Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More on the only subject that matters: MMA fighters' nicknames

-Well, there's a new question for the blogosphere to ponder: out of all the comics-related blogs on the internet, does The Beat have the dumbest readers? Consider this before answering. I know that isn't the reaction Heidi MacDonald was going for. Maybe it's time to address the troops? (This doesn't really cut it, which is a shame considering that my pull quote comes first. And the bit unfavorably comparing bloggers to actual cartoonists is sure to stir up another round of "Amen, Heidi!" Awesome. Can't wait.) Unfortunately, given the quality of the comments in her previous two posts on the subject, I suspect that MacDonald's original essay will long be cited as an argument against any shred of literary or artistic ambition in comics. Stupid generalization fever: catch it! And then stay the fuck away from me.

Actually, the most compelling (by which I mean "only compelling") variation on MacDonald's argument comes from Top Shelf's Leigh Walton, who is the only person I've seen even attempt to identify the mystery villain who's out to destroy all comics narrative.* Basically, Walton is arguing that the NY Times/New Yorker/Best American... editors are influential "tastemakers" who influence the perceived "prestige" of a particular piece of art/literature/whatever. The dearth of non-genre material** in Best American Comics 2007 exacerbates this trend. Walton is a little ambivalent about what that means, aside from maybe some greater financial compensation.

This is something we can work with, but I'm still not convinced. The influence of the Times and the New Yorker are, if anything, in decline; they're increasingly seen either as middle class banalities or stodgy antiques. I say that with a certain appreciation for stodginess; that's influenced what the Times has run in its comics section, and I think we've gotten some great material that otherwise might never have seen the light of day (I'm mostly thinking Mister Wonderful here--I worry this will be the last Clowes work we'll see for the next five years).

You could probably make a better case that the McSweeney's connection is more problematic in the long run, since that readership is more likely to take Chris Ware's recommendations as commandments from on high (I actually wrote this before reading this excellent piece by Matthias Wivel). But, as Walton and Kyle Baker both hint, McSweeney's readers probably are going to flock for Best American Comics 2007 type stuff anyway. Besides, I seriously doubt that the Ware-Eggers axis is going to become an Orwellian voice in the comics world of tomorrow. There are too many people sniping from dark corners in the outlying area. Plus, you know, how many people actually read McSweeney's? Surely a lot more than those who read Kramer Ergot, but surely a lot fewer than those who read Achewood.

If Ware is the King Tastemaker (and I'm not totally convinced that he really is), that makes him the most conspicuous target for an entire blogosphere worth of snipers. The ongoing decentralization of the media hasn't entirely leveled the playing field for comics criticism, but it's the best venue of all time for diverse opinions. Some of these opinions belong to people of questionable intelligence (see above), but that's the trade-off. Factor in webcomics' potential for even greater decentralization, and it's hard to imagine that Best American Comics 2007 is going to hinder any future Jeff Smith OR Geoff Johns from getting whatever attention she or he deserves. The real question is whether things will be so fractured that no one can actually make a living producing comics. But that's a different (and much more depressing) debate.

One last thing: what the hell is with Adrian Tomine in that NYT picture (see either Wivel or Walton above)? That's such a terrible picture. It's like he knew that this tableau would come back to haunt him.

*This is a gross distortion of MacDonald's case, but it's basically what some of her "supporters" are arguing.

**Or whatever it is that's allegedly squeezing out stuff like Bone. MacDonald mentions autobiography, heavily formalist comics, and other material of questionable accessibility. I don't want to create a category to incorporate all this stuff, because I think it gives ammunition to people who seem to view the industry as a Manichean struggle between Comics You Want to Read and Pretentious Crap.

(To whichever anonymous commenter wanted internal links to the footnotes: Blogger isn't cooperating, and I don't care enough to try to fix it tonight. Sorry.)

-Anderson "The Spider" Silva is apparently a Spider-Man fan. Not the kind of story I usually link to, but I'm a big Silva fan. Here's a brief summary of all the comics-related MMA nicknames I'm aware of:

Superman-Dennis Hallman. His career is basically over, and I never understood this nickname. The dude's blond. Via bleach, but still.
Batman-Kurt Pellegrino. Actually, that's not coming up as his nickname on Sherdog, but I swear I remember hearing that before.
War Machine-One of the guys on this season of TUF whose name I can't remember and who I've never seen fight. Not much more to add to that.
Hulk-Roger Hollett. An undefeated Nova Scotian who's supposedly the next big thing at light heavyweight. Never seen him fight, so it's unclear if he actually turns green at any point.
Iceman-Chuck Liddell. This one might not be related to comics, actually.
Wolverine-Donald Grice and a bunch of other dudes. Grice snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Terry Etim at UFC 70. Apparently doesn't possess a healing factor; possession of adamantium claws is uncertain, given that their use is probably prohibited by the NJAC Unified Rules.
Captain America-Randy Couture. You've probably heard of him. Little known fact: he was briefly known as "Nick Fury" after his fight with Vitor Belfort.
Popeye-Dave van der Veen. Are Dutch guys allowed to call themselves Popeye? Van der Veen has a losing record; there's some joke about spinach to be made here, but it's too obvious.
Ninja-Murilo Rua. Apparently didn't think Fort Thunder was a dead end.
Li'l Abner-Forrest Griffen. Please nobody tell him I said this.


