What is this, the Bizarro Board?

What is this, the Bizarro Board?

Adrian Sanders’ TCJ Messageboard post has spawned some interesting tangents, from which we can discern that:

1. Fantagraphics is beyond criticism (what are you doing holding the company to higher ethical standards than DC/Marvel David? Just because they do it themselves, when it suits them? Not a good enough reason, it seems… Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, a true “art for art’s sake commitment” means you make your work available for free… anything less is just “branding” for (bourgeois) aesthetes… “We have the technology”–as they used to say on TV…)

and,

2. Superhero comics (all of ’em!) are beneath contempt–and James Kochalka is just as representative of what’s wrong with the “comics scene” as the drooling fanboy in a basement near you.

Good afternoon friends!

Dave

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26 comments

  1. “Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, a true “art for art’s sake commitment” means you make your work available for free.”

    Actually, that would be art for distribution’s sake.

    — Charles

  2. well, that too Charles!

    remember, I believe that art is an invitation!

    of course, I’m sure many disagree with this contention. that’s fine with me!

    Dave

  3. What I meant was that I don’t see “expecting to make a living from your art” as being mutually excluded from “art for art’s sake.” Improbable dream, maybe, but not necessarily impossible.

  4. ah, but why not work at something else and create in your spare time–moreover, how about givng up a few things (i.e. the nice house, vacations, surplus kids that the world doesn’t need, etc.?) Anyone who wants those things (and expects her/his creative talents to finance them) should really give up calling themselves a “pure artist”, don’t you think?
    I’m only half kidding about this! I’m not saying anyone should really aspire to this kind of purity–but if you’re gonna talk the talk…you know the rest!

    Dave

  5. Why would working for a corporation, doing art in your leisure time, be purer than doing art all the time, living off of it? In terms of purity, the crux of the biscuit, would be whether the art is made solely to fit the demands of commerce versus to fit whatever sublime vision the artist fancies himself having. That would seem to be more important than whether Iggy Pop decides to sell his songs to every soda manufacturer that asks.

  6. “Why would working for a corporation, doing art in your leisure time, be purer than doing art all the time, living off of it?”
    I place the importance at the level of the exchange (i.e. I don’t give a damn about the artist-qua-artist’s relationship to anyone but his/her audience): art should be a gift! Of course, this is the exact reverse of the standard Groth/Spurgeon/”whining artist” plea/demand for “ethical treatment” by their employers. This is consistent with my overall philosophy, I think: people spend far too much time worrying about who’s “over them” in hierarchies–because it’s an easier thing to deal with (psychologically) than to focus upon the people/animals/what-have-yous they’re oppressing in turn…

    Dave

  7. Now wait a goshdarned minute! If the artist’s relationship with distribution is unimportant, then you can’t hold that not selling art creates a purer art than selling it. The most you’d be able to hold is that both situations are equally pure.

    Regardless, if the important relationship is with the audience, then some audiences are likely to lead to better art than others. Unless you want to claim that an ad agency is just as likely to create great art as whatever great artist you might name.

  8. “Regardless, if the important relationship is with the audience, then some audiences are likely to lead to better art than others. Unless you want to claim that an ad agency is just as likely to create great art as whatever great artist you might name.”

    You know me Charles–I don’t think that’s the right kind of question to ask!

    As for the artist and distribution–where did I say it wasn’t important? I said the “pure artist” would give away their creations (i.e. under the current economic regime, I suppose that would entail working a “straight” job, creating at your own expense, and uploading the project onto the net…)

    I’m not prescribing this course of action to anyone who lays off the art for art’s sake mantra, mind you! I’m just a little tired of “small producer” versus “large producer” rhetoric… And, as long as an artist isn’t starving, I don’t care about whether they receive their “just financial compensation” either. There’s no such thing!

    Dave

  9. It seems to me that David is not arguing that giving away art for free is purer. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) Rather, artists who claim to be pure artists but who also make art for profit’s sake are not as pure as they like to think, but they needn’t worry about such artistic purity/integrity so much because it’s irrelevant to art (as David sees it, at least). Whether anybody has actually claimed any such thing is unknown to me, because I’m not going to read that TCJ thread.

