Friday, February 2, 2007

The Harold Bloom of comics blogs?

To start us out, let's look at this maddening post on Comics Should Be Good by Joe Rice. Joe Rice is exactly the sort of smug hipster type who gives alternative/indie/art comics a bad name. He writes for a blog associated with Comic Book Resources, a site with a decidedly mainstream audience. His style seems to mostly be poking the CBR readers with a stick, tellling them that everything they read is crap while reminding them that he, unlike them, is enlightened. A few quotes from previous columns:

-If this were TV, all you nerds would be watching it. Read thisbook.

-If you don’t like Johnny Ryan, you won’t like his latest BleckyYuckarella collection, Back in Bleck. If you do like him, A) you’rebetter than that other guy I was just talking to and B) you will like this asmuch as I did.

-You may have noticed that I did not write a column last week. Thatis, if you were not struck blind by the list of awful comics Burgas reviews andenjoys for some reason.

-Are nerds freaking out about the revelations contained herein? Probably not. The awfulest nerds most likely didn’t read this.

-I suppose I have a soft spot in my heart for things that makesThunderbolts fans upset. To me, nothing says “bland” like Grummet +Busiek/Nicieza.

Well, at least he's right about the Thunderbolts.

Anyway, this particular post sees Rice beating on his favorite punching bag: fellow blog-mate Greg Burgas. Burgas is no favorite of mine; his recent series of columns on Fun Home were basically him digging a deeper and deeper ditch for himself. But at least he has the guts to take an unpopular and controversial--and possibly totally wrongheaded--stance (eg, Fun Home received its acclaim largely because Alison Bechdel is a lesbian). And he's not a guy you can easily fit into a category of fandom. He reads and reviews a wide array of things.

Joe Rice apparently was writing for Comics Should Be Good from the begining, left, then came back late last year. Burgas started writing there in the interim. Rice clearly doesn't approve of Burgas' work, and frequently belittles him in his columns (see the example above). The post in question here is ostensibly about objective standards of aesthetics--a naive enough conversation, but we'll leave that alone for now. What's interesting is this not-too-brief aside Rice makes in the middle of the column:

-And that word explains the problem I have with a lot of the reviewing at thissite, especially Greg’s. When we founded this blog, I wanted it tohighlight the good and the great, no matter how we felt about it. I canrecommend a comic I don’t particularly like, because I can ascertain it isobjectively good. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with recommending acomic based purely on how much you like it. But from time to time I seesome objectively bad stuff being pushed forward while personal taste of areviewer is pulling down Good Work. And it bugs the shit out of me. When a bunch of us left because of this sort of thing, Brian recruited a bunchof new reviewers singing the praises of Manhunter or Secret Six or whatever justbecause of personal taste. In moderation, that’s fine. I enjoy thehell out of the Goon Noir, and recognize it’s no Eightball. We all likesome stuff that isn’t so good. But when the chaff drowns out the wheat,we’ve got a problem. This is why I give Burgas a hard time. He’s gota forum here that people obviously read, and that’s great. But hiscritiques rarely go much beyond “I like Moon Knight” when he’s reviewing a bookhe’s got personal taste for. And when you’re spending more time praising amiddle-ground-at-best superhero monthly, you’re shortchanging a lot of work outthere.

Interesting, huh? Is this a post about comics criticism or a post about how Joe Rice doesn't like what Greg Burgas did to "his" site? I'd call this unprofessional but, well, it's a blog post. I'm not sure to what extent the question of professionalism is germane. Still, I'll be keeping my eyes on this feud. Will Joe Rice bully Greg Burgas to the point where he quits? Will he cow him into excluding Moon Knight from future columns?

And as a special bonus, here's some of the criticism Joe Rice has brought to the site, complete and uncut:

-I finally got around to reading Gary Panter’s Cola Madness. It’s noteasy to explain this sort of dream-logic work, but I can tell you it’s really,really good. An absurdist frame and content bely quite a bit going onunderneath. One read of this and you’ll immediately understand why he’sconsidered such a master of the form. It’s the kind of insanity you thinkyou can just throw on paper but you really can’t. Genius work, and I don’tuse that lightly.

-So I read a few glowing comments about this Paper Rad guy (?) and feellike an old fart for not knowing what the hell it’s about. So I gotCartoon Workshop/Pig Tales today. Jesus, I dunno. Maybe I AM an oldfart. But this was frickin stupid. And not Blecky stupid,either. Like the lame weird kid who tries to imitate the charming weirdkid’s sense of humor. Chuck Norris jokes? Really? Semi-traceddrawings of copywritten, dumb characters? And those colors! Like mywife said, “This is awful. It looks like something you’d get for free atMcDonald’s.” Do people really like this? Who? What’s thepoint? I don’t mind surrealism or semi-primitivism. I hearts me someGary Panter. But I can’t tell if this guy’s (?) just too much ahipster or functionally retarded. The people that love this probably don’tcome anywhere near this site, so I may never find out the appeal. AllI can say is, “At least it isn’t one of Burgas’ comics.”

-Ohmigod. Mouse Guard. You are so great. I love you, Mouse Guard. The big battle scene? It was like pure-kickass. Ifelt like I heard Zepplin or Wolfmother and the rolling of dice and the faintsmell of weed. This is what fantasy can be. I do hope you people areeither reading this or getting the trade. My opinion of you will belowered even further otherwise. Give me one good reason not to readthis. ONE! It’s got epic battles, treachery, forgotten heroes andall the slaying a mouse can handle. Muah, I kiss you Mouse Guard.

Wolfmother? WOLFMOTHER?


