Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Hello everyone. Sorry no pics. Just text as I blather about comic books! I'm visiting montreal so it's a tad tuff!
Much has been written about pretension towards comic books. I never thought it still existed (see: my last post). I read comic books on the city bus and don't care! Of course, it used to be a bigger deal. There is more of an understanding that much of this bastard medium is crap- just like any other medium: music, art, film, writing, slumber parties, condo development. In other words, there are some very good comic books out there amidst the junk being discovered and rediscovered.
Comic books have a bid for respect. Movies now adapt the super hero genre because CGI can now make Wolverine's claws look like CGI.
Annnnd comic books are pretty much not called comic books. I lectured last year for two graphic novel classes at Emily Carr. The phrase 'graphic novel' has replaced 'comic book.' Is one better than the other? No. Comic books are still essentially leaflets while graphic novels are in book form, usually more pages (tho compare the Ice Haven book to the Eightball comic book from which it was taken: the comic book worked better in flow and structure and was one fifth the price yet the graphic novel sold way more copies) , sometimes trade paperback, sometimes hard cover. it is mostly case of formatting that has allowed comic books to enter the public library system, book stores, and art schools! This has made people realise the freedoms involved in comic books: freedoms outside of genre. That it's not all superheroes.
Last Summer, the shoddily curated KRAZY! exhibition opened at The Vancouver Art Gallery. It was shoddily curated for numerous reasons that I won't go into here but one thing I noticed was that the comic book section was overly conscious of remaining outside of genre. They messed up though. Pages from a Harvey Kurtzman war comic were included. This was war genre. And they were the only pages that had actual dynamism! These pages burst from the walls while the others-as great as they were (Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Justin Green) lay flat. Someone later pointed out to me that the other genre that was included was autobiography: this is not recognised as pulp genre however so it may be perceived as 'above all that doggerel.'
This show had a disdain for mainstream comics, it seemed to poo-poo them.
I was recently on a panel at The Toronto Comic Art Fair. Note the word 'art.' The panel was to discuss the more interesting mainstream comics of the Silver and Bronze Age. We only had an hour time slot that was deftly turned into 45 minutes due to technical difficulties.
We discussed Batman: Year One, Jim Steranko, and Jack Kirby with a focus on his 2001 comic book. The discussion was unfocused but I was there to try to turn people on to stuff that they may have overlooked! I especially wanted to talk about my favourite mainstream writer Steve Gerber as well as the unknown Manny Stallman who did curiously expressionistic super hero tales in the back of the late 60s comic book THUNDER Agents (which combine the super hero and spy genres). However, time was taken up by one audience member insisting that the only thing these mainstream comcis had to offer was visual appeal and zero literary merit! He was adamant and refused to budge. He wouldn't stop talking and we had to defend ourselves as opposed to showing interesting works. And he was a comic book fan.
If my girlfriend wanted to get into comics I would never plop a super hero, war, or western comic in her lap (though she really likes romance comics). I would show her stuff outside of genre as a perfect gateway. That's understood.
That said, to completely dismiss ALL genre comics as drivel is unbelievably pretentious!
I now know why some of these old comic book artists and writers didn't talk so much about what they did to random people.

At this comic art fair I attended an awards ceremony which was mostly moving but the audience was also subjected to the cartoonist Seth (not his real name but a pseudonym) going on for twenty minutes about his book design for a retrospective on legendary Canadian cartoonist Doug Wildey. It was very stuffy with lots of back-patting prattle on using a war memorial building as tribute. And the book? It looks like a box of chocolates.

During the day I had met a couple people from Picture Box, currently one of my favourite comic book- er... graphic novel publishers. This company is pushing the artistic boundaries of the form. Some of their publications are essentially lavish art books. They have also rejected any notion of canon by putting out their "Art Out Of Time" books (note the title) that reprints various overlooked cartoonists' works through the ages. Meeting them at The Toronto Comic Art Fair, I found two of them (one was incredible and candid, I must add) to be incredibly aloof and full of themselves in a 'my shit don't stink' kind of way. Most people at the fair weren't like this but I did find this meeting significant. As comic books establish themselves further as an art form they get more pretentious and as great as respect is, this pretension saddens me.


by Michael DeForge said...

Yeah! One of the things I liked about the panel at TCAF was addressing that weird history of comics that never gets talked about in "respectable" venues. The Krazy! show was a good example. It's like comics history is set on this continuum that goes "Windsor McCay - Charles Schulz - Robert Crumb - Art Spiegelman - Chester Brown - Chris Ware - The End."

I look through Brunetti's Anthology of Graphic Fiction or that Chris Ware McSweeny's issue, and I like the things, and I like that you get to see the links between Windsor McCay or Frank King on guys like Ware. But what you don't see as much is the influence that EC Comics or Chester Gould had on Charles Burns, or Jack Kirby on Gary Panter, or whatever. And like, it's Brunetti's book and he's informed by a certain set of influences and I wouldn't expect him to start including issues of ROM Spaceknight in the anthology - I know he's not trying to pass it off as "THE definitive history of comics" or anything - but it seems like the only efforts for a real pluralist look at comics history come from the Picturebox Comics Comics guys, or reviewers online like Jog or Abhay or Sean T Collins.

Robert Dayton, Junior said...

So glad yer here.
I ramble about comics then I hear from new peeps! Maybe I should ramble more about that!
I talked about the elitist vibe of Picture Box but they are also most certainly anti-canon and open minded about a lot of comics. i was happy to see their appreciations of Steve Gerber and Ogden Whitney in Comics Comics to name two.
Mannn, I had so much to say about Gerber on that panel that was left unsaid. But Frank Santoro (who is really awesome not elitist and encouraged me to go out and re-buy THRILLER- I had a subscription to it as a kid but sold them long ago, it's a really great crazy comic that is superior by far to RONIN) told me that Gerber would require at least one whole panel! So true.
One thing that I like about these wild mainstream comics is that there is so much of it! Kirby was pumping that stuff out! I have over one long comic box full of Kirby (not including those B and W Essentials phone books, I'm buying the Thors right now which get very cosmic and tripped out) and still have huuuge gaps even tho I'm really only into his mid 60s-80s work!
I remember someone even saying that Kirby couldn't write. Errr. Just because it was so rugged and tilted at times doesn't mean he couldn't write! He had so many crazy ideas and themes and wild characters! That's more than enough for me!
I dig that Jog The Blog site a lot and don't know about Abhay or Sean T Collins- guess I best check them out!

by Michael DeForge said...

i just picked up a bunch of thriller issues because of all the heat van eeden's been getting from santoro and that Journal interview that just came out this week. . . it's great, i just have a few more of the 8 to hunt down! i've been working on a comic that's pure grid format and i want to do the complete opposite of that once i'm done, so absorbing all these eeden layouts feels like good research

the "kirby couldn't write" thing - i think there's this idea that because so much of those old comics are goofy, that's the only aspect of it they see. they see it as pure camp, and people are unwilling to accept that there can be a nice balance between the funny goofball stuff and some really clever and really beautiful stuff too.