May 26, 2002
7:37 PM   Subscribe

Comics are stupid. Comics are great. In a pair of twinned articles, the venerable Boston Globe revisits the whole "dumbing-down our culture" thing, that probably first popped up when the first iconoclast decided to use papyrus rather than good ol' stone. Light the bat-signal, Commissioner, my Spidey-sense is tingling!
posted by yhbc (40 comments total)

 
"Records Rule!" "Records Suck!"

A little binary perhaps, and the comparisons Edgers makes are a bit unfair: comparing Maus and Spiderman? That's a bit like comparing Schindler's List and Treasure of the Sierra Madre; created for entirely different artistic purposes, they are both successful. He does get a few point swith me for bringing up my old fave Homer Price.

Obviously, as a comics fan I like the sentiments of Kennedy's article better, but I'm kind of infuriated that the the art form needs to be defended at all. It's a bit like asking, two-act plays:freind or foe?

Form does not dictate value.
posted by jonmc at 7:53 PM on May 26, 2002


Funny, I'm 19 and I remember reading Homer Price. I don't think I'm particularly unique in that respect, either. I don't know what I can add to this thread beyond listing a favorite of mine that neither articles mentioned: Bone.
posted by atom128 at 8:21 PM on May 26, 2002


Bone is great, Bone is good. As I've mentioned before, Jeff Smith is the artistic descendant (if not the reincarnation) of Carl Barks. That man taught me how to read, which is why I still look for the Junior Woodchucks Guidebook whenever I'm really stumped for an answer to something.
posted by yhbc at 8:41 PM on May 26, 2002


Geoff Edgers has just lumped together a bunch of things he doesn't understand and called them weird. I'm not even sure that I can find a point in that rambling. Comics, cartoons, animation, role playing, Manga, Anime, SciFi, etc just *are*. They are valid forms of expression that don't exist beyond people's desire to express or experience them.

Mr Edgers could just have easily called his article "Things I don't understand and therefore dislike" then printed the list I wrote above. It would have said exactly the same thing.
posted by krisjohn at 8:58 PM on May 26, 2002


krisjohn (and jonmc, and atom128 too), you're all right, and that's the point. Maybe I was too obtuse in my attempt to post the articles in a "funny" way. (Give me a break, I just came back after a week off). What I thought might be worthy of discussion (and yes, the point isn't that clear in the post) is that the "old" media (read: the venerable Boston Globe) still doesn't get that there is this whole other thing, and still belittles it (complete with *pow!* *ka-blam!* graphics, no less).
posted by yhbc at 9:08 PM on May 26, 2002


In America, the beginning of the Comics Code in the 50's pretty much reduced American comics to kid's stuff, and had an understandably small audience.
On the other hand, in the same time, Japan had the beginning of the career of Osamu Tezuka whose willingness to tackle serious topics made Japanese comics go in a different direction and become much more popular. (38.5% of all books and magazines sold!)
Just one example Barefoot Gen, the story of a survivor of Hiroshima, predated Maus by nearly a decade.
For more info on the history of the Japanese comic, read Manga! Manga! by Frederik Schodt.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 9:19 PM on May 26, 2002


i had a whole rant here which i deleted after a preview because i got kind of ugly, but to summarize in nicer terms:

1) i like comics.
2) seems like someone like mr. edgers will never like comics.
3) which is a shame coz there are some cool comics.
4) unless he's just being super sarcastic.

i mean: chinese ninjas? what?
posted by juv3nal at 9:23 PM on May 26, 2002


commish- I didn't mean to come off as attacking the post. It was a good one, in that it, as you said, showed that the old media still dosen't "get it." And if they can't "get" a comic book, god knows what they'd make of a weblog.
I was just a little miffed at Edger's boneheadedness.
posted by jonmc at 9:27 PM on May 26, 2002


While the Code undoubtedly stifled the maturity of American comics, I think its safe to say that's no longer the case. I remember reading Manga! Manga! back in high school, and the so-called superiority of Manga/Anime to American formats is invisible to me now. Of course, I also dislike the mainstreaming of Chris Ware and his ilk when the much-derided superheroes cultural footprint looms much larger (cue that Spidey guy).
posted by owillis at 9:27 PM on May 26, 2002


Geoff Edgers has just lumped together a bunch of things he doesn't understand and called them weird.