Jones, one of the Jones boys said...

Woman! You know you--Woman! You gotta be--Woman! Something something something something know what I mean!

Come on, man, Joe Rice likes to ROCK OUT!

Jones, one of the Jones boys said...

BTW, I love the idea of the new blog. Even if this post was so many levels of meta--a blog critiquing a blogger critiquing another blogger for not critiquing comics properly--that my head just exploded.

Dick Hyacinth said...

Wolfmother just seems like an inauthentic reference. Blue Oyster Cult or Black Sabbath would have been more appropriate, I'm guessing. I've never played D&D in a hazy basement, so this is just speculation.

Hopefully I'll be able to summon the bile consistently enough to update this blog regularlry. I'm acutally a very genial fellow. Just ask my SO.

Joe said...

It's funny, Dick. I read through your blog and almost every point I'm thinking "Yeah, exactly!" And then I get to the brutal destruction of me and it's more like, "Oh, Jesus, is that really how people see me?" Part of it is that, yeah, I am a jerk, I guess; but there's also a lot of context being taken away here.

Like the fact that I'm a giant admitted nerd that's posted on the CBR forums for 11 years. These reviews were always written there for the people that knew me well enough that when I say "You awful nerds" it was clear it was self-inclusive. But, yeah, listed like that I sound really antagonistic. And I probably am somewhat antagonistic . . .I get real frustrated that smart people ignore good stuff, be it Mouse Guard or Monster Society of Evil.

And, come on, indie snob?! Less than half of what I review is indie! Hell, I bought and actually enjoyed New Avengers this week. All Star Superman is one of my all-time favorites! I buy copies of Shazam and Runaways for my students! To say I'm this militant indie dude is to ignore over half of what I review.

As for the style of my reviews otherwise, you've got some excellent point. As my buddy who showed me this site put it, I do fall into old habits and it took someone like you that didn't know me to kind of make me realize it. Like I mentioned at the blog, I'm trying to "up my game." It's real damn hard . . .it's easy to toss off some snarky reviews with dumb references and in-jokey insults in a half-hour before the wife gets annoyed I'm not helping cook. This week I'm trying to actually formulate real critiques. It takes time that I don't always have.

Anyway, once again, I have a tendency to ramble while posting, even now. I hope you give my posts another look, as I otherwise couldn't agree with you more about pretty much everything. (The Johanna and "coal miners" bit were both pretty damn dead on.) I suspect I'm more, I dunno, likeable to you than you realize at first, as I haven't adjusted my style to what is apparently a bigger audience than just the CBR posters these days.

And you'll just have to trust me: Wolfmother is orc-slaying music.

Dick Hyacinth said...

Now I feel bad.

My favorite online reviewer right now is Jog, and I think you two have a similar, catholic approach to comics. This is basically my approach to reading comics, so I'd be happy to see more critics lumping together all genres and formats.

And I didn't mean to suggest that you were in reality an "indie snob," so much as to suggest that people who leave comments on CSBG perceive you as such (you wouldn't deny that, would you?). I can't prove it, but I've always suspected that critics who are perceived that way end up doing as much harm as good. I don't mean to say you're "emboldening the enemy" or anything like that, just that superhero fans have thin skins. That's why I said you're basically poking them with a stick--it seems like your columns are intended to provoke as much as enlighten. There's a role for provocation, of course, but I don't think it's working in these JRMR columns. It's mostly smug and snarky put-downs mixed with wildly enthusiastic reviews of avowedly non-superhero work. Too many superhero fans seem to have self-esteem issues, and so they respond to these sorts of columns by lashing out at all the worthwhile stuff coming out in other genres. Same thing happened with manga, when it became clear how much better it was selling than Marvel or DC.

Compare this approach to that of Jog. His reviews are much more inclusive in tone--he reviews plenty of non-superhero work, but always judges it on its own merits rather than (unfavorably) comparing it to Marvel/DC stuff. And it's not like his reviews of mainstream material are always positive--the difference is that he doesn't chide his readers for buying a subpar issue of 52 instead of the new Kim Deitch collection. My other favorite review site is The Savage Critic, which is closer to what I think you're trying to do on CSBG. The crew there are extremely snarky and occasionally smug, but I never feel like they're goading the reader (no matter what Rob Zombie thinks). Then again, you might argue that neither blog has the same readership as the CBR-hosted CSBG, and that your larger audience is going to be a bit less savvy about these sorts of things. That's probably a valid point.

Anyway, I'm glad that you're attempting to change your style. I figure the reason that you're writing at CSBG again is to convince readers to buy comics they wouldn't normally try. That's a laudable goal. I think you'll be most successful, however, if you don't wound your readers' egos in the process.

But I just can't get behind Wolfmother. Trust me, early Blue Oyster Cult is the way to go. I will grant that Led Zeppelin is the original orc-slaying soundtrack band.

Joe said...

I think you've got it in one, honestly. The real realization I've had here is that my "audience" is no longer fifty-or-so people who know me and my sense of humor (deprecation through false-smugness). I'm about to start what I hope to be a better review. Although I'm all nervous now. The pressure's on! This is a very important, uh, review of . . .uh, comic books. Hm.

Joe said...

Oh, yeah, and Jog's my favorite, too. Ah, to be more like him . . .

Greg said...

What?!?!? I'm not a favorite?!?!?!? Now I'm sad.

Since Joe lives in Brooklyn and I live in Mesa, AZ, I doubt if he'll force me to stop writing about books he thinks sucks. Maybe he'll come all the way out here and break my fingers, but I doubt it.

Joe said...

I've got people.

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