom Come because it used foreshadowing–which I’m sure we all remember is an actual, honest-to-god literary technique! I guess that’s a step up from those who think crying superheroes holding the charred remains of less-famous superheroes connotes respectability.

The way the comicnets obsess over mediocre comics, it’s as if movie blogs kept arguing the deep meaning and value of Beverly Hills Chihuahua and College all the time.

In all candor, The Beat is as guilty of this as anyone. Confronted with a sincere press release on something of, shall we say, “limited appeal,” we run it anyway, just in hopes that improvement is in the offing.

Look, did you see? We did it again. “Limited appeal.”

We meant to say “mediocre comics.”

We truly believe that this is a golden age for the graphic storytelling medium. Our recent trip to SPX proved that; it was the comics equivalent of a Christmas stocking, full of goodies and treasure. There are more and better trained cartoonists around us than at perhaps any time since the Golden Age of illustration.

Yet, every week we get stacks of comics from major publishers, and just sorting them out is a tedious chore, one to be fobbed off on interns, who, in turn, hate doing it. These comics have become so inbred, so tortured in their self-reflexive appeal to an an ever shrinking base that the brain automatically shifts away. Don’t get us wrong; there will be some new readers who will take the Nina Stone challenge and like it; in an Internet-driven world where mastery of inane factoids is currency, the draconian choice between total immersion or total rejection makes some kind of sense. So creating products for the cult makes economic sense. It’s the dearth of NON-cult products for new audiences that seems total nonsense. And despite what you may have heard, good comics(FUN HOME, WATCHMEN) win over more new readers than crappy comics do.

Slashfilm-Disney1At the same time, having worked in the comics industry, I know that the monthly or weekly grind lowers one’s resistance to crap. The joy of just getting a book out every month soon drowns out the tastebuds, and it’s only long afterwards that, stepping back, you can see the poverty of imagination.

There are lot of barely readable or unreadable comics out there, and yet they are being argued over as if they were a novel by Dostoyevsky. And you know what? They aren’t.

And people gradually wake up to that fact. Every once in a while, a comic comes along that hastens the awakening. This week, it’s NIGHTWING #149. Greg Burgas tales up the call.

Over at Every Day Is Like Wednesday, I came across a description of Nightwing #149: “[I]t is incredibly, spectacularly awful.” Caleb goes far more into it, and I just thought, “I must buy this. I must read it.” And so I bought it. And I read it. Boy howdy, he’s right. He celebrates its awfulness, however, believing that nothing can come “anywhere near the terrible glory” that is Nightwing #149. I can’t be quite so blasé about it, however. This is a bad comic. More than that, it’s a depressing comic. In a DC Universe that has recently been all about cruelty, this stands out. If you didn’t buy it, I thought I’d break it down for you.

Everyone grows up sometime. You just can’t keep arguing over this stuff and thinking about it without a little bit of your soul dying. Thus it pleases us to see a bright, perceptive person like Laura Hudson beginning to emerge into the light:

Coming directly off of my weekend at SPX, as well as recently reading a string of excellent, engrossing non-superhero graphic novels like Skim, Swallow Me Whole, and Alan’s War, picking up a comic book like Nightwing #149 feels a lot like shutting my hand in a car door. And I’m thinking — I’m thinking I should stop doing that.

We all need to raise the bar a little. I do; you do. We all do. It’s not that potboiling pieces of mediocre pap (or worse) won’t still come out. It’s just that we need to stop pretending they matter in any way, shape, or form.


  1. I appreciate the general sentiment but I’m a bit confused here in that

    1) I believe one of the Stones is my age
    2) I don’t get how people reacting negatively to an apparently obviously horrible comic like Nightwing #149 has anything to do with overpraising mediocre comics.

  2. Tom, that kind of nitpicky insistence on continuity is what is killing comics.

    I don’t know how old the Stones are. I met them and they are younger than me, which isn’t saying much. I classify everyone younger than me as “the kids.”

  3. Ah, of course. Thanks. My bad. I mistook the title of your post and its first sentence as something other than incidental Beat-speak. Thus my confusion. I’ll learn someday!

    And point #2?

  4. I haven’t read an issue of Nightwing in many years, but it’s totally not what I had in mind as a mediocre comic. In fact, beating up on Nightwing is exactly the sort of thing that can effectively reward the mediocre: “Sure, this isn’t great, or even particularly good, but at least it doesn’t involve a superhero wading around waist-deep in blood, gruesomely murdering other characters!”

  5. It is an odd duck of a topic… no one at my store supports Ultimates 3 or the new red Hulk, we even actively try to talk customers out of buying them and try something else… and yet Ultimates 3 and Red Hulk remain our best sellers… I find a good healthy sigh helps in the middle of the day

  6. Yes, if only I was as bright and perceptive as Laura Hudson, then I could stop wallowing in the ghetto of superhero comics and start reading quality literature. How dare I obtain some entertainment value from Hulk or Ultimates instead of discovering the pleasure of Skim or Alan’s War.

  7. Tom: for someone who doesn’t have the guts to have commenting on your own board, you sure like pissing in my wheaties!

    As the for title, it actually referred to young Laura Hudson at the end. the Stones, whatever their ages have NEVER been in on the superhero bandwagon as far as I can tell. I’m surprised your godlike powers of observation didn’t catch that.

  8. “Yes, if only I was as bright and perceptive as Laura Hudson, then I could stop wallowing in the ghetto of superhero comics and start reading quality literature. How dare I obtain some entertainment value from Hulk or Ultimates instead of discovering the pleasure of Skim or Alan’s War.”

