Beverly Hills Chihuahua1
The embers of the most recent battle over “What is good?” are cooling to ash, and our own humor-based comment found a cold reception. To be honest, I don’t quite understand why calling poor comics poor, whether they be superhero, indie, kiddie, or “mainstream,” is always taken as a personal attack. I thought that would be left to the artists who are called poor, not the readers of the genre the work belongs to. But such is not the case.

And of course, reading crappy comics or watching crappy movies or reading crappy blogs doesn’t make you a crappy person, and it’s a free country, and blah blah. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe to always give crappiness a free pass. Yesterday, economist Paul Krugman was awarded the Nobel Prize, and while I’m about as capable of understanding his theories of free trade as I am quantum physics, many people pointed to his post Supply, Demand, and English Food as an example of his thinking. Basically, he asks, why was English food, until the past 10 or 12 years, so dreadful? The reason. Krugman argues, goes back to swift Victorian industrialization, and the difficulty of transporting fresh food to rapidly expanding urban centers. However, British food remained suspect for years and years past the point where decent ingredients became available…and Krugman’s answer is somewhat germane to the discussion here, I think:

For the answer is surely that by the time it became possible for urban Britons to eat decently, they no longer knew the difference. The appreciation of good food is, quite literally, an acquired taste–but because your typical Englishman, circa, say, 1975, had never had a really good meal, he didn’t demand one. And because consumers didn’t demand good food, they didn’t get it. Even then there were surely some people who would have liked better, just not enough to provide a critical mass.

And then things changed. Partly this may have been the result of immigration. (Although earlier waves of immigrants simply adapted to English standards–I remember visiting one fairly expensive London Italian restaurant in 1983 that advised diners to call in advance if they wanted their pasta freshly cooked.) Growing affluence and the overseas vacations it made possible may have been more important–how can you keep them eating bangers once they’ve had foie gras? But at a certain point the process became self-reinforcing: Enough people knew what good food tasted like that stores and restaurants began providing it–and that allowed even more people to acquire civilized taste buds.

bowlingOnly last week, I was bowling with the family in Waterville, Maine. Future Mr. Beat, who is English, was happy to discover that at the alley they had one of the fine local brews on tap: Casco Bay Riptide. He was so happy that he remarked to the barkeep on how excellent the brew was. She replied, “It is, but no one drinks it. Everyone likes Bud LIght.”

At the risk of not only being branded a snob, but an INTERNATIONALIST snob, I have to mention here that FMB, who is nothing if not a beer aficionado, will not under any circumstances drink Bud LIght because it is vile, an opinion which I share. Interestingly, Budweiser is drunk in Europe, but it is nothing like the brew sold in the US…that brand of puddle water would never sell in England or Europe. It’s not that they don’t have their crappy frat beers in England, like Carllng, but that they are just better — by every objective and subjective measure — than our crappy frat beers. What this says about America and our standards doesn’t keep me up at night….but plenty of other examples of the like that don’t involve alcohol do.

Anyway, are comic books like beer…or even food? Not exactly; however, I do believe that when presented with an endless expanse of poor fare, one will eventually forget what a superior example of art is like. All of us need to remind ourselves on a regular basis of how great comics can be, and demand better quality in our beer, food, AND entertainment. And that’s what I’ll endeavor to do, in my own imperfect way.


  1. Whenever I get comparatively dismayed by America on the counts you mention, I think about how much the Germans unironically love the Hoff and it makes me feel infinitesimally better.

  2. Actually, the comparison of beer to comics makes a lot of sense to me. I have had people tell me that they do not like beer because they have only tasted american commercial beers, just as people have told me they don’t read comics from only having seen the commercial superhero stuff. It is like saying “I don’t like bread because it all tastes like wonder bread”.
    The products that are mass produced to one specific demographic are most often pretty poor fare – it is in the rich range of flavors and textures, (people following their own muses) that allows for real brilliance in anything.

  3. Great article, Heidi. Any piece that manages to amalgamate the principles of top-notch comics, food and beer is deserving of…a pint of Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale!

