-I swear to all of you, the second part of the Liefeld thing is about half done. I've got all the illustrations all edited up, nice and illustrative, and I've written about half of it. Should be posted tonight or tomorrow.
-Interesting analysis of the Green Arrow/Black Canary wedding/death thing by Johanna Draper Carlson. The problem is that, for most readers of superhero comics, fear of commitment is purely academic. If anything, they probably have a romanticized view of marriage: nothing but maid service and frequent sex, while you can just let yourself go. Plus, if you can convince your wife to read Sandman, maybe you can turn her. That opens the door to a variety of miracles: Showing off your (presumably hot) wife at conventions! Doubling your weekly comics purchases, since she'll be buying just as much stuff!* Convincing her to dress up like Wonder Woman for your private amusement! Convincing her to dress up like Wonder Woman so you can show her off at conventions! Other sick and twisted things too, I bet!
Also, isn't Judd Winick married? I thought that cartoon he created featured a stand-in for his wife or something. Maybe it's time for a deep psychological analysis of Winick and his oeuvre. Uh, I'll let someone else do it.
*JUST KEEP HER AWAY FROM THE MANGA. You want her buying things you actually want to read yourself, right?
-For those who helped me out with all the suggestions for online outlets for mini-comics purchases, please note that the USS Catastrophe is back up, possibly for a limited time only. Major hat tip to Mr. Hodler for pointing this out.
-Scenes from the class struggle in North American comics: Here's a debate between Joel Bryan and some Livejournal dude (parts one two three and four), which, beneath a lot of heated rhetoric and factual inaccuracies, elucidates some of the current tension in comic fandom. A brief synopsis: Inspired by a piece in the Onion AV Club, Bryan declares the monthly pamphlet format of comics to be a hindrance to the comics medium. Individual graphic novels would be preferable, since this would give the creative teams more leeway to actually tell complete, coherent stories. (There's also some stuff about royalties and creator ownership in there; it's sort of a rambly piece.) The Livejournal guy, one "Andy," responds that Wikipedia and piracy (!) make it easy for a dedicated reader to follow continuity. A rather peeved Joel Bryan shows up in the comments, prompting Andy to basically reassert his position, including this gem:
Seriously, I read books, I've written papers for college (not the same as a novel, granted), and I've observed as best as the Internet allows while real authors write real books without using pictures. And you know what, they do it much like I read comics and write college papers, by researching the hell out something.
Somehow missing that this essentially makes any further argument moot, Bryan continues to prod Andy, who (despite having won the debate in the passage quoted above) changes his argument. First, comic books aren't art, they're "pop art." So any literary pretensions are ultimately Quixotic and detrimental to the medium as a whole. Second, he invokes manga to defend the monthly, serialized comic, an argument so littered with misconceptions and lazy argumentation that I'm not going to subject you to my 200+ word refutation.
Anyway, Bryan responds with another rambling post contending that, from a reader's perspective, continuity is a loser's game. Since so much of it will later be retconned by later writers and editorial regimes, there's no point in trying to follow it. He also (quite rightfully) points out the hypocrisy in superhero uberfans calling their detractors snobs:
Want to talk snobs? Go to a comic store and listen in on some hardcore fan conversations sometime when jargon like "newbies" is being tossed around (although they're not a patch on music store geeks).
Back at Livejournal, Andy expands on his anti-art position by claiming that great art/literature can only be produced by accident. When someone questions this odd stance, his responds:
I feel this first step into not creating crap is to get off whatever horse makes people try and make great art.
So there you go. After peeling and prodding by Joel Bryan and commenters at his own blog, Andy reveals why he's afraid of losing the monthly serialized comic: it will make comics boring, literary, and anti-fun (fun being directly proportional to the amount of time which must be spent on Wikipedia in order to make the comic comprehensible). We'll be awash in comics about people arranging matchsticks or something. IT'S GOT TO BE ONE OR THE OTHER, dudes! There's not room for both!