    This type of knee-jerk reaction always gets my goat when these type of discussions come up. And I don’t mean to slag on Joseph here MANY, MANY, MANY, superhero fans react this way when told “hey you know there is a whole world of comics out there check it out what you’re reading is shit”.
    The thing that really gets me is how they seem all offend being told that others think what they like is crap. I know no one what to hear others think they have shitty taste, but really what does it matter what others thing of your taste?
    For example I love the films of Kevin Smith, something about them, I don’t know just speaks to me, I even like Mall Rats. Now all of my film geek friends think I’m insane because I like “that childish clap-trap”. You know what I still watch and enjoy his films, their thinking I’m a ‘tard for liking Kevin Smith in no way takes away from my enjoyment. This I think a lot of superhero fans need to learn.

  9. Dick: sadly, mediocrity rarely delivers a wake-up punch. It takes something as grotesque as a NIGHTWING to deliver that the needle to the eye.

  10. snoid : Because you constantly hear the indie comics fans and creators bitch and whine about superhero comics, and i find it odd that the general method of attracting new readers is to insult superhero fans. If someone tells me i am an idiot for liking superhero comics, i go to extra lengths to avoid whatever indie comic the person is shilling, i assume that comic fans at some point will join the rest of the world and realise that insults dont make many new customers.

    As for mediocre comics, therte are many of then out there, but i dont think you could get people to agree on what they are

  11. I have no idea who these people are but just reading the first page of the interview makes them sounds like kind of pretentious hipsters who revel in declaring how superheroes and those who enjoy them are ruining the industry for everyone else.

    But they still present themselves as experts of the genre when they admit they don’t read it. All they are really doing is perpetuating the idea that comic books are a genre unto themselves rather than a medium.

  12. On one hand, mediocrity is built into superhero comics — they come from a pulp generation of melodramatic, serial narrative. And that’s ok. General Hospital is not Neon Genesis Evangelion, so why does Ultimates 3 have to be The Road? If you bought that Nightwing, well then you’re probably so mad at yourself you won’t buy the next one.

    That being said, this was really interesting:

    So creating products for the cult makes economic sense. It’s the dearth of NON-cult products for new audiences that seems total nonsense.

    The word “cult” here really seems appropriate. But is “new audiences” adults or kids? I think that makes a difference. Still, it seems to me that kids still want to become part of the superhero cult though there seem to be generous practical and economic barriers against that happening. So does that want-to-join/wants-you-to-join Venn diagram further propagate the endless bad Nightwings? Or do you have to be in the cult for awhile before you can earn a Watchmen? or a Fun Home? is the cult necessary? I don’t know — rhetorical question.

    confession: I picked Nightwing up, looked at it, realized it had nothing to do with Batman RIP and looked lookalike so I left it on the rack. Read my nametag please. Can I clean your carpets?

    Great essay.

  13. Wait, so Neon Genesis Evangelion *isn’t* melodramatic serial narrative? News to me.

    Covering the larger topic, there are some (not a plethora, but some) superhero comics that rise above mediocrity to be honestly good, and some are even great. But Ultimates 3 and Hulk aren’t among them. Actually, now that I think of it, it makes a certain kind of sense that the books the companies hype the most are the most mediocre (or downright awful). After all, it’s not like the contents are going to sell themselves.

  14. Nobody is saying that there aren’t any good superhero comics, Joseph.

    I can only speak personally here, but I was writing from the perspective of a lifelong superhero comics fan who has tolerated too much chaff with her wheat for too long largely out of a sense of nostalgia, and it took the “needle to the eye” that Heidi describes, as well as the stark contrast of some excellent GNs that happened to be non-superhero, to finally trigger my tipping point.

    I’m not going to go burn my X-Men collection or anything, I’m just going to starting allocating my time and money towards comics that I think have a slightly higher standard of quality — regardless of genre — and to stop handicapping superhero titles when I make that assessment because of what certain characters or mythologies used to mean to me.

  15. In other words, buy a comic because it’s good now, not because it was good back in the day. Makes sense.

  16. Tucker may be a humorous writer, but let’s not kid ourselves that he’s saying anything even remotely revolutionary here. If anything, I find it kind of depressing a guy with his apparent talent and intelligence is wasting *his* time writing about comics he doesn’t like for an audience who would never have bought them in the first place.

  17. The idea that I’m a non-super hero fan is one that’s totally off base, and if that’s what people have gotten out of that interview, then oh well, whatever. I didn’t say that, and I haven’t said that. I’m a fan of great comics. If it’s not great comics–then I hope it burns in hell with all of its friends. I don’t give a shit if it’s got Superman in it or if it’s about a lonely obstetrician’s attempt to get over the grief of losing his son. Bad is bad, middling is bad, average is bad, merely okay is bad. There’s great, and then there’s everything else.

  18. How is this not the same tilting at windmills discussion that surfaces every six months?

    “You should only buy comics you think are good/you enjoy!”
    “If you don’t like it any more, drop it from your pull list!”
    “Completists are subsidizing bad comics!”
    “Who are you to tell me what is good and bad?”
    “I don’t care, Comic X is a totem of my youth and I’ll still buy it! (and I heard Grant may be taking it over! Squee!”)
    “There are no bad characters, just mediocre writers!”

    It seems this gets rehashed to no successful end, ad nauseum.

    Discerning readers, and they know who they are or think they know who they are, will continue to buy “good” comics and less discerning readers will not. And nothing anyone says here, or on any other board will change this fact.

    But we’ll discuss it again in six months,

  19. Well I didn’t want to resort to the ‘ol War and Peace cliche, but you are right, NGE is a serial — still, it’s not exactly a traditional narrative.

    And I want to defend Red Hulk and Ultimates 3. Both are the work of very stylized, individual artists — manga-influenced, to be sure — but definitely their own creatures. Red Hulk is completely tongue-in-cheek, and Ultimates 3 does the same by providing something of a commentary on Millar’s version. Say what you want about literary value, but these are not literary texts. Jeph Loeb writes good superhero comics, not mediocre ones.

