Thursday, December 27, 2007

Not so boring out there now, is it?

I think Ken Parille has said the last word on the "comics snobs are suffering from class envy" school of comics criticism. I ask (surely in vain) that anyone itching to invoke such arguments re-read this essay before doing so.

This whole thing, for those who don't know, is over Ted Rall's recent overview of the comics which have run in the NY Times on Sundays. The one thing I'd add to Parille's analysis is this: Rall is basically wrong is saying that nobody is talking about these comics. I mean, I write about them all the time on this blog, and I talk about them to people I know in real life fairly often as well. I've seen Mister Wonderful on at least one best of 2007 list, and Seth's George Sprott (which bears so little resemblance to Rall's straw man that I seriously doubt he's read any of it) will make an appearance on my list. Parille himself has written about Mister Wonderful (in fact, he's done so twice.)

Anyway, there may be one of those cataclysmic Beat threads brewing over this. I can't tell if the holiday slowdown is going to stop the coming apocalypse, or if it will encourage it. It seems like some of the most vigorous shouting matches on that blog have occurred over weekends, when (one speculates) people with nothing better to do relish the opportunity to spend a couple of days berating complete strangers for daring to disagree with Harlan Ellison or whatever. So maybe that will be the case here once again. No matter what happens, it's worth checking out just for Eric Reynold's rebuttal (which covers much of the ground as Parille's, but is much more mean-spirited).

One last thing: anyone else amused that Rall cited Noah Berlatsky to fortify his opinions? It was only a couple of months ago that said critic posted a pretty scathing review of Rall's work. The review also ran in the Comics Journal. Rall doesn't strike me as the sort who would forget such a negative review. Interesting.


Matthew J. Brady said...

Man, that Parille post pretty much defuses any future use of this argument, doesn't it? You would have trouble writing a blog if people followed it, wouldn't you? It's amazing, the way people want to ascribe intentions to artists and readers; why can't we just talk about the comics themselves? Oy.

As for Ted Rall, well, this seems right in line with his usual dickishness. I tend to agree with his politics, but he's such an asshole about everything, I can't stand to read his stuff. This essay really just made me laugh, especially when he started talking about the New York Times censoring all other comics than the ones they run. He tried to back up that argument in the Beat thread, but it doesn't wash, if you ask me.

It's a pretty regular, obnoxious thread, typical of what usually goes on over there. I tell ya, Tom Spurgeon is what makes those things worth reading though; his takedown of Rall is the best thing there. And Reynold's wasn't bad either; Rall's response was pretty funny, asking why he was angry. Rall only called him names; why should he be upset?

Hugh Stewart said...

Johnny Ryan's late contribution is my favorite part of the whole thing, because I like to pretend the whole conversation is happening on the set of the Mclaughlin Group, and Ryan happens to be walking by.

(Word Verification: SKQZR. Sounds like a supervillian. BOW BEFORE SKQEEZOR!)

Todd C. Murry said...

No offense, but I don’t think anyone’s said the last word on anything here. The problem is that all these inflammatory posts written by Rall and Heidi (the one she wrote months ago on the subject of autobio, not the current one) come from somewhere real, but express their ideas so poorly that the clumsiness infects the ensuing argument, making all the follow-up posts on other blogs, no matter how cogent or well written, rather impotent. The first step is to strip the feelings down to what they basically are: lack of trust and jealousy (both of which may not be entirely unjustified).

The lack of trust is the elephant in the room. Everybody has been exposed to the type of material we’re talking about here, though it is hard to define (but it’s like pornography, you know it when, etc, etc), and any written definition will likely leave someone out. But, you know, people leading lives of quiet desperation, with only mundane elements present to construct the themes out of, yielding small, still (but potentially deep) stories. Often, we were exposed to these tales in forced classroom settings, and have witnessed people both in person and on the bitch-goddess Internet be dishonest about their reaction to them. Also, we have witnessed the same dishonesty in many published creators (Jesus, this opens a Pandora’s Box... many things I’m saying here are just as true for other types of comics, especially superhero comics) who don’t have a grain of emotional genuineness to get onto the page. I think the people who write these tirades believe that the audience “embracing” these things through the Times supplement like them because they are told they are supposed to. They know that “getting it” makes them special, but who has the time for a real reaction, anyway? This is tied to the resentment that big-L Literature have given up anything but these types of stories.

This reaction is validated by the “second coming” level mainstream media reactions to certain works that seem to lack something. To some, it’s the lack of formalistic accomplishment of something like Fun Home, leading to posts about literary vs. cartooning mindsets (I liked Fun Home a lot, and didn’t care about all that stuff - me, I just thought Perspolis wasn’t that good, and got tired of people droning on about it in Time, or whatever). But there is a sense that the people or institutions who are the big arbiters of taste are recent acolytes of the form, and that the audience they are speaking to might not be entirely authentic in their adulation.

In other words, the mainstream acceptance of comics is people who don’t know what they are talking about preaching to people who are poseurs (I’m trying to get at the core of the actual argument; I actually don’t believe it is that simple, myself). In many of the ur-posts for this argument, the poster stipulates that he actually likes Ware, Seth, Clowes, etc. (I certainly do – I have a particular fondness for George Sprott, which was one of the best things I’ve read this year - and I’ve felt the bite of the “I hate aurtobio” bug), but doesn’t like the host of untalented emo hacks that aren’t the ones they listed. Most of this is just surliness… “the Times like the Ware too, but it’s wrong about why,” but some of it is jealousy. The resentment of having an audience open up to something you’ve spent a long time with and love, and having them not appreciate the things about that you do (or, even worse, encourage it to be something you don’t like). Yes, comic fans are like the friend of the plain girl (no wait she’s really hot when she takes off her glasses and lets her hair down) watching her get sucked into the popular crowd. Waaah! I just want my friend back. Whine, whine, whine.

That’s the ultimate irony – that which hates emo shall BECOME emo.

Dick Hyacinth said...

I hear you, Todd. Honestly, I'm not so crazy about some of the Spiegelman rooftop crowd--Ware and Tomine spring to mind. And I do think there's a tendency among alt/art comics readers to shout down anyone who expresses any doubt about the sacred cows. (I actually thought about doing a top 10 sacred cows in comics list, and Ware would definitely have a place on it.) I get annoyed when I hear people say that liking Tomine/whoever is mandatory, but I don't go around saying that people who like Shortcomings are trendy idiots.

I just wish somebody would phrase this kind of thing in terms which aren't completely idiotic. A bit less absolutism would help. Guys like Rall could learn something from the Comics Comics dudes, who have carved out their own critical niche without trying to kick everyone else in the teeth. When they advocate comics, they build them up rather than tearing everything else down, etc.

Todd C. Murry said...

Exactly... the mother of my point is that at the root of these posts is a real feeling that, like most feelings, is partially justified, partially not, and the way to deal with is to call bulshit on yourself, and figure out what part of your emotions are justified. But these posts don't really debunk themselves, and mostly throw the subject like meat to zoo tigers (Heidi) or brandish it like a knife, telling the disagreeing blog reader "imo cut you" (Rall).

Anonymous said...

For maximum drama The Beat/Heidi would have to do a post on "art" comics, Harlan Ellison, Groth, Dave Sim and..lets say Frank Miller. Yeah. That should create the perfect storm of comics/nerd hate...