    Steven Berg

  10. Why?
    Why did I follow the link?
    For what it’s worth, Dave, I don’t think anybody was saying Fantagraphics is beyond criticism – they were responding to your rather unreasonable claim that DC or Marvel can price-gouge to their hearts’ content but Fantagraphics (with a much narrower margin of error) can’t. Everything afterwards, including your comments here, just seem to be increasingly convoluted defenses of a functionally indefensible position.
    But everything else… Christ, I’m not sure if someone who asks for proof that comics “reveal truths in a light and angle and with an aesthetic that is beautiful” should be teaching any classes on any subject. The claim that no superhero comics are “aesthetically or structurally as solid and complete” as a list that includes the scrawlings of Julie Doucet and the formless alt-fanboyism of some of the McSweeney’s collection is equally risible. That list is a fully prostrated bid for cultural respectability, not a syllabus.
    Oh, and it’s nice to see that James Kochalka’s public persona is just as deliberately moronic as his comics.
    Marc

  11. No question Marc (& Steven), I’m just havin’ fun! Can you have a serious discussion about “purity”? On the other hand, I certainly am in earnest when I execrate the “discourse of the oppressed artist”, which very often encompasses a (completely disingenuous) “purist pose”… Not that I mean Fantagraphics any harm you understand! (Ordering 27 copies of a $50 book is hardly the right way to go about seeking “unorthodox economic revenge”… Locas is worth it!, but that doesn’t mean a damn thing if no one can afford it!)

    And as for your comments on the list–I’m afraid I’m in complete agreement with you. To his credit, Adrian admits that he has chosen the material in order to comply with a Liberal Arts curriculum, and I think anyone who’s spent any time in academy knows how fucked Liberal Arts programs are! They put those “great works” right up on the altar man (and I half suspect them of performing human sacrifices–of “philistines” natch–when no one’s looking!)

    Dave

  12. Anyone who looks at the quality of the LOCAS book and the ANIMAL MAN books can easily tell who’s doing the price gouging.

    As for ideological purity, it certainly doesn’t lead necessarily to quality, but who says it does? Most of the “whiney artist” argument of Groth et al. has been based on superhero artists not getting a fair share of profit from their creation, not whether their creation was ideologically, or even, aesthetically pure. I find it hard to believe that you, Dave, don’t believe in such a thing as just renumeration. So, 3rd world workers aren’t being treated unjustly? Many mainstream artists have been treated like dirt, regardless of the quality of their work. They made money for a company and should’ve received more had the company been the least bit moral. It’s sometimes hard to be the rational economic agent when one is simply trying to provide for immediate needs. Artistic purity, whatever it may be, isn’t regarding what one chooses to do with the art once it’s created, but rather what kind of parameters are placed on the art itself. It’s entirely possible that a great film or comic can come out of trying to please commercial demands, but it’s less likely than if one is more concerned with remaining true to one’s own subjectivity. Of course, if the subject in question is more like a blunt object, then there ain’t much that’s going to come about by remaining true to it (truth becoming more akin to quotidian fact-checking than anything of aesthetic worth).

    Marc, I really enjoyed your critique of the Reason strips.

  13. Sometimes, Dave, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    The American comics industry has lost some really talented folks who simply could not afford to work for the wages involved. They had to go get other jobs, and so had no time to invest in professional comic-making (8 hours a page, man. 6 if you cut corners; 4 if meth is available).

    Feeding into that industry, without trying to change it in the least, is perpetuating a system which makes it difficult for people to produce work. We haven’t even gotten to the a/i/morality of the situation yet. It simply becomes physically difficult, if not impossible, to make the actual work. How is wanting to change that “whining?”

    How would it be possible to change your behavior within a system so that you are not “oppressing” someone/thing below you, yet remain within that system? Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to change the system itself?

