storeyvilleThe Post That Wouldn’t Die continues to captivate the blogosphere, and many of my private conversations. My mom called to say she enjoyed it, which was nice. Eddie Campbell, ties it in with a larger thesis of conservatism breeding homogeniety in comics.

Frank Santoro author of STOREYVILLE, pipes up independently, and I would be overjoyed if his comments were substitued for mine, because he says what I was trying to say in a paragraph:

I feel like I need to be careful here because I’m not saying that I don’t like the new crafty, abstract work that was in evidence this year — I’m simply taking note that there is something new going on. And I like it. The work is beautiful. I do, however, lament the absence of strong characters in this new trend. Whether the comic is well-executed or dashed off what I notice is there isn’t much of a story or any real characters to identify with. There’s no distance, no mediator between the artist’s intention and the reader’s comprehension. I know I’m over-generalizing here. But it’s sort of like abstract painting, which I love, but often leaves me wanting more. Yet the work is usually so visually stunning that one has to hope that the craft and narrative elements will start to balance out. And, ultimately, I hold out much more hope for this approach to making alt comics than the rehashing of every Clowes, Ware, or Tomine story of the last 15 years.


I don’t mean to taint Santoro as an ally — he just happened to notice the same thing I’ve been noticing.

Of course for every person who shares the same concerns, there are the continuing grossly unhelpful over-generalizarions such as the reduction of my argument to “Chris Ware hates storytelling comics” . The worst offender is undoubtedly this guy who, shamefully, actually thinks he agrees with me . No you don’t, and just go away.

Independently, The Comics Journal crowd goes on for 14 pages over Craig Yoe’s yearly lament that “the kids can’t draw.” The Golden Age of comics truly was Roy Crane, and Craig and I probably agree on that.



Chris Mautner at [email protected] goes on a point-by-point rebuttal which has some interesting points, but I felt it misread what I wrote in several place. (For instance, I did post my opinion of FLIGHT in my follow-up.) Also, this interpretation of my thoughts is way off-base:

I found this sentence rather amusing, having recently read Bart Beaty’s Unpopular Culture, which talks extensively about how the current generation of European cartoonists like Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar have deliberately rebelled against the type of middlebrow sort of storytelling that Heidi (I think) is trumpeting here. These kind of art vs. entertainment issues exist everywhere. They aren’t especially particular to American comics.

200710241341While I take full responsibility for cramming too many ideas into one piece, nowhere did I call for “middlebrow” storytelling. I called for more craft in storytelling. Big difference. Also, Sfar, as I understand it (partially based on an unpublished interview I conducted with him last year) is also interested in a more meaty kind of storytelling. The website for Bayou, the line Sfar edited for Gallimard, cites as influences “Popeye, Alexandre Dumas, Asterix or Sempé. Or Crumb or Mark Twain or Georges Brassens.” That list is fine by me, and if its “middlebrow,” let ‘er rip. One Bayou title Aya, by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie, has been published in English, and it’s exactly the kind of storytelling I’m talking about — there are obvious autobiographical elements, but the material has been shaped in a literary manner.

Whoever said that my comments were used as a spinning wheel to grind whatever axe someone had sitting around that day probably had it right. From my vantage point talking to people and scanning the blogosphere, it’s very clear that The Natives Are Restless. The comics industry, which was on life support 8-10 years ago, isn’t eating Top Ramen for every meal, but can splurge on an occasional peanut butter sandwich. A retail community strong enough to organize; book chains with existing large, stable graphic novels sections expanding to include graphic novel sections for kids; major publisher attempting expansion with new imprints and platforms — these are all signs that a certain plateau of growth has been reached. We’ve reached the Pacific Ocean but now we’ve got to build a boat or a city and turn back, and no one wants to do that.

200710241342Part of the unrest involves issues of quality and lasting value. Mautner links to this review by Abhay Khosla which gives the otherwise well-reviewed Jeremy Tinder a whuppin’:

If you’re mistaking this comic book for autobiography, you need to start talking to actual human beings.

Live! Experience! Take drugs! You! Me! Dancing!

This comic book is not about anything resembling real people. The term you’re groping for is “hipster wish-fulfillment fantasies”.


Mautner links to the review as a rare example of someone being mean. The review is harsh, but perhaps necessary. (I haven’t read Tinder’s book.) There ar ea lot of books which get general praise without examining their flaws. And no I’m not going to name them right now. But as I’ve learned in my job as the graphic novel review editor for PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, praising everything eventually makes your audiences distrust you.

In all honesty, one of the reasons for my controversial ruminations was my recent office clean-up and a concurrent home cleansing. It was a sad and sobering task to go through two years of DC and Image comics. As I did so, Cindy Williams’ line from THE CONVERSATION went through my head. “I always think that he was once somebody’s baby boy.” With 16 years of on and off comics creation myself, I knew that each and every comic had gone into the world with some hope of touching someone, or entertaining someone. But now they were so much paper to be disposed of.

My home cleanup has been even more distressing. I HAVE TOO MANY COMICS FOR A SMALL NEW YORK APARTMENT. I’ve been deciding what stays and what goes, and there is a lot of knee-jerk nostalgia that goes into this. I have just about every graphic novel from most of the important publishers sitting in my living room, but I have been forced to adapt Draconian measures in order to get to my window sill. Every volume has been weighed and considered. Once I got going it was much easier, but there are still so many books that I want to read, or hope to someday read. But I know I won’t. But I’m afraid of tossing something that I’ll regret.

