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It started when James Sturm from CCS, presented a slideshow on children’s book illustrator Virginia Lee Burton on the feminist blog DoubleXX. Sturm proposed that Burton might be a lost link in the early history of the graphic novel and pointed out that the crossover between illustration and comics has always been a fluid one:

But it’s increasingly clear to me, as I watch my students struggle to bring nuance to a medium that has historically lacked it, that they have as much (if not more) in common with children’s book artists like Burton as with the men who worked in the sweatshops in the early years of comic books. It is time to stop looking at the history of comics as the history of the comic industry. We need to make room for more masters, Burton among them.


Along the way, Sturm pointed out that all of the cartoonists in the Masters of American Comics exhibit were men, which is, as we all know, because there were no great women cartoonists.

That inspired this from Spurge:


Side issue: at one point, Sturm builds his argument by taking a shot at the Masters of American Comics exhibit from a couple of years back, in a way I find super-lame: castigating that show for its lack of female cartoonist representation without being specific as to who should be put on and who should be left off. The reason why this is lame is because it’s very easy to do: you just say, “Rose O’Neill should have been included instead of Chester Gould.” Or “Lynda Barry should have been in there instead of Art Spiegelman.” Or “Grace Drayton is more important than Gary Panter.” I mean, just say it! Otherwise, it’s just a rhetorical ploy. You’re calling out specific historians in terms of a nasty generality, in many cases (I don’t know about Sturm, although he’s generally fearless) without even the willingness to step and say you’re calling those people out. Stay all the way general or get all the way specific.


Now this irked us a bit when we read it but we had more pressing matters, and moved on. But Peggy Burns did not go to BEA, and she stepped right in:

What I find more curious is the ire Sturm stoked with Tom Spurgeon over at the Comics Reporter by saying that the Masters of American Comics should have included a woman, to which Spurgeon replies that you can only say a woman should have been included in the show if you are ready to say which man should not have been. Really, the only way to say that women like Lynda Barry and Majorie Henderson Buell helped to define the artistry of comics is by saying they helped to define the artistry of comics more than a man? Really? Perhaps there was an edict that said that only 15 cartoonists could be spotlighted, hence the need to pit cartoonists against each other. Otherwise, this argument seems a little cage match-y to me. Lame.


Indeed, with the Sonia Sotomayor hubbub going on, this kind of reaction seems more common (among a certain part of the population) than ever: If you aren’t saying that a white man is the best man for the job all the time, you are a stinking racist!

Tom certainly didn’t say that, but he remains a little baffled by Burns’s response.

So yeah, let’s discuss great cartoonists and comics-makers in every way possible. But if we’re going to bring in the Masters exhibit, let’s get in there and talk about it. Why bring it into the discussion otherwise? I laugh at rolled eyes and crushing people in five words or less as much as anyone does, but I like it even more when people dig in to say, “Oliver Harrington is a much better cartoonist than Chester Gould” rather than “There are no African-American cartoonists on this list.” And I’d be just as happy if people were specific according to Peggy’s standard. I prefer, “Any list too small to include Lynda Barry is an illegitimate list” over “Where are the female cartoonists on this list?”


Which is a bit different than his original cry for a “two people enter, one woman leaves” idea of an argument. It’s perhaps not surprising that white men do not see continual bar raising as being as annoying as non-white men do. It’s not enough that you are great and influential and a pioneer by any usual standard — no, you must be MORE great, MORE influential and MORE of a pioneer in specific, meticulous agreed upon by everyone ways than a man in order to be even considered.

But you know what, I’ll take the challenge. Heck, you only live once.

Okay, I would have favored Lynda Barry in the MASTERS show over Lyonel Feininger. Ya hear that, art boys? FEININGER. Mr. Bauhaus, modern art master, hanging in major museums all over the world. No question but the man is an amazing and lasting artist, but as a cartoonist he was a carpetbagger — his entire body of comic strip work spans 10 months, and lovely as it is, he contributed no lasting storylines or characters. Putting Feininger in the greats of comics is like putting Dashiell Hammett as one of the comic strip greats just because he’s a great American novelist and wrote a few of them.

As for Barry? With work spanning three decades, she’s a pioneer in alternative comic strips, whose work has inspired several generations that followed; in Marlys, she has created one of the most moving and empathic characters in comics history, the disappointed 11-year-old with a perpetual skinned knee who didn’t want that candy bar anyway, and rises to smile and live another day. Her work has been adapted into multiple mediums and been lauded in all. She is a true Master.

Now I’m all for rigor, which is what Tom is really calling for here, but I notice that people mostly call for rigor when a woman cartoonist is suggested, and not when the absence of Los Bros Hernandez and Dan Clowes from the exhibit are mentioned. Clowes vs Panter or Jaime vs Chester Gould would be painful and unseemly, so it’s just a matter of choice.

So to sum up: Feininger: cut and run; Barry: in it for the long haul.

Okay, are you happy now? Of course, I love BOTH Feininger and Barry, and I’m sorry I had to kill one of them. I want MORE excellence in my life, not less. But those are the white man’s rules, and that’s how we’re playing this game.

1 COMMENT

  1. “But those are the white man’s rules, and that’s how we’re playing this game.”

    I’m staying out of this one, but but I have one question. I work very hard to not judge people… all people. I really truly believe with all my heart that the color of your skin or what sex you are does not matter. You are a human being, born with the same worth as everyone else. It’s up to you as an individual to make your place in this world, and contribute to society. I trip up a lot, but I really do try to live this point of view, every day. So, my question is, what can I do to not keep getting slapped with this wrap, every time I turn around? I’m just another human, trying get by in life.

  2. “But those are the white man’s rules, and that’s how we’re playing this game.”

    HOLY SHIT.

    Tom doesn’t need me to defend him but… I don’t particularly see this instance as another raising of The Bar. I think, here at least, “the bar” is “other cartoonists.” Which is only fair. It comes across as more of a “show your work” kind of thing.