    –James

  14. “How would it be possible to change your behavior within a system so that you are not “oppressing” someone/thing below you, yet remain within that system? Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to change the system itself?”

    Agreed James–but the system that needs changing is the capitalist system–don’t aim so low! You wanna revolutionize the comics industry in a vacuum? That’s the “petit-bourgeois” problem in a nutshell! So it takes eight hours a page! So it takes you a long time to produce one story, if “comics artist” is not your primary job? So what? Did I say anything about maintaining monthly production schedules? It took me two years to write my novel, and I don’t need you to pay me for it. I just want you to read it! Samuel Goldwyn (nee Goldfish) once said, a propos of The Best Years of Our Lives: “I don’t care if it makes a nickles, I just want every last man, woman, and child in America to see it!” Samuel wasn’t serious about the implications of that statement. I am. (at least, as serious as I’m able to be, when discussing money and “business ethics”)

    Dave

  15. Dave, why even bother signing it, just send it off, letting anyone enjoy it who wants to enjoy it. Should a publishing house print it, make a ton of money, and not give you a dime, ah well, there’s no such thing as business ethics, anyway.

  16. I know you’re just being facetious, but that’s the idea amigo! The only reason I sign the things I write is because, obviously, I’m interested in the things I write about, and if there are conversations to be derived from the blog items, essays, message board posts, stories, and novels that I write, I want in on them! Of course, I need to eat as well (and so do my cats!), and, given the current economic dispensation, it’s not like I’d say “no” to money in exchange for any of these things, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to fool myself into thinking that I deserve to be paid for what I create!

    Dave

  17. Dave, obviously you can spend as long as you need on a book. Nobody’s complaining about how long it took Chris Ware to do “Jimmy Corrigan”. But I was confining my thoughts to freelance superhero comics, which seem to be a major focus for you.

    These works are produced on a company-set schedule. And my point was that it behooves the company to pay its freelancers *at least* enough money so that they can afford to eat, live, play with their kids a bit and turn out more work. Without even getting into questions of ethics, not doing that is just bad business.

    And yes, capitalism is the main system that needs changing. But… Again, I don’t understand where you’re coming from. Are you saying it’s pointless to fight for a decent wage if you’re not going to overthrow the state?

    (By the way, you are aware that people actually are giving their work away, yes? Cory Doctorow springs to mind. You didn’t *have* to put a price tag on your novel.)

    –James

  18. these are good arguments James–and I don’t, in fact, want to stand in the way of artists having decent lives! My whole point, I suppose, in engaging in this ludicrous (but fun!) thought-experiment, was to encourage TCJ-board types to get a little perspective, and stop acting as if a company like Fantagraphics is somehow less “crass” and “commercial” than other businesses. Every company has its niche-markets… The real point here, I suppose, is that I’m sick to death of seeing the substitution of economic for aesthetic criticism in writing about comics. When Tom Spurgeon can refer to the “exploitation” of Jack (“I make quite a lot of money, but just not as much as I deserve“) Kirby as some kind of “Original Sin”, we’ve got problems… There are much worse sins than an artist having to live in a nice house instead of a mansion! In any event, these conversations always leave out the readers, except when they are being brow-beaten into showing “solidarity” with “downtrodden” creators! If an artist wants a better deal from their employer, that’s fine–just don’t expect me to judge the work in a way that factors industrial relations into it, that’s all!

    Also–my book is available for free. RIGHT HERE! Absolutely the only reason I refer people to Amazon is because there are a couple of reviews there, + people are often more interested in (and impressed by) the reality of “hard-copy”… I don’t blame them–I prefer paper to “plastic” too!–but I’m trying to make the adjustment! Really, I don’t need to be paid for what I write. It’s the only thing I really want to do, and I’ll go on doing it no matter what. I’m not going to haggle even for a moment if it costs me a reader!

    Dave

  19. “If an artist wants a better deal from their employer, that’s fine–just don’t expect me to judge the work in a way that factors industrial relations into it, that’s all!”

