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"Their brains were on fire."

57


Whoa! What the heck! Based on the level of opprobrium aimed at me in the last few days, you’d think I’d come up with a plan for health care or something. Instead, I just posted some ideas and hoped for debate. Well, I got it! I guess the internet works after all.

As regular readers may note, I have been away for the last few days so have not been able to keep up with the lively debate here and elsewhere. For the record, I had most of the ideas for the Best American Comics 2007 post (I wouldn’t be brazen enough to call it an essay) when I first read BAC 2007 two months ago but never had time to put it on paper until now, and obviously still haven’t had the time. For those who accused it of being rambling and vague, well it was because it was a BLOG post meant to inspire debate, not (unfortunately) an essay that I worked on for months and months. In hindsight, perhaps I should have given it a few days to mature, but I felt it was better to get it out before I left for SPX and was seduced by the charm and sincerity of the kids and forgave everything. It definitely could have used some tightening up, but I do stand by what I said.

That said, here are some responses to the responses, and before anyone gets upset or brings out a water cannon THESE ARE RANDOM RESPONSES WRITTEN IN MORE OR LESS REAL TIME AND NOT A TIGHTLY THOUGHT OUT ESSAY. You got that?

I do regret that my stream of consciousness writing seems to have left my central point misunderstood by nearly everybody, except this guy, who I never even heard of. Oh, and Ron Hogan who is apparently an amazing mind reader who parsed my actual arguments apparently. I’m especially sad that someone like Sean Collins think that I said this:

A conception of comics that invalidates Kevin Huizenga’s “The Sunset” or Anders Nilsen’s The End or John Hankiewicz’s Asthma is not a useful one to me, or probably to comics.


I haven’t read ASTHMA, but I’ve gone on record many times with my respect and enjoyment of Huizenga and Nilsen. But that’s because both of them do just was I was trying to encourage — they FILTER THEIR IDEAS THROUGH MADE UP CHARACTERS AND SITUATIONS. Nilsen can get a little haiku at times, but he also knows how to use thematic and story elements to construct a greater whole (DOGS AND WATER.) Huizenga is even more of a yarn spinner, although his concerns are philosophical.

Of all people, Alan David Doane, who has no love for me, comes closest to seeing what I was getting at:

This is a tough one. Heidi is well-liked in most quarters, but has never been a particularly compelling critic and certainly not someone whose tastes I trust in the same way I do her seeming opponents in this, Spurgeon and Butcher. That said, I agree with her on Fort Thunder’s lack of real impact as a generational paradigm-shifter (although what that has to do with Sergio Aragones, who knows? Isn’t he an evolutionary dead-end as well? Even if a great one?). She’s full of shit about today’s cartoonists not creating characters other than themselves, obviously: Street Angel, Wimbledon Green (as Butcher pointed out earlier), all of the Super-Fuckers, a big catch of characters in Jordan Crane’s Uptight, the work of Jeff Lemire, The Surrogates, Bluesman, Jesus Christ I could go on, and this is just off the top of my head. But again, Heidi’s not at her best constructing logical arguments. Which is too bad, because she’s kind of right about the Best American Comics anthologies. Kind of.


Wow, the enemy of my friends is my…friend? What’s to become of us? Perhaps my biggest gaff was not making it clear enough what I meant by “the next generation.” (And that will have to wait for different post.) I don’t think ADD’s list really proves anything, though. I love STREET ANGEL (and have said it here many, many times), but Jim Rugg is exactly the kind of “new mainstream” creator who deserves to be taken more seriously by the literary crowd. Kochalka and Seth (my praise for WIMBLEDON GREEN in the much hated piece was genuine not ironic) are both older, established creators — if they don’t know how to create a character by now, forget about it. I’d kind of argue with the rest of the list (and they certainly can’t compare with an 80s list of Buddy Bradley and Milk and Cheese) but we BOTH forgot the best example — Huizenga’s Jeepers Jacobs.

Several people brought up FLIGHT, and I *alomost* mentioned it in the original piece but even I knew that was too much. In all honesty, the FLIGHT kids are perfects examples of the “good hit, no field” phenomenon I’m talking about. They all draw like the dickens, but their storytelling skills are still developing. They are attempting to go in that direction, but a once a year anthology isn’t really the kind of regular work you need to mature and refine. (There are some of those economic concerns I spoke of at play here, but that must await a furthur essay.)

FORT THUNDER: Okay, maybe “dead end” wasn’t the greatest terminology but from a practical standpoint, unless you believe that all cartoonists should live in a squat and play in noise bands at night, it was just a wonderful one time thing, kind of like the Algonquin Roundtable, or the Left Bank Gang, or the Beats. From an artistic standpoint, the message was “Expressionism is great!” and they didn’t invent that. It’s great to romanticize the time and place and wish we had been there (I do) but no one who isn’t Brian Chippendale will ever do something like Brian Chippendale. Its beauty was in its complete idiosyncrasy. (That said, I came across an alarming anthology at SPX that consisted of young cartoon students drawing exactly like Kramer’s Ergot contgributors, and not in anything but a slavish way. Odd.)

