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Four Colour Funnies in the Old Grey Lady
September 27, 2007 8:08 AM   Subscribe

Daniel Clowes, creator of the seminal and controversial comic series Eightball, is currently producing the serial Mister Wonderful for the New York Times Magazine's The Funny Pages. The NYT also presents a slideshow exploring the medium of graphic novelscomics featuring Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco, Chester Brown, and previous Funny Pages contributors Seth and Chris Ware.

Previous Contributors
Megan Kelso's Watergate Sue

Seth's George Sprott (1894-1975)

Jaime Hernandez's La Maggie La Loca [Direct links to PDFs]
01-02-03-04-05-06-07-08-09-10
11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19-20

Chris Ware's Building Stories [Direct links to PDFs]
01-02-03-04-05-06-07-08-09-10
11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19-20
21-22-23-24-25-26-27-28-29-30
posted by Alvy Ampersand (27 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Post not complete without link to Fantagraphics. There you go.

[this is good]
posted by psmealey at 8:11 AM on September 27, 2007


The hubbub over the events you link to in the first half of "controversial" has really, really shocked me. There was a thread over at The Beat that just blew my mind with all of the think-of-the-children handwaving going on. Breeches were soiled.

I mean, I suppose a younger Clowes did write "Needledick the Bugfucker," but that's a different comic from a long time ago. It absolutely astounds me that anyone would call Icehaven pornographic.
posted by COBRA! at 8:21 AM on September 27, 2007


I'd like to take this opportunity to tell Rachael Scarborough King of the New Haven Register to go fuck herself, please. I can't believe the way she runs with the "sexually explicit" ball here -- either taking the nutjob parents at face value or pandering to a reactionary audience -- when even a cursory glance at Eightball #22* would have shown her that, considered as porn, it's awfully damn disappointing. It might be pretty racy if you were, like, Amish or something.

*reprinted in book form as Ice Haven, which the notorious ultra-left publication School Library Journal recommends for students in the tenth grade and up.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:29 AM on September 27, 2007


As I read through something by Clowes, my impressions generally follow the pattern, "Clever. Cool. WTF? [repeat]"
posted by brain_drain at 8:30 AM on September 27, 2007


I don't mean to derail, nor to snark, but I completely miss the point of graphic novels. The writing is generally never as good as a traditional novel, nor the art work illuminating. What's the point?

Esp. in the NY Times funny pages. The story is always some ironic slice of life snapshot that ends with a wry smile in the last panel. What is the point? It seems like a peanut butter cup, two good things, that in this case are not better together.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:46 AM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Biff! Bam! Pow! Comics Aren't Just For Kids Anymore!
--Every mass-market news publication, every six to eight months, near as I can tell
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:52 AM on September 27, 2007


The book, one of a series of comic book novels by Daniel Clowes, is called "Eightball #22." It includes references to rape, various sex acts and murder, as well as images of a naked woman, and a peeping tom watching a woman in the shower.

"It’s not even like a gray area," the father said. "It’s clearly over the line."


Look, dad, unless there are cumshots and full penetration, it's not clearly over the line.
posted by psmealey at 9:53 AM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]




I don't mean to derail, nor to snark, but I completely miss the point of graphic novels. The writing is generally never as good as a traditional novel, nor the art work illuminating. What's the point?


It's accomplishes something different than a novel or individual art, the closest thing a well done graphic novel compares to would usually be a movie, but with the added ability (like in a novel) to easily provide the characters inner monologue and with an unlimited budget.
posted by drezdn at 9:55 AM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


And as for Keith Talent: Comics and prose are two different media. You might as well ask what's the point of movies or operas. The best graphic novels make use of the medium and the juxtaposition of text and images to make artistic statements that simply cannot be made in text alone.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:55 AM on September 27, 2007


I'm really annoyed how Spiegelman has become (among some sets) the go to guy for all things "high-brow" comic related. Especially when he is put in charge of collections and showings, he often gives short shrift to some great works because they don't fit in with his personal view.
posted by drezdn at 9:57 AM on September 27, 2007


It’s not even like a gray area," the father said. "It’s clearly over the line.

Pshaw! These guys are professionals. The non-gray areas are clearly within the lines.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:59 AM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I'm cracking up over here:

[R]eferences to rape, various sex acts and murder, as well as images of a naked woman, and a peeping tom watching a woman in the shower are all things that occur in Clowes's comic.

