plainly and simply parasitical on the obvious or univocal reading

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Unpacking the Tidy Packages

In my previous post addressing realism and respectability, I must admit that I decidedly did not have in mind the superhero/autobio dichotomy that seems to surface every time there is a discussion about realism and respectability in comics. I don't think that I have to remind everyone that there is a vast amount of content that exists apart from those two subjects, as well as a vast amount of content that exists within them. The typical reaction I read when someone notes that many superhero comics are poorly written and/or cliche ridden is that autobio comics are equally so. And it happens in spite of the fact that the person being critical of the superhero work did not ever explicitly hold up autobio as a contrary example. This is of course true in reverse as well. And it underscores a real problem with serious discussion of comics. The idea that there is one kind of reader or the other kind is such a nonsensical illusion and it does no good to allow discussions to continue to be framed in that way. There is simply too much content, too many creators who want to create in multiple ways, and too many readers who want to read whatever they want to read in whatever ways they want to read it for such tidy packaging of types to have any meaning. And it leads to all sorts of meaningless value assessments like "transcendence of genre" and such. What that kind of packaging amounts to is allowing the terms used to market a product to set the tone for critical discussion of an artwork.

I hope that I'm not just making something out