FINALLY, I never said I thought that BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2007 was a bad anthology full of bad comics. QUITE THE OPPOSITE. I think it’s a fine collection of great cartooners like Carol Tyler, Lynda Barry and Los Bros. Hernandez. There are obviously some weaker pieces in there as well, but why name names and make people feel bad? I also loved Ivan Brunetti’s ANTHOLOGY OF GRAPHIC FICTION, and have said so publicly and privately many time. To my dismay, a few of my supporters seemed to take my rant as a chance to say that there should be more Image and Vertigo or even superhero comics in future “best of” books. In words of a single syllable: please God, no.

Then there’s Stephen Hirsch, who represents the “I’m in grad school and must be rigorous” approach. He has some decent points in there, but in one post writes:

Heidi’s complaints are all based upon some normative idea of story that not only goes undefined, but is absolutely obscured by her citation of disparate, contradictory works and techniques as examples of good story.


…then says….

By reacting to the book the way she does, Heidi implies that it’s canonical and gives it some authority that it doesn’t and shouldn’t have. I see comics as an art form refreshingly free of any rigid canon, and would like to see it remain that way.


Hm, an art form refreshingly free of rigid canon that…oh, might include disparate, contradictory works and techniques, maybe? Make up your mind.

Now then, even allowing as how I may have written a poorly structured piece, I was still a bit taken aback by the, well…intensity of the reproach. I wrote a piece of, admittedly, strong opinions which I meant to ENCOURAGE debate. I didn’t poison baby puppies in the park. Chris Butcher in particular is playing a real game of intellectual dishonesty with this.

You don’t get to write something like that and then play the “I was just trying to encourage debate!” card. Quite honestly, I don’t find that the arguments that Heidi has set forth are worth debating, or really, that they’re arguments at all. Further, I feel like even engaging it gives it an unwarranted weight, and I’m sorry for two posts on the subjects in as many days.


And what was my argument as Chris put it, that was so unimportant that he had to write three posts about it? I’m still not sure, but I think this is it:

You don’t like Houghton Mifflin, Anne Elizabeth Moore, and Chris’ Ware’s take on the best comics of 2006? Hey, neither did I, but at least I didn’t decide to blame a mysterious cabal of shadowy autobiographists/Art Spiegelman for it.


which WASN’T my point at all. I did like the book and said so. What I don’t like is the trend of valuing expressionism, formalism and “comica verité” for their own sake at the expense of what I would call “mainstream fiction”, or formally conventional but narratively complex stories such as Love & Rockets, Exit Wounds, Ode to Kirihito, Ice Haven (Shock!!) or American Born Chinese. And yes, Tom, I KNOW these works have all been praised and nominated all over the place. That still doesn’t mean we can’t examine them again and compare and contrast different lines of critical thought.

Since I am always being asked for examples, it is much more impressive to me when Rutu Modan, a 40-year old woman, writes a story about a rootless 20- something young man and makes it resonate with truth than when a 20-something young man draws endless panels of himself rootlessly doing things (Jonathan Bennett). One shows skill, the other talent. I can and do enjoy the subjective experience of what I shall refer to as “first person essay comics” but I generally (and this is personal taste mind you) admire narrative fiction more. And I think it is no giant leap of foolish conjecture to say that more up and coming cartoonists are interested in exploring “first person essays” than narrative fiction. And despite what many people are saying, I think this is an interesting topic for exploration.

(I should point out that Chris wrote a post on the book earlier in the week which I didn’t read expressly because I didn’t want to be influenced in the 11th hour by something I had had on my mind for so long.)

So great is the enormity of my suspected puppy poisoning in the park that something rather disturbing (to me anyway) happened. While my internet access was limited this weekend, one of Tom Spurgeon’s posts here got held for moderation because it had two links in it. My WordPress spam filters are strong, and more than a single link and a comment goes into moderation. (I get something like 1500 spam posts a day.) Tom was so alarmed by this that he felt compelled to post at Chris’s blog:

It looks like my comment privileges have been taken away by Heidi until she approves of what I wrote.

Or at least that’s what I take “Your comment is awaiting moderation” next to my last post to mean. I don’t know that anyone else can see it.

That is so achingly sad and beyond pathetic I’m even more stunned than I was by that original posting.


Chris was equally alarmed by the situation and raced over to the Beat to explain that Tom couldn’t post. To Tom’s credit, upon reflection he did suspect that it was just a posting glitch and not a vast right wing conspiracy, and apologized, and Chris allowed as how that might be it in his post, too.