  20. The saddest thing is it’s not just superhero-vs.-nonsuperhero here, or even DC and Marvel vs. everyone else. How many great Big Two comics sell at fractions of what the mediocre crap does? Why do the umpty-billion half-assed Final Crisis/Secret Invasion tie-ins sell gangbusters while Invincible and Dynamo 5 and Savage Dragon linger faaaaar down the charts? Why does Immortal Iron Fist — a book written by two hot writers, drawn by a hot artist, and starring a character who is a team member in one of Marvel’s best-selling titles — sell so low that its entire creative team has to leave for greener pastures? Why can Marvel sell Brubaker and Phillips on Cap and Marvel Zombies, but not the two together on Criminal? It’s mind-boggling, really.

  21. Jason: The same reason my mother still thinks Pearl Harbor is a great movie, despite taking three film classes where she was exposed to Fellini, Hitchcock, and Truffaut – certain people like crap. They just do. It resonates with them on some primal level. It speaks to the child in them. It spanks their monkey.
    And no matter how many times you scream at them “But…but…that movie is garbage, mom!” they will pop in their DVD of Pearl Harbor on a lazy Sunday afternoon and bask in the lameness.
    Pundits and purveyors of taste never seem to get it…the average person, Palin’s Joe Six-Pack? They like junk. In fact, they think junk is GOOD, and they think good is JUNK. It’s like we live on Bizzaro world, only we don’t accept it because the Bizzaros look like us. But just stand in line at a video store on a Friday night and listen to the conversations, look at what they’re renting. Appalling? Yes. Shocking? Only if you haven’t been paying attention.

  22. I like chocolate and vanilla twist. Sometimes I get peanuts, sometimes a dip. Every so often I splurge on a strawberry milkshake. It’s a land of plenty and the flavor chain just keeps on chugging.

    But I hate mint chip. Blech!

  23. You must like what we tell you to like, Bill. Appreciation of what we deem quality can and will be enforced through snark.

  24. “Tom: for someone who doesn’t have the guts to have commenting on your own board, you sure like pissing in my wheaties!”

    And for someone who has comments on your board, you sure are complaining in an odd fashion when people use it to ask you to clarify.

    Although I do appreciate a classic out of left field “you don’t have the guts” insult, even ironically intended. I’m so getting you back at lunch.

    At any rate, thanks for the clarification on #1.

    “Regardless of the example cited, the point remains valid, right?”

    Clay, I don’t think it does. The example outright subverts the point. You can’t suggest that folks are going to start being tougher on mediocre books by showing how they crack on terrible ones. People have been doing that for decades. In fact, it’s exactly what people do *instead* of making the tougher distinctions. Which is why it stood out to me.

    Maybe I misunderstood Heidi’s point, although I’m thinking if I make another attempt at clarification she’ll make fun of me because I don’t have a date to Sadie Hawkins.

  25. Snoid: I mostly agree with you. But you said it best – I don’t like being told there is a whole world of comics out there and what I’m reading is shit. It irritates me when people take the attitude that their favored type of comic (movie, TV show, book, music etc) is “quality” and the more popular genre is shit. One can like something without slagging off something else. I know, the blogger in question was speaking for herself, I believe, but I tire of the notion that one can’t praise “indy” comics without at the same time slamming mainstream ones. I personally do not find non-superhero comics enjoyable. I get my non-superheroics from novels. However, while I personally didn’t get much from indies in general or those three titles Laura mentioned in particular (I read one of them, anyway) I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to say they were shit just because they weren’t my cuppa.

  26. On the other hand, I’m not sure I know the definition of “ironically” or how to use “outright.”

  27. Even though, as Christopher says, I’m sure this topic comes up every few months, I’m relatively new to this blog so this particular discussion is a first for me, and it’s a topic I’m really interested in, so I’ll throw my two cents in here:

    I think it’s important to remember that, from the storefront side of things (and I am a shop owner), a lot of these crap series pay our bills and allow us to remain open. Regarding ChaosMcKenzie’s comments… do you really want your customers to not buy Red Hulk and Ultimates 3? Really? Because there’s no guarantee they’ll turn around and spend their money on something of greater artistic value… in my experience, most of those people would just pocket the $2.99 and put it towards another generic superhero title next week. And what’s wrong with that?

    Yes, I agree that there’s a glut of shitty titles out there that could stand to elevate themselves a little. But to actually tell customers NOT to buy them… wow. What better way to cultivate that “Comic Book Guy” stereotype than to actively look down on people who happen to enjoy a Loeb/McGuinness book, to actually tell them that they are purchasing the wrong thing? The people in this forum (like me) spend hours and hours a day thinking about comics… whereas many of the people who come into the shops (at least, my shop) think about comics only inasmuch as they’re a bit of a fun break from their responsibilities, and most of those people happen to choose superhero comics as their vice. And I’m not sure it’s very cool of us to sit here saying that those people are enjoying the wrong things.

    My take is: if people want to buy mediocre comics, that’s their right, isn’t it? There will always be better material for folks who actually come around to caring about the artistic aspects of the medium, and it is for those people that we stock and recommend more avant-garde reading. Meanwhile all those seemingly pointless Marvel miniseries and DC tie-ins will continue to allow people like me to maybe one day say “hey, if you’re looking for something new to get into…”

  28. The way I’ve personally thought about my choices is to recognize that for me, superhero comics as a whole are far greater than the sum of their mostly mediocre parts. If I’m feeling that whole, I’m feeling it. If I’m not, I’m not. Usually I am, but I don’t try to convince anyone that it’s coming from exactly the same part of my brain that wants to stay up all night reading every volume of someone’s non-capey OGN. It’s almost apples to oranges for me. I also spend a lot of time dicking around doing things that don’t make my heart whole like a quality piece of literature, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop. You just have to decide when you get to a point that you really feel like you’re wasting your time, and then that’s that–there shouldn’t be a monumental judgment placed on the moment.