    Where I might disagree with him is that the whole point of Sturm’s article is “here is a female cartoonist we shouldn’t ignore.” I don’t miss it if he fails to mention *another* female cartoonist we shouldn’t ignore.

    Finally, I think Tom does himself a bit of a disservice on the ol’ Electronic Arguing Machine Network. A lot of the debates people have with him seem to center more on a lack of sharper editing than that he’s The Man.

  3. Preach it, Heidi. I love that VLB, who was my childhood hero for her “Katy and the Big Snow” (her use of negative space therein is mind-blowing), is suddenly receiving a lot of e-love. I personally would have replaced Panter in the lineup with Barry, but then have never understood his appeal or impact in cartooning.

    Christopher, that’s a difficult question to answer, since one can’t avoid certain assumptions that others will make based upon your appearance. But a good place to start is with checking your own assumptions and becoming more aware of them! Check out http://www.amptoons.com/blog/the-male-privilege-checklist/ … and there’s the start of a Female Privilege Checklist here: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/the-male-privilege-checklist/. Neither are perfect, but they provide much food for thought and social self-awareness.

  4. “Okay, I would have favored Lynda Barry in the MASTERS show over Lyonel Feininger. Ya hear that, art boys? FEININGER. Mr. Bauhaus, modern art master, hanging in major museums all over the world. No question but the man is an amazing and lasting artist, but as a cartoonist he was a carpetbagger — his entire body of comic strip work spans 10 months, and lovely as it is, he contributed no lasting storylines or characters. Putting Feininger in the greats of comics is like putting Dashiell Hammett as one of the comic strip greats just because he’s a great American novelist and wrote a few of them. ”

    Wrong. Feininger had a very successful career as a cartoonist for years in Germany. He was a cartoonist for 20 years. You can say he was a dilettante in comic strips, but not as a cartoonist. He had two careers–cartoonist and painter. And his German cartoons are freaking fantastic.

    That said, if I had to chose, I would still choose Barry over Feininger because she is a great artist with a huge body of great work, and has been more influential than Feininger was. But make no mistake, Feininger was a great cartoonist with a substantial body of work developed over decades–most of which is unknown in the U.S., unfortunately.

  5. I don’t get what’s so controversial about this. Here’s a show ostensibly featuring the best cartoonists of the 20th century, so if you want to include another cartoonist for whatever reason (eg. ‘a woman cartoonist should have been included’) you should say 1) which cartoonist you mean; 2) either a) which existing member of the show should be dropped in that cartoonist’s favor or b) that the show’s roster should be expanded to include this additional cartoonist or c) that what your suggested cartoonist brings to the table in terms of diversity or whatever trumps whether or not they’re the next ordinal member of the Great Cartoonists list so you don’t need to worry about such considerations.

    I think this applies just as equally to people who say “Jaime Hernandez/Dan Clowes/Other Great Male Cartoonist should have been in it” as it does to people who say “Lynda Barry should have been in it,” and I’d be interested in finding out who DOESN’T think that. I suspect the answer is “No one.”

    Comparing it to what’s happening to Sonia Sotomayor is kind of gross and ridiculous.

  6. Now that I think of it this is a lot like the “build your ideal JLA/Avengers/X-Men line-up” game. Do you just want the strongest characters, or do you need a Tech/Genius Guy, a Brick, a Speedster, a Ranged Attacker etc., or do you also want to consider gender and race, etc.? At least with people who play those games, they’ll say which specific Speedster or woman or elastic person they want right off the bat rather than just saying “there’s no girls on this team” and calling it a day.

  7. Thanks Katie. That is a long and infinitely complex list, as I would expect any answer to my question to be. “Neither are perfect” is correct, but food for thought is an understatement. I guess what disturbs me the most are the many instances of self segregation (in both gender and race) I see these days, while so many people still accuse each other of racism or sexism. Separate but equal doesn’t work for me. It stands to reason that if we’re all equal, then we’re all in this together. Sure, there will always be others who say you’re this or that, because you have an inny or an outy, or your skin is this color or whatever, but let that be them. True equality is just a level playing field to build the content of your own individual character. It’s our responsibility as humans to keep our eyes firmly fixed on that playing field. The individual is the only truth. Everything else is just window dressing.

  8. I think if you’re going to criticize a specific show, you provide a better criticism of that show when you engage what that show has put out there rather than make summary allusions as to its shortcomings.

    For one thing, you may be able to tell how informed the person’s choices are, like knowing how much cartooning someone’s done.

    As I wrote, if you choose to extol the awesomeness of any cartoonist, male, female, of color, whatever: there are a million strategies for doing so. I try to employ as many as possible in my everyday work, and it is one of the great pleasures of my life to write about and talk to great cartoonists of every size, shape, color and gender.

    Also: I used the example of Oliver Harrington in my post, so even the suggestion by proximity that this is a standard or process I’m only applying to female cartoonists seems silly to me. (Ollie was a dude.) But okay, whatever.

    In conclusion, no matter what you think of the Masters exhibit or any of the cartoonists included or not included, I hope we can all agree Carol Tyler’s new book deserves more attention and space right now than a discussion of rhetoric styles as applied to a years-old comic show.

    http://www.fantagraphics.com/images/stories/previews/nevkno-preview.pdf

    Page five of that preview is certainly more worthy of your attention than any stupid thing I’ve ever written about comics, ever. Thank you.

  9. I’d say Tom’s point isn’t about raising the bar for women – it’s simply pointing out that if you’ve got a list of, say, 15 great artists, and you say, “There should be a woman on that list,” then it’s appropriate to say, (a) who you’d pick, and (b) who you’d take off the list.

    If there are only 15 people in The Top 15 Artists in Comics History (or 100 in the Top 100, or 35 in the Top 35, or whatever), then for anyone you want to add to an existing list, you have to take someone off. If you want to add a woman and the list is all-male, then yes, you have to pick which man you’d take off to add the woman you’d want to add — just as if you wanted to add another male artist to the list, you’d still have to take someone else off.