That said, I’m saddened that I have fallen so low in Tom and Chris’s estimation that they’d – no matter how fleetingly – think me capable of this kind of censorship. For God’s sake — I posted my piece BEFORE I WENT AWAY FOR THE WEEKEND. Is that really the act of someone who is afraid of a withering rebuttal? I didn’t write that post to be popular, and knew there would be blowback. But I’m a grown up and I can handle it. Really.

To sum up, although my initial salvo in these matters may not have been as tightly structured (ah yes, good old structure) as it should have been, I do feel quite strongly about the issues at hand. I will endeavor to clarify and expand upon these thoughts at a more measured pace in the weeks to come. The nights and days are getting cold, and we’ll all have a lot more time at the computer. Doesn’t THAT sound fun?

PS: the title of this post is a quote from cartoonist C.F. during his spotlight at this weekend’s SPX (about which I HOPE to write more) — he was talking about the writers of the Valiant Comics of the 90s, but it seemed to on appropriate on many levels.

57 COMMENTS

  1. Heidi- Your first post was apallingly constructed. You’ve spent a thousand plus words here trying to explain that what you said isn’t what you meant, and that should tell you a lot. I should never have engaged it at all, and I figured that out Saturday morning after multiple e-mails asking me to attack it in a ‘you vs. her’ kind of a way. It’s not debate, it’s not crticism, it’s a sideshow spectacle full of nonsense, passion and fury signifying not very much (“Some people’s work is more regarded than another person’s work that I like more, and that’s not cool”). If I’ve been intellectually dishonest in my non-regard for your post, it’s out of remorse that I engaged it at all when I really said all I had to say in my original review of Best American Comics 2007.

  2. You mine as well name names at this point. What should be out? What should be in? Otherwise, it seems to me that you’re asking the people in the comments section to do it for you. And no more mild recommendations either. Admit that you think Dan Clowes should bow down to the glory of…what, Penny Arcade or something?

    Oh, and did anyone mention that this subject can be debated until the end of days, but that in the end, all of the Best American books, the “Spiritual Writing” & “Recipes” included, are really pieces of garbage anyway? That no matter whether Tom Spurgeon, Naomi Klein & Dr. Demento edit the stupid thing, it’s still going to have that Best American tag that ensures it’s got the taste of a slightly snobbier “Chicken Soup for Cat-Lovers” tome?

  3. I didn’t read the original post until just now, but it’s odd how many people apparently want to jump down The Beat’s throat as I happen to agree with her. I consider myself fairly artsy-fartsy (into photography, make movies, that sort of thing) and yet today’s what we’ll call “indie comics” don’t really hold too much appeal to me. I’ve tried to get into them, but for every BLANKETS I’ve read, there’s a lot of schlock that tends to bore me (and I won’t name names on the negative end either). Personally, and this may be sacrilege in and of itself but, Daniel Clowes doesn’t really intrigue me, though I like that he does what he does.

    As a film geek as well as comic book nerd, this reminds me tremendously of the early to mid 90’s when “indie films” were all the rage. You have to wade through a pile of crap to find a single Tarantino, or what have you. Let me put it like this, I don’t really like Jim Jarmusch films, but I like Jim Jarmusch. And that is because he does his own thing, he makes films his way. So in that regard I respect what someone like Clowes does. He has his vision and perspective, much like many of today’s other creators, but to me that vision ends up being terribly boring.

    Not every story has to be the story of Joe Everybody that struggles through man-dolescence where we are grown up but are still trying to grow up. That story’s interesting a few times, from a few perspectives, but after that I want to read a real *story.* That’s why I read comics books (or went to the movies, or read novels, or played with our camcorder, etc.) in the first place: to engage in a story that I would not otherwise encounter in my day to day life.

    In that sense, I agree with The Beat. She said it nicer, but here’s the way I’d phrase it: too much boring shit, tell me something entertaining. I think it’s the development of an indie comics scene that leads to these problems. A “scene” becomes a dead-end because the influences are the same, the point of view is the same, and tends to keep things within a box, even if that box is supposedly outside of “mainstream” comics. My view of indie comics overall (and this is going to be a gross generalization, but its still MY view) is that there’s about three stories being told in indie comics, and few of the attempts to execute those stories interest me. Honestly, I find more variety out of the Big Two in terms of the *kinds* of stories they tell/sell.

    Could I be wrong? Certainly. Is this still my viewpoint on the matter? Indeed. And if a self-professed artsy-fartsy comic geek has this viewpoint, perhaps that’s a comment not so much about me and my ignorance of what’s available, and perhaps more a comment on what that end of the comics shelf is showing me week in and week out.

    — Jonathan

  4. This could be a discussion, but instead it seems like someone’s dropped a match in a box of fireworks and everything’s going off in its own direction.