  29. The only thing I’ll add is that mediocrity is not “built into” anything.

    After all, man crawled up from the mud.

    Perhaps a bad example.

  30. I’m not really sure what the point of this discussion is besides stating the obvious. Talking about superhero comics is a red herring, the majority of material produced is fairly mediocre, be it superhero, indie or comics about em.. giant robots or something. That’s nothing unique to comics, it’s common to all creative mediums.

    If another superhero comics was never published, we’d just be left with a more diverse range of mediocrity.

    Hell, even the comments make in the original commentary are pretty mediocre and not particularly revealing or interesting…

  31. Tom:

    I find most superhero comics just as bad and offensive as others eems to have found NIGHTWING #149. I guess I just didn’t make that clear enough.

    The acceptance of mediocrity — which, from my experience most current mainstream comics would need to RISE to the level of — leads to the idea on the creative side that a truly bad comic is just mediocre.

    As fro the rest of you, I can’t really help you. You’re trapped in the circle of hell where BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA plays on loop. If you like, it , fine. Some people have better things to do.

    BTW, I in no way excuse indie or new mainstream or manga or any other genre, movement or label from being over praised. At SPX there is a lot of cute, enthusiastic material that is hopelessly self indulgent. Yet I prefer the whiff of inspiration and seeming honesty as opposed to hack work, no matter how competent.

  32. Oh boy, people sure do get upset over the funny books. Next thing you’ll be telling me that people are fighting over movies and t.v. shows. Crazy. The percentage of great funny books out there would probably only fill one small book shelf. One would expect few great funny books because for so long the goal of most were to monthly part kids from their allowance money. In the end, don’t get angry when one slams a book you like, just shrug it off. You didn’t make it, why defend it so intensely?

  33. If it helps a little, I wouldn’t go see Beverly Hills Chihuahua if the dog itself offered me a cool hundred between it’s tiny, tiny teeth.

  34. Eric, of course people have a “right” to buy mediocre comics. Nobody is proposing a law or a gulag reserved for people who like Ultimates 3. And yes, there is a lot of mediocrity in any medium or genre, but I’m willing to say that there I find there to be disproportionately more in superhero comics than other genres and media. Tucker made a very important point about the comics dollar (or, I would add, comics half hour) competing again television, novels, video games, and manga. It has gotten to the point where I would rather spend that time playing Rock Band or watching Mad Men; I would rather spend that money on Nana or Bottomless Belly Button, or even Johnny Boo. The fact that so many other types of entertainment are winning my time and money and fewer and fewer superhero comics are making that cut is telling, to me. There’s no reason the genre should be losing me, because I love it, but they are — and it’s because I can no longer justify a lower standard for them. You are welcome to feel differently — I did for a long time — but there it is.

  35. And that’s the attitude that gets me. On the one hand, “If you like it, fine”. Well, gee thanks for saying it’s OK if I like it. But wait, here comes the backhand: we’re “trapped in a circle of hell” and only reading them because we “have nothing better to do”. Judgmental much?

  36. I broke my Marvel Zombie habit (although I was reading a lot of other stuff at the time) when I had to leave certain comics titles behind for lack of money. “I’ll get it next week,” I told myself. Eventually, the next issue came out, and I realized I didn’t miss the title.

    Mediocrity, to me, can mean something that’s worthless. The dictionary says, “of only ordinary or moderate quality; neither good nor bad; barely adequate.”

    I enjoy guilty pleasures. If you like something, great. Enjoy your passion. Yes, you might grow out of it, but if it gives you joy, fine.

    When I worked at a bookstore, I would hear booksellers complain about various titles. To which I replied, “If it sells, it ain’t crap.” You wanna spend $7.99 for a Harlequin romance that’s so formulaic they number the titles? Fine.

    A lot of Indy stuff bores me. I bought The Years Best American Comics two weeks ago, and it’s still half read. There’s some that I’ll sing the praises of, like “Three Fingers” and “Fox Bunny Funny”.

    I wonder, would the “Thumper” technique (If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all) be better? Praise what you want, ignore the rest. Or just place an yawning smiley icon next to the title and move on?

    Me? When I seduce the innocent, I ask what they like to read, then find a graphic novel which appeals to their tastes. And Watchmen (if old enough). I’ll recommend “Red Son”. I’ll recommend “American Born Chinese”. I’ll recommend “XXXenophile”. I’ll recommend “Uncle Scrooge”.

    And yes, sometimes I’ll read (what looks like) a mediocre comic or graphic novel. Why? Because somebody took some time and effort to make the comic, and there might be some value beneath the image. (Like Dilbert or Life In Hell.)

    Sturgeon’s Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”
    Einstein’s Infinity Theory: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

    And for the snobs, “Mediocrity is excellent to the eyes of mediocre people.” –Joseph Joubert

  37. “but I’m willing to say that there I find there to be disproportionately more in superhero comics than other genres and media.”

    I think you are kidding yourself – would you really argue that if we took the literature genre of “chick lit”, that 99% of that isn’t pure crap? Most commercially driven enterprises are a study in compromise and that shows in the results. I don’t think Superhero comics are any better or any worse than anything else with a $ as the driving goal.

  38. No one has defined how they’re using “mediocre.” Is it the art? The narrative? Or is it the nebulous avant-garde? Or is it only the cool factor? Or just personal opinion? What I was trying to say up aways (perhaps badly) is that comics evolved from a lower artistic and cultural bog, and thus retain some of that vestigualness (ok not a word). So if you are speaking from a position of high authority (or high-art) naturally all superhero comics are “mediocre” or “smelly.” Just like apes. An ape can be a good, nice ape — but it cannot fix the broken particle accelerator. Same with Nightwing #149.