    If you want to add Tarpe Mills, you’ve got to take one of the other artists off; which one? If you want to add Chester Brown, you’ve got to take one of the other artists off; which one?

    It’s not “two people enter, one woman leaves,” it’s “the room is already full of men and only holds that number of people; one more person of either sex enters, one person has to leave, and since the room was full of men it’ll be a man leaving.”

    This presumes it’s a list restricted to a particular number. If it’s not, then you can add as many people you want to it without taking anyone off just by making the list longer.

    But if you had a list of the 10 Greatest Actors of All Time, and they were all white, and someone said there should be a black or Asian face on that list, it’s not unreasonable to say, “Sure, sounds reasonable. Who would you pick, and who would you take off the current list to make room for them?”

    When you’re talking about the best anything of all time, you’re talking individuals. Honors don’t go to Asian Guy, or to Woman Cartoonist, or even to White Male Oligarchy, but to specific people. There shouldn’t be a token woman on the list, named to it for the sake of naming a woman; there should be a specific woman (or, even better, multiple women) named because they beat out the competition for the honor by dint of being terrific.

    But in order to do that, someone’s going to have to say who those women would be, and how, once you put them on the list, you edit the list back down to 10, or 35, or 100, or whatever. If three women enter, three men have to leave. I don’t think Tom’s saying there’s anything wrong with that, he’s just saying there should be names named, because you’re talking about individual achievement, which means naming individuals who made those achievements.

    kdb

  10. I think what’s being slightly overlooked in the responses here, with the exception of Katy, is that it’s all well and good to say, objectively, all people are equal. That’s great as a philosophy, but it’s not indicative of the actual way in which people are treated on a cultural level. Things are “better” today than they were in the 50’s, but we’re hardly at a level where all people’s achievements are treated as equal. And we’re talking about art here so some aspect of the decision is going to be a matter of subjective opinion no matter what other hard criteria is used.

    Sure, I’d love it if a list of the Greatest Cartoonists Ever were indicative of the wider variety of works out there. And if such a list, whether it’s cartoons or actors, is dominated entirely by one gender or race, then I think it’s fair to cry foul. Without being required to come up with an alternative, necessarily, because that’s not really the point. The lack of inclusion is the point, as is the valuing of one perspective over another. Which may not be in the intent, but it can be the logical conclusion to a list that declares itself to be a list of Masters.

    Granted, people will usually differ on who they’d consider “great” based on personal relevance and influence. But I think it’s disingenuous to ignore the reality that, culturally, we still value certain perspectives over others…and despite working against personal biases, it’s always possible that our standards for one work may differ because of something we may take for granted.

    As a for instance, if a list of the “10 Greatest Film Stars” only included white men, I’d call a huge foul. And for good reason, because there is SOME bias at work there. And it should be obvious to anyone.

    The reason saying “well, so in so should replace so in so, and here’s my proof” is that it’s putting the burden on the person pointing out the flaw to fix something that was broken to begin with. It’s ignoring the system that sets that up, the cultural influences, the reasons why people may truly believe it’s just the “best” whoevers and not at all realize that there’s bias involved.

    My issue with all of that is the deck is already stacked heavily in favor of the white male perspective. So work by anyone else already has that obstacle to overcome. We all think we don’t see race or gender, but we do. And it influences what we think and do and how we judge. Being aware of that is first steps towards changing it.

  11. >> As a for instance, if a list of the “10 Greatest Film Stars” only included white men, I’d call a huge foul.>>

    Sure. Me too.

    But in order to correct that foul, you’ve STILL got to take people off the list to add others on.

    Whether you want to add Clara Bow or Clint Eastwood to that list, you’ve got to take someone off to put them on. That’s not raising the bar higher for women or for minority actors, because it applies to anyone you think should go on the list. It even applies to any white men you think deserve to be on the list instead of that list of losers already there.

    Even if you think there should be three women in the Top 10, but don’t think it’s necessary to name them, then Woman A, Woman B and Woman C are going to take up three slots of the list, booting three men out of it, even if the men unfairly have names due to centuries of privilege and oppression.

    It may be completely fair to boot those three men out — it may be the best decision in the world. I don’t think Tom was saying it wouldn’t be. But if the room holds ten people, and you want to put some more in there, you’ve got to make room; someone’s got to leave.

    Since that’s true regardless of who you want to add in, it doesn’t set the bar any higher for any subset; the bar is exactly as high for all the people outside the room. Someone goes in, someone’s gotta come out.

    If the ten people in that room are there for completely unfair reasons, and they deserve to all be kicked out and ten completely different people put in instead, it’s still the same math, regardless of the sex or race of who you want to put in. Someone goes in, someone’s gotta come out. Ten people go in, ten people gotta come out.

    The answer to the question, “Who do you take off the list to make room?” can legitimately be “All of ’em, the privileged bums!” But you still have to take people out to add people in, even if you’re doing it in the name of justice. It’s not _wrong_ to say there should be people taken off the list, it’s not presumptuous. But the math is inescapable: You still have to take one person off for every person you add in.

    So even if you don’t name names, and you say, “There should be women in that cartoonist list, and black actors in that acting list,” and everyone nods and says yeah, that makes sense, the next question is still going to be, “Okay, who? Who stays, who goes, who comes in?”

    Because if your list is “Tezuka, Kirby, Toth, Kubert, Walt Kelly, Thomas Nast, Manny Stahlman, Henry Scarpelli, Fred Schreier, George Herriman, Four Unnamed Women and Negative-Four Men,” it’s hard to mount the exhibit.

    kdb

  12. Also, the discussion’s more fun if you’re talking about why Ramona Fradon’s work is more significant than Fred Schreier’s, rather than arguing that women should be on the list without being able to talk about any actual art.