In addition, he has made pretty clear to us his notion that "different" equals "scary, questionable, and to be avoided." I went into the two articles expecting to see some good points made on both sides; instead, on the one hand, I met a truly repugnant individual whose moral compass, built on such "wholesome preteen activities as shoplifting Atari cartridges and sneaking Marlboros at the town dump," has brought him to a predictably superficial and bigoted adulthood, and on the other, I read a list of nifty comics-are-cool links. The purported topic remains untouched.
posted by rushmc at 9:35 PM on May 26, 2002


Edgers' op-ed piece borders on hate speech. I could substitute "Asians" for "cartoons"/"comics"/etc. and it would sound like the paranoid rantings of a bigot.

Still, I get the feeling that this thing is a hack-job and his heart wasn't really into it, judgine by the line, "...I found myself drawn to such wholesome preteen activities as shoplifting Atari cartridges and sneaking Marlboros at the town dump..."
posted by Down10 at 1:53 AM on May 27, 2002


> Edgers' op-ed piece borders on hate speech.

No, hate speech is "speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation." Don't water it down to suit your own gripe. This guy just says he doesn't like comics. That he thinks they're generally stupid. Shallow. Books for the aliterate. That's fine. I don't like comics either. I also don't like six-a-month romance novels. I'm not saying you can't like them. I'm not saying its mathematically impossible to write fine literature in the Harlequin style. And the Great American Novel of this century might be a Harlequin. But I'm not going to waste much of my time looking for great things in Harlequins or comics, because real writers tend not to write Harlequins or comics. When you find the Great American Novel in comic-book form, let the rest of us know so we don't have to read pages and pages and pages of X-Men tripe to find it.
posted by pracowity at 2:21 AM on May 27, 2002


pracowity: do you only read books other people have recommended to you?
posted by juv3nal at 2:56 AM on May 27, 2002


juv3nal : How many Harlequin romances have you read lately?
posted by pracowity at 3:02 AM on May 27, 2002


Sturgeon's Law, anyone?
posted by moss at 3:31 AM on May 27, 2002


pracowity:

basically what moss said.

comics=words+pictures.
"x-men tripe"=words+pictures=subset of comics.
novels=words.
harlequin romance=words=subset of novels.

and NOT (as you seem to be arguing):
harlequin romances and comics=words=subset of books.

of course a huge simplification, but i think even if you disagree you can understand my point.

just so i'm not being a dick, here are some comics i like:
kabuki by david mack (the newer painted stuff)
cerberus by dave sim (hard to get into since it's a serial and refers back to earlier events and the earlier books are hard to find)
the maxx by sam kieth (ditto can be hard to find but made into a cartoon miniseries thing that was released on video)
neil gaiman is an ok writer, but on occasion he's wasted by being teamed with crap artist.

now, how about some good harlequin romances? ;)
posted by juv3nal at 4:06 AM on May 27, 2002


i should add that 'watchmen' by alan moore is pretty well written though i wasn't entirely impressed by the art.
posted by juv3nal at 4:16 AM on May 27, 2002


> Sturgeon's Law, anyone?

No, thanks. It's 90 percent crap. Sturgeon claimed that, yes, 90 percent of sci-fi is crap, but 90 percent of everything is crap.* The "law" seems primarily to be an attempt to say that all genres are equally good (or bad), which, if you agree with me about romance fiction, you know is not true. Some genres attract lesser talents and simpler readers, though the writers and readers within those genres of course never see it that way. The "law" also appears to mean that it is unfair to compare works in different genres -- if it were fair, then the 90 percent rule wouldn't hold -- and I see no grounds for the assertion.

> comics=words+pictures

Comics = very few words + simple graphics

Run, Spot, Run!