    What’s interesting to me is that comics has unhitched its belt enough that we have our own high/low divide. But that we fight over it because the low end gets all the cash? I can understand why creators get stymied by this but their answer is Beverly Hills Mini-Dog (I am too lazy to scroll up to get the spelling right). The new wave never gets all the respect and money — that’s what makes them cool — at least until they get all the respect and money, then someone else comes along.

    This comment is in no way an endorsement of Beverly Hills Mini-Dog

  39. Charles Knight, I would almost take that bet.

    Joseph: “Judgmental much?”…but my original post was about how we let so much slide by without any judgments. Being judgmental is entirely the point.

  40. Brad, Nightwing 149 isn’t even a good ape. It’s an ape with syphilis who won’t stop masturbating while eating his own shit.

  41. Why does anyone need Heidi (or me?) to approve of their comics buying choices? I might totally judge your books to be crappy, but I’m not judging you as a human being. I like crappy things too, sometimes! I’ve been reading those goddamn Anne McCaffrey dragon novels since I was eleven and they are totally awful but I can’t stop. It doesn’t make me a bad — or stupid –person.

    And I’m not angry, Michael, I’m sad. I know that is a less familiar emotion on the Internet. Just imagine that my mutant power is turning my fists into tears.

  42. I was talking about being judgmental of other people’s tastes, of supporting what you like by (in part) bashing what someone else likes. It’s a very condescending attitude, that your idea of entertainment is superior to another’s. Maybe it’s just me, but I hate feeling like I have to justify the fact that I find superhero comics like Hulk entertaining (or action movies, or video games, or whatever). Why isn’t it enough for Laura or The Beat to simply say they personally are finding superhero comics less enjoyable? Why the need to throw in the comment “and so should you”, or make a judgment on the person (“nothing better to do”)who actually obtains some enjoyment from them, regardless of the reason. The arguments would be much more effective if they were done in such a way as to extol the virtues of indy comics without insulting other genres and the people who enjoy them.

  43. There is a Gulag for people who like that comic book that was mentioned. And all the other ones that have been mentioned, as well. It’s called The Direct Market.

    Oh, and if someone can’t find enough “great” books — by almost any credible yardstick — to fill a shelf, they’re either exaggerating for purposes of making an argument, incredibly new to comics as a medium, or kind of dumb. Or have a really long shelf. I mean, like, really long.

    Sorry to interrupt the fighting.

  44. Heidi, I think the problem is that statements like this:

    As fro the rest of you, I can’t really help you. You’re trapped in the circle of hell where BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA plays on loop. If you like, it , fine. Some people have better things to do.

    can be interpreted not as being judgemental about the comics themselves, but being judgemental about the people who might enjoy them. I think there’s a definite difference between calling out a work as being mediocre (whatever one means by that) and calling out a person as being such, which is essentially what you seem to have done there. Doing that winds up obscuring the point I think you’re trying to make and probably leads to a lot of the needless kneejerk “No, you suck!” comments posts like this tend to get.

    You can always judge the art, but there’s no accounting for taste. And calling people the equivalent of mindless slobs (as some have done) because of taste is probably counterproductive to any significant critical discussion, isn’t it?

  45. Laura – this is from your entry: “I will admit that I am literally sick and tired right now and therefore probably not very patient, but I think my expectations for the medium should exceed my patience for this kind of subpar BS, and so should yours”.

    Granted, this was only one sentence out of the entire essay, and was not in my opinion, reflective of the rest. I actually found your post quite enjoyable and feel you were able to effectively convey your personal revelations without placing judgment on those who would disagree. But it seems to be the part seized upon by The Beat, and that is mostly what I took exception with.

  46. I was mostly kidding in my post. Again though I wonder why anyone cares what someone else thinks about his or her reading habits. Don’t get upset, just ignore it. Someone hating on Red Hulk or Secret Crisis in no way is a personal attack. You are not the book.

  47. I was mostly kidding in my post. Again though I wonder why anyone cares what someone else thinks about his or her reading habits. Don’t get upset, just ignore it. Someone hating on Red Hulk or Secret Crisis in no way is a personal attack. You are not the book.

  48. This is old news. This is old news on par with the library of Alexandria being burnt to the ground. The vast majority of comics being published in America are not worth $3-$5 a pop. In fact, they’re barely worth a quarter. I can count ON ONE HAND all the titles from DC, Marvel & Dark Horse than maintain, month-in & month-out, a level of quality that many books seemed to hold down effortlessly in the 70’s/80’s – and that even includes the Dreaded Deadline Doom reprints.

    DC is the worst offender. Without Grant Morrison, they have nothing. They’ve managed to alienate Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar & a host of other quality creators & the end result has been a drastic drop in overall creativity. When Morrison leaves (and he will eventually) who will pick up the slack? Dark Horse is fortunate enough to have Joss Whedon for now, but this, too, will not last. Marvel is currently doing better than anyone else – but between Brand New Day & the Silent Invasion x-over, the glut of sheer crap flooding the stands is overwhelming & one has to make a real & sincere effort to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Part of the problem… a BIG part of the problem… is that comics are such an incestuous business that it is almost impossible for a new writer of any worth to break into the industry & get any of the encouragement & helpful training that needs to be provided by an editor whose head is not firmly jammed up his own ass. Rather than guide a new crop of talent to stretch forth into the 21st century, comics en masse would much rather recycle the same old shit over & over & over & over again until the average 44 year old fanboy is numb with the on again/off again status of the fucking Multiverse.

    There are days… there are days that I really despise how far comics have fallen. And ironically, all in the midst of their greatest mainstream acceptance & popularity. Not sales-wise, though, of course. I wonder why?

  49. Will, as has been pointed out above the issue is not someone saying “Secret Crisis” sucks. The issue is people saying “Secret Crisis” sucks, and you shouldn’t be reading it (or you’re an idiot for reading it, or you have no taste because you read it, etc). It is a personal attack, it’s judgmental, and it’s annoying.