    I don’t see that as the burden of proof being on the Fradonistas; it’s not as if anyone said “Fradon can’t come in unless you can _prove_ that Schreier should come out.” Just that if you want Fradon in, you gotta take someone out; so who would you pick?

    The instant you say “Fradon belongs on the list more than Schreier does,” you’ve made a statement; one doesn’t need to presume it true or untrue before discussing it, and the Schreier loyalists have as much burden on them to prove he should stay as the Fradonistas have to prove she should come in. And their response might not be, “No, she’s not worthy, she can’t go in.” It might be, “Absolutely, she’s great. Kick Scarpelli out, he’s no damn good!”

    There’s only a burden of proof if you assume that the people on the list at present belong there. If you’re proposing to change the list, for whatever reason, you’re assuming that’s not true. The burden is then even, and the statement “New Name should replace Old Name” bears no assumption that the pro side or the con side has the upper hand. It’s not like Schreier’s barricaded in and you need grenades to dislodge him. It’s a list; he can be removed with the flick of a pen.

    kdb

  13. Q: “And the bar is HOW high this time?”

    A: In this case, as high for a woman as it is for a man.

    I’m with Spurgeon and Busiek on this. There at two issues at hand, and both of them are simply common-sense.

    The first: if you’re going to complain about a lack of women in a situation judged by the quality of work, it’s foolish to do so without giving examples. To say “there are no women” sounds like sour grapes, and to fail to give examples gives the impression that one thinks women should be included as if out of some kind of affirmative action quota, not because the quality of their work qualifies them for it.

    It reminds me of when the last Booker prize shortlist was announced. There I was all eager to discuss the books on the shortlist, and instead people just wanted to moan about how there was only one book by a woman writer on it. I’m ashamed to say I rather stamped my feet and got cross when I simply meant to say that it was insulting to the books that were on the shortlist to ignore any of their actual merits and simply be saying that one (or more) of them should be there for little more than the fact that they were written by men. I asserted then, and I assert now, that you shouldn’t say “Where are the women?” but rather “I am disappointed that this book, which happens to be by a woman, didn’t make the cut.”

    Indeed, when someone did do that, citing Helen Garner’s “The Spare Room”, I was happy to agree with them that it should’ve been on there instead of one of the other books.

    Which rather brings us around to the second point, as already excellently covered by Mr Busiek. Which is once you get to naming names that should be there, you’re forced to name names which *shouldn’t* be there, in order to balance it out again. And the part he doesn’t say, which I will and expect to get brickbats for, is that if one was to say that it’s a tragedy that, say, Lynda Barry hasn’t made the cut, yet you can’t say who you’d take out to put her in, that would rather mean she was left off fair and square.

    It’s all very well trying to claim the bar is too high in these circumstances, then, but, again, as has already been pointed out, it’s the same bar that any male cartoonist not already on the list has to jump if anyone wants to suggest they should’ve been on there instead of someone else!

  14. “The key is that I’m arguing for specificity, not a rigid framework.” – Spurgeon

    “Now I’m all for rigor, which is what Tom is really calling for here…” – The Beat

    “And I’d be just as happy if people were specific according to Peggy’s standard. I prefer, “Any list too small to include Lynda Barry is an illegitimate list” over “Where are the female cartoonists on this list?” – Spurgeon

    “I notice that people mostly call for rigor when a woman cartoonist is suggested, and not when the absence of Los Bros Hernandez and Dan Clowes from the exhibit are mentioned. Clowes vs Panter or Jaime vs Chester Gould would be painful and unseemly, so it’s just a matter of choice.” – The Beat

    It seems to me that “Any list too small to include Los Bros Hernandez” would fit well within what Tom has actually said, as opposed to what’s been read into his comments. And his initial point was that no specific woman cartoonist was suggested — hence the call for specificity in the face of generality.

    Using the (I think ill-fitting) analogy to the Sotomayor proceedings, while I do believe that diversity is an inherent benefit in the general, I can’t help but agree that a stronger statement is to include specifics: “We need more women on the Supreme Court…and Sonia Sotomayor is a great example of someone qualified and deserving.”

    As a white man I might be missing some key element to the conversation (that isn’t snark, I actually mean that) but it seems that there is not actually that much substantive contention going on here, just semantic cross-communication.

  15. Kurt, that’s basically it, thanks.

    The relative seriousness of charging some folks with being sexist in the way they conducted themselves professionally also seems to me an impetus for having a slightly more rigorous conversation about such a matter, if possible, rather than making or reinforcing a summary judgment.

  16. Here’s an interview with Brian Walker, co-curator of the Masters of American Comics exhibit. Among the topics covered:

    TH: The most obvious, and no doubt controversial, question regarding the show is the selection of artists. I understand the “masters” conceit, and agree that coming up with a first step toward a canon is useful as something to build upon, but describe the criteria for conceptualizing the approach and coming up with 15 artists from a period of 100 years or so. From hearing your remarks to the press, it sounds like the main criterion was designating artists who in one way or another changed the possibilities of the medium.

    BW: I think most people would agree that these 15 artists are masters of comics. Everyone is going to question one or two, and have one or more that they think should’ve been included. We’re not saying in any way that these are the only masters, and we’re not making value judgments among the artists.

    What is incredible and interesting about the group is how different one is from the next. They’re all basically working in the same medium, words and pictures—nothing more, nothing less—but in vastly different places. In the course of the 20th century, here are 15 artists and the approaches they invented. After their work was published and seen, there was a whole new vocabulary. Everything changed; people’s approaches to comics were different as a result.

    TH: You have to address the vastly different cultural contexts and uses of comics by this wide gamut of cartoonists. The goals and functions of the language have obviously changed radically over the last 100 years.

    BW: This show is saying that these are masters, and some other artists doing things contemporary to this work weren’t masters. I won’t go so far as to say that a good deal of those left out were without talent, but they didn’t measure up to the level of these artists. So, you are making value judgments by inclusion, and ultimately we encourage this debate.