[R]eferences to rape, various sex acts and murder, as well as images of a naked woman, and a peeping tom watching a woman in the shower bathtub are all things that occur in the Bible.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:00 AM on September 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


I really enjoyed following Building Stories, La Maggie La Loca, and George Sprott, but I must say that I find Watergate Sue to be a tremendous bore.

And Keith Talent: if you're genuinely interested in why comics are a unique, worthwhile art form, the lazy response would be to point you to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, and I'm nothing if not lazy.
posted by Skot at 10:04 AM on September 27, 2007


Keith Talent: You should check out Ware's segment in the NYT slideshow; he says almost exactly the same thing as you, but then gives his reason for doing comics anyway.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:05 AM on September 27, 2007


but with the added ability (like in a novel) to easily provide the characters inner monologue and with an unlimited budget.

Okay I get it, but it's constrained by the need to fit the text in the panel, and therefore the language needs to be simplified, how does this make it anything other than a novel for people that like pictures and don't like big words, or a TV show for people without access to an Ipod with video?

The current Mr. Wonderful in the NYT funny pages is a perfect example. How is this good or interesting?
posted by Keith Talent at 10:05 AM on September 27, 2007


Okay I get it, but it's constrained by the need to fit the text in the panel, and therefore the language needs to be simplified, how does this make it anything other than a novel for people that like pictures and don't like big words, or a TV show for people without access to an Ipod with video?

Oh, come on. All art forms have constraints. The beauty of (good) comics is how well they work within those constraints. Would you tell someone who enjoyed sestinas that those poems don't measure up to a really good novel? Or argue that murals are better than woodcuts because they're bigger? Do you go to the ballet and complain about the lack of dialogue?
posted by Skot at 10:15 AM on September 27, 2007


Keith: Constraints can make for some of the most potent art. This is why poetic and musical forms, as well as movements and styles in every art form, pervade the arts. Basho, Shakespeare, and Picasso (to name a very few) all frequently worked within self-imposed constraints to focus their work.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:20 AM on September 27, 2007


Okay I get it, but it's constrained by the need to fit the text in the panel,

It actually doesn't, there are graphic novels where the text isn't in a panel or a word balloon (off the top of my head, parts of Cerebus.

You're really tripping up on the word novel though. It's an original media. For a great recent example, the Magical Life of Long Tack Sam tells the life story of a Chinese magician using story-telling techniques essentially unavailable to a novelist, such as changing art style to reflect a certain period of time, mixing photographs with images and text to fill in details of the story.

If anything, why have novelists been so constrained by just using words?

Even if you want to get down to a comic strip, your basic peanuts set up where Lucy pulls the ball away from Charlie yet again says much, if not more, than many novels do. It even has resonance in the creator's wife, as Lucy was based on his first wife.
posted by drezdn at 10:23 AM on September 27, 2007


Thanks to all that have responded. I am too hung up on comparing them to novels. I also get that the reason I may be biased against comics is I've never seen a comic I like. THE NYT funny pages tends towards vapid TV dramedy-esque scenarios. See Mr. Wonderful for proof.

Just like walking into a Borders and picking up the first novel piled highest nearest the door would result in me thinking novels as an art form are devoid of merit, or walking into a Virgin and basing everything I think I know about popular music based on whatever is the top selling most popular album.

Thanks.
posted by Keith Talent at 10:31 AM on September 27, 2007 [2 favorites]


If you really serious about trying to understand it, why not try something like An Anthology of Graphic Fiction?
posted by drezdn at 10:32 AM on September 27, 2007


If you really serious about trying to understand it, why not try something like An Anthology of Graphic Fiction?

NO, DON'T! Based on what you've said here, an Anthology is going to be full of the kind of stuff you don't find intriguing. Anthologies are mostly valuable to people who are mostly sold on the medium and are interested in exploring it more.

Your time would probably be better spent with one or a few of the following:

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware
-The classic 'failure at being human' graphic novel focusing on two eras of a defiled paternal lineage. Intricately constructed in narrative and form, it's got deconstruction AND cut-outs!

Black Hole by Charles Burns
-A book that will make you FEEL. Hot teens and grotesque disease. Black Hole is probably my favorite comics work in that it really is a story that could only be told to its ultimate effect in the comics form. What Burns pulls off so fluidly and passionately in images would have come across as tacky and contrived in text.

Safe Area : Gorazde by Joe Sacco
-Sacco is the comics journalist, and he's a war journalist. Here, he deals with the tragedy of a UN "safe area" and the war in Bosnia itself. It's incredibly interesting in just how honest it is and feels; even though it's so much more heavily constructed than almost any other medium in telling the story, you really feel connected and -in an albeit totally safe, comfortable way- a part of the stories he tells. Gorazde is incredible in the scope of what it tackles. For an equally complex book but more tightly focused, I'd also recommend The Fixer.