    (It’s an absolute delight of a beverage, and anybody dwelling within the realms of New England should stock up on it immediately.)

  4. Here’s a ready beer = comics example.

    Only the better foreign beers actually make it to America. The swill stays were it is. Why is that, especially given that Americans seem to like swill? Well, it’s because of transportation costs, which increase the price of the imported beer, which in turn means the beer must be good enough to command a premium price.

    Manga used to be the same way. America only got the best. But then manga became unexpectedly popular at about the same time it also became much less expensive to import, adapt and translate. So, now we get a lot of crap, too, just like in Japan.

  5. I assume the sense of “personal attack” you mention, Heidi, stems from people hearing that what they deem “good” is actually “poor.” From that point much wailing and gnashing of teeth, etc.

    Now, you hypothesize that people too long exposed to inferior fare will become unable to cope with “a superior work of art.” I can see how one might think that of a generation (like mine) brought up on “mainstream” comics almost exclusively.


    It’s been what, two full generations since the Era of the Baby Boomers? Generation X, if you suppose them coming to adolescence in and around the 80s, are just right for the explosion of the independents in the DM.
    Generation Y would inherit most of the 90s and thereon, which would mean the period when the artcomics at last crack the major chain bookstores, and more recently, newspapers start using headlines like, “Biff! Pow! Comics Turn Respectable!”

    So– putting aside the question of “what is superior”– for the past two generations, haven’t there been increased venues whereby the superior
    can be discovered?

    And unless superhero fandom is like a “meme” getting passed from one generation to the next, what keeps Generations X and Y from getting in on all that goodness? Bud Light airs umpteen commercials to brainwash the American populace (in theory). But through what mechanism are the superhero publishers keeping the unwashed masses brainwashed? Surely it’s got to be something besides the big-screen superdoer films, since up until 2000 that genre was still fairly marginal.

  6. Nice analogy! Esp. since most of our canonized, gilded comics writers are English or thereabouts.

    Isn’t Krugman’s main point though that taste is learned? To me, that seems more dangerous to creativity (making or reading) than the idea of a personal taste, acquired only through years of experimenting, developing opinions, and eating a bunch of cheese. Taste implies eating, it doesn’t imply being full. I drank Keystone in college, German beers in grad school, but I never had any idea what was good. I drank plenty in the UK — much of it was glorious sunshine but some of it tasted like roofing material.

    All I’m saying is that on a warm July day, watching a baseball game, someone will hand me a plastic cup of Budweiser and it will be the best thing in the Universe. Isn’t that taste, too?

  7. “Interestingly, Budweiser is drunk in Europe, but it is nothing like the brew sold in the US…that brand of puddle water would never sell in England or Europe.”

    It’s just the same as far as I am aware (except in ireland where it’s weaker in strength by law but the taste is the same) and is actually a high seller (The UK is Budweiser second largest market)

    Are you getting the american Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch) mixed up with Budweiser Budvar (A Czech brand)?

  8. I think on one level, the reason that the big superhero publishers dominate is because like Budweiser, they’re always on tap.

    Even though I have no real interest in superhero comics, I have occasionally bought them simply because they’re what dominate the racks at most comic shops, the non-manga graphic novel sections of Borders and B&N, and even the discussion in the comics blog-o-verse.

    When you have the market saturation and dominant promotional budget, the quality of your product isn’t as important as maintaining the omnipresence of your brand.

  9. This reminds me of a funny story involving the band Marillion during their 1987 Clutching at Straws tour. As few may know, the band used to fronted by a giant drinking Scotsman named Fish ( aka Derek Dick) who used to write ( and still does ) magnificent lyrics.

    He was on a talk show one time promoting the band’s new album and tour and while he was talking to the talk show host- he was taking slips from his cup when all of a sudden he spat the entire contents onto the set.

    ” What is this swill?” he asked.

    The talk show host informed him that it was Harp Lager.

    Which incidentally happened to be the official beer sponsor of the tour.

    Now wasn’t that a nice bedtime story?



