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Bart Beatty is reporting on all the festival doings at The Comics Reporter. Check back daily for Bart’s view on the goings on.

It was slow today — the biggest hall was empty at opening, but most of the artists were arriving today and the signings, and crowds, will grow in earnest on Friday. The weather has been a boon to smokers now confined to the outdoors, as it is positively springlike, a big change from the past couple of years. All in all, an auspicious start that bodes well for a crisis- and scandal-free Festival.


Spring, comics and a cloud of Gauloises smoke. We must make it to Angoulême one day before its all over.

Speaking of French comics, they are having something of a snit which Matthias Wivel explains: A newspaper piece claims that Sfar and Satrapi and co. make up a French comics mafia:

While nowhere near the hatchet piece Ted Rall’s now infamous Village Voice article was, Brethes is tilting at windmills here. As he acknowledges himself, Satrapi; Sfar and the rest have influenced French comics significantly, and he is right that they have spawned a number of epigones, etc. But intimating that they are somehow at fault, and using a criminal metaphor to boot, is just dumb. Who can blame them for embracing the media attention they have earned through producing quality work? Or for promoting the kinds of comics they like when they attain editorial positions? And how, exactly, is any of this different from earlier times — Dionnet/et. al. at Métal Hurlant or Brétecher/Gotlib and Co. at Echo des savanes/Fluide Glacial publishing artists they themselves enjoyed? Furthermore, how is this different from what goes on in the rest of the literary/art community, or indeed the world at large?

  1. Wivel continues, in the same piece:

    This is surely due to comics being a rather insular subculture that, until now, has never received much in the way of serious critical attention in the mainstream media and only very little of the kind in the comics press. Add to this, the back-patting, we’re-all-in-the-same-boat ‘team comics’ attitude that prevails in the comics subculture as well as the sensitive character and low self-confidence of many cartoonists (it often seems to go with the profession) and you have a troubling tendency. True, this is a brutal generalisation, but ask almost any critic who has written negatively about comics if they haven’t encountered reactions of this kind.

    In other, less insular literary/artistic circles, criticism has long since become a natural, and indeed vital, part of the system of discourse. And even when they don’t understand or appreciate the role of criticism in the culture, most artists there have attained a healthier attitude to it. I’m not saying that criticism doesn’t often hurt or offend prose authors, playwrights or painters, but they tend to be equipped with more of an emotional bulwark against it. In comics, negative criticism seems to risk personally offending or even creatively paralysing artists to a significantly greater extent than in most other artistic milieus. This needs to change.

    How ironic that this dude dismisses my 1999 piece in the Voice–a piece whose prescience has since been acknowledged by any honest appraiser of the NYC comics scene–as a “hatchet job.” Either criticism is healthy, or it’s not.

    This isn’t to say that Le Point was right, or that I was right about Spiegelman–merely that the response to criticism with which you disagree is a thoughtful point-by-point refutation. (Nine years after “King Maus,” I’m still waiting for someone to show me how and why I was wrong using words beyond name-calling.) It isn’t yelling or screaming or trying to sabotage the critics’ career and reputation.

    If anyone still doubts that Spiegelman is a miserable hack, however, I call their attention to his post-“King Maus” output, of which his crappy 9/11 book is the crowning, turd-like achievement. If anyone still doubts the existence of the art comix mafia of which he reigns as an ailing don, I point to the NYT Sunday Magazine.

  2. Ted, either you’re for name calling or you’re agin it! Make up your mind.

    I just saw Spiegelman’s book for the Toon line and it is as adorable as all get out.

  3. Oh, I name-call with the best of them! It’s fun! But it’s only one part of my repertoire. My piece for the Voice contained concrete criticisms, too, few of which were ever addressed by critics. One of my favorite complaints was that someone other than me ought to have written about Spiegelman–hey, they had 20 years. If I hadn’t brought up his terrible influence on the comics scene, no one else would have.

    Can’t comment on the new title as I haven’t seen it. But the 9/11 book alone ought to consign Spiegelman to literary oblivion. It was an insult to its readers and to book consumers everywhere.

  4. Hi Ted,
    There is no point in writing a detailed rebuttal of your almost decade-old article. Several people already did this — both in the Voice and the Comics Journal — back when you wrote it.

    You’re right that it can be called prescient, but only in that it anticipated similarly vague and emotive bloviation against current ‘comics establishment’ figures like Chris Ware. For more on this, see this essay:

    http://www.metabunker.dk/?p=907

    Beyond that, it was a weakly argued mess, wearing its bias on its sleeve along with a chip a little further up, but failing to support its assertions with substance. The only faintly damning statements on Spiegelman as a mover and shaker on the NYC scene that you advanced were either based on hearsay or attributed to anonymous sources. And there was nothing in there to warrant likening Spiegelman to a mafia don.

    Beyond its polemicist preamble, it was largely a somewhat rambling and ungenerous critique of Spiegelman as an artist, and while I agree that he has done very little of interest in that regard since his masterpiece, Maus, (the 9/11 strips were indeed awful) this is irrelevant to the vilifying allegations with which you open the piece.

    I’m not saying you’re all wrong about his influence on the New York comics scene — though I’ve lived in New York, I’m not familiar enough with it to judge — merely that your essay didn’t contain anything to substantiate your claims, and therefore can justly be called a hatchet job.

    And in any case — and this is the point I was also making in relation to Sfar et. al. — who can blame Spiegelman for publishing art that he likes? You’ve done the same thing in the Attitude books, and as you yourself indicated in the essay, he has been one of the most original and innovative editors in comics. Furthermore, he remains a highly intelligent and articulate critic and appreciator of the art form. Yes, he’s full of himself at times, but given what he has contributed in the above-mentioned domains, I — for one — wouldn’t have him any other way.

    I appreciate your candour and gutsiness as a critic and sympathise with a lot of your views, but the flaws of “King Maus” unfortunately tend to be the rule rather than the exception in your writing.

    You ask for healthy criticism. How about actually providing some yourself?

    All best,

    Matthias

  5. …who can blame Spiegelman for publishing art that he likes? You’ve done the same thing in the Attitude books…

    No, I haven’t.

    Several of the artists who participated in the “Attitude” anthologies create comic strips I don’t particularly like. Some were even people with whom I had had personal disagreements. But their work was too important, and too right, and too deserving of broader exposure to ignore. Like any decent editor, I set aside my personal biases as much as I could to pick the right artists for the book. I didn’t reserve the books for my best friends, some of whom were not included because their work wouldn’t have been appropriate.

    Art Spiegelman doesn’t do that. It’s a big part of the reason he sucks. He has power, and he abuses it. Consider the Little Lit books–he never reached beyond his personal comfort zone.

    Ditto for Chris Ware–when you’re asked to edit a book called “Best American Comics 2007,” you’re supposed to choose the Best Comics Made by Americans During 2007, not Comics By My Friends And Artists Who Share My Aesthetic Sensibilities.

  6. Well, OK. As I wrote in that other article, I’m not crazy about Chris Ware as an editor either, but I think you’re making something of a vague distinction here. Little Lit may not have set the comics world on fire (though some of the material in there is very good), but whether Spiegelman was being a critical or a nepotistic editor, it’s pretty hard to get around Arcade and Raw as high water marks of the comics anthology.

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