Jog said...

That picture never fails to make me laugh. I could see it on every website I check for a week, and it'll always be just as rich as the first time. It's like...

Art's the mob boss, obviously, being seated in the center, with the red mug and the plume of smoke drawing our eyes right to him. He's leaning a bit toward a slightly aloof Sacco, whom I expect is the trusted advisor, perhaps a brother -- literal or figurative -- who'll keep the streets paved, so to speak. In contrast, Tomine is visibly disturbed, and off to the side, away from the table. His youth and his futile proximity marks him as an reluctant heir, a son, his soul revolted by the truth of the matter, but his fate already set in place. Such is Art's gravity. Brown and Seth are the enforcers, obviously! That shirt and cocksure frown/smirk can only mean Chet's the 'rough' one, while the icy, smoking, suited Seth is the sort who'll stand back and repeat the demands slowly into the ear that Chester isn't in the process of sawing off.

God, I'd read the fuck out of that comic!

Anonymous said...

I was the anonymous commenter who wanted the asterisked links, thank you :)

"The influence of the Times and the New Yorker are, if anything, in decline; they're increasingly seen either as middle class banalities or stodgy antiques."

I think you're projecting your biases here--who is doing this "increasing seeing"? Who once believed that the NYT and the NYer were influential but doesn't anymore, aside from yourself? One could easily argue that they're just as influential as they've always been, especially the NYer--is there even another serious mainstream magazine that prints fiction anymore? And where did Sy Hersh break the Abu Ghraib story? Middle class banalities indeed.

Lambo said...

Oh, the Li'l Abner connection is priceless. Abner needs to get in there with Wanderlei. I think that would be a good fight.

Leigh Walton said...

I think it, Jog says it. I can't wait for The Mausfather, Part II where Tomine (reluctantly but inevitably) grows into a more vicious version of his father Artie.

Dick, thanks for listening. Fundamentally, I'm saying that there are audiences for whom the contents of B.A.C. (and its prominent placement in stores across the country) will absolutely determine the canon of cartoonists worth paying attention to. And there are other audiences who will never see this book and whose canons will be shaped by Blair Butler or Douglas Wolk or Jeph Jacques or Cory Doctorow or whoever.

I don't know enough to measure the influence of any of these folks. As publishers, we can just try to reach a diverse range of tastemakers and send each book where it'll do the most good. And hope that bright folks continue to find new platforms from which to speak, and new readers to reach.

Leigh Walton said...

also: kittens, unicorns, care bears, and "Kum Ba Ya." Go comix.

Anonymous said...

>>>>Unfortunately, given the quality of the comments in her previous two posts on the subject, I suspect that MacDonald's original essay will long be cited as an argument against any shred of literary or artistic ambition in comics. Stupid generalization fever: catch it! And then stay the fuck away from me.

Well, I can't stop stupid people from reading the internet, unfortunately, but no where have I downplayed the need for literary or artistic ambition in comics -- in fact I was calling for more of the former. If more of the blogosphere actually addressed the actual comments I made -- I'm surprised NO ONE has picked up on the European/American dichotomy -- and stopped putting words in my mouth, perhaps the reaction wouldn't be so extreme.

At any rate it's telling that no one is interested in journalism, but everyone seems to be a critic.

Dick Hyacinth's Ghost said...

Ditko Hands-Just putting this in the larger context of media fractures. I think both periodicals will probably retain their influence longer than their counterparts, and I don't think either will completely disappear within my lifetime. But I don't think they're immune to this trend either. As far as the "increasingly seen" comment, that does sound kind of weasely. Unfortunately, I don't really have a non-weasely clarification--I know those sentiments are out there, because I read expressions of them pretty frequently. But I can't really point you to anything specific, so you can take that comment as seriously as you think appropriate.

Heidi-I know you've never claimed that there's no room for both kinds of comics in the market, and obviously you're not responsible for how other people misappropriate your words to add legitimacy to their own. I don't really have a policy I'm advocating here, just complaining.

And I'm not sure why it's surprising that criticism is more popular than journalism for comics in particular. That's just human nature, I would think. Except in pro wrestling fandom, where people are more interested in things like buyrates and pushes than in their actual entertainment (at least that's the way I remember it being).

Unknown said...

Hey now... I think I WILL tell Forrest you said that! Actually, he might think it's pretty funny considering he's such a self-deprecating guy in person.

Ok, with the show-offy name-dropping out of the way...

I read the original Heidi post and then the comments and at a certain point, the comments really turned me off. Basically, the token "Bone" mentions (see we're not just all about superheroes punching each other!) notwithstanding, it just seemed like angry DC/Marvel fans working that old false dichotomy again.

I guess it's a bit frustrating when you consider yourself as liking the "good stuff" and then someone comes along and tells you even that's not quite good enough. I think making an argument for more inclusiveness would've worked but along the way it gets turned into this "high brow vs. middle brow vs. low brow" battle.

I put a toe into it to test the waters and got called a moron for my troubles.

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