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September 20, 2012 6:15 AM   Subscribe

How not to write comics criticism
posted by Artw (82 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
why you gotta hate on my table dagger?
posted by The Whelk at 6:24 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Very good points. Those cliches are super annoying.

Also, food comb.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:29 AM on September 20, 2012


It's always nice to see someone call out the "Bang! Zoom! Comics Aren't For Kids Anymore!" cliche, but no matter how many times the message is repeated, it somehow never seems to sink in.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:33 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dylan Meconis is pretty fantastic. I've been reading Family Man for years at this point, waiting for werewolves, but being content with 18th century academia and witchcraft.

A lot of these requests boil down to 'be familiar with comics before you review them', which a) seems like it should be self evident and b) could probably be said for a lot of genre stuff that is reviewed in the mainstream, so obviously a lot of mainstream publications still don't get it.

Sometimes it feels like mainstream publications do the equivalent of sending their classical music critic to Lollapalooza on purpose, and I don't understand who or what decides that is a good idea. I'm looking at you, New York Times.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:34 AM on September 20, 2012


With the box office success of Dredd perhaps that will change.
posted by Artw at 6:34 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I remember reading accounts of how annoying and played out that Bang! Zoom! thing was in the 80s so it's so far past its sell by date.
posted by The Whelk at 6:36 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I might start asking for table daggers now.

But the "you cannot be a bibliophile if you dislike certain genres or formats" argument is crap. People are allowed to have preferences.
posted by jeather at 6:37 AM on September 20, 2012


It's fine to dislike certain genres or formats, or have comics 'just not work for them', but that also means that you're probably not a good candidate to review them in a national publication. Or even your school newspaper.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:39 AM on September 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


"...people who dress up in costume at conventions (they’re normal people having fun on their day off)"

Maybe. Maybe some of them are.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:39 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now I'm going home to read Asterios Polyp again.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:43 AM on September 20, 2012


But the "you cannot be a bibliophile if you dislike certain genres or formats" argument is crap. People are allowed to have preferences.

True, but in that case you can't be a rampant bibliophile if you reject formats out of hand. Sejant erect at best, more likely passant.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:43 AM on September 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


J'ACCUSE
posted by shakespeherian at 6:47 AM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


There used to be a particular breed of critic who had read Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and Maus, and only those comics, but now considered themselves an expert on all things comics related with only those points of reference.

I don't know what the modern three comics that are equivalent are. I've a horrible suspicion it's the exact same ones.
posted by Artw at 6:48 AM on September 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


I think they've added Sandman to their oeuvre.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:50 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


And Persepolis.
posted by Mizu at 6:51 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Plus they saw From Hell on Netflix.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:52 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Fun Home too.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:54 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah man, I have a special gripe about people who are "experts" on Moore but have read none of his works past 1989.
posted by Artw at 6:54 AM on September 20, 2012


Now now, Fun Home, that's getting into some pretty deep cuts, there.
posted by Mizu at 6:55 AM on September 20, 2012


Oh! Dylan Meconis also created Outfoxed, which is something I would have sworn was a FPP once on metafilter, but wasn't. Anyway, it's still fantastic, and a much faster read than Family Man, being a few hundred pages shorter.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:55 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Probably also Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, but not "Dykes to Watch Out For". On preview, that will teach me to google for the appropriate way to notate a comic strip title before posting... on the other hand, "strunk white comic strip" brought me amusing results.
posted by booksherpa at 6:57 AM on September 20, 2012


I don't know what the modern three comics that are equivalent are. I've a horrible suspicion it's the exact same ones.

Scott Pilgrim.
posted by painquale at 7:04 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Come for the food combs, stay for the mouseover text.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:04 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Perhaps next we can have sometime write about how to properly critique critics because I think the first rule of thumb would be to pull stick out of ass before the lecture begins.
posted by Shit Parade at 7:05 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Probably Jimmy Corrigan as well.
posted by painquale at 7:05 AM on September 20, 2012


MEAL DISK
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:06 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


seriously, MEAL DISK
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:06 AM on September 20, 2012


they should have sent a poet.

