Saturday, November 4, 2017

Weird Facts

As time passes I feel less and less inclined to write about comics, and I don't mean on this blog only...

The reasons are varied and have mainly to do with aging and the loss of energy... Most importantly though, I see no point in continuing a lost fight: comics will never be a real art form, I can see that clearly now... Don't get me wrong, wonderful comics have been made, and I don't mean in the expanded field only. Oesterheld's and Tsuge's and Buzzelli's oeuvres are out there to prove what I'm saying, but if we look past the huge promise that the 1990s brought us, the only conclusion must be that the mountain gave birth to a mouse.

Anyway, this doesn't mean that I will stop writing on this blog completely, I'm doing it right now, after two months... So, I will come here once in a blue moon, whenever I feel like venting or something...

Today I just want to clarify the phrase that I posted on TCJ's site: "By the way, the comics comics criticism is just one of the last, in a long list of weird events, that helped to indefinitely postpone this art form."

What are those events exactly? OK, here we go:

Weird Event # 1: 19th century: comics are associated with humor and caricature:

Loÿs, "Vilain toujours a tort," 1884.

Weird Event # 2: 19th, early 20th centuries: comics are children's literature:

Wilhelm Busch, Max und Moritz, 1865 (I'm proud to say that this scan was taken from a book that once belonged to the great Carl Barks).

Weird Event # 3: 1930s: comics are escapist manichean literature:

Chester Gould et al, "Dick Tracy" Sunday Page, Februray 14, 1954.

Weird Event # 4: 1960s: wanting to do other things with the medium underground cartoonists can't go beyond parody (or the same stupid adventures with sex added) because they grew up with the mediocre stuff and knew nothing else (in the end they behaved like spoiled brats):

Richard Corben, Fantagor # 3, 1972.

Weird Event # 5: 1960s and on, until today: also growing up in the midst of all this trash the so-called comics critics can only write hagiographies that incense the producers who churn it out:

Les cahiers de la bande dessinée # 72, November - December 1986.

The comics comics critics were formalists, but that doesn't excuse anything. All of the above is how comics are viewed by the laymen and laywomen. Who can blame them if they see comics as part of trash culture? I, for one, don't!


MC said...

Beautiful the "Dick Tracy" page!
How I love comics!
---Manuel Caldas

R. S. Martin said...

"...comics will never be a real art form, I can see that clearly now..."

I've also come to the same conclusion. In the United States at least, comics has expanded to become a respectable area of young-adult (YA) and sf-horror-fantasy material. But those are not the playing fields an art-form-equal-to-any-other should be content to play on. I don't think Maus or Fun Home were intended as YA efforts, but that's where they ended up. Watchmen and Sandman so clearly belong to the latter category that it's not even worth discussion.

The most vital comics-dedicated U. S. publisher, when he's not preoccupied with nostalgia efforts, sees the ideal as social-realist blood pudding. The most interesting of the next-generation critical voices sees everything through the prism of gallery work and only values efforts that can be labeled outsider art. The rest of us (myself included) may have perspectives too clouded by adolescent nostalgia to offer much of value. There's negativity, a la Ng Suat Tong, but that's not a way forward.

When comics turn out something one can legitimately see as competitive with the efforts winning the Man Booker prize or the Pulitzer for fiction or the Cannes Palme d'or, perhaps things have advanced. But comics not only aren't there, they don't appear to be getting anywhere near there any time soon.

Isabelinho said...


Re. the "negativity, a la Ng Suat Tong," I feel very much in the same field, but I don't see it as our (meaning me and Ng's) problem... and let's leave at that...

Re. "the next-generation critical voices sees everything through the prism of gallery work and only values efforts that can be labeled outsider art" is a step back, but there're two things in that view which bother me even more: 1) sociologically "outsider art" is the equivalent of YA lit because it is a niche that "isn't quite there"; 2)efforts in the art gallery direction aren't obviously enough to value a comic - this seems to imply the ridiculous assumption that everything inside an art gallery is great...

R. S. Martin said...

I don't have a problem with negativity by and large. I just think its limited, and if that's all you can muster when discussing a field, then the field isn't worth much discussion.

That sentence about the "next-generation critical voice" was a knowingly flippant reference to Dan Nadel. As obnoxious as he is personally, he's probably the sharpest of the current American writers on comics. My issue with him as a critic is that he only seems to value things that he can argue conform to a certain aesthetic in contemporary gallery art. Invariably, it's an outsider-art appreciation aesthetic that he strives to appeal to. I never meant to imply that "everything inside an art gallery is great."

Isabelinho said...

No, not you. I meant those "next-generation critics". I didn't know who you were refering to because, after The Hooded Utilitarian, I stopped reading comics criticism. I don't even follow The Comics Journal site anymore. To be honest, I haven't read much of Dan Nadel's criticism either. I own his Art Out of Time book and a couple of Comics Comics newspapers (note to self: I need to locate those), and that's about it, but I wouldn't say the problem with him is the approach between gallery art and comics; his problem is formalism. He values form over substance. The problem I see here is that people may equate art = form and lit = substance. It isn't definitely so. All my life I've seen "comics people" valuing how technically great a drawing is (I don't know... take Alex Raymond or Moebius, or something...) without any consideration for how trivial and trite it is. That's a huge part of the explanation why comics criticism never really existed.
Re. negativity, while I wrote at The Hooded Utilitarian I wrote about things I liked only. I called my column Monthly Stumblings, I mean...