  10. I like beer snobs about as much as I like comic snobs.

    Depending on my mood I can enjoy just about any beer or any comic. I see nothing wrong with there being a great diversity of either one. Sometimes I want to be “wowed” with something daring and original or there are times I want to be “comforted” with something mundane and familiar. Personally, I don’t think one type is inherently better or worse than the other and there’s nothing wrong with liking them both.

    As a better man than me once said-

    “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” -Walt Whitman

  11. Very cogent, TB. That’s kind of what I was getting at; there’s a definite taste for “timekilling” entertainments, rather than their hegemony resulting simply from the old Gresham’s Law whapdoodle.

  12. If you people want to waste your time with piss instead of beer, I guess I can’t stop you. But I still don’t understand why you would WANT to when a better alternative is sitting right there.

  13. Well, sometimes there isn’t a better alternative, and drinking something you wouldn’t normally is a better choice at the time than not drinking anything. I wouldn’t buy it for my own fridge, but I’ve drunk and enjoyed my share of Miller Genuine Drafts in blues bars because it’s was the best of the alternatives I had, and it ain’t right to be in a blues bar without a brew unless you’re the driver or you’re on the wagon.

    Besides, I think “comfort food” is pretty much the stuff you still want to consume even though you know there are better alternatives available. I have a soft spot for boxed mac & cheese, even though I know we can make a far superior one, let alone some other dish that’s tastier and better for me. Personally, I can’t see my way to “comfort beer,” but I never had much tolerance for alcohol so I always tended to go for the better stuff because I couldn’t drink much of it in one sitting.

    “Comfort comics,” though, is something I can totally get behind as a concept. It just shouldn’t be the sole component of your diet is all.

  14. I feel morally obliged to clarify: “Budweiser” is actually a German language adjective for something (or someone) hailing from the city of Budweis, now located in the Czech Republic. The original beer to go by the name of Budweiser (brewed in this part of the now defunct Austrian Dual Monarchy) is marketed in the US as Czechvar. It’s still known as Budweiser Budvar in Europe.

    Anheuser-Busch’s incarnation is indeed sold in the UK, and with a strong marketing campaign (the English Premier League being the major culprit) it sells well amongst its target demographic: 18-30 year old sports fans. However, it’s brewed in the UK, and isn’t made with rice (!) in addition to barley malt, as it is here in America. Hence it not tasting quite so foul.

    So, er, anyone read any good comics lately…?

  15. Portland, OR is the micro-brew capital of the U.S., with more small breweries per capita than anywhere else in the states. Funny that it’s also turned into one of the biggest “four-color cities” in the nation … the only possible explanation is that comics artists and publishers must love quality beer! ;)

  16. Good question! Food is indeed like food, but only slightly.

    Beer afficianados, I’ve found, are at a different level than foodies and comic book fans. I like alcohol and beer, but their level of snobbery is something I have yet to understand. ;)

  17. Here’s the secret to Budweiser — it’s cheap to make and sell, and distributed very widely. You can not only get it anywhere, in many places it’s the only “adult beverage” you can get at all, so everyone winds up drinking some from time to time.

    The stuff kills tastebuds, not immediately, but over time. Millions of Americans who drank gallons of Budweiser through their college years / salad days because it was cheap (when it wasn’t free) have been ruined by this vile concoction. And so they can’t appreciate the superiority of real beer, and thus keep drinking the swill. That’s how insidious Budweiser is.

  18. Another snobbish post.

    It’s not that we, the hoi polloi who read mostly superhero comics, get upset that the snobs look down on us. Most of us honestly don’t give a fig what you think, as evidenced by the fact that, despite your constant entreaties to try “superior” comics, most of the comics you embrace don’t sell that well.

    More to the point, it’s that the comics snobs get so upset that other people don’t share their rarefied tastes – but then, of course, if they did, then the elites would have to move on to something else that the masses don’t know about or appreciate sufficiently. Sort of like when your favorite indie rock band goes mainstream. “I liked them BEFORE they were popular!”

    I don’t know why the comics snobs care so much. Why don’t you like what you like and stop minding other people’s business so much?