200710241358The entire comics industry seems to be going through this feeling a bit right now, hence the current surge in interest in reliable and intelligent comics criticism. There is more good material available now than there has ever been. It’s all the good new stuff AND all the good old stuff, from DENNIS THE MENACE to NEXUS to KRAZY KAT to [email protected]. Something for everyone. Throw in Amazon, eBay and BitTorrent, and you have a brain melting embarrassment of riches — and abject crap. Where to turn? What is lasting? Who is hot and new? Who is hot and old? Who will be seen as important in ten years? These are dialogs and arguments that are ongoing. These are the dialogs and arguments that interest me and I will continue to explore them here and elsewhere.

In the end, I remain somewhat bemused by the hostility and hysteria that my post engendered, even from people who basically agreed with much of what I said. I think it’s unlikely that my post will destroy indie comics, as more than one person suggested. The greatest irony of all is that the #1 complaint from my detractors is that the piece wasn’t well-structured; apparently this is more important in a blog post than in a comic book story, if I’m reading correctly. Or maybe I’m just being snarky.

Okay that’s done for today. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about sales figures again. Everyone loves that! See you back at the ranch.

1 COMMENT

  1. Stick to your guns, Heidi. This is important stuff, and I’m working hard on my new comics to make sure that they meet these kinds of standards. Even my silly little four page stories have relevance in terms of the subtext of life’s nuances. I wonder sometimes if people are looking to hard, to see that sort of thing, though… If you get my meaning.

  2. Your making a mistake getting rid of the comics. Box them and board them and then put them into self storage. You might have a bigger place in the future, or if nothing else when civilization falls and alien archeologist are combing through the rubble you’ll have provided them with something to find.

    Mark

  3. I think Mark Twain had it right. Sure he had his navel-gazing period, but that came after he had gotten out and lived a life. I think so much of the tedium of the indie comics comes from a reflection of a life lived in study of the craft.

  4. Thing is, I don’t even really see that this is much of a problem. So what if there is a group that wishes to craft books that in many cases are light on story. There is a market for that. There is a consumer base who actually wants to read those stories. Just as there is a consumer base who wants to read popcorn, blockbuster superhero stories that feature a high-and-tight narrative structure.

    I’m not sure why the existence and continued creation of either is anywhere close to a bad or undesirable thing. If there’s a market for a particular strain of indie comic and that strain isn’t morally repugnant, then so much the better that such a market need get filled.

    I don’t think the existence and production of either the mopey, grey-day auto-bio or the shiny, happy power fantasy has anything to do with either the future of comics or how they’re perceived. What does affect these goals though is a mix of consumer action and public perception (probably through the newsy media) of those consumers.

    To that end, if we want the future of comics to be as bright as we’d all like it to be, we should all simply purchase well-honed stories, just as we hope to do with books, movies, and music. As consumer interest evolves and becomes better accustomed to purchasing the best quality stuff instead of a range of work simply because that is what is available, the range and quality of purchasable work will continue to evolve toward that bright future.

    If we want public perception of comic books to get better and better then the simple answer is that the purchasers of comics need to stop being nerds. That can either happen as the medium increases its range and quality and draws in new readers (perhaps of the ilk that Chris Ware is beginning to draw in) or the medium’s current demographic can simply stop being dorky. I’m not sure which of these would be more likely, but either could help the public perception problem; and eliminating the public perception problem is the surest route to that glittering, shiny future of comics that we all want – a future in which comics are truly considered a people’s medium, one in which any manner of story can be well-told and , indeed, is.

  5. Heidi, I hate to agree with anybody on anything, even you, but if I say that we both agree on this will someone print a large format book of Crane’s Sunday strips in color?

  6. I only just got around to reading the original blog entries and all of the comments leading up to this one.

    The one phrase that stood out for me was in one of Heidi’s comments: “moment of change”. When I reflect on all of the books I’ve enjoyed, whether they be indy autobiography or superhero fantasy or anything in between, they’ve each shown some growth, acquisition of wisdom, or new direction of inquiry over the course of the narrative, if not for the characters (whose story may be one of folly or tragedy), then for the author and the reader. That narrative can be linear, non-linear, fantastical or literal, but at the end, I like to have gained something from accompanying a character (and/or the author) through their own journey to some new end. I like to be left with something to think about afterwards. It can be the further imaginative exploration of the new fantasy world the author has revealed, the juxtaposition of the author’s personal life lesson against my own life problems or even just a good joke. In any case, I have some new useful knowledge that I didn’t have before I started.

    The bad autobiography and the bad superhero fantasy and everything in between arrive at nothing new, show no growth and give me no inspiration (though I have occasionally been inspired by badness, in the manner of “holy crap I could do better than that, so maybe I should give it a try…”).

    I think the frustration may be worse with autobiographical books because it’s the author’s own personal lack of growth that you are an annoyed witness to. It’s like going out for coffee with the friend who never learns to stop dating the same lousy type of person, yet you have to listen to them whine about it again and again, in complete disregard to your advice to try dating a different kind of person. Except in the case of a comic, that friend took the time to put their tale of pathetic emotional inertia into words and pictures, someone published them and used paper to print them instead of something more interesting, and you paid money to look at them.

    The superhero/fantasy books (or even the semi-autobiography that is fiction informed by the author’s experience) that have no point are a similar waste of resources, but in their case, the author has failed only at story-telling, not also at life (so far as the reader knows). Maybe this is why they tend to get a pass.

    Narrative craft also plays a huge part, of course. It should go without saying. But I have read well-crafted works that concluded without anyone involved having gained anything. I don’t care how amazing your illustration talent is or your knack for turning a metaphor, what’s in it to make it more worth my while than perusing Communication Arts’ Illustration Annual or reading Roget’s Thesaurus? Where’s my “moment of change”?