  50. Y’see, there you go. According to Mark, “Without Grant Morrison, they [DC] have nothing.” Scalped, Fables, Jack of Fables, 100 Bullets, Green Lantern, Justice Society of America, Blue Beetle, Action Comics…all a bunch of nothing. I’ve been reading nothing for months and didn’t have a clue! Well, heck, now I know better. I’m done with comics…I’m going to do something more substantive, watch the economy collapse, maybe watch the debate or eat pizza or something.

  51. I’m glad to see this sort of thing being said. Every time I’d talk about it (in the past) I’d get yelled at by someone, so I stopped. However, part of the reason I started MAM was so I could put comic stories in it (and be able to take my time with them) that go above and beyond “the bar.” I think writer Frank Kane and I have done it. Now, how do I get a copy of it past the Beat’s interns? Maybe, one of my interns will have some insite on that one.

  52. Again, who cares? You’re still taking it too personally. If you like Infinite Invasion then read it. Why get annoyed at someone elses “judgement”? Especially if that someone is on the internets. Is your self esteem really that low (and I’m not directing that at you personally, Michael) that your very worth is determined by whether or not strangers on the interweb like what you like?

  53. All right, Jim – I’ll give you Fables as something else DC is doing right. Beyond that, Geoff Johns isn’t now/never will be the successor to Steve Englehart that he tries so hard to be.

    By the by, I just read Nightwing #149. Holy crap – That was AWFUL – just fucking awful. But it’s a prime example of nearly everything that is wrong with DC these days in microcosm.


  54. Will – Judgmental statements (“I feel this way, you are ______ if you don’t agree”) annoy me. My self esteem (or my reading habits) aren’t affected in the slightest. The Beat presented an opinion, some commented in agreement, others in opposition. Isn’t that partly what the comments section is for? Why do you have an issue with a civil back and forth debate?

  55. Gee, Mark, I like Geoff Johns, but I would never compare him to Steve Englehart. Englehart ROCKED!

    This “bar” Heidi suggests we raise…I’m not quite sure I follow. Okay, so I admit there’s a lot of comics trash out there, then what? Avoid it, ignore it, protest against it, form some kind of union, what? Or turn the other cheek and holler, “Hey, don’t forget the GOOD stuff!”

  56. “It’s just that we need to stop pretending they matter in any way, shape, or form. ”

    Well, that would certainly speed up the Internet. If we get rid of all the boards/blogs/sites that talk about stupid shit all day long, we would probably only be left with all those academics who started using the internet back in the 70s and no one else. :>

    I know that I don’t buy any “bad” books on purpose, but I know not all of them are going to be as great/mind-blowing as (insert title you like here). And that’s both superhero and non-superhero books.

  57. As you and I have discussed many times, I’ve been perplexed by the mindset of comics publishers for quite some time now. As a screenwriter, comics-related projects come across my desk on a regular basis, and I still often head to the comics store on Wednesdays out of habit, looking for that clever, relatively-deep, interesting, fresh bit of storytelling that I’m sure must be out there somewhere, and I keep coming home empty-handed. Everything from the major publishers (that is, DC and Marvel) seems to be catering to this ever-aging, ever-dwindling core of trivia-savvy readers, with no entry-point for someone who walks in looking for a good story about their favorite characters.

    What worries me is that, with the coming cash crunch, the number of casual walk-in shoppers will drop significantly and the core who can afford to spend the cash layout needed to buy all their favorites will get even smaller.

  58. Re: ‘good’ vs. ‘pandering shite’ –

    DC’s flagship titles of the last decade & change seem fairly obsessed with death & murder, with the editorial rule of thumb seeming to be, ‘The louder, uglier, more exploitative & gratuitous, the better.’

    To me, that’s pandering shite, but to a hardcore fan, it’s probably the superhero equivalent of good giallo. I dunno. I like horror films as much as anyone, but there’s a point at which the American conception of horror stopped being psychological and standardized itself as being slasher instead. (cf. ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ or ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ with ‘Hostel’ et al.)

    If superhero giallo sounds like a mixed metaphor, well, it is. It’s also the primary reason I stopped following superheroes and started following specific -stories- and -authors-. There doesn’t seem to be anyone working the boards at DC or Marvel at present who measures up to Carla Speed McNeil or Bryan Lee O’Malley*, though I wish there were: there might be more stories concerned with love, the POSITIVE aspects of sexuality, maturity & aging, or– heaven forefend –simple day-to-day human kindness. We’re regularly informed that these things are either somehow offensive or ‘don’t sell’, but I honestly don’t see DC trying that hard. War sells, as does rape, degradation, protracted suffering, dismemberment, heartbreak, et al., but I refuse to believe that’s all my species considers entertainment.

    * ‘All-Star Superman’ clears the bar, of course– by god, it soars –but one title out of hundreds with that degree of attention to quality and, seemingly, sincerity & civility would appear to be a freak. Not that it shouldn’t be cherished all the more…

    I know, I know, ‘market forces’. Maybe the market should ASK once in a while. I’m frankly sick of the market forcing, just as sick as I am of having to trawl Previews, or being asked if I want a bloody Border’s rewards card every time I get to the till, despite the damned ads being plastered over every surface of the store. The market wouldn’t have to force so hard if it took time enough to properly encourage and cultivate its authors & artists. (I’m sure some killjoy will gleefully shoot me down for being overly simplistic / optimistic here. Blame it on the heady rhetoric. Or Heidi. That’s what she’s there for, right? /snark)

    The ‘heavy competition of the marketplace thing’ isn’t so hot at producing fine wine, is all I’m saying.

    Which is why, I suppose, I continually wind up being both invested in & repulsed by the inevitable arc of DC’s imprints: they want to attract new readers, they claim, a wider audience, women (if they can find them), yet they insist on fumbling the ball, whether it be intelligent marketing, creator’s rights, or plain old patience in waiting for an endeavor to pay out. And when it fails? The readership is kindly directed right back to the carnival atmosphere of the rape camps. “Step! Right! Up! and See! The grinding, endless horror of Basic Perinatal Matrix III!”