MEAL DISK.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:06 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hey did you guys notice 'MEAL DISK' I thought it was pretty funny.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:07 AM on September 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I remember the Guardian having a 'graphic novel' round-up review in rotation with its other themed reviews ('Crime', 'Thrillers', 'SF', 'First Novels' I think) but it would never ever go anywhere near anything like a cape book.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:12 AM on September 20, 2012


you can't be a rampant bibliophile if you reject formats out of hand

Well, no, but you can, after reading some critically acclaimed comics, decide that this format isn't for you. Or after reading some very good westerns, decide you're not a fan, etc. Having preferences isn't necessarily equal to being snobby.
posted by jeather at 7:19 AM on September 20, 2012


it would never ever go anywhere near anything like a cape book.

See now neither will I though. I just don't think that is a genre with anything interesting to say about the world. In the same sense that I don't think romance novels are interesting, even though I've never actually read an entire one. Does that make me prejudiced?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:26 AM on September 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


^to be clear I love many many comic books just not superhero ones since, say, 1991.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:27 AM on September 20, 2012


My first impression is to start reccing you possible gateway cape books (I enjoyed the hell out of Batwoman: Elegy, does Ex Machina count as a cape book?), but hey. It's also possible to just dislike superhero comics. I find a lot of the mainstream examples difficult to read because of the conventions (the constant reboots, the hyper machismo), and eh. That's okay.

You don't have to like everything, and if you dislike the mainstream conventions in a genre, it makes sense that you'd be wary of it. But it'd be a bad idea to have you be a critic of them.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:33 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are writing about comics for a general audience (i.e., if you are writing in a newspaper) then your responsibility is to pitch your comments at the level of expertise you can generally expect to find in that audience. In that context "comics aren't for kids anymore" is a perfectly useful thing to say. In fact, the very prevalence if the phrase about which the writer complains proves that this is, in fact, a widespread misconception, and therefore one that it remains worthwhile combatting (ironically, that is one of the points this very article is making).

That comics aficionados know that comics have been an "adult" medium for a long time really isn't the relevant issue if you're writing for a non-specialist audience. Similarly, to complain about using a word like "cartoonish" or about "comic book" used to describe Leichtensteinish imagery is like a music lover whining about the meaninglessness of the term "classical" in "classical music." That's just a failure to realise that different communities use terms differently: there's no reason for the community at large to adopt the specialist terminology of a specific expert sub-community.
posted by yoink at 7:34 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are writing about comics for a general audience (i.e., if you are writing in a newspaper) then your responsibility is to pitch your comments at the level of expertise you can generally expect to find in that audience.

Maybe I'm naive, but I would assume that the main audience for a review of a comic book would be people who would be interested in reading a comic book. The literary book reviews aren't written to pull in the romance novel audience, despite the fact that the romance novel audience is much larger (and therefore more of the general audience).
posted by dinty_moore at 7:37 AM on September 20, 2012


Generally very goo piece, but one entry is odd (at the very least, oddly stated):

#9. The Unbearable Lightness of Word Balloons

A related genre of critical overreaching. The critic encounters standard elements of comics work – word balloons, square panels, standard layouts – and immediately interprets them as meaningful to the content of the work.


I am not a huge comics fan, but playing with the standard elements is obviously part of the vocab (and not just in the formalist way he mentions in passing): Chapter V of Watchmen, to take a widely known example, is "A Fearful Symmetry" and the layout is perfectly symmetrical. The last page has the same characters as the first page with the counterpart panels using the same colour schemes, the second-last page mirrors the second page, and so on, until the exact middle of the chapter has the only panel in the entire 12-issue run that is spread onto two pages. I suppose it is formalist after a fashion, but it is so subtle that it is easy to miss totally.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:38 AM on September 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Maybe I'm naive, but I would assume that the main audience for a review of a comic book would be people who would be interested in reading a comic book.

I'm pretty sure the article is about comic reviews in mainstream media, like your daily newspaper or weekly magazine, that caters to a general population.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 7:41 AM on September 20, 2012


I'm pretty sure the article is about comic reviews in mainstream media, like your daily newspaper or weekly magazine, that caters to a general population.

Right. But the people who would actually read the article are the people who would be interested in reading a comic. People who read comics also read magazines and newspapers. Who reads reviews for things that they're not interested in? And if they really think that they have no comic book readers in their audience, why are they running reviews of comics?