    One person’s definition of a sliver of art does not a substantive outrage make– esp. not these days, with so much media to choose from –therefore a disagreement amongst peers shouldn’t rank up there with a cease-fire or hostage negotiations, but you wouldn’t know that to listen to us. We’re behaving like the U.S. Congress, preparing to vote on drafting a measure to express disapproval of an ad. What a bunch of wank. Whose feelings are on the line here? Whose egos? How many of us are actually invested in comics beyond the discussion of them?

    Rhetorical questions, to be sure, full of the kind of little niggling details that fandom & intelligentsia alike love to pin down & take a apart with knives– but the point I’m trying to illustrate is that we’re dangerously close to being Off The Point. “Tom said about Heidi who posted to talk about Chris who said…” That’s not comics, much less the Best Whatever.

    Yes, Heidi might need to dial it down a little– but largely because the rest of us do, too. It’s just talk, same as R. Crumb’s work is Just Lines On Paper, Folks. Whether we approve of or endorse what the comics world does doesn’t really determine the actions of the individual artists or the fate of the medium, nor does it edify anyone to watch us squabbling.

  5. As a bit of an outsider I find the venom in these comments threads extremely bracing and wish it could be bottled so I could add it to my morning coffee. But I think Heidi’s definitely pointed out that the pendulum has swung, at least from the point of view of the mainstream media, to a new and exciting extreme. Comics have gone from begging for establishment respect to suddenly strangling on it. To read the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times or any publication actually printed on actual paper and distributed to actual newsstands (read: newstands outside of stores with Wolverine posters in their windows) you’d believe that comic books – excuse me – graphic novels are the highest form of literary expression possible. The destination towards which Western Art has been traveling for centuries. Comics are now, from a general point of view, split between superheroes (boo hiss! But not just for kids anymore!) and cancer comics (Yay! Courageous! And not just for kids anymore!) with little that’s in between receiving nearly as much attention.

    These days the young, New York freelancer who wants to make it big is shopping around a graphic novel proposal about the story of their dating life, or their mother dying or their family escaping from Cambodia. If they’re gay then it’s almost certainly a coming-of-age graphic novel, if they’re black it’s pretty likely to be the story of how they defied racism to grow up to be a young freelancer shopping around a graphic novel proposal. These are mostly people with no comics experience but graphic novels are “hot” and so they’ve jumped on the “hot” train and written first person accounts of their experiences with Serious topics (death! war! cancer!) If romance novels were hot they’d be writing romance novels about their mom dying and being black, gay or alienated white boys in the suburbs. When chick lit was the flavor of the month they were shopping around chick lit proposals based on their personal experiences.

    Is this an accurate depiction of where the comics industry is in 2007? Probably not. There are lots of people slogging away in the trenches making comics that lie between the extremes of “World War Hulk” and “Cancer Vixen” but it would be hard to deny that to someone standing on the outside of comics and looking in the media story du jour has left behind “Superheroes aren’t just for kids anymore” (now the sole province of regional papers) and is now cycling into “My mom died of cancer and you can read about it in this moving graphic novel.” Based on the large number of book proposals I hear about (I write for a living and run into other freelancers on a regular basis) and the fact that almost every other one is looking to get into this “graphic novel business”, cancer comics are hot.

    Frankly, I can’t wait until Marvel and DC cash in on this trend and start publishing BATMAN AND ROBIN: OUR CANCER YEAR and GHOST RIDER WORLD. Or maybe the touching story of one Iranian superhero growing up in the shadow of Superman, METROPOLIS, or Disney could chime in with THE ADVENTURES OF MICKEY MAUS.

    There’s nothing wrong with cancer comics, just like there isn’t anything inherently wrong with superhero comics, but the danger is that because they’re suddenly so amazing! And! Hot! and so highly visible to people who don’t frequent direct market stores, the book market’s going to get flooded with sub-par cancer comics, or that the good material that falls between these two extremes will be tarred as one or the other thus hurting its sales because it’s not really either, or that great projects that aren’t easily labeled as one or the other won’t get picked up by the larger publishers because they don’t appeal to the editor’s sense of what the market wants right that minute (and lots of publishers want to be in the graphic novel business but to them graphic novels are less about BONE and more about FUN HOME).

  6. He he, kind of makes me appreciate the regular old superhero fans complaining about Bendis or which character got killed of.

    I vote for less sad real life stories and more Chris Sims-esque kicks to the face in comics and blog discussions!

  7. >> Heidi- Your first post was apallingly constructed. You’ve spent a thousand plus words here trying to explain that what you said isn’t what you meant, and that should tell you a lot.>>

    Apparently, one of the things it should tell you is that yes, you’ve fallen so low in Chris’s estimation that he’s willing to recast you pointing out that you didn’t say what he said you did (with quotes, no less) as you “trying to explain that what you said isn’t what you meant.”