I probably wouldn't have mentioned this at all if not for Abhay Khosla's inspired review of the new Doctor 13 trade. Khosla links it to a tradition of decrying the grim-and-gritty-ization of comics, which dates back at least to Alan Moore and Don Simpson's Pictopia. I suspect there are older iterations of this theme; in fact, I'm almost certain that some newspaper cartoonist was expressing basically the same things about EC's crime-and-gore line (but that might be faulty memory on my part--I might be thinking of Fearless Fosdick, which isn't really the same thing). The gist is this: complaints about the darkening of mainstream comics inevitably become co-opted into DC and Marvel's marketing of said comics. It's a rather nihilistic/fatalistic argument, and I don't really mean that as a criticism. You really owe it to yourself to read the whole thing, but I will pull one quote directly related to what I'm talking about here:
People who care about how charmless and talentless DCU comics in the present are? Stopped reading them, or at least I'd hope they have as that's clearly the most rational response.
But what, pray tell, do you do when you've determined that DC (and Marvel) comics are suffering from a lack of fun? Well, you can try to start reading other comics instead, limiting your doses of superhero comics to select titles and reprints. Or you can reevaluate your notions of what constitutes good comics--maybe "fun" isn't the only thing you should be looking for in your comics reading.
Unfortunately, I think this is where I worry that the proponents of non-superhero comics have actually hurt the chances of getting superhero fiends to read comics in different genres. For years, proponents of indie/alternative/whatever comics have decried superheroes as an inherently stupid or creatively bankrupt genre. I strongly suspect that a large segment of the superhero-only fanbase processes these words like Livejournal Andy: the proponents of art/literary comics insult my comics as "stupid," but they're not because they're fun and exciting and I like them. Thus, the people who insult my kind of comics must want to eliminate any sense of fun or excitement from the medium. Ergo, any comic which aspires to anything beyond empty entertainment is going to be stuffy and pretentious--anti-fun.
The alternative is to convince oneself that the absence of "fun" in Marvel/DC books somehow entitles them to status as works of serious literature. Ergo, Black Adam is a great literary character because he doesn't behave like a stereotypical supervillain, and The Death of Captain Marvel is great literature because it doesn't get resolved with a big fistfight at the end. If you actually believe this, you aren't going to react well to people who call superhero comics "stupid." I mean, Captain Marvel dies of cancer, just like people do in real life. Black Adam struggles with morality, just like people do in real life. How can you call these books stupid? Dude, I think you secretly hate comics.
I really think that fans of superhero comics just can't process the comics industry as anything other than a series of binaries. There's good guys and there's bad guys (or, for a different kind of fan, there's realistic characters and there's unrealistic characters). There's on time and there's late. There's Marvel and there's DC. There's fun comics and there's boring comics (or, for a different kind of fan, there's stupid comics and there's serious comics). Try to engage people outside of these ridiculous binaries and they go into some automated "snob alert" mode, as if your intention is to replace all their favorite comics with copies of Optic Nerve (which apparently shouldn't even count as a comic--it's more like a misguided attempt to force literary expression into a "pop art" context).
I don't mean to say that critics of superhero comics should have held their tongues all these years. Marvel/DC comics frequently (okay, usually) are stupid, and anyone who thinks so has an inalienable right to say so. And really, how on earth can one look at the last 40 years of non-superhero comics and dismiss them all as stuffy, pretentious crap? Have these people ever read anything by Robert Crumb? Did they assume that Hate was about race relations in America? For God's sake, what about Sam Henderson? Aaah, I already know the answer to that question: "Those comics are poorly crafted and immature. Humor doesn't work in comics form. Also they feature sex/nudity, and I'm not a pervert."
What makes all this so incredibly frustrating is that today's proponents of indie/alternative/whatever comics often champion books which are fun, entertaining, and frequently batshit crazy. For every Fun Home, there's a Scott Pilgrim. Do you want to know why "snobs" keep suggesting Scott Pilgrim or Street Angel or Amazing Joy Buzzards (which I didn't even like!) or whatever the current flavor of the week is? Because those are the sorts of comic which would appeal to people who are sick of DC and Marvel's clumsy stabs at maturity or endless recycling of continuity or generally inability to wring any more interesting stories out of these dessicated and ancient characters.
But really, these folks don't want fun comics--they want superhero comics that remind them of how much fun they had reading them as a kid. This could lead us to all sorts of armchair psychology, but that's really more than enough for today. I still have to finish writing that Liefeld retrospective.