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The Awful Truth

Yes, Virginia, there is a worse place for a superhero scholar to hang out than The Comics Journal Messageboard. It’s called the Ninth Art Forum! This has been a great week for me every which way but netwise. What happened? Well, Alasdair Watson claimed that anyone who writes superhero comics does it for purely mercenary reasons (oh yeah, or because they’re just an idiot) and, just as an aside, he blamed “comics fans” for what he considers the sorry state of the medium–you know, for buying what they like (oh yeah, and for not buying his friends’ work). I took exception to all of this–and charged in there. To no one’s surprise but my own, everyone lectured everyone else, and nobody listened, because, let’s face it, Alasdair claimed that anyone with my habits is a moron and a crony of “The Man”, and I claimed that anyone who thinks I am a moron is a moron. It was good stuff. Along the way, I decided that, since I’m writing a paper that deals with Archibald Lampman and the pathetic fallacy (and because I haven’t slept in a long time), I was somehow entitled to use the term “pathetic fallacy” in any way that I wanted to, regardless of what the literary critical lexicon and common sense dictate. That’s crazy. But the best was yet to come.

Here’s my final stab at communication:


Could this discussion have gone any other way–given the fact that I was determined to voice my opinion that I *enjoy* certain superhero comics fully as much as other passions such as Hawthorne, Melville, Hammett, Emily Bronte, Capra, Cassavettes, Frank O’Hara, etc. and if I had any money for comics, I would most likely be giving it to Marvel or DC? Not to mention that I like them for reasons that you people anathematize? i.e. work-for-hire has created a huge, cross-time metatextual potluck that a few people have done such wonderful things with that they justify the entire structure? I don’t think it’s a good thing that people have been exploited, but I don’t think this qualifies as a tragedy either. No one forces anyone to enter into these contracts. And if no one *really* wants to write superheroes, why do they get so upset when they aren’t allowed to continue to plot out the characters’ lives (see Tony Isabella for example). If you don’t get anything out of writing for Marvel, why do it? It took me two years to write my novel, and it has sold 300 copies. It will take me at least two years to write the one I’m working on now, and I don’t expect to realize any more of a profit on it. Do I feel compelled to knock off a bunch romance novels to pay the bills? No. I don’t. I work, I pursue my studies, and I write whenever I can. I certainly would love it if all of you ran out to buy Darkling I Listen, but I don’t think you owe it to me, and I’m not going to blame Tom Clancy for the fact that I have to work at a bookstore to pay the bills.


So what I’m asking is:



Is silence my only option here?



Best,
David

In return, I got this:

LOOK! OVER THERE! NAZIS!

And WOLVERINE!

NAZIS FIGHTING WOLVERINE!



– Alistair


and this:

No, look over THERE !



Nazi boyfriends on smack fighting with their girlfriends.
ALL IN GLORIOUS BLACK & WHITE !!!



Seriously though, Britney Spears is the contemporary equivalent of Cole Porter. She is really saying something, really saying something, bop bop shooby doo wah !


I read it on a blog, so it must be true.
No, sorry, not true, but incontravertible.



Look, now !
Stephen Hawking is the new Galileo !



I am a chastened man. Believe me.

Back to good stuff tomorrow!


Good Night Friends!
Dave

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21 comments

  1. I am, for some reason, reminded of an Ambush Bug sequence featuring “Ambush Bug Around the World”. The British one, with a rather Brian Bolland look, is saying “You bloody fools! You bloody, bloody fools!” Dude, that’s you with forums. — Bruce

  2. Dave,

    Most art comics fans have worked so hard at cultivating their art-comics-only aesthetic (i.e. repressed their love of the super-hero comics that hooked them in the first place) that they simply resent anyone who suggests that all that hard work may have been worthless, or, rather, that it has been worth as much as the work put into cultivating a super-hero comic aesthetic. This phenomenon is by no means limited to comics fans, but almost all of them who gather on internet messageboards seem to display symptoms of it.