    So when you said, “Now before you grill me over a slowly roasting fire of Civil Wars, let me state for the record that every comic in this volume is excellent, deserving of inclusion, and I would heartily recommend giving this book to any of your friends who are on the fence about comics, provided those friends are also readers of ‘literature’” — and Chris took it to mean “You don’t like Houghton Mifflin, Anne Elizabeth Moore, and Chris’ Ware’s take on the best comics of 2006,” there’s no use claiming that Chris got it wrong. You said what he says you said, by damn, regardless of the words involved. Any attempts to point out otherwise with be met with condescension and disdain.

    kdb

  8. > Not every story has to be the story of Joe Everybody
    > that struggles through man-dolescence where we are
    > grown up but are still trying to grow up.

    Well said.

    Of course, that being said: I know what I’m getting into when I pick up Best American Comics as edited by Chris Ware. They aren’t fooling me. I read it, and I expect a lot of autobio’ angst. (Which I tend to enjoy actually.) The problem is most of these people were influenced by the same two or three creators. That’s why they have this homogeneous tone and subject matter.

    For me, Flight is the best anthology available — art and the writing. And this is a new batch of creators, influenced more by Miyazaki than Clowes.

  9. Huh! I’ll leave it to someone else to say “Busiek wins”, but Chris, if you actually read my responses to the responses, as opposed to backtracking, I state that I “DID* say what I said. I clarified a few points but you might have noticed this:

    >>>It definitely could have used some tightening up, but I do stand by what I said.

    And I stand by that, too!

    If this whole thing has taught me anything it’s not to write anything on a blog that is longer than 1000 words! No one can concentrate that long.

  10. “I love STREET ANGEL (and have said it here many, many times), but Jim Rugg is exactly the kind of “new mainstream” creator who deserves to be taken more seriously by the literary crowd.”

    Tom Spurgeon brought this up in the other thread, but when people talk about the artsy fartsy indie elite snubbing their favourite comic books, I wish they’d actually give examples.

    The titles people have thrown in these two threads – Street Angel, Usagi, All Star Superman, Bone – maybe I’m not as down with the comics blogosphere as others, but I generally see nothing but praise for these comics. Has the Gary Groth started running attack pieces on Stan Sakai or something? Are there now alt-comic bullies trolling comic book stores, snickering while you walk out with a Seven Soldiers collection?

    Or is it just this Chris Ware book? Chris Ware, obviously the spokesperson of the comic book elite, deciding just who gets to sit at the cool kids table . . .

  11. Kurt Busiek loses!

    Jeff Smith is still a great cartoonist.

    Heidi, I’m lost. Can you re-state your original thesis in a sentence?

  12. Sure, Tom.

    “What I don’t like is the trend of valuing expressionism, formalism and “comica verité” for their own sake at the expense of what I would call “mainstream fiction”, or formally conventional but narratively complex stories.”

  13. I was about to post my strong disagreement to the opinion that your post was “appallingly constructed” but I’ll just fall back on “Yeah, what Kurt Busiek said!”

    Everything was clear to me and it’s not as if you were submitting the piece to an academic journal. Excellent point about the 1000+ words thing, too.

  14. Thanks, Heidi. Here’s my response.

    “As the absolute train wreck that results when trying to bring Heidi’s statement from vague generalities and into specific examples indicates, there is no significant trend towards a valuation of expressionism, formalism and comica verite and even if there were, there is no mechanism where valuing those things works at the significant expense of the other, no matter how much the lack of success and/or approbation for projects X, Y or Z makes us want to believe in such a construction.”

    See, we can argue nice.

  15. Tom does prove that a post doesn’t have to be a thousand words long for folks to lose interest in the writer’s point.

  16. Hehe…
    All this bloated debate over a maligned and underappreciated art form that 99.5% of the general public doesn’t about care one way or the other.
    “Look out, poetry! Here comes Comics!”
    I still love that one. I think that’s from Pete Bagge.

  17. With this post it does seem to me that this thing has become (or became…people seem sick of it now) a pretty decent debate, relatively speaking. Thanks Heidi. Like I said before, this isn’t any old curmudgeon’s blog.

    Also, I have made up my mind. Those two quotes of mine you cited don’t contradict each other at all. I like how comics doesn’t have a rigid canon. It’s full of disparate, contradictory works. Therefore one shouldn’t marshal a bunch of disparate, contradictory works to form vague, totalizing divisions such as “good stories vs. bad/no stories”… especially when a bunch of those works aren’t even comics.

    For the record, I’m not in grad school, nor have I ever been in grad school. My call for more rigor sounds rather pedantic, but it seems necessary. Again, though, as you point out, this is a blog…

    To rebut your Fort Thunder rebuttal, I think the fact that Fort Thunder cartoonists are still making great comics supports the idea that it wasn’t a dead end. Leif Goldberg and Chippendale both put out amazing (and extremely different) books last year, and they’re no longer living in a squat.