Not to mention that other niche markets that are considered more 'artistic' are written with the idea that only people who would be reading that review are people who would be interested in that sort of work.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:47 AM on September 20, 2012


The general population has every idea that comic books can be art, and has since TDKR in 198whatever. Maybe not the general population over 50, but they aren't the majority so why bother to cater to them. God forbid some old person stumble over a straightforward review of a comic book and be confused for a half-second.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:51 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I just wrote doesn't really follow now that I think about it. I don't read comics anymore but if we were talking about computer games, the same themes of reasoning that the article puts forward would apply. That is - regardless if you're writing for mainstream media or not - it makes sense to avoid criticism cliches because a valid assumption would be you're writing reviews for mostly people who know the business and purchase the products created.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 7:53 AM on September 20, 2012


I am not a huge comics fan, but playing with the standard elements is obviously part of the vocab (and not just in the formalist way he mentions in passing):

I agree with you but I don't think that's what the article is talking about. I think the article is more focusing on critics saying things like 'And isn't it interesting how the author shows words emerging from the characters' mouths in white ovals! This speaks to the larger themes of the work...' or 'Sequencing the action into discrete "panels" or still images which are separated by white space is the artist's way of emphasizing the loneliness of the protagonist' when those are things that are just a part of the language of comixing.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:54 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


It just makes sense to avoid condescending to your audience too. Assume they are smart like you and just write normal-like. No talk big words on purpose tho that make man head hurty pains.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:56 AM on September 20, 2012


I've never seen a review that commits the mistake of critiquing the form of comics rather than the content. Is ths really a thing that happens? Links?
posted by egypturnash at 8:02 AM on September 20, 2012


That bit reminded me of this (IMHO slightly overreaching) analysis of the panel breakdowns in Neonomicon 1.

I do wonder what happened to that guy when he got to issue 2...
posted by Artw at 8:08 AM on September 20, 2012


At first I thought this was going to be about criticism from within the comics community (ComicsAlliance etc.), which can be its own kind of terrible, e.g. shorthand like "grimdark", "nineties" and "extreme!!!" .
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:13 AM on September 20, 2012


and not just in the formalist way he mentions in passing

Ms. Meconis is a woman.

And seriously, everyone, read Family Man. So good.
posted by emjaybee at 9:26 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can shorten all of that to "DC" right now.
posted by Artw at 9:28 AM on September 20, 2012


There used to be a particular breed of critic who had read Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and Maus, and only those comics, but now considered themselves an expert on all things comics related with only those points of reference.

I've read those AND Sandman, Y: The Last Man and 20th Century Boys -- so I'm totally an expert on all things comics related.

except I haven't read Dark Knight Returns.
posted by jb at 9:31 AM on September 20, 2012


I've also read The Building and A Contract with God by Will Eisner, and it's one of the main comic books I recommend to adults who think that comic books are all super-heroes or horror.

I've also read Ooku, Bone, the first two volumes of Theives and Kings, Strangers in Paradise, Love and Rockets, a collection of Japanese underground comics, the very dark Kling Klang Klatch, and more webcomics than I probably should have while trying to complete my undergrad degree.

But in the world of serious comics people, I'm totally a noob.
posted by jb at 9:38 AM on September 20, 2012


See now neither will I though. I just don't think that is a genre with anything interesting to say about the world. In the same sense that I don't think romance novels are interesting, even though I've never actually read an entire one. Does that make me prejudiced?

If you've never read one, isn't that the definition of the word prejudiced?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:46 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


In the same vein as CAFKA, can I just request a moratorium on articles about how it turns out certain brave ladies have also apparenly been dipping a toe into the traditionally cockular medium of comics, complete with photos of the artists ("see? They are genuinely female! This one is even holding a pen") and comparisons of their work to other lady artists with whom you might be familiar (Frida Kahlo, Elizabeth Peyton). Extra censure for articles which express further astonishment that titles are now being published which might not even actively seek to repel female readers, and what's more, women actually seem to be reading them!

If anyone feels the urge to write one of those, allow me to recommend that you instead review or promote the work of a female artist without fussing about her gender, or write about an aspect of the medium which allows you to reference several comics works and have about half of them (at least more than one) be by female creators. I would love to see more of that shit.
posted by milk white peacock at 10:10 AM on September 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


You can shorten all of that to "DC" right now.

Case in point. Trenchant indeed.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:17 AM on September 20, 2012


I'm pretty sure the article is about comic reviews in mainstream media, like your daily newspaper or weekly magazine, that caters to a general population.