* He is way off. At least 99 percent of everything is crap. I will not watch television at all because it is nearly 100 percent crap. I don't go to the movies anymore because they are also too close to the 100 percent line. If you consistently watch or read the latest anything, you are happily consuming at least 95 percent crap.
posted by pracowity at 5:09 AM on May 27, 2002


Pracowity, you obviously aren't reading the right comics. The ones in your newspaper's funny section aren't normally close to anything high quality. If you are basing your judgement of the whole genre on simple gags in four panels you aren't going to have a good opinion. Pick up the Watchmen. Or Frank, which has no words but excellent art. Or Sandman, despite it's ability to attract the ubergoth subculture, it has great writing and art. The Four Panel comic strip is not all that comics are about.
posted by Apoch at 5:30 AM on May 27, 2002


Also, Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan - The Smartest Kid on Eart is an achingly sad portrait of a Prufrockian middle-aged man, replete with whimsical fantasy, nostalgic journeys, and subtle humour. Winner of the 2001 Guardian First Book Award.
posted by Marquis at 7:23 AM on May 27, 2002


but 90 percent of everything is crap

Maybe, but that other 10% makes you glad to be alive my freind. BTW, ro be set straight on comix start here then read the man's books
posted by jonmc at 7:37 AM on May 27, 2002


> > but 90 percent of everything is crap
> Maybe, but that other 10% makes you
> glad to be alive my freind.

I'm looking for the top 1 percent. Sturgeon was the guy who settled for 10 percent.

> BTW, ro be set straight on comix start here then read
> the man's books

So convert me. Operators are standing by.
posted by pracowity at 8:06 AM on May 27, 2002


pracowity, your wish list lacks Maus, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
posted by bingo at 9:19 AM on May 27, 2002


The "law" seems primarily to be an attempt to say that all genres are equally good (or bad), which, if you agree with me about romance fiction, you know is not true. Some genres attract lesser talents and simpler readers,

Isn't that primarily because once something is considered "good" it is no longer considered genre fiction? I mean, Romeo & Juliet, or Love in The Time of Cholera could be considered "romance fiction" except that they're considered literature, and essentially by definition genre fiction is not literature (ie, once it's good enough to be literature it loses the genre label, usually). (And don't defend your position by telling me those books are crap; all books are liked and disliked - your top 1% won't be the same as mine etc, but clearly those examples are not equivalent to harlequins)
posted by mdn at 9:30 AM on May 27, 2002


Start here:

www.ait-planetlar.com

also check here:

Warren Ellis

If that publisher and that author get you going, and you want some decent discussion of comics (and everything else):

The Warren Ellis Forum (requires registration)

From there, the world is your oyster. Pamphlets are dead, long live the graphic novel.
posted by dgallo at 10:15 AM on May 27, 2002


Oh, and I forgot the other main one:

Artbomb!

This one location is decently diverse enough that you could start here as well.
posted by dgallo at 10:16 AM on May 27, 2002


pracowity:

Unfortunately, because of the mediocre sales of comic books in the last ten years, it's difficult to find any reprints of the truly great books. You should be looking into reprints of the Love and Rockets collections, or the graphic novel versions of Neil Gaiman's the Sandman (In particular the Season of Mists). Other suggestions:
  • The original Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (forget the new one, it's a piece of crap).
  • Ronin by Frank Miller.
  • Moonshadow by JM DeMatteis and Jon J Muth.
  • The Garth Ennis stretch of Hellblazer (from Dangerous Habits to Rake at the Gates of Hell.)
  • The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman
  • Twilight by Howard Chaykin (You may never find this one. It's an overlooked gem. This thread is forcing me back into my collection just to find that one.)
  • Any of Eddie Campbell's Bacchus, Eyeball K!d ('natch) or Alec stories. "From Hell," by Campbell and Alan Moor is also highly recommended.
This is a list of books written in the last decade or so. Silver Age and Golden Age books were mostly superhero stories for kids and adolescents, a state the industry is still trying to shake in this country. It took a dip in sales and DC taking chances on Miller, Moore and Gaiman to recapture their aging fans and to redefine the medium. You can try Watchmen, if you'd like, but you're not going to be taken in by it. It was impressive in context, startling, in fact, for the time. Moore's writing is only saliable if you have the geek mettle to sit through all of his issues of Swamp Thing. From your opinion of comics at this point, I gather you don't.