    I’ve talked to so many people who’ve asked, “Why didn’t you include Walt Kelly? Or Jack Cole?” “Why aren’t there any women in the exhibit?” And Spiegelman is always questioning, playing this mind game of asking, “If you could add one more cartoonist, who would it be?” But this is just one show.

    Here’s some counterpoint on the absence of women from the exhibit.

    SRS

  17. An exhibit, “Out of Sequence: Underrepresented Voices in American Comics,” is the subject of a book due to be published in July 2009. An interview with the curators of the exhibit, covering such subjects as the extension of sequential art beyond the “Masters of American Comics” notion, can be downloaded here.

    SRS

  18. Some interesting takes here, and some great links by Steven — Thanks, Synsidar! Just to clarify a little, I don’t object to the call for specificity so much as the “Cage Match” idea that “Both must be judged and one must be judged SUPERIOR.” That’s a tough standard for ANYONE. I’m arguing for inclusion here, not necessarily the “king killer.” And no, I don’t think James Sturm is saying “Let’s put some crap on a pedestal just to be groovy and open minded.”

    Back at one of those comics symposiums that was all the rage in 08, I saw John Carlin, the other Master curator talk about this, on a panel about canon with Dan Nadel, and he mentioned that they had considered a more “inclusive” “canon” but had decided not to go that route. (Barry was mentioned specifically.) Without inferring anything about the motives, I still flash back to that moment many times. You could have been Branch Rickey and signed up Jackie Robinson…but you didn’t.

    Also some of those reading this thread might try this old thought experiment — modify everything you do with “White man.” Like, “They just hired a white man for that job,” or “That’s where white men go to eat breakfast.” Simple stuff like that. It’s fun!

  19. The selection of artists for the Masters of American Comics exhibit raised the question of creators to include in a comics canon. The Valve’s John Holbo considered the topic, and “greatest artists” lists, here; Domingos Isabelinho’s canon is listed here.

    SRS

  20. The Beat: “Without inferring anything about the motives, I still flash back to that moment many times. You could have been Branch Rickey and signed up Jackie Robinson…but you didn’t.”

    This is risible on many levels. The Masters of Comics list was a list. Major League Baseball was an industry which systematically denied a class of people access to work. There’s a small difference between professional recognition and professional extinction.

    There were approximately 500 players’ jobs in baseball when Jackie Robinson debuted, not 15. When someone mounts a museum show of the Top 500 Cartoonists and it’s still wall-to-wall penis, let us know.

    Jackie Robinson filled a specific slot. He replaced Bruce Edwards as the first baseman on the Brooklyn Dodgers’ “Masters of Baseball” list, also known as their starting lineup.

    Jackie Robinson won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, and was eventually elected to the Hall of Fame. His athletic credentials would have spoken for themselves (and did) without regard to his race. Incidentally, Robinson is NOT considered one of the best 15 players in major league history.

    Putting Lynda Barry in a show would’ve been like breaking the color bar in baseball? It’s a lousy analogy.

  21. I’ve said elsewhere, and I’m pretty sure Spurge knows I’ve said it, that I would replace Gary Panter with Lynda Barry in the Masters show.

    That said, the whole concept of trying to rank artists who are all working at the highest levels of medium is pretty silly. Charles Schulz was simply not trying to do the same things with his art as Art Spiegelman. Or Carol Tyler. Or whoever. Such debates almost always end up favoring the artists who are judged to have had more historic impact on the form, and that group is going to consist mostly of white men.

    Love Virginia Lee Burton, by the way. I named a character in my strip after her, and no one seems to have noticed the reference, which makes me sad.

  22. >> You could have been Branch Rickey and signed up Jackie Robinson…but you didn’t.>>

    Out of curiosity, who _was_ the first person to name a woman to an all-time comics greats list? If that’s tantamount to being Branch Rickey, then surely that person is worth remembering.

    For my part, I’d think the person who first hired a woman to make professional comics would be more analogous to Rickey (and predates Rickey by quite some time, to boot), but if being named to a best-ever list is enough to be lauded as the equivalent of breaking the color bar in pro baseball…who did it? And who was Jackie Robinson?

    kdb

  23. Putting Lynda Barry in a show would’ve been like breaking the color bar in baseball? It’s a lousy analogy.

    The analogy isn’t inappropriate, since the focus is on exclusion without justification. There are distinct differences in the ways male and female cartoonists approach their work; for just one analysis of the differences, see Trina Robbins’s piece:

    Like all other art forms, The comic strip often reveals more about the creator than he or she intended to show. One thing it reveals is the way in which cartoonists see both themselves and people of the opposite sex.

    When a list has a limited number of slots, the assessment of any artist’s artistic worth will be influenced by one’s appreciation for a particular style or styles. The bias is practically unavoidable. Having both male and female artists participate in the evaluation of artists is certainly preferable to men-only judgments. For an overtly angry reaction to the exclusion of women from the “Masters” exhibit, see this:

    Jack Kirby (1917-94), who helped invent “Captain America” and “The Fantastic Four,” took an equally macho approach. A catalog essay describes his work as “deliberately primitive and bombastic, but in a way that perfectly embodied the fantasy life of young American boys in the middle of the 20th century.”

    Harvey Kurtzman, founder of Mad magazine, spent his last years at Playboy, drawing the sexual exploits of the bosomy “Little Annie Fanny.” Even today, undercurrents of negativity toward women course through the depressive and quasi-autobiographical work of Chris Ware. When they appear at all, they are cold and/or sexually rapacious. Ware addresses his art to nerdy, solipsistic and vaguely pretentious men like himself.

  24. Perhaps female cartoonists broke the “sanctioned” sex barrier in 2001 when Marie Severin was elected to the Eisner Hall of Fame. Ramona Fradon was selected in 2006 and I did get to see that.

    Pointing to a specific pioneer is difficult, because there have been female cartoonists as long as there have been cartoons. It’s just that they weren’t very good, as most scholars agree.