Even if this were absolutely right (despite your follow-up comment), still: so what?

Why dumb things down for the general public?

Wouldn't laypersons be more intrigued about reading a specific comics review if it didn't start out with the same cliches they've seen in every other comics review they've glanced at? Even for someone who isn't a comics fan, if they have enough of a passing interest to read a comics review, they've probably heard of the fact that there are comic books about the Holocaust and the September 11 attacks, so it isn't going to be attention-grabbing news to them that "comics aren't for kids anymore."

Why use incorrect terminology like "talk bubble" in an article for the general public? Why not use proper terminology to educate them about comics?

Why condescend to the lowest common denominator, instead of trying to elevate the public's understanding?
posted by John Cohen at 10:40 AM on September 20, 2012


Man, just how many comics do I have to read.

I really wish there was a definitive list, a sylabus , or even a canon.

It isn't a bad thing, but the fact that everyone always seems to recommend something just a bit more obscure than whatever I've just said I've read is sort of interesting. It is certainly a fandom , not a field of study.

There is also the problem that some stuff isn't widely available. I'm not saying lit buffs never point to some out of print book you can only get for $500 a copy as something important to read, but yeah, it almost never happens. Nobody has ever told me I can never understand Henry Miller until I read The Air Conditioned Nightmare.

This happens all the time in fandoms. Some SF story exists is some random ace double that is impossible to get, or a comic only exists in a $100 out of print TPB. Are people that harp on about some out of print story or comic just trying to one up me? I will spend $120 on that Bloodlines TPB just to outdo you if you are going to test me so just tell me if you are messing with me or I should I really read it.

Unless we get a list, people are just going to read a few other things, the things that everyone recommends and call it a day.

Another thing, this shit is an expensive hobby. I have a copy of Cotham Central: Book One right here and it cost 20 bucks. If you breeze through you can probably read it in an hour, that is less value for your money than seeing a movie and way less value than a paperback.

I read TPBs like I read any book, I read them 3-4 times several weeks or months apart to make sure everything sinks and see if any related reading changes my initial perceptions. So maybe 4 hours for 20$. That is a bit better value but not many people are going to do this. Certainly not people with lives.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:53 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read TPBs like I read any book, I read them 3-4 times several weeks or months apart to make sure everything sinks and see if any related reading changes my initial perceptions. So maybe 4 hours for 20$. That is a bit better value but not many people are going to do this. Certainly not people with lives.

Well, there's cheaper ways of reading them then getting them at full price. Libraries. Ebay. Sharing with friends. Checking out the used book store. Hanging out at barnes and noble during your lunch hour
posted by dinty_moore at 11:01 AM on September 20, 2012


Well yeah, but that is kinda a hap-hazard way of doing it. The fact that there is no canon beyond Watchmen means there is no gaurentee any libraries will have any comics peeps consider important. I probably do need to find better used books stores, I went to Singularity & Co yesterday and while they don't really focus on comics they were selling TBPs for more than they sell on Amazon by a wide margin for some strange reason.

I guess the root of the the problem is that the books are collectibles and have value as objects. That isn't an issue with papaerbacks of canon lit, libraries can order them by the hundres and people practically toss them in the gutter so used bookstores sell them for 50 cents.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:21 AM on September 20, 2012


Well, there are books that are, and there are books that aren't collector's items. There are plenty of free examples on the internet (of varying quality, but the two linked in this thread are awesome). Comic books can get expensive, sure. There are ways to save money if you're willing. I'm not sure if a time/dollar basis is the best way of deciding whether something is worth it.

Anyway, the argument isn't that everyone should be conversant in comics. The argument is that if you're going to attempt to criticize or review comics, you should be conversant in the language of comics. The audience for comic reviews are comic book readers, and you should understand the basics of what they're looking for. If this isn't something that appeals to you, that's okay! But judging comics based on the merits of literary fiction, or based on some second-hand conceptions of what you think comic books are like, doesn't help anyone.
posted by dinty_moore at 11:53 AM on September 20, 2012


Im not actually complaining about the price.

I'm just pointing out that it is hard for critics to become conversant in comics to begin with. If you are saying criticism should old be written by fans, who had the time, money, and,inclination to educate themselves that is cool. Film critics and literary critics probably stsrted out as fans.