I picked these because they're examples of the form at its highest, doing things in ways that can be emulated but not actually done elsewhere. The triumph of the technique should also be fairly apparent to people who aren't necessarily well-read in comics.

(I didn't pick Maus, because Maus isn't cool with the cool kids anymore. But it certainly fits the bill.)

(I also don't like to start people off with Understanding Comics because it's an apology, and I think it's worth seeing something work before you know why and how it works.)
posted by pokermonk at 11:31 AM on September 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Also, for the record...

Ice Haven should be in the canon, if there is one.
posted by pokermonk at 11:32 AM on September 27, 2007


Keith, there are tons of graphic novels that may be more accessible that the in the New York Magazine.

Alison Bechdel memorializes/explores her relationship with her father in Fun Home, Craig Thompson documents his first love in the masterful Blankets, Neil Gaiman redefines the comics medium and fantasy work in general with his Sandman series. You have Alan Moore's take on superheroes with Watchmen, you have the Rwandan genocide covered with Deogratias, and Marjane Satrapi writes/draws about growing up in post-revolutionary Iran in Persepolis. The list goes on and on. There are hundreds of brilliant, engaging novels out there that use the medium to transcend what comics or novels can do.
posted by schroedinger at 11:36 AM on September 27, 2007



NO, DON'T! Based on what you've said here, an Anthology is going to be full of the kind of stuff you don't find intriguing.


You do raise a good point. I was going to mention Chris Ware, but I was wondering how accessible Ware is to a non-Comics fan. Sacco is a good choice too, I haven't read Burns yet though.

Schroedinger, you have some good suggestions too.

If you're into old school surrealism, the collections of The Invisibles does a great job of playing around with the medium of comics itself, doing things that wouldn't be possible in a novel or hard to pull off in a movie (say, a character becoming aware they're a character and starting to manipulate the pages).
posted by drezdn at 11:52 AM on September 27, 2007


WRT the Keith Talent question (dude, shouldn't you be off practicing your darts?), I do think that writing standards are a little lower in graphic fiction than they are in prose. Individual works (and creators; Clowes, for instance, writes as well as anybody out there) still shine, and the potential of the medium's endless, and all that... but it's really apparent to me that a graphic novel that's only decently-written will get a lot more praise than its prose counterpart.

Take Blankets-- it's gorgeous, there's no question that Thompson can sling an ink brush like nobody's business. But it's really not that well-written. The pacing's weird, and not much really happens. Like a lot of mediocre workshop fiction, it often asks you to get worked up about someone's internal feelings "because it really happened, dude." It's not a bad book, but it's not the masterwork it gets held up to be (probably held up as such because of Thompson's outstanding art and because of the presence of a lot of good-but-sadly-underutilized material in the story).

I don't mean to condemn the genre; I love comics intensely, and that probably makes me extra-careful not to be an apologist. I have some theories as to why writing standards are lower... I think it's a combination of a (relatively) young medium, some boosterism in the hopes of breaking the superheroic chokehold (IE, if you write a nonsuperhero comic that's at least decent, lots of people want you to succeed just to help displace the capes), and the fact that it takes a motherfucking lot of work to make comics, leaving us with a smaller pool to judge.

sorry if this was semi-coherent; not feeling too well today. It makes sense to me, at least.
posted by COBRA! at 11:57 AM on September 27, 2007


COBRA!, "Blankets" may not be on the intellectual level of Spiegelman or Sacco or Gaiman, but I think it has a lot of emotional pull that can be very appealing to a new reader. It's portrayal of first love--teenage first love, anyway--is frighteningly accurate and will probably bring up painful nostalgia to anyone who's ever had one of those fucked up, confusing teen relationships. For someone who hasn't had the experience of becoming absorbed in a comic, it can be very absorbing.
posted by schroedinger at 1:34 PM on September 27, 2007


Oh, I agree that Blankets punches emotional buttons, and does a good job of it-- I just don't think it accomplishes much, story-wise. Thompson's got this rich vein of material, sets it up well, and then things just peter out. It's been a while since I've read it, so I can't get more specific than that, but I don't remember much of a progression or an arc; just this happened then this happened then this happened. It did a great job with individual moments, but they didn't really add up to anything.

For me, at least.
posted by COBRA! at 1:45 PM on September 27, 2007


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