  18. I think it’s kind of disturbing to hear that there’s a lower standard for coherence if a piece of writing is intended for a blog. I mean, this is a Publisher’s Weekly blog, like Publisher’s Weekly the magazine, right, as opposed to, say, a myspace.com blog. This is a profressional blog (in which the blogger gets paid for their work) and not an amateur one (in which the blogger does it instead of watching Dancing With the Stars, knitting or talking to their family), right?

  19. However much Heidi gets paid to blog here, it ain’t enough.

    Clearly, there is, for some strange reason, a wave of Heidi hatred being shown here recently. I liken this to gorillas flinging their feces at zoo visitors.

    I also suspect misogyny may be also playing a part in this.

  20. [ahem, acough] Feces at a zoo? Geez… its not *that* bad.

    Ahhh, your entry was fine! I dunno, I still have the patience to read 8 paragraphs when its supercool, and it was supercool. I got the point, but I’m wondering though, is it the publishers creating trends, or cartoonists bowing to them?

  21. I recall recent criticism about this year’s Eisner Award nominations. Some people felt that the judges were being too careful in their selection of diverse titles.
    Having been on the wrong end of Heidi’s criticism (at SPX long ago), I know how passionate she can be. Unfortunately, Passion and Criticism are not a good mix. Cold, heartless, ruthless logic is best, especially if one can cite statistical case studies.
    It seems to me that BAC07 is the proverbial anthology of nurse romances. Yes, they might have something interesting to say, but there are a lot of other works out their which are just as interesting.

  22. Grady Hendrix said:

    “Frankly, I can’t wait until Marvel and DC cash in on this trend and start publishing BATMAN AND ROBIN: OUR CANCER YEAR and GHOST RIDER WORLD. Or maybe the touching story of one Iranian superhero growing up in the shadow of Superman, METROPOLIS, or Disney could chime in with THE ADVENTURES OF MICKEY MAUS.”

    Someone please email this to a staff writer at the Onion immediately.

  23. Hey Heidi!

    All I can say is…I kinda get what you mean. I got chewed out in class for preferring genre comics to autobio comics. One of my teachers complained that he was hoping that girls joining his comics class would like more autobios and indie comics, not manga or fantasy or superheroes, which is what he got in me :/ Like whatever. Autobot Tracks will kick his ass one day.

  24. Stephen Hirsch: okay, now we’re getting somewhere. As for that much maligned mash-up of genres, I guess one of the 90 things I failed to communicate in my rigidly structured essay was the idea that it is fictional moments of dramatic climax that we remember longest — movies are certainly the easiest ones to think of in this context, but everyone has their favorite book and comics moments, as well. (And by drama I don’t mean exploding, just the moment of change.) If this whole tempest in a teahouse has done anything, at least it’s helped me codiify some of my thinking abut this kind of thing. It may be that the satisfaction derived from the more experimental comics is more akin to the effect of poetry — hence the various “haiku” allusions here and there.

    Caleb: you may indeed think that, but unfortunately just as we judge newspaper writing on a looser standard than magazine writing, since it is presumably written on tighter deadlines, so blogging is written on tighter deadlines still. Why do you think I’m always whining about how I don’t have time to do anything? It takes hours, at best, and days at worst to put together what I would call the equivalent of a magazine article. Hell when I used to write for the Comics Journal back in the day, I’d spend WEEKS on a piece. It’s very rare that anything on here is more than a first draft with a quick pass in the morning. I’m guessing the same is true for most comics bloggers, although I’m sure we all spend plenty of time THINKING about what we’re going to write. And I would certainly not say that just because it’s a blog is can be crap. I’d like to think that my daily output-to-quality ratio is deserving of the money I’m paid, and the growth of this blog would seem to indicate that it is, but I’m always trying to do better. Short answer: I’m no Glenn Greenwald.

    It looks like everyone is getting along now, so can we please shake hands, hug and go off to kill some unicorns?

  25. Ask yourself: Which of these books (remember: graphic novels are books) will people still be reading 100 or 500 years from now? Look at history: Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens. Their books were not only masterpieces, they were entertaining.

    Also: does it not matter that the comic book creator can draw? I am amazed that these “Best” lists consistently include mediocre artists telling uninteresting stories.

    They should get ME to edit a “BEST OF” book! Ha! There you go! Problem solved. Title: THE TRULY BEST AMERICAN COMICS EDITED BY A MOTHER WITH FOUR CHILDREN UNDER AGE NINE.

    Forget “Calgon take me away”…if I am going to read a graphic novel or comic, not only do the pictures have to be nice to look at, but it better make me laugh or profoundly move me in some way. Otherwise, as my children say: “BOOOOOOOOOORRRINNNGGG!”