I may be wrong, but criticism or reviews in major publications are going to be tackled by some other type of critic. They don't have comics critics. It is just hard for somebody like a film critic to get up to speed. unless we don't want criticism or reviews in major publications.

Maybe I should become a comic critic. I'm not really a fan, but I am trying to make a systematic attempt at studying comics.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:11 PM on September 20, 2012


I may be wrong, but criticism or reviews in major publications are going to be tackled by some other type of critic. They don't have comics critics.

Then they should a) hire someone who is conversant in comics, b) encourage one of their current reviewers to take the time and energy (and charge the corporate account) to read up on comics, or c) not waste their time reviewing something they don't know anything about.

People read reviews or criticism with the understanding that the critic or reviewer has more knowledge of the product than the reader. When that knowledge is obviously not there, the review is worse than useless - since it also casts doubts on the other reviews in the publication.

What's really at play is cultural arrogance: the assumption that if someone is good at reviewing literary fiction, they're ideal for judging every other type of written work, no matter how different the conventions are. It's not that mainstream publications couldn't possibly find someone on their staff that likes comics (or scifi or romance or any other genre or medium you want to talk about), it's that they think they don't need to.
posted by dinty_moore at 12:24 PM on September 20, 2012


I think we agree. I'm just pointing out the myriad of reasons it is hard as an adult to get up to speed. The converse is also true. Reviews and criticsm isn't just spouting trivia. Just because someone is a fan. or knows a lot, doesn't mean they will write good criticism or even reviews.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:58 PM on September 20, 2012


Discussions of this topic always remind me of discussions about what is art and what is just pornography. It's, like, the polite or the sublimated, version of the same discussion.

The two strains, as t'were, bear etiological comparison. Take Aubrey Beardsley for example: art? porn? comic art? But then jump forward a half-century to Robert Crumb, and suddenly there's no longer a question that some kinds of exposition simply cannot be done without illustration.

I hafta admit, I just don't get the whole cape thing. But tell you what, I think it starts with Dracula.
posted by Twang at 1:04 PM on September 20, 2012


Comics are like poetry in that they are insular communities that desire wider recognition but lack the emotional resources to withstand mainstream opinion and blame inept critics while dismissing the critique. This article is full of straw men and whining condescension.

Did this become a teachable moment, no; was a role model provided, no; was someone inspired to become a better critic, no; was this another snowflake pissfest, yes.
posted by Shit Parade at 2:28 PM on September 20, 2012


eponysterical!
posted by Zed at 2:48 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


For me, reading comics, like reading genre fiction, is slumming. I love doing it, some of it really resonates with me, and there is amazing work being done in these media, but I can't get too het up when someone writes condescendingly about it, because hell, I would, too, if I didn't enjoy slumming so much.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:55 PM on September 20, 2012


There is also the problem that some stuff isn't widely available.

Much, much less of a problem now than it ever was. You have several companies (Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Dark Horse, IDW) with high quality reprint programmes while most of the modern stuff, at least that what sells, is kept in print through trades and hardcover reprints. Not like in my days, when if you missed an issue, that was it, better go plow your ways through the back issue bins.

The fact that there is no canon beyond Watchmen means there is no gaurentee any libraries will have any comics peeps consider important.

Oh there is a canon and it's much, much deeper than that. Frex, The Comics Journal top 100 English language comics is a good place to start. Not perfect by any means and it's more than a decade old, so somewhat outdated, but still a good overview.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:57 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've read those AND Sandman, Y: The Last Man and 20th Century Boys -- so I'm totally an expert on all things comics related.

except I haven't read Dark Knight Returns.


Not sure this is a bad thing. DKR is an "important" book and it's well done and it totally deserves its place in "the canon", but I cringe whenever I see it brought up as a gateway book, because it's very much tied up in superhero-comic tropes and their deconstructions. I mean, to a certain extent, you could say the same for Watchmen, but I feel like Watchmen also has a ton of other thematic balls being juggled. Trying to deep-read DKR mostly gets you commentary on a lot of "cape-book" tropes, and Frank Miller's kind-of-icky politics (albeit not to the extent of his more recent stuff), neither of which I'd really want to be someone's introduction to the format.

Batman: Year One, on the other hand, is a great gateway story, and the art is lovely.
posted by kagredon at 3:27 PM on September 20, 2012


I hafta admit, I just don't get the whole cape thing. But tell you what, I think it starts with Dracula.