    All that nasty negativity aside there’s still plenty worth reading, and (courtesy of DC & co.’s failures, yes) some of it’s even getting easier to find if you’re the type who’d prefer to avoid waiting on the corner in the cold for your crack. It’s getting to where you can wander into most any major mass-market bookstore and find Oni, D&Q, Fantagraphics, 1st Second, Dark Horse, Top Shelf, five lonely volumes of Yotsuba&! and… who knows? Some day soon that proud company could be joined by a new American branch of Les Humanoides.

  59. I likes me some crap. “Star Wars” isn’t crap, maybe, but it’s not “The Seventh Seal” by a long shot. Harlan Ellison, a guy I’ve read and respected for years, hates “Star Wars”. I read his essay, and agreed with most of it, and I still like “Star Wars”. So, I guess, if you dig Secretultimatecrisisthing 3, nobody’s saying you can’t, or that you personally suck. We’re saying that when a seemingly large number of comics fans settle for Finalcontinuityorgy Year One, and one hippy in Iowa City buys the new Love & Rockets, the industry might just be a little off kilter. I think some of us are saying we’re just buying some of this crap out of habit, out of inertia. We don’t really like it, but we’re making excuses for it. We’re not saying you are a moron for liking it. But what’s interesting is the (to my ears) shrill scream of “Elitist!” when it’s suggested that that issue of Superboobsidentitywars might not, in fact, rock balls.
    Christ, that was rambling. Ah, well…

  60. I’m not sure what happened to the original point but I do see a lot of posters trying to buttress their own points by pointing out the failings of one company or another.
    I also see a lot of posters trying to defend one company or another as the company trying to elevate the medium.
    And there seems to be some half-witted attempt to blame everyone else for the decline of comics because some of us like Nightwing.
    I assume, I could be wrong, that we’re all part of the problem and when everything ends in 2012- WE’RE THE FAULT!
    Well, I hope so. I hope so because I’m tired of hearing the same line over and over and over that we have to BE PART OF THE SOLUTION.
    F— the Solution.
    Most of the people that have been complaining went off to write X-Men and still pretend they’re breaking new narrative boundaries and expanding the possibilities of the medium.
    Except, they’re writing X-Men. Which is fine. But don’t serve me roadkill and tell me it’s on par with the Pacific Dining Car.
    And somehow, the crux of many arguments is that comics are not “accessible.” Just because you have not discovered wikipedia does not mean comics are inaccessible. And why your collective ignorance is worthy of an interview is simply baffling.
    But then, I get a kick out of Nightwing.
    Okay, wanna know the great secret of comics at large? Keep it to yourself, cause it’s a big one.
    That book you’re reading right now? The one you think is heads above all the rest?
    It’s not that great.
    Oh, I’m sure there’s some value and not a complete waste of time, but the creators behind it simply spent a little more time in English Lit 403 than you did. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but your attempts to disparage and demean the rest of us with fact that you like Love and Rockets or Scalped (not bad books mind you) are in the word of the Great Intrawub: FAIL.
    Want to increase sales? If you have an MBA or ten plus years working in advertising, raise your hand. You’re worth listening to.
    The rest of you that characterize yourself as Wolverine fans should just listen.
    Honestly, reading some of these posts doesn’t quite make me want to vote for John McCain- but I’m really getting the whole Sarah Palin lust right about now.

  61. I like what Rev D said. The problem with comics judgments (from who would win Hulk vs. Thing to Comic Book Guy) is no one ever offers any SUPPORT. I’m generalizing but sometimes it seems like something is bad just because it’s not indie. The opposite might be someone saying comics are finally *good* just because they hang in the Louvre. But offered without support and context, either of these is a relative statement.

    So if some dude’s blog goes “Man, Nightwing #149 ATE” that seems to me a less than believable judgment than “Nightwing #149 was laden with continuity, was sexist, etc. etc.” Or even “Nightwing #149 didn’t sell squat.” That at least is something positive for them/us to think about. I couldn’t agree more that the last 5 years of DC Comics is basically rape, murder, and bad editorial moves. But that’s a bad we can point at.

    Just my two cents.

  62. It would appear that he basically wants someone who says “You betcha!” and winks a lot while making off-color remarks about ‘Alaskan Arabs’.

    Who doesn’t, really?

  63. Chris Noble brings up an interesting aspect to this whole debate – namely the fact that many people are buying whatever titles they do out of sheer habit. It’s an easy trap to fall into. But it makes me wonder just how much different the industry would be if these habitual buyers would adopt a more critical eye & use the power they possess by voting with their wallet, not with maintaining a complete run of whatever.

    When I was much younger, I did the same damn thing: Buying scores of books that changed creative teams like socks & fell by the wayside in quality. I kept buying them anyway in the hope that somehow, someday, they’d get good again. One day, after reading about 20 shitty comics in a row, I came to the now rather obvious realization that there were certain people whose work I enjoyed & many more whose wok I did not. Why was I supporting crap with the same fervor as gold? Just so I could hold my head up high & say “I have a full run of Avengers from #1-up?”

    Fuck that.

  64. “It’s an easy trap to fall into”

    Yes, but back then comics were a lot cheaper and for back-issues you had to often pay ridiculous money. And you never knew how a series would develop, there was no preview or the Net. So one tended to give a book much more rope. Also the idea that comics would be reprinted was laughable. You bought it then or you would never get it for the same money.

    Today this is a different game. Everything seems to get reprinted, as a customer you have the leisure to wait und see, if it is for you. So why bother buying books you don´t like any longer?

