It seems all the useful internet talk about comics is currently taking place at Comics Comics, with Jeet Heer, Dash Shaw, and other people with more than four letters in their names contributing appreciations of Tom K, Tim Hensley, comical allusions in the late poetry of John Updike, and other such matters. However, in the always-essential comments, baleful Frank Santoro throws out a shocker with:

I worked all last week at Copacetic Comics and went through the shelves, book by book. I’m sad to report that how UNREADABLE most alt comics are. My 80% figure is not an exaggeration. I made a list (which I’ll never publish). It’s embarrassing how little structure alt comix have compared to mainstream comics.

Vigilant Sean T. Collins stands at the ready with a dissent:

* Related: I’m not sure Frank should be allowed to go on the way he does about how the vast majority of contemporary alternative comics are unreadable garbage without citing a lot of examples. From where I’m standing this is a pretty contrarian POV about the state of comics in 2009 and I want to see where he’s coming from.

We’d like to add that the 80 percent figure is 100 percent less* than the Sturgeon’s Law percentage of mainstream comics that are crap, so by any measure, alt comix are still demonstrably better.

BTW, Hellen Jo (above) is in the 20%, and you will see the effects of dissent in her comic for Vice. MARVEL, please hire Hellen Jo to write and illustrate the new adventures of Daughters of the Dragon, or Runaways, or young Spider-Man, or SOMETHING.

Via the Vice Mag interview with Jo:

Jin & Jam #1 is a coming-of-age comic about a couple of teenagers who meet, become friends, and do shit together. It’s based really really REALLY loosely on a few of my own experiences and those of a few close friends, but I’ve amped everything up with violence, surrealism, and fantastic lies. Eventually the comic will take a more mysterious turn. As for any similarities between the comic and my own life, I also grew up in a Christian Korean home, surrounded by high expectations, but my own “coming of age” was more mundane, typical of a lot of suburban teens. I think Jin & Jam presents a more romanticized, tragic, thrilling version of adolescence than normal, but “coming of age” is this universally profound human experience that I’ve wanted for a while to explore in a comic book.

Hellen Jo Google theme? Holy shit.

* Look, I’ve never been able to figure out this percentage stuff, okay?


  1. There’s peoples focus on the negative again. Oh well. Although I am inclined to agree with Frank, I will also be quick to point out that this is always the case in any field you care to look in on. However, we can all take heart in knowing that good work has a much higher valued than crap, and conclude that the 20% is all we need to content ourselves. Enough is as good as a feast, as Mary Poppins would say.

  2. I saw people quote Sturgeon’s Law pretty often on CompuServe during the late ’80s, and they would do it as if they were saying something profound. They weren’t, because the “Law” ignores the mechanical/editorial aspects of storytelling. A reader can find many formula fiction stories that work perfectly well in mechanical terms; the problem is with the repetition of one or more elements. No writer sets out to write the Great American Novel, Novella, Novelette, or Short Story every time. He doesn’t have to do that to be entertaining.

    As for the contention that (superhero) comics are junk, I believe I encountered another example of that attitude recently in a review of MARVEL DIVAS #2.


  3. Some examples would be nice; we wouldn’t need to see the whole list. I’m not sure exactly what he means by “structure” either. The average mainstream comic has storytelling conventions that just about guarantee a more straightforward narrative structure than the average alt comic. But there are certainly alt comics that lack structure; maybe 80% seems high to me because I only read the ones that attract a lot of notice.

  4. Frank’s right.

    And naming names is a sucker’s game. All it does is lead to hurt feelings and damaged reputations and careers.

    Besides, all of us reading this blog have the problem that we’re too close to the subject. We all love comics and that means that we probably love things that the pedestrian wouldn’t be able to get into. We like things for the sake of being comics and for the sake of being interesting comics at that. we are blinded by the love of the art and a deeper patience for the individual failings of certain works just for the fact that it’s comics.

    Anyanyway, the main point that Frank was making is about structure. He lists the ways in which Tom Kaczynski’s work in MOME is exemplary in this regard and he discusses Tom K’s architecture background and how it relates to the comics. Frank talks about Tom’s grounding his stories in real and believable environments. So in that regard, I’d say that Frank has a really good point or two.

    As for alternative cartoonists in general: step your game up! Self included, especially.