This is also a list of mainstream comic authors with books from mainstream companies (DC, Marvel, Dark Horse.) You can stick to the fringes and usually find pretty good stuff, but most of those books are impossible to find.
posted by eyeballkid at 11:12 AM on May 27, 2002


Where would I start, recommending comics to someone who hates superheroes and newspaper comics? Hm.

Jim Woodring's Frank, the Hernandez Bros. Love & Rockets, and Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan stories, mentioned above would be good. As would be Dan Clowes' stuff: Eightball, Ghost World, and so on. Also, some books that tend to get overlooked in discussions like these:

Jason Lutes' Jar of Fools
Walt Holcombe's The King of Persia
James Kochalka's Monkey vs. Robot
Marc Hempel's Gregory books
Larry Marder's Beanworld
Kyle Baker's Why I Hate Saturn
Carol Lay's Now, Endsville - about half the book is the title story, which is quite good
Joe Sacco's Palestine books, while sure to cause flamewars in these parts, are worth reading

Manga-wise Tezuka's Adolf series is quite good, though slow at the beginning. Barefoot Gen - whose author I forget - is a powerful (if somewhat crudely drawn) story about the bombing of Hiroshima that gets overlooked like crazy every time the name "Maus" gets thrown around. (Art Speigelman actually wrote the introduction to the English translation of this book.) Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is my favorite, though it does traffic in anime cliches a bit so if you hate those watch out.

Then read Sam Henderson's The Magic Whistle Blows. You'll annihilate any perception you might have of comics as art, but that'll just be a side effect of laughing your ass off.
posted by furiousthought at 12:30 PM on May 27, 2002


the books of magic miniseries changed me... gaiman is the best thing since best things. it's a shame how the new regular series has gone downhill..

parowcity, if you got the 50 or so dollars to throw down, pick up david mack's kabuki collection, metamorphoses. it never ceases to blow the mind.
posted by lotsofno at 1:27 PM on May 27, 2002


Maus was good, but it was no Groo.
posted by clango at 2:41 PM on May 27, 2002


kabuki: metamorphosis TPB
kicks ass. yes it does. sooo good.
posted by juv3nal at 3:10 PM on May 27, 2002


When you find the Great American Novel in comic-book form, let the rest of us know so we don't have to read pages and pages and pages of X-Men tripe to find it.

OK. Here's my nomination. A better look at actual strips is here.

Or you can splurge and get the complete collection.

And then there's Walt Kelly and Al Capp, of course.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:31 PM on May 27, 2002


Neat link, dgallo. I found an interesting piece on Warren Ellis' site about how American comics need to change to reach a larger audience.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 6:32 PM on May 27, 2002


Comics = very few words + simple graphics

hrrrm. troll smell.

My additions to the list, from years of trying to find that 20% [i am a lot more tolerant- anyone that tries to tell a story deserves respect- and there is so much stuff out there]:

Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo.
Grant Morrison's glorious mindphuk The Invisibles.
John Bolton's Menz Insana, among other works.
Mike Mignola's Hellboy (genre, yes, but i think it made its own).
Assorted works by Charles Vess and Brian Talbot .
posted by elphTeq at 7:30 PM on May 27, 2002


But I'm not going to waste much of my time looking for great things in Harlequins or comics, because real writers tend not to write Harlequins or comics. When you find the Great American Novel in comic-book form, let the rest of us know so we don't have to read pages and pages and pages of X-Men tripe to find it.