  26. That said, here are some responses to the responses, and before anyone gets upset or brings out a water cannon THESE ARE RANDOM RESPONSES WRITTEN IN MORE OR LESS REAL TIME AND NOT A TIGHTLY THOUGHT OUT ESSAY. You got that?
    You know, if you can’t find the time to construct a solid argument, how about staying away from arguments in the first place. Leave them to smarter people who can do it in a shorter time, leave them to people with more time on their hands. You don’t have to get up and say something if external constraints mean it’ll just be incoherent nonsense.
    Conversely, if you insist on throwing out your brainfarts, how about you accept that people will complain they stink.

  27. Beat writes: “What I don’t like is the trend of valuing expressionism, formalism and “comica verité” for their own sake at the expense of what I would call “mainstream fiction”

    I would add: placed next to that fake-cafe photo of Spiegs and His Crew (looking like a Nerd version of The Departed), the causal interpretation is that this is partly or mostly due to the existence of a New Old Boys’ Club dominating the editorial selections of such work. yes or no?

    I still say they should use genre comics as well or change their misleading title. After all, Spiegleman is the one who demands “comix” be used to escape the “garbage” that is superhero comics.

    Brad

  28. “Ask yourself: Which of these books (remember: graphic novels are books) will people still be reading 100 or 500 years from now? Look at history: Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens.”

    … you don’t think any experimental fiction has survived over a long period of time? Nothing odd will do long? What a lovably ignorant idea!

  29. You know, markus, if Heidi doesn’t construct an argument in the way you prefer, you’re free to move to someone who lives up to your exacting blogger standards.

  30. It’s kind of a drag that whenever I see someone else talking about this post and the one that started the argument described as “yielding mostly negative comments.” Okay, I guess it’s true to an extent. But the dissent was not unanimous and the tirade was not entirely without supporters, like myself, despite having my own reservations with some of the claims.

    I find the debate not unlike the outrage that welled up in the wake of this entirely right-on article in the American Scholar about a particular school of young American novelists. Limiting the argument to “American” comics makes it an easier target to poke at. I think closer to the truth is that the current generation of capital-A “Artists”, regardless of genre or medium, kinda suck.

    And, sure, as soon as someone says that, people can be like “What about X, Y and Z?” Yeah, there are young artists I love (few, admittedly), but as a whole this generation is shaping up to be even more void than the Boomers. Comics are merely an aspect of that.

  31. Well, I’m not going to get into the bulk of Heidi’s argument, though the discussion it’s engendered if interesting and worthwhile even if I don’t agree with much of the specifics. But I will say that I think Heidi is mis-characterizing Brian Chippendale, C.F. and Fort Thunder as a whole. Here’s why it’s not a dead-end:

    For me, those artists opened up the field to un-embarrassed explorations of genre, politics, spirituality and mark-making in a way that’s had a profound effect on cartoonists of their generation. I think both Kevin Huizenga and Sammy Harkham have spoken eloquently about the effect of that work on their own practice. To reduce them to just “expressionism” is to miss the point entirely. I can’t think of any other cartoonists of the last 20 years (except Panter) who have so seamlessly melded drawing, “low” genre, storytelling and profound meaning. One only has to read the comics to see that, many of which, like Powr Mastrs, are told in a straighforward, almost classic manner. Is Chippendale hard to read sometimes? Sure, but so is Donald Barthelme and James Joyce. So what? The point is that the Providence explosion set an example of another way of making and thinking about comics, one apart from the dominant examples of Ware, Clowes, Crumb, and the like. They added diversity and unabashed energy to the mix. Without them, I think the medium would be a far lesser place.

  32. “What I don’t like is the trend of valuing expressionism, formalism and “comica verité” for their own sake at the expense of what I would call “mainstream fiction”, or formally conventional but narratively complex stories.”

    I would point out that there is a market trend that reinforces this: The ongoing high-quality reprints of older newspaper strips. Flash Gordon, Little Nemo, Gasoline Alley – all of them are relatively conventional strips that are quite complex, and the reprints are commanding high prices because there’s no other way to get it.

    For example: The original Fantagraphics Thimble Theater reprints were cheap things that I’d find remaindered 10 years ago, and now the exact same content is going into a fancy hardcover with an expanded price. (not that I won’t spend money on it – I yam what I yam.)

    Jeff Smith’s Bone gets brought up here, and I’d say its one of the few modern comics that have a long, developed story, similar to Usagi Yojimbo, or Finder.

    There’s a lot of comics these days that are focused on the author’s feelings on a certain event, leaving narrative behind except as a structure to hang those feelings on. I’d argue that the Fort Thunder-style comics are an extreme example of that.

    Heidi is describing that people are ignoring the unique potential of narrative in comics. I agree.

  33. As a young freelancer trying to make it big I am writing graphic novels about evolving monsters on mars, brightly colored imps running around harlem, and female han-solo-esque assassin.