    Okay, but who expects this? Trying to wash over moral distinctions between a company like FBI and Marvel is just the worst kind of mass culture apologetics. Fantagraphics’ creators maintain control over their creations, and can willingly take them elsewhere should they wish (cf. Burns going with Pantheon for BLACK HOLE). One can defend the wonders of low art without erasing moral distinctions. Industrial procedures enter the picture when trying to figure out why certain forms are likely to lead to bad content (the reasons behind bad indy autobio aren’t the same as those behind bad superheroes). What readers have to do with any of this, I don’t know. Consumers will likely buy what they like, regardless of whether their Nikes were made by 10 year olds for 2 bucks a day. That doesn’t change the fact of exploitation during production. Marvel used to issue release contracts on the back of their checks, for christ’s sake! Reader response might be the only thing you’re interested in, but that’s not all there is to the production of art. You’re just not making much sense, Dave.

    Charles

  20. Ah, I was fooled by the Amazon references.

    Ultimately I fear there will always be this weird gap between us (and the heavens wept) because I can’t ignore the author. It doesn’t make a lick of sense to me; and I see acknowledgement of the author all throughout your various posts, even though you don’t. Our eyes are very different.

    I see points where your ideas can be twisted all out of shape (like American liberalism has been disfigured by the over-eager) and all I can think is, “This will not end well.” I don’t, you see, have much faith in mankind’s self-control.

    So you’ll have to forgive me if I sometimes get a little tweaked when I read your blog.

    –James

  21. James wrote:

    “So you’ll have to forgive me if I sometimes get a little tweaked when I read your blog.”

    If you are tweaked at all by this blog, then I’m doin’ my job, man! (so long as, in Sam Spade’s words, “I don’t make you mad enough to bump me off.”–or quit visiting here!)

    One thing is certain (if it wasn’t already!): I’m just totally out of it, when it comes to “econocomics”… You may see the author all over the place here James, and that’s because I use the names “Morrison”, “Hawthorne”, and “Capra” a lot, but the important thing to remember, from my perspective, is that I am using these names as synonyms for texts (or bodies of texts with certain similarities)… I don’t believe in personified creators (divine or otherwise!)…

    One of the reasons that I’m so down on Fantagraphical/Dave Simian rhetoric (oh yes! they are at one on this issue! and, again, this has nothing to do with my opinion of the work they publish, a great deal of which is very much to my liking!) is that these are the people who are fighting the hardest against the aesthetic proposition that is dearest to my heart: art belongs to the world! Clearly, I’m just as disgusted by Marvel/DC’s attempts to maintain control of their icons, but they don’t tend to waste very much time arguing about it, and where’s the fun in that kind of a debate? (I don’t, however, think that the Big Two’s “sins” are on a par with Nike’s, and if you do Charles, then I feel bound to inform you that you are insane! Not that I wouldn’t love ya anyway, y’unnerstand!)

    The way I see it, to create for an audience (and there is no other kind of creation) is a privilege, and no one, in our society, is “forced by circumstances” to “chain themselves to the drawingboard”… So, no, I’m not going to waste even a moment tearing up over Jack Kirby’s plight, and it just seems to me that every word written on the subject is taking up space that could be more profitably filled by genuine criticism (and here I’m talking about just about any book on comics–with the exception of Geoff Klock’s–that’s come out in the past five years…not to mention all of the “comics reporting” that’s going around)…

    And, of course, as I’ve stated before, you can test my commitment to this proposition! Go ahead, take “my” novel, take “my” characters (take Dawn Paris! take Roberta Flackjacket–even if you don’t know anything about her yet!) and make a fortune off of them! You won’t hear any griping from me! In fact, I’ll be cheering for them, because I love them, and I want everyone to love them too–regardless of whether I get anything out of the deal!