There's no capes in Bram Stoker, although there might be capes in some early film versions. My suspicion is that the superhero cape comes from Zorro, specifically the 1920 Fairbanks version. Zorro (and, before Zorro, The Scarlet Pimpernel) are obviously major influences on, particularly, the Batman mythos and the "secret identity/crime fighter/superhero" genre generally.

I'm no historian of the genre, though, so I'd be happy to be shown an earlier incarnation that Fairbanks was drawing on in 1920.
posted by yoink at 4:31 PM on September 20, 2012


It's weird that Watchmen is supposed to be an introduction to serious comics, because you have to already know a lot about comics to get much out of it. Start 'em on Maus or Jimmy Corrigan or What It Is for my money.
posted by milk white peacock at 4:40 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah Watchmen is so seeped in early superhero tropes and deconstruction, you miss a lot if you're not coming at it with all of that in your head.
posted by The Whelk at 4:45 PM on September 20, 2012


Well, to be a bit pedantic, I think good introductions to comics are good comics for kids, because that's when I think people should be introduced to comics. I don't run into a lot of people my age (early 40's) who have trouble reading comics, but I run into some, and I meet a fair bunch of people in their 60's who have trouble reading them.

I think this is because the visual literacy to read comics is a skill. Not the world's hardest skill, but getting it early so that the neural pathways which process the combining of word balloons and frames and assimilating the action from panel to panel is natural and effortless will vastly increase the pleasure of comics later.

My aunt, for instance, had a hard time reading a comic biography of Proust just because the effort of reading it was too great. She has no problem with other art forms and has a vast endurance for prose, but the comic format throws her.

So, comics for kids are great. We need more. I recommend giving your nieces and nephews books like the "Leave it to chance" series or "Elfquest". Simple stories, sure, but they're well done, pretty, and told without much formal stylistic playing. (I'd throw in "Castle Waiting" too, but I know some people don't like such explicit adult themes in stories for kids).

Although, honestly, this is a problem I used to worry about. Since Manga has come on the scene like gangbusters I don't really think a lot of kids aren't getting their brains formatted. I expect comic criticism to become more mainstream and a whole lot better as the post-manga generation rises up the media ranks.

(Oh, and cause I can't write a comic post without saying it, everyone should go read Finder. Yep. I mean you. Read Finder. Pretend the stuff inside the parentheses are sneaky subliminal messages that work. Read Finder.)
posted by bswinburn at 4:59 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


With the box office success of Dredd perhaps that will change.

Speaking of which: Why the Second Dredd Movie Could Be Even Darker
posted by homunculus at 6:19 PM on September 20, 2012


The spandex and cape aesthetic actually came from early 20th century circus strongmen, iirc.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:59 PM on September 20, 2012


Yeah Watchmen is so seeped in early superhero tropes and deconstruction, you miss a lot if you're not coming at it with all of that in your head.
posted by The Whelk 3 ¼ hours ago [+]


I've never read any superhero comics except Watchman (which I've read about four times, and seen the Prisoners of Gravity episode dedicated to it), but I don't feel like I'm missing much. Even non-comic readers are heavily exposed to the superhero tropes and mythos if they have seen the movies or watched the cartoons and tv shows (years and years of Justice League, in my case, and I wanted to grow up to be Lynda Carter when I was six).

That said, aside from Watchman's brilliant deconstruction, I'm not much interested in superheroes -- but there is so much more in comics. I started reading comics because I heard that this Gaimen guy had written stories about the lord of dreams, but they were only in these comic book things -- and then A friend of mine basically sat me down with a copy of Scott McCloud in one hand and Bone in the other.

as for gateway comics: I would say get a story that hits the person's interests, done in black and white. Whether that's Bone or A Contract with God or Strangers in Paradise or Persopolis or Anne of Green Gables (the manga), it doesnt matter. But black and white is easier to read than colour, and reading comics is a skill you have to learn like reading text.

I didn't start reading comics until I was about 18 or 20, and my SO started in his 20s -- I don't think you need to be a kid. That said, both of us read Understanding Comics early in our comic reading. (my friend who lent it to me was an art major who specialised in sequesential art -- he knows the people who run the Toronto Comic Arts festival.).
posted by jb at 8:14 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not that there is anything wrong with superheroes -- clearly lots of people are fascinated.