    Carlin himself knows that these kinds of questions would be raised:

    The curators of “Masters of American Comics” have provided plenty of grist for querulous feminists. “These are 15 artists who used comics to express themselves,” says curator Carlin, who explains that selections were based on the criteria of craft and formal innovation. Of the marquee catalogue essayists who give personal glosses on the artists, the only women are New Yorker art editor Françoise Mouly (who also happens to be Spiegelman’s wife), who provides an informative take on Crumb, and art historian Karal Ann Marling, who writes on Frank King (“Gasoline Alley”). “These artists are mostly white, middle-class, male,” acknowledges Carlin, who readily admits that women artists got cut as the list narrowed from 40 to 15 artists. “But I felt a canon needed to be there, in order to be challenged.” (Notably, Herriman is African American; however, Stanley Crouch notes in his catalogue essay that “most of us were introduced to George Herriman’s ethnicity” only when Ishmael Reed dedicated his 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo to him.)

    Obviously the Masters show remains something of a flashpoint for may comics scholars, Tom and myself included. But based on all the comments here it is time to move on FOR EVERYONE. I’m much more interested in what actually touched this whole thing off … James Sturm’s interesting investigation of the influence of illustration work on comics prior to…oh say Neal Adams, when it all blew up.

  25. Pointing to a specific pioneer is difficult, because there have been female cartoonists as long as there have been cartoons. It’s just that they weren’t very good, as most scholars agree.

    Many of them were very good. The Cartoon Art Museum has a Nell Brinkley show up right now, and visitors to the museum keep mentioning how impressive it is. The common refrain is, “I can’t believe I’ve never heard of her before!” Same happened when the Museum did its Mary Blair show last year.

    I don’t think Nell Brinkley was on the level of, say, Frank King, but she was damn good. One of the great things about comics is that there are a lot of unique, offbeat artists who might not qualify as capital-M Masters but produce amazing work.

    I would urge people who think comic art is mostly white and male to pay attention to the Cartoon Art Museum. The museum’s current shows, for example, are “The Art of Stan Sakai,” “Watchmen” with art by Dave Gibbons, “The Brinkley Girls,” and a Small Press Spotlight on Rina Ayuyang. That’s one white guy in the bunch, and he’s not even American.

  26. But, Shaenon, I’ve been told many many times they weren’t good! So who am I supposed to believe…so confused. Maybe I will just judge for myself.

  27. Here’s a tribute to Elizabeth Powell, a cartoonist who passed away in 2007, from fellow cartoonist Nick Thorkelson. If anyone has a specific female cartoonist in mind, and is interested in formal assessments, let me know and I’ll see what I can find.

    The Humor: International Journal of Humor Research has a 2007 article titled “The interaction of cartoonist’s gender and formal features of cartoons.” That should be informative reading.

    SRS

  28. But, Shaenon, I’ve been told many many times they weren’t good! So who am I supposed to believe…so confused. Maybe I will just judge for myself.

    But, but I’ve been told that leaving women off a particular list was a devastating patriarchal blow, marginalizing female artists and burying their work. And yet, somehow, it didn’t happen. Am I going insane?

  29. Assembling a group of artists can be done systematically, by recognizing an artist’s weaknesses as well as his strengths. Say that there are three criteria: Command of technique (realization of form), strength of purpose, and commercial success, with the first two criteria more important than the last. If an artist produces offensive work, e.g., pornographic or sexist, the strength of purpose of that work is zero. Strength of purpose and commercial success are related, but different. An artist who succeeded commercially while producing works that made sociopolitical or philosophical statements would be more significant than one who was successful while focusing strictly on entertainment. Since there is a gender gap in the world of cartoons, judges in a group, whatever the group’s size, should be able to veto artists selected by judges of the opposite sex by citing significant weaknesses. Such a process should succeed in producing a group of artists that have specific strengths as well as no serious weaknesses.

    SRS

  30. But if you had a list of the 10 Greatest Actors of All Time, and they were all white, and someone said there should be a black or Asian face on that list, it’s not unreasonable to say, “Sure, sounds reasonable. Who would you pick, and who would you take off the current list to make room for them?”

    No, Kurt, it’s not unreasonable to say, “What is wrong with you, that your list of the 10 Greatest Actors Of All Time/Greatest Cartoonists Of All Time/Greatest Sentient Whatevers Of All Time has only Caucausian males on it? Why are you incapable of even considering from the get-go that there are other people out there beside white dudes? How come you can’t even SEE us until we are pointed out to you?”

    Starting from your Aristotelian default of Male=Human, Female=Defective Male is the only way that your question – that is to say, your attitude that some White Male must be knocked off his rightful pedestal to allow for diversity – makes any sense. ‘Tis pity that even after so many decades, this attitude is not only still to be found, but still so common, and not only in fandom.

  31. That’s pathetic and ludicrous. No one’s arguing from an Aristotelian default of females as defective males, let alone Kurt Busiek.

    The reason your statement in quotes above would be rightly laughed at by many people of all genders is that you have no idea what the hell the Masters people considered or didn’t, and you’re jumping to a conclusion that suits your view of how such arguments developed without any evidence that the nasty thing you’re asserting is true. For all you know, they spent 385 days considering female cartoonists and male cartoonists of color, and then one day considering white dudes. Not likely, granted, but you don’t know.

    I think if you look at this kind of nasty, implication-laden broadside and compare it to posts up thread where things are argued in more specific terms, you begin to see why I think one is better than the other.

    You know what’s sadder than this entire thread? This:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Drayton

  32. OKay, kids, settle down. I’m tired of this topic, but an impartial observer MIGHT still notice that the sides are pretty evenly divided…the white men on one side and the not white men on the other (with Synsidar tagging along as a faithful Boswell.) Without saying anyone is wrong or right about it, this DOES suggest that identity politics are playing a part on both side. Suggests. I’ll leave it to Zornak from Planet Rubulad to sort it all out.