    Dave

  22. “One thing is certain (if it wasn’t already!): I’m just totally out of it, when it comes to “econocomics”… You may see the author all over the place here James, and that’s because I use the names “Morrison”, “Hawthorne”, and “Capra” a lot, but the important thing to remember, from my perspective, is that I am using these names as synonyms for texts (or bodies of texts with certain similarities)… I don’t believe in personified creators (divine or otherwise!)…”

    Aieyiyi, this stuff still goes on. All you’re doing is having fun with nominalism. What’s important to you (and to me, too) is the work itself, and what started as an important informal fallacy has turned into a passive acceptance/tacit defense of what used to be known as corporate hegemony. Until the day comes when software can produce work of a Morrison style as well as the inferred author can, the work you read under the ‘Morrison’ indicia is part of the author himself. We should acknowledge the fallacy of giving this author the final say on what he means by what he writes, but that’s because the self is never fully evident itself. This doesn’t entail that the author’s commentary is of no value whatsoever, work comes from the ether, or that the author doesn’t have the right for a fair exchange in distributing his work (as long as he lives in such an economy where money is needed for survival and not Capra’s Shangri-La). So this “problem” of fixing the referent when using an author’s name is easily enough resolved by the context of the utterance. The usefulness of affixing a name should be apparent to anyone who’s went to a library or, hell, used language, the name identifies a category, namely the author’s body of work. I suppose one could be a radical skeptic about inferring authorship to a body of work, but unless one has another possible person in mind, what’s the point, unless it’s for writing some undergrad litcrit paper? Derrida certainly inserted authorship when it came to publication of his writings. Ensuring proper dispensation for a body of work helps to make sure that body of work continues to grow (it doesn’t, of course, guarantee it, nor does it guarantee any sustained level of quality, but it will most likely help it continue). “But what’s important is how I interpret it!” Adorno wasn’t pleased with Benjamin’s defense of reproducible art, claiming it was just the flipside to the auratic, and I’m starting to see his point. Both wind up making art into fetishized objects, distancing the potential recipient from the art. It’s ownership and what the art can be used for that becomes all important, not the struggle within the art itself. And whether you find it as entertaining to talk about as the death of Gwen Stacy, Dave, there’s a context to the production of art, even the reproducible kind, and this context has moral weight.

    “Clearly, I’m just as disgusted by Marvel/DC’s attempts to maintain control of their icons, but they don’t tend to waste very much time arguing about it, and where’s the fun in that kind of a debate? (I don’t, however, think that the Big Two’s “sins” are on a par with Nike’s, and if you do Charles, then I feel bound to inform you that you are insane! Not that I wouldn’t love ya anyway, y’unnerstand!)”

    Eek! The point, that your text just conceded, whether you, “the author,” did or did not, is that there is such a thing as business ethics (lest we not be able to tell a difference between 3rd world sweatshops and the Marvel variety). But reducing everything down to what’s fun for each reader is the ideal situation for those more than willing to exploit others. But, what I am talking about? You can’t exploit what doesn’t exist. Welcome to the work of art in the age after the age of mechanical reproduction. brrr.

    By the way, Sim has no problem with others using his characters. He just wants to be paid for the work he did.

    A Text

  23. I really don’t dispute much of what “A. Text” has to say here–except for the part where “it” claims that “the struggle within the art itself” is somehow more important than the reader/viewer/listener’s struggle with it! All I can say, Text, is that, if you think you can identify the scene of a struggle in a work of art without inserting yourself into the discussion somehow, then you’re a bigger man/woman/linguistic construction than I am, my friend!

    As for the difference between Marvel and Nike–I think both companies are, indeed wrong, to facilitate (and profit from!) the laborer’s alienation from his/her labour, but then again, anyone who asks for money in exchange for what they do is going to be guilty of the same thing, and, maybe I’m wrong about this, but I don’t really see how condemning the exploitation of people in the third world as qualitatively WORSE than the refusal to pay hardly-starving comics creators what they think they are “worth” is in any way inconsistent with the dictum that there really is no possiblity of “business ethics”. I certainly never denied the reality of malnourishment and unacceptable housing! Let’s keep it real here! I’m no nominalist!

    Dave

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