I just meant that if people are looking for other kinds of stories (like me), they are out there and so I always tailor my recommendations to their interests. I was reading a lot of mythic and urban fantasy when I started on SandmanGood Omens and his short stories.
posted by jb at 8:21 PM on September 20, 2012


I think most Americans are used to some sort of sequential art, even if it's just four panel comic strips in the back of the newspaper. I didn't read Understanding Comics when I got into comics as a teenager (it was Sandman for me, too), and I don't remember having any trouble until I switched to manga.

Well, other than the art in early Sandman being pretty hideous.

I don't doubt that some people have issues with being able to comprehend words and pictures at the same time, but I'm not sure if that's due to lack of exposure or just their brains processing things differently. A thirtysomething friend of mine has the same issue, and I don't think she's had radically different stimuli from the rest of us.

Not that it's a bad idea to start with YA comics, necessarily. There's a lot of YA stuff out there that I'd wished I'd read as a kid (Atomic Robo, Bone, Anya's Ghost).

That reminds me, I was looking at the review of Anya's Ghost at Amazon the other day, and noticed that they have a blurb from the NYT review ... that compared it to Persepolis. Because they're both comics that deal with the immigrant experience? Anya's Ghost is a pretty cute YA ghost story, and Persepolis is a memoir about growing up during the Islamic revolution. Stylistically, they're a little similar, but the content is nothing alike.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:43 PM on September 20, 2012


I mean, I'm also really happy reading them now. But there's something about Anya's character -the combination of stubbornness and awkwardness, I think- that would have really been a great help to me when I was twelve. I love her now, but as a preteen, she would have been my hero.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:46 PM on September 20, 2012


Ah man, I have a special gripe about people who are "experts" on Moore but have read none of his works past 1989.

I have always maintained that everything you need to know about Moore can be found in D.R. and Quinch. And everything you need to know about his movies can be found in D.R and Quinch Go To Hollywood.
posted by Sparx at 8:57 PM on September 20, 2012


I completely agree with kagredon.

For years I thought I was a heretic, because I always preferred Batman: Year One to The Dark Knight Returns.
posted by MrBadExample at 9:09 PM on September 20, 2012


I think most Americans are used to some sort of sequential art, even if it's just four panel comic strips in the back of the newspaper.

I wondered about this too, and I think the answer is endurance and complexity.

It seems plausible to me that people only having to keep track of the storyline for four panels aren't developing the same mental muscles that it takes to go through several hundred panels in an analogous way to how a person can have the endurance to walk a few blocks, but not hike twenty miles. And the "hike" becomes a lot more enjoyable when you're not straining your endurance and you can take the time to appreciate the view.

Also the complexity of the "movement" from panel to panel in a four panel strip generally isn't all that great. Most of the time the action is all taking place either in one location, with the character is mostly the same positions, with perhaps a single jump of location in the last panel as a predictable punchline. The complexity of action from panel to panel in comics is often much greater.

And, sure, of course, you're going to have variation from person to person as to how good they are at reading comics with some people falling at both ends of the bell curves. I.e. people who can follow the weirdest Chris Ware panes without a sweat and people who will never be comfortable reading the plainest layouts.

Still, I think practice matters and it seems to me that the average person of the under 30 set are having more practice at it than my generation did.
posted by bswinburn at 11:52 PM on September 20, 2012


"Because this comic book is really good, it must not ACTUALLY be a comic book."

Oh, the mainstream critics treat everyone that way:
"SF's no good," they bellow till we're deaf.
"But this looks good."--- "Well then, it's not sf!"'
posted by Chrysostom at 7:25 AM on September 21, 2012


It isn't a bad thing, but the fact that everyone always seems to recommend something just a bit more obscure than whatever I've just said I've read is sort of interesting. It is certainly a fandom , not a field of study.

Nobody has ever told me I can never understand Henry Miller until I read The Air Conditioned Nightmare.

This seems normal to me. If you ask about German-speaking lit without offering any specifics, I'd be more likely to recommend Kafka than Trakl. If you said you had read Kafka, you would receive more obscure recommendations like Musil or Broch. I don't really see the difference. Try asking for a literary canon of the past 70 years and you'd get conflicting opinions too.
posted by ersatz at 7:54 AM on September 21, 2012


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