    The Drayton thing IS sad, but the disinterest of major comics scholars in early female cartoonists due to their perceived inferiority — you’ll recall the conversation you, me and Art Spiegleman had outside Mocca a few years ago, Tom — is not likely to change that. I’m hoping the amazing Nell Brinkley book from Fanta will help bring some of these artists out of the “Trina Robbins-verse” and get more people (PEOPLE) interested in this field. There are many undiscovered artists or all shapes and sizes awaiting internet fame.

  33. People understandably are reluctant to take a list of 15 cartoonists, replace some names with others, and then spend time, perhaps, defending the choices against criticism. It’s much easier to launch missiles. However, if one purpose of an exhibit is to inform the uninformed, then male and female cartoonists should be presented as coequals. Doing men-only and women-only exhibits reinforces the perception that the women’s cartoons are different and/or inferior.

    Two things about the MoAC list stand out; Newspaper entertainment strips are overrepresented and autobiographical works, which women cartoonists are noted for, are underrepresented. Using that, and negative reactions to Crumb’s work, to modify the list:

    Lynda Barry
    Alison Bechdel
    Milton Caniff
    Will Eisner
    George Herriman
    Jack Kirby
    Harvey Kurtzman
    Winsor McCay
    Jackie Ormes
    Gary Panter
    Sharon Rudahl
    Charles M. Schulz
    E.C. Segar
    Art Spiegelman
    Chris Ware

    SRS

  34. I do remember that conversation, Heidi. To get the conversation going, Art Spiegelman asked you who you might substitute to get the conversation going… You stammered and then said, “I’m fighting for my life here!” I remember this exactly because it was weird. This didn’t really answer the question, and since you’re not a cartoonist it was confusing, but we just sort of stood there.

    Art suggested Lynda Barry for Gary Panter and you quickly agreed that might be a possibility. There was a young guy who hasn’t written about comics in six years and only ever published about five times that made a snotty joke, but Art — and I don’t know Art, nor am I in his circle — seemed to me quite interested and engaged. You introduced your Mom to him, so you couldn’t have thought him particularly rude. The only time he even became curt is when it was suggested that Dale Messick might be in the show, which he just sort of thought was ridiculous. This isn’t a sign of disinterest.

    So again, as usual, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    And shame on you for lofting another broadside you feel you don’t have to back up against some unnamed group of “major comics scholars.” Most of the major comics scholars I know — Jerry Robinson, Bill Blackbeard, those guys — have been among the first to write about or otherwise promote great female cartoonists. They deserve better.

    I don’t see this as having sides, but if I don’t have to be on the side of the people who can read minds and think it’s awesome to imply super-nasty stuff about people, I guess I’m okay with it.

  35. From an interview with Jan Eliot (Stone Soup):

    14. Do you think there’s a bias against women cartoonists in the industry? How do explain the relative lack of female cartoonists?

    That is a really tough question. Disney actively refused to put women in their studios at one time… Dahlia Messick had to change her name to Dale to get Brenda Starr into syndication in the 50s… Hilda Terry fought (and won) an uphill battle to break the gender barrier in the National Cartoonist Society in the 50s. When I started cartooning in the late early 80s I was told there was limited room for comic strips done by women. If a newspaper had one or two, they didn’t need any more. Something that, I think, African American cartoonists feel they face today. As if we don’t write for everyone, as if only a part of the population would be interested in what we had to say.

    So, that’s the HISTORY… does it affect women now?

    In that there are few of us, and therefore less community and mentoring, it may feel like an unfriendly place for women. I enjoy my women friends, I’m sure that men feel the same, they like to hang together. At big gatherings of cartoonists, overwhelmingly male, it might seem hard to find a place for yourself as a woman. Add to that that the majority of syndicate salespeople and editors are male… you can feel like a stranger in a strange land. […]

    With that, they left. That Ted might have a cartoonist WIFE was just too much of a stretch, I guess. He must be gay. News to us!

  36. >> No, Kurt, it’s not unreasonable to say, “What is wrong with you, that your list of the 10 Greatest Actors Of All Time/Greatest Cartoonists Of All Time/Greatest Sentient Whatevers Of All Time has only Caucausian males on it? Why are you incapable of even considering from the get-go that there are other people out there beside white dudes? How come you can’t even SEE us until we are pointed out to you?” >>

    I think it would be unreasonable to say that, yes.

    For one thing, it’s not my list. For another, the list being challenged doesn’t have only Caucasian males on it. For a third, I’ve never once suggested that such a list should be all-male, merely that if you’re looking at that list and you think there should be women on it, an appropriate question to ask is, “Which women? And who would you take off?” Much as, if you thought there was anyone, male, female, alien, neuter, or whatever, that should be on the list, it would be reasonable to ask who they are, and who you’d remove.

    Of course, your questions assume that the list is all Caucasian, which is isn’t, and that the only reason there were no women on it was because the people who put it together were unaware of the existence of anyone but white dudes, which is doubly mistaken, since they put a non-white dude on it, and because they discussed the fact that it was all-male and in the end decided they had the right list nonetheless.

    To pick another list, the Fantagraphics Top 100 Comics of the Century List has work by a number of women on it, but if you trimmed it to 15 (the number on the Masters list) it would be all-male (but not all-white). If you were to look at their list and ask them why they didn’t know of the existence on anyone but white men, I think they’d assume you were an idiot, since all three of your questions would be mistaken there, too.

    But I suppose there’s some balance in the fact that, in assuming white patriarchal blindness, you made as many blind assumptions as you were accusing others of.

    Oddly, I still think that replacing some of the Masters list with women is not a bizarre concept or a requirement, but that if you’re gonna do it, naming the women you’d put on and the people you’d take off is not a bizarre requirement, if only to know what should be put in the frames.

    kdb

  37. >> that is to say, your attitude that some White Male must be knocked off his rightful pedestal to allow for diversity >>

    Oh, and —

    Who said it was the White Male’s “rightful” pedestal but you?