Pracowity, seriously, you have no idea what you're talking about. "Real writers"? You can't really be that pretentious and uninformed at the same time, can you? Really, take some time, step back, read some of the material you disparage categorically and offhandedly, and then come back and either retract your statement or show evidence for it.
posted by Hildago at 11:42 PM on May 27, 2002


Relax, Hildago. No one is coming to take away your Green Lantern collection. I'm just saying this market, like this one, generally is not where most of the real creative talent goes. I'm sure there are a few bright spots, but I'm not going to become a comic-book fan by digging through the heaps of crap to find them. Instead, I'll let people who don't mind reading heaps of crap find the few good ones for me.
posted by pracowity at 12:12 AM on May 28, 2002


Neat link, dgallo. I found an interesting piece on Warren Ellis' site about how American comics need to change to reach a larger audience.

Unfortunately, Warren claims the shelf-life is about due on the Manifesto.

There are still some valid ideas, but he's right in a way - if things had changed when he first wrote that (about 2 years ago IIRC), then we'd be in a much different place.

As for now? Go read Artbomb.net - you get samples and you get reviews. It's barely superhero oriented stuff, and everything there is worth it. Maybe not to everyone's taste though.

I highly recommend anything Brian Wood. Incidentally, Brian works for Rockstar and is largely responsible for the graphic design of GTA3. I heartily recommend Channel Zero.

And if I can't stress it enough - go visit Larry. Everything Larry puts out is Good. He wrote Astronauts in Trouble: Live From the Moon. Read the blurb.

Another recommendation: Anything by Brian Michael Bendis. You've probably seen his name connected with some Spider-Man trades at the local book chain. Those are all right, but give them a miss and pick up his original stuff. I'm partial to Powers, but that's set in a superhero world (it's noir crime drama - great stuff.) Instead, try Jinx or Torso.

Want more? Just ask - better yet, just follow the links. I can go on forever. :)
posted by dgallo at 2:52 AM on May 28, 2002


but 90 percent of everything is crap

"111% of crap is everything." -- Larry Wall
posted by sonofsamiam at 7:34 AM on May 28, 2002


Missed this when it was first posted a few days ago, but since the issues being discussed here are near and dear to my heart I thought I'd go ahead anyway.

pracowity: First of all, judging from your comments and the contents of your amazon wishlist I'd recommend skipping Watchmen. I think it's great, but it is primarily a deconstruction of the superhero tropes which have been dominant in American comics for so long. If you have no interest in those heroes, you probably won't have much interest in the book (although it may be worth reading chapter four which nicely illustrates what the comic form is capable of as opposed to pictures or words alone). Also, I'd suggest skipping right to book two of Sandman (The Doll's House) which is a much more coherent and interesting story. Book one is more of an introduction.

Secondly, you seem to be confusing form and genre. Comics are a form like prose, film, or painting. Romance novels are a genre. They are written in prose. Admittedly, comics have not realized the potential of the form as fully as could be hoped... which brings me to my last point.

You seem to be arguing that "there's a lot of crap out there in comics so I can't be bothered". While I agree that there's a lot of crap I also think that Sturgeon was making a point and wasn't trying to be taken completely literally. A lot of the books on your amazon wishlist are canonized Western lit. I doubt that you chose these at random from all the books amazon has to offer. Rather, you listened to the opinions of friends, authors, critics, etc. who you respect and chose those books accordingly. If you're interested in checking out comics I propose you do the same. This is why we have critics: to wade through the crap so we don't have to. Recognize that due to its history people in comics often have a fondness for genre/sf/fantasy which I doubt you share. I think furiousthought's recommendations might be good for you: the whole Fantagraphics/TCJ/literary/rejection of traditional superheroes thing.

Sorry for being so long-winded.
posted by finn at 11:24 AM on May 29, 2002


I think if we're talking comics, it all starts with the Hostess ads. :)

Re Pracowity's point on romance novels: I think Sturgeon's Law should be amended to say "Ninety percent of everything is crap, but one hundred percent of softcore pornography is crap." That way we can cover romance novels, movies and what-have-you.

I'm with jon on Scott McCloud. The Carl strips kick ass.
posted by nath at 7:03 PM on May 30, 2002


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