  65. Am I the only one getting more enjoyment reading “about” comics than reading the “actual” comics?

  66. Wow, just wow.
    Joseph fair enough. For me it just comes down to I like what I like and if you don’t like it you can kiss my ass. I had people tell me my whole life what I like is shit, I had to fight in high school because I liked DEVO in a time of Van Halen ruling the airwaves, no foolin’. I guess what I’m saying is I just got to a point where I didn’t care what others thought about what I liked. I think however you don’t get people to read what I think are good comics by telling them what they read is crap. What I try to do is just show them stuff and say ..”here read this tell me what you think..” and if they like it more will come. Too much of this “us and them” stuff will not help comics or anything really. So what is the answer?

  67. Tucker Stone said:

    “The idea that I’m a non-super hero fan is one that’s totally off base, and if that’s what people have gotten out of that interview, then oh well, whatever. I didn’t say that, and I haven’t said that. I’m a fan of great comics. If it’s not great comics–then I hope it burns in hell with all of its friends. I don’t give a shit if it’s got Superman in it or if it’s about a lonely obstetrician’s attempt to get over the grief of losing his son. Bad is bad, middling is bad, average is bad, merely okay is bad. There’s great, and then there’s everything else.”

    I find this critical statement to be really bad. Ergo, it’s “everything else.”

  68. Look, it’s very simple.

    Sometimes audiences like works that fit into well-defined limits; limits that are as ritually defined as a game of Monopoly. People like basic genre fiction the same way they like games; the challenge is just to see if the creator can do something interesting within the structure of the game.

    Sometimes audiences like works that break, or seem to break, the rules. It can be argued that this “rule-breaking games” have their own rules, too; they’re just created by particular authors rather than by groups of authors.

    Nobody buys a book because they *think* it’s bad. Even people looking for egregiously-bad comics want something that satisfy their sense of irony about the subject matter.

  69. Charles Knight sed:

    “I think you are kidding yourself – would you really argue that if we took the literature genre of “chick lit”, that 99% of that isn’t pure crap? Most commercially driven enterprises are a study in compromise and that shows in the results. I don’t think Superhero comics are any better or any worse than anything else with a $ as the driving goal.”

    Change your example to Harlequin romances and Heidi will have to, I don’t know, wash your car for a year.

  70. Good Lord, this thread got nasty fast. Here, enjoy some Gerry Rafftery lyrics;

    “Right Down The Line”

    You know I need your love, you got that hold over me
    As long as I got your love, you know that I’ll never leave
    When I wanted you to share my life, I had no doubt in my mind
    And it’s been you, woman, right down the line.

    I know how much I lean on you, only you can see
    The changes that I’ve been through have left their mark on me
    You’ve been as constant as the Northern Star, the brightest light that shines
    It’s been you, woman, right down the line.

    I just wanna say this is my way
    Of telling you everything I could never say before
    Yeah this is my way of telling you that everyday I’m loving you (so much more)

    ‘Cause you believed in me through my darkest night
    Put something better inside of me, you brought me into the light
    Threw away all those crazy dreams, I put them all behind
    And it was you, woman, right down the line.

    I just wanna say this is my way
    Of telling you everything I could never say before
    Yeah this is my way of telling you that everyday I’m loving you (so much more)

    If I should doubt myself, if I’m losing ground
    I won’t turn to someone else, they’d only let me down
    When I wanted you to share my life, I had no doubt in my mind
    And it’s been you, woman, right down the line.


    Evan Dorkin wins a door prize for his contribution.

  71. Watch out! Apparently this is new to some people. “Literature” vs. mainstream novels, “indie” films vs. major studio output, mainstream music vs “indie” music. This isn’t new. Are the elitists being elitist? Some of them probably are. But those who prefer the “crap” are just being elitist in the reverse manner. Most of all of it is crap, not just the mainstream but the “indie” stuff too.

    Maybe we should rewind a decade or two and ask “why don’t people go to good movies” and we’ll realize that it is stupid to complain “why don’t people read good comics.” The critical darlings, the festival favorites, the award winning movies never see the business of a blockbuster release with the rare exception (the All-Star Superman of movies), but just because your movie isn’t funded by a studio and is “original” doesn’t make it any good. Similarly just because some dude wears a cape and has superpowers doesn’t mean a comic is bad, but just because a comic doesn’t have those things doesn’t mean it is any good (the originality of most these comics is usually just stolen from another medium). Here’s another news flash! Most of the comics from yesteryear are crap. People want to jump on the Geoff Johns sucks backlash bandwagon (which sure seems to be gaining momentum) but most of your favorite creators from decades past were probably viewed as crap then too.

    Personally, I don’t care what others think of what I read. That isn’t to say I don’t think some things are crap (Secret Invasion, Hulk, Ultimates), but I happen to like the books I read and I read comics largely for superheroes. If I want what many indie comics have to offer (which I often do) I’ll watch a movie or read a book. I read comics for superhero stuff mostly largely because I can’t get that sort of thing in books, movies, and other forms of media.

    And for anyone trying to tie this into the sales of comic books over the decades: stop it! Crap is crap today and it was largely crap 20, 30, and 40 years ago, but then people didn’t have nearly as many options in what to do with their money.

  72. And just like that it’s Wednesday and we’re all excited and hoping for the best, right? There’s 100 Bullets #96 right at the top of the list. It’s a perfect day.

  73. Jim, mine’s Charley’s War Book 5 at the top of my list, so it sounds like it’ll be a good day.

    Wow. I enjoy a good argument at the Beat better than I enjoy most of the restaurants within a lunchtime drive from my office, but this has become pretty nebulous and vague. I think it makes sense to tell your readers that you didn’t enjoy the book you just read – I quite liked the “shutting my hand in the car door” line, myself – but maybe that would be the point to stop giving any more blog time, never mind money, to comics that you know you’re not going to enjoy, and read/review/hype books that you think that you will like before you open them instead.

    Unless you’re Chris Sims and the book is Tarot, or that’s the sort of blog you want to write.