    But there’s fifteen guys on those pedestals. Rightful, wrongful, neutralful, that’s the list people are reacting to. You can certainly say that those are wrongful choices, and could well be right. But the math of it doesn’t care — you _still_ have to take out one person for every person you want to add in.

    So if you say, “One of them there pedestals is rightfully Lynda Barry’s!” you might well be right. But you still have to pick which one.

    Ain’t a matter of rightful and wrongful, but of math. To add one to fifteen and still wind up with fifteen, you have to subtract one as well.

    kdb

  38. >> I’m tired of this topic, but an impartial observer MIGHT still notice that the sides are pretty evenly divided…the white men on one side and the not white men on the other (with Synsidar tagging along as a faithful Boswell.) Without saying anyone is wrong or right about it, this DOES suggest that identity politics are playing a part on both side. Suggests. I’ll leave it to Zornak from Planet Rubulad to sort it all out.>>

    Wow. “I won’t draw any conclusions, I’ll just HEAVILY IMPLY something insulting, ad hominem and dismissive.”

    If I was arguing that the list as it stands is accurate and defensible, I could understand this. But since all I’ve done is argue for the requirements of math — if you want to add someone in, you have to take someone out — it’s flabbergasting in its nastiness.

    The fact that to add a woman to the list you have to remove a man is simply because _someone_ would have to be removed, and since everyone on the list is male, that would mean taking off someone male. There ain’t anyone else on the list to take off.

    But the principle is exactly the same with Synsidar’s list. If you think there’s something wrong with his list, and you think someone should be added, then you’d need to say who, and you’d need to say who should be removed, if you want to keep it to the same numbers. That would be true regardless of whether the people you want to add have testes, and the people you want to remove have ovaries. Or vice versa. Or some mixture thereof.

    I don’t see that as identity politics, because no identity is required for the principle to be articulated.

    There might be identity politics involved if I were arguing about which identity deserved to be on the list, but I haven’t said anything of the sort. I have nothing vested in the Masters list, least of all my genitalia. Rework it all you like, says I — but if you want a 15 person list, you’ll still wind up taking names off for every name you want to put on, regardless of plumbing.

    That’s not “identity politics.” That’s barely even “set theory.”

    I think it’s “counting.”

    kdb

  39. Perhaps one shouldn’t assume that the great male comic strip cartoonists are generally better than their female counterparts. James Sturm:

    I’m more inspired and influenced by the work of Virginia Lee Burton and Marie Hall Ets than, say, Milton Caniff. Their work flows so effortlessly and has a spellbinding emotional core. Burton’s page designs are as revelatory as Will Eisner’s. Ets’ gentle stories and expressive drawings are positively enchanting. Male cartoonists of the same era seem crass and constipated by comparison.

    Cartoonist Jennifer M. Babcock on industry sexism:

    If I’m pimping my comic, it is fundamental for me that I downplay my femininity… otherwise, I won’t get taken seriously. Let’s take a look at the 2008 NYCC when I showed up on a Saturday wearing a summery white dress and peep toe heels (sans glasses). Every time I told a vendor that I was a cartoonist I was given a condescending and patronizing “Good for you!” On the other hand, when I returned the next day wearing my more masculine attire, the same vendors (who obviously didn’t remember me the day before) asked if I had a business card. [. . .]

    By placing ourselves in this category of “women cartoonists” we are in fact implying that we are somehow inherently different from our male counterparts. Does Jessica Abel have a particular “feminine” creative mind that Craig Thompson can’t touch? [i][ii] That said, I am not necessarily saying that the” female voice” is always indistinguishable from the “male voice”- but I don’t see why there needs to be a separate category for “women cartoonists” as is often the case.

  40. Several pieces on sexism in the cartoonist industry.

    Cartoonist Fiona Katauskas on perception bias re humor
    http://newmatilda.com/2008/11/14/woman-walks-bar

    Cartoonist Gabby Schulz on bad artistic influences: Page 6 of 22
    http://www.thelinknewspaper.ca/files/thelink/pdf/thelinkvol29iss30.pdf

    Mediocre artists in comics
    http://illustrationart.blogspot.com/2007/02/my-favorite-bad-artists.html

    Cartoonist Ampersand on sexism among comic book geeks
    http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2006/12/04/sexism-among-comic-book-geeks-the-rape-pages-are-in/

    An angry response to complaints about breast size in cartoons and video games
    http://www.8bm.com/diatribes/volume01/048/977.htm

    SRS

  41. Phoebe Gloeckner on autobiographical tendencies, equality, and other things:

    You know, I think there’s kind of an in-your-heart assumption that a female writer is a “female writer” and not really a writer. In cartoons and comics, female cartoonists are kind of segregated. There are anthologies of female cartoonists; there are histories written about female cartoonists. There are no histories written about men cartoonists.

    Joanna Russ, on racism and sexism, circa 1983.

    SRS

  42. Oh, the male privilege, how it burns when it’s questioned. But then, I think the OP knew that already! Come on, guys. The response to ‘Why are there no women on a list for an artform that includes plenty of women?’ isn’t ‘Hold on while we men discuss the exact rules that will allow women to be included and BY THE WAY YOU WILL HAVE TO TAKE SOMETHING AWAY FROM MEN TO GET THAT, YOU KNOW!’ but ‘Why ARE there no women on that list?’

  43. The number 15, why does it oppress us so?

    Because every thinking humyn knows that there should be precisely 7.5 men on the list– no more, no less. Fair’s fair!

  44. I’m sorry to be chiming in so late on this thread. If any of you will be in San Diego, we will be exploring these and other issues related to comic art and museums at 1:00 on Sunday. I will be talking about my new research on the Comic Art Show (1983) and an interview I recently did with John Carlin, Michael Dooley will be talking about High & Low (1990) and Masters. Denis Kitchen will be talking about new exhibitions and trends. We expect a lively discussion on all the issues you’ve indentified. Please check it out!

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