Hate the Aesthetic Right

Hate the Aesthetic Right

(Soundtrack: Buzzcocks — Singles Going Steady)

From the Comics Journal Messageboard comes Robert Fiore’s Adventures in Nomenclature. Check it out and see what you think of his “liberal/literal” distinction (I proposed Dave Sim’s real-fantasy spectrum as an alternative). I find the whole exercise far too polemical (of course, he wouldn’t be the first Fiore to come under this kind of fire!), but I can’t entirely discount any system that places Alex Ross’ work at the “wrong” extreme of the aesthetic continuum… I just cracked open Kingdom Come–which we’ll be discussing in class next week!–and I must tell you that “wrong” is the only word that adequately describes my feelings at this moment. So…so…wrong…

The really interesting thing about this particular type of conversation is that proponents of an “anti-realistic” aesthetic in cartooning (with whom I am in complete sympathy) are often the same people that decry the kinds of “anti-realistic” storytelling elements in superhero comics (“dynamic stasis”, retcons, and the whole romance/symbolist mode in general…) that fascinate me. What does this mean?

Oh. Right. It means give ’em something “cartoony”, but straightforward, with clear “development” and a “payoff”–like, oh, New Frontier, for instance, and they’ll eat it up! (unless they’ve written off superhero comics entirely–which at least has the virtue of making sense!)

Good Afternoon Friends!




  1. Can’t defend everyone who’s ever stated he or she has hated a superhero comic for being anti-realistic, nor would I want to, but some of the genre’s more outspoken opponents are referring more to a lack of any relevance to reality than any adherence to “realism”. In fact, it’s not too difficult to see the link between a “realist” style and the lack of substance in the average superhero comic; they seem to go hand-in-hand. Consider, the more real the special effects get in Hollywood films, the less these films touch upon reality. I don’t see the contradiction. Realism helps the escapism.


  2. I do agree with this statement Charles–but I would contend that the thrust to turn superhero comics into “paper films” (“decompression”, no thought balloons, narration, “realistic” dialogue, etc.) goes hand in hand with the desire to eliminate a lot of the metatextual stuff that I love…both of these moves are calculated to appeal to a “wider public”–and, of course, the very idea of attempting to bring in a bunch of non-committed readers seeking an “escape” disgusts me! (whether we’re talking about comics, novels, films, or anything else)


  3. Ha!It’s great that all of these measures being carefully taken to widen the audience are shrinking the audience. I have to admit that I really can’t stand all this serious superhero stuff that’s been coming out lately. It’s so completely foreign to the kind of books that made me want to read them in the first place. And the feeling I get that they don’t want to involve the audience in any way… it’s hard to explain, but when was the last time anyone saw an * that led to a little caption where the editor made some comment or another? Usually they contained background info, a cross-reference, a friendly reminder…something. They were reaching out to the readers. This is just one of many complaints that I have, which is why I don’t read the stuff. I wouldn’t seek to insult the character of anyone who does like them (I’ll just turn in my blogger and tcj message board poster cards now), but it’s just not for me. And then there’s the ugly art and coloring, the utter lack of dynamism, the constant stream of tough-guy one-liners and terse dialogues. Ack! So serious! Where are all the guys from the 70’s? Jesus, I’ve gone on too long.

  4. …but I’m not going to stop yet, because I just read the thread, and I’m with you, Dave. I don’t understand why folks who love cartoony art and can embrace symbolism and absurdity in most other genres dislike it so intently in something like superhero comics which, to me, seem tailor-made for that sort of thing…

    That was me below, by the way.

    Dan J.

  5. Dan–we are on exactly the same page here… The interesting thing to me about superhero comics as I got to know them wasn’t the powers, the fights, or the costumes–it was the byzantine continuity and the off-kilter info-overload storytelling style… I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–if Lee et al had taken the same “call and response” approach to the romance genre, the detective genre, or any other genre you could name, I would’ve loved it exactly as much as I love Marvel’s “extended silver age” (which for me lasts until Gruenwald died, basically, although it was certainly in danger long before that)… I don’t like golden age superhero comics, but I love them as seen through the lens of a silver age consciousness like Roy Thomas’…and here’s the thing–I’m sure the people who are calling for the “end of continuity” have a point–after all, Golden Age supers were way more popular than their silver age descendants, and they could be again, if they returned to this disposable “action movie” aesthetic…it should work, but, meanwhile, the only trademarked superhero comics I’ll be reading are those written by Morrison (a true auteur who is interesting for his own sake) or Veitch (whose Question really impresses me)… of course, I’m “hierarchizing” like mad here–I’m saying that a work that requires full immersion (i.e. it’s a good thing to frustrate readers into running out in search of ancient back issues!) is better than a work that can be enjoyed merely as a time-passer…my friend Evan once told me (quoting some comics pro, don’t remember who!) that superhero comics were like a punk act (with a small, but psychotically committed and interactive fan-base) that tried to go arena rock in the early nineties, and I think that process is ongoing… Like everyone else, I agree that superhero comics need to bring in new fans–I just disagree with most of these people on how you do that (or, rather, on how you do that without becoming paper network programming)


  6. “…but when was the last time anyone saw an * that led to a little caption where the editor made some comment or another?”

    NEW INVADERS, released January 20, 2005.

    Dave, I’m sure there are certain writers and artists who have done away with those things you love precisely for the reasons you state– to achieve some sort of “filmic” quality. But I find it kind of lazy to leave it at that. There are all sorts of personal aesthetic reasons for getting rid of, say, thought balloons– as in not liking the way they look, you know?

    Kyle Baker puts his dialogue below the panels because he claims to hate designing around them, and you’d simply be flat out wrong to lump him in with the group you decry.

    Visual styles change, trends come and go, and there’s plenty of people currently working who don’t follow them. There are plenty of comics that still use all these tools and more– though it’s true that many superhero titles don’t. Does your insistence on their primacy in this particular genre make you sound any less narrowly focused than some TCJ -board poster who dismisses the entire genre out of hand?


  7. you do have a point James–and I’m not really asking anyone to “do it my way or else”…I know that what I want doesn’t matter… The thing is though, I have a lot of interests–but I don’t feel obligated to be interested in everything! The superhero comics that I’m talking about just happened to do a lot of the kinds of things that I’m looking for–from what I can see, most of the current supercrop do not (whether they are “nostalgic” or “decompressed”)… the few that do interest me pull me in for different reasons than the marvel metatext did… I’m not ruling anything out, you understand, but I am interested in continuing to emphasize an aspect of the silver age comics that often goes ignored, or, worse, gets treated as an unnecessary encumbrance…when I talk about the superhero genre, these are the things I’m talking about…get rid of them and my interest in the genre evaporates right along with it…again, I do think it probably makes good business sense for these companies to dispense with these things…and I don’t really have any serious problems with this… I don’t have the time or the (disposable) money that I had as a teen to dive headlong into a thirty-years’ deep metatextual pool anyway! Still, if someone wants to start a line of witty, interlocking, romance comics that emphasize existential pathos/humor and go out of their way to implicate the readership in the process of narration, I would probably find a way to dive in! (as it is, I’ll settle for Morrison’s mini-metatextual Seven Soldiers experiment and the whole vast world of non-puncheminaface comics, films, novels, and poems!)


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