    It seems any creators who chimed in, as far as I could tell from linked websites attached to the comment, were generally pleased that comics of any ilk were getting such thought-out, well or not depending on your tastes, discourse, and the people who seemed to have popped a vessel or three were not so tempered. And here I thought we artists were the passionate ones.

  34. One thing always try to take into account is the intended audience of the reviewing publication. The type of comics that are featured in The New York Times, for example, are the type of books that the average New York Times reader might enjoy. If the Times did a feature story on Johnny Ryan, it probably wouldn’t sell as many books for him as a blurb in The Onion, because people who read The Onion are much more likely to want outrageous counterculture humor. I love Ryan.

    As someone who’s done a broad range of work, I find that a reviewer’s estimation of my “best” varies depending on the reviewer’s intended audience. The Comics Journal will lean more toward my “Why I Hate Saturn” type wordplay and tales of frustrated nerds, while Entertainment Weekly will praise my “King David” and “Nat Turner”, which are more dramatic and more accessible to the EW crowd. The Library Journal focuses more on “Plastic Man” and “The Bakers”, which would appeal to a younger audience. Nobody seems to like all my books equally well, except me, and that’s fine and just as I planned.

    So I would ask, who is the target audience of Ware’s anthology? It is possible that the average Chris Ware fan might find Jeff Smith’s book unappealing, just as I, a Jeff Smith fan, find most of Chris Ware’s favorites unappealing. I also find most Oscar-winning movies boring, because I like action and comedy. I think many prize-winning novelists are dull. My favorite comic these days is “Dilbert”. The best graphic novels I’ve read lately are by Joe Kubert!

    Everything’s not for everybody. And that’s great!

  35. Baker makes a good point in that. I went through a point where I tried to read all the Nobel laureates, and found it was a fairly arbitrary indicator. Don’t even get me started on the Pulitzer winners, which are mostly junk. Even Oprah picks better books than the Pulitzer committee.

  36. “So I would ask, who is the target audience of Ware’s anthology?”

    BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2007 is in big bold letters, while Edited by Chris Ware is in itty bitty letters. Maybe EDITED BY CHRIS WARE should be in big type too, just to emphasize even further that it is indeed Ware’s anthology this time out. (And yes, I’d make the same typographical recommendation re: the editor of BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, etc, etc.)

    “Everything’s not for everybody. And that’s great!”

    Amen.

  37. “Whenever Tom and Heidi get into one of these tiffs, I feel like I’m hearing Mom and Dad arguing from the next room.”

    I’ll take that over anything else we might hear them doing from the next room. HA-CHA!

  38. >> And yes, I’d make the same typographical recommendation re: the editor of BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, etc, etc. >>

    On the SHORT STORIES volume, the editor’s name is pretty big — this year it’s Stephen King, which will probably sell some books (it did to me), but it was just as big last year, when it was Ann Patchett.

    Looking back over previous years, it seems to be pretty consistently large.

    kdb

  39. One of the best movie review snippets I ever read was for “Charlie Varrick”, a pretty enjoyable thriller starring Joe Don Baker: “Proves that there’s nothing wrong with an auteur director that a good script can’t cure”.

    I have no problem with people producing whatever kind of art they want, but they (a) shouldn’t expect it to draw a wide audience unless they sculpt their work to attract one, and (b) shouldn’t get snooty with me if I’m not part of the audience, no matter how wide or narrow it is. And their fans (wide or narrow) could maybe observe those points too.

    Poxy boring autobiographical comics are no more or less intrinsically boring than poxy boring superhero comics, but it’s exasperating to hear people insist that they have intrinsic value. They may have more intrinsic accessibility because their setting is ‘real life’, but that’s about all, and it doesn’t make them any less boring.

  40. Ah, thanks for the heads-up, Kurt. Serves me right for simply assuming the SHORT STORIES volumes had followed the same typographical path as this year’s COMICS volume. So they got it right, and the COMICS volume got it right. IMHO, anyway.

  41. What struck me about “Best American Comics” was its absence of editorial cartoons. American political cartoonists have produced amazing work, especially since 2000. No Kirk Anderson or Tom Tomorrow or Ruben Bolling in a book of “best” comics? Weird. Chris Ware has said he doesn’t care for politics, but to omit an entire genre of cartooning deserves an explanation.

  42. He sort of explained in his intro, Ted. I’m really not faulting Ware for liking what he likes — what he likes is usually quite excellent — just examining the range, as you say.

  43. I didn’t buy it in the store since it’s painfully redundant material, so I can’t refer to Chris’ intro. What did he say? Did he decide to just focus on an extremely narrow band of art comix to the exclusion of all else, and if so, why? If so, why call it “Best Comics” and not something more accurate? Any collection of best comics must include comic strips, gag panels, superhero stuff, edittoons, etc.

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