    J.W.

  3. Dave, as I eventually realized, too many of the “fans” at these boards are Nietzschean untermenschen. They really aren’t worth your time. I’ve stopped annotating comics (with the exception of League) because of people just like them. Don’t let them embitter you the way they did me. (And, well, don’t let them e-mail you threats the way they did me, but that’s another story). Remember, what you’re doing here is worth something, which their efforts are not–jess

  4. Jess & JW,


    thanks guys… Believe me, I certainly don’t have any intention of ceasing to do what I enjoy, and, at this point, I’m ready to accept the blame for what has happened whenever I have attempted to engage in this kind of discussion. I go in there believing I have something very reasonable to say and I get so spread out dealing with so many incongruous issues that nothing good comes of it.

    As I just wrote in my final (honest!) forum post (not at Ninth Art!):

    My point is that “creative ownership” has nothing to do with the quality of a book. These are two completely different issues–and very few people in the comics world seem to be willing to accept that. Do you [Ed Cunard] really think that anyone who announced that they intended to continue to give money to “the big two” *in lieu* of supporting grass roots efforts would have been well-received at Ninth art?

    I guess we’ll never know now–but my posts at the Comics Journal Messageboard last year indicate to me that, unless you are willing to concede that work-for-hire *always* results in inferior work, and that superheroes are, at best, a guilty pleasure, you are going to be used as target practice by a very vocal group of comix scenesters.


    Which is fine. It’s my bad for insisting that comics criticism follow a pattern set by literary criticism. (the actual model for comics criticism these days, it would seem, is auteur theory film criticism, circa 1950, and this inspires me, in a way, because film studies has certainly progressed beyond its initial devotion to the romantic cult of the artist and I have no doubt that, in time, so will comics studies)


    Anyway, from now on, I’ll just discuss what I want to discuss and leave the comics punditry to the professionals.

    Dave

  5. That’s an interesting point about film criticism vs. literary criticism, Dave. I think a lot of the problem here is that many of the people you encounter on TCJ message boards and Ninth Art message boards and whatnot are anti-intellectuals of the most insidious sort, who hold their unwillingness or inability to engage certain texts as a sign of the superiority their intellectual or aesthetic taste.

    Steven

  6. I would blame it all on the “unwillingness” Steven. These are smart people–which is why I felt the urge to discuss these matters with them in the first place.

    Dave

  7. Why can’t we read both? There is room in my heart for a love of art comics (comix) as well as mainstream stuff. Just ignore them if they don’t agree. I just ordered a big batch of stuff from Drawn and Quarterly and AiT, but I’m also going to the store today to pick up a lot of Marvel, DC, and Image books. Oh and if that doesn’t convince you, just look at the way they try to reason. It all came down to them trying to make you mad instead of participating in an intelligent discussion. There are good message boards out there, but obviously that isn’t one of them.

  8. Comics criticism does follow the model of literary criticism, I think, in that both refuse to consider that there is merit in genre work. This isn’t always so, of course, and there are some few enlightened critics who don’t follow this, but generally anything that varies from the realistic/naturalistic mode is seen as automatically inferior. (What makes it worse is when writers who produce a genre work refuse to admit it. Yes, Ms. Atwood, I’m looking at *you*). There’s really no point in engaging with those people, because you’ll get no sort of fruitful critical discourse.

  9. Dave, I wouldn’t confuse comics *criticism* with the more aptly-named comics *scenesters* – most of what gets bandied about in these online fora isn’t criticism even in the most generous opinion-and-review sense, let alone the more formal academic one. The more good criticism is out there, in more durable forms ranging from essay-style weblog pieces to print articles and books, the more the poseurs will find themselves pushed aside and drowned out. To wit: formalize some of your thoughts about Grant Morrison or superheroes and Puritanism, get them into print, and you will casually negate a million twits named Alistair.

  10. I know you’re right Marc… and it’s not as if I want to stamp out Ninth Art or anything like that, it’s just that I wish Ninth Art would give us more than merely “prescriptive criticism” (I won’t call it “evaluative criticism” ever again, not after the way people misconstrued my meaning on that thread… it’s fine to write pieces telling people that they should buy X or avoid Y, but I much prefer criticism that exists for its own sake… you know, because, hopefully, it’s stimulating to read!)

    I’m sure my view of the state of comics criticism will change the moment that I get into the swing of things at Michigan State and crack open some Journals. I think the problem is that I have been spoiled by the blogosphere (no one is more disinterested than a blogger! the only exception I can think of, really, was ADD), and I expect the rest of the comics-related material available on the net to be as free of the partisan spirit as your blog for instance, or Sean Collins’ or JW’s or Kevin Melrose’s, or even Graeme’s & John Jakala’s.

    Clearly, that’s just not the case! Oh well. Less to read. For now.

    Dave

  11. I know you’re right Marc… and it’s not as if I want to stamp out Ninth Art or anything like that, it’s just that I wish Ninth Art would give us more than merely “prescriptive criticism” (I won’t call it “evaluative criticism” ever again, not after the way people misconstrued my meaning on that thread… it’s fine to write pieces telling people that they should buy X or avoid Y, but I much prefer criticism that exists for its own sake… you know, because, hopefully, it’s stimulating to read!)


    I’m sure my view of the state of comics criticism will change the moment that I get into the swing of things at Michigan State and crack open some Journals. I think the problem is that I have been spoiled by the blogosphere (no one is more disinterested than a blogger! the only exception I can think of, really, was ADD), and I expect the rest of the comics-related material available on the net to be as free of the partisan spirit as your blog for instance, or Peiratikos, or Sean Collins’ blog or JW’s or Kevin Melrose’s, or even Graeme’s & John Jakala’s, in their own ways…


    Clearly, that’s just not the case! Oh well. Less to read. For now.


    Dave

  12. I know you’re right Marc… and it’s not as if I want to stamp out Ninth Art or anything like that, it’s just that I wish Ninth Art would give us more than merely “prescriptive criticism” (I won’t call it “evaluative criticism” ever again, not after the way people misconstrued my meaning on that thread… it’s fine to write pieces telling people that they should buy X or avoid Y, but I much prefer criticism that exists for its own sake… you know, because, hopefully, it’s stimulating to read!)


    I’m sure my view of the state of comics criticism will change the moment that I get into the swing of things at Michigan State and crack open some Journals. I think the problem is that I have been spoiled by the blogosphere (no one is more disinterested than a blogger! the only exception I can think of, really, was ADD), and I expect the rest of the comics-related material available on the net to be as free of the partisan spirit as your blog for instance, or Peiratikos, or Insult To Injury or Sean Collins’ blog or Bruce Baugh’s, or Steven Wintle’s or JW’s or Kevin Melrose’s, or even Graeme’s & John Jakala’s, in their own ways… I love reading The Comics Treadmill and Johnny Bacardi and Laura Gjovaag too. These are people talking about things they like, for the most part, and that’s the kind of writing I tend to enjoy.


    Clearly, that’s not what Ninth Art and TCJ are all about! Oh well. Less to read. For now.

    Dave

  13. I know you’re right Marc… and it’s not as if I want to stamp out Ninth Art or anything like that, it’s just that I wish Ninth Art would give us more than merely “prescriptive criticism” (I won’t call it “evaluative criticism” ever again, not after the way people misconstrued my meaning on that thread… it’s fine to write pieces telling people that they should buy X or avoid Y, but I much prefer criticism that exists for its own sake… you know, because, hopefully, it’s stimulating to read!)


    I’m sure my view of the state of comics criticism will change the moment that I get into the swing of things at Michigan State and crack open some Journals. I think the problem is that I have been spoiled by the blogosphere (no one is more disinterested than a blogger! the only exception I can think of, really, was ADD), and I expect the rest of the comics-related material available on the net to be as free of the partisan spirit as your blog for instance, or Peiratikos, or Insult To Injury or Sean Collins’ blog or Bruce Baugh’s, or Steven Wintle’s or JW’s or Kevin Melrose’s, or Rick Geerling’s or even Graeme’s & John Jakala’s, in their own ways… I love reading The Comics Treadmill and Johnny Bacardi and Laura Gjovaag too. These are people talking about things they like, for the most part, and that’s the kind of writing I tend to enjoy.

    Clearly, that’s not what Ninth Art and TCJ are all about! Oh well. Less to read. For now.

    Dave

  14. I know you’re right Marc… and it’s not as if I want to stamp out Ninth Art or anything like that, it’s just that I wish Ninth Art would give us more than merely “prescriptive criticism” (I won’t call it “evaluative criticism” ever again, not after the way people misconstrued my meaning on that thread… it’s fine to write pieces telling people that they should buy X or avoid Y, but I much prefer criticism that exists for its own sake… you know, because, hopefully, it’s stimulating to read!)

    I’m sure my view of the state of comics criticism will change the moment that I get into the swing of things at Michigan State and crack open some Journals. I think the problem is that I have been spoiled by the blogosphere (no one is more disinterested than a blogger! the only exception I can think of, really, was ADD), and I expect the rest of the comics-related material available on the net to be as free of the partisan spirit as your blog for instance, or Peiratikos, or Insult To Injury or Sean Collins’ blog or Bruce Baugh’s, or Steven Wintle’s or JW’s or Kevin Melrose’s, or Rick Geerling’s or even Graeme’s & John Jakala’s, in their own ways… I love reading The Comic Treadmill and Johnny Bacardi and Laura Gjovaag too. Neilalien is a real treat, when he’s waxing expansive… I’m almost tempted to try writing a Dr. Strange comic, simply in order to get Neil blogging in paragraphs more often! These are people talking about things they like, for the most part, and that’s the kind of writing I tend to enjoy.

    Clearly, that’s not what Ninth Art and TCJ are all about! Oh well. Less to read. For now.

    Dave

  15. I know you’re right Marc… and it’s not as if I want to stamp out Ninth Art or anything like that, it’s just that I wish Ninth Art would give us more than merely “prescriptive criticism” (I won’t call it “evaluative criticism” ever again, not after the way people misconstrued my meaning on that thread… it’s fine to write pieces telling people that they should buy X or avoid Y, but I much prefer criticism that exists for its own sake… you know, because, hopefully, it’s stimulating to read!)


    I’m sure my view of the state of comics criticism will change the moment that I get into the swing of things at Michigan State and crack open some Journals. I think the problem is that I have been spoiled by the blogosphere (no one is more disinterested than a blogger! the only exception I can think of, really, was ADD), and I expect the rest of the comics-related material available on the net to be as free of the “prescriptive” spirit as your blog for instance, or Peiratikos, or Insult To Injury or Sean Collins’ blog or Bruce Baugh’s, or Steven Wintle’s or JW’s or Kevin Melrose’s, or Rick Geerling’s or even Graeme’s & John Jakala’s, in their own ways… I love reading The Comic Treadmill and Johnny Bacardi and Laura Gjovaag too. Neilalien is a real treat, when he’s waxing expansive… I’m almost tempted to try writing a Dr. Strange comic, simply in order to get Neil blogging in paragraphs more often! These are people talking about things they like, for the most part, and that’s the kind of writing I tend to enjoy.

    Clearly, that’s not what Ninth Art and TCJ are all about! Oh well. Less to read. For now.

    Dave

  16. I know you’re right Marc… and it’s not as if I want to stamp out Ninth Art or anything like that, it’s just that I wish Ninth Art would give us more than merely “prescriptive criticism” (I won’t call it “evaluative criticism” ever again, not after the way people misconstrued my meaning on that thread… it’s fine to write pieces telling people that they should buy X or avoid Y, but I much prefer criticism that exists for its own sake… you know, because, hopefully, it’s stimulating to read!)

    I’m sure my view of the state of comics criticism will change the moment that I get into the swing of things at Michigan State and crack open some Journals. I think the problem is that I have been spoiled by the blogosphere (no one is more disinterested than a blogger! the only exception I can think of, really, was ADD), and I expect the rest of the comics-related material available on the net to be as free of the “prescriptive” spirit as your blog for instance, or Peiratikos, or Insult To Injury or Sean Collins’ blog or Bruce Baugh’s, or Steven Wintle’s or JW’s or Kevin Melrose’s, or Rick Geerling’s or even Graeme’s & John Jakala’s, in their own ways… I love reading The Comic Treadmill and Johnny Bacardi and Laura Gjovaag too. Neilalien is a particular treat, when he’s waxing expansive… I’m almost tempted to try writing a Dr. Strange comic, simply in order to get Neil blogging in paragraphs more often! These are people talking about things they like, for the most part, and that’s the kind of writing I tend to enjoy.

    Clearly, that’s not what Ninth Art and TCJ are all about! Oh well. Less to read. For now.

    Dave

  17. I know you’re right Marc… and it’s not as if I want to stamp out Ninth Art or anything like that, it’s just that I wish Ninth Art would give us more than merely “prescriptive criticism” (I won’t call it “evaluative criticism” ever again, not after the way people misconstrued my meaning on that thread… it’s fine to write pieces telling people that they should buy X or avoid Y, but I much prefer criticism that exists for its own sake… you know, because, hopefully, it’s stimulating to read!)

    I’m sure my view of the state of comics criticism will change the moment that I get into the swing of things at Michigan State and crack open some Journals. I think the problem is that I have been spoiled by the blogosphere (no one is more disinterested than a blogger! the only exception I can think of, really, was ADD), and I expect the rest of the comics-related material available on the net to be as free of the “prescriptive” spirit as your blog for instance, or Peiratikos, or Insult To Injury or Sean Collins’ blog or Bruce Baugh’s, or Steven Wintle’s or Mike Sterling’s or JW’s or Kevin Melrose’s, or Rick Geerling’s or even Graeme’s & John Jakala’s, in their respective ways… I love reading The Comic Treadmill and Johnny Bacardi and Laura Gjovaag too. Neilalien is a particular treat, when he’s waxing expansive… I’m almost tempted to try writing a Dr. Strange comic, simply in order to get Neil blogging in paragraphs more often! These are people talking about things they like, for the most part, and that’s the kind of writing I tend to enjoy.

    Clearly, that’s not what Ninth Art and TCJ are all about! Oh well. Less to read. For now.

    Dave

  18. Oh, go ahead and stamp out Ninth Art. Other than providing a sporadic forum for Paul O’Brien (whose most entertaining writing is always, always about the trashiest comics out there), they seem to produce little other than “prescriptive” criticism of the most dull and obvious sort. (Comic stores should be more customer-friendly? Really? Oh, and you’ve titled your article with a hip reference to that Elvis song from Ocean’s Eleven.) Not that academic criticism is guaranteed to be any better. If and when you do crack open those journals, you’ll see plenty of survey articles by tenured professors who seem not to have discovered the mysteries of the “thesis,” plenty of formal tabulations whose utility even I might question, plenty of precocious grad students who seem to aspire towards dignifying their favorite superhero comics by using the word “postmodernism” a lot. But even the worst articles – and there are plenty – rarely waste anybody’s time over the irrelevancies of whining about other people’s tastes.

  19. Dave,

    Taken from this distance it was entertaining, though I’m glad I wasn’t anywhere near it.

    I’ve fallen into too many messageboard & group email loop “discussions” of that sort, and every time I end up with what feels like a hangover and the sense of a lost weekend I’m not sure I want to try to remember.

    As to your argument, well, we’re on the same page, for whatever that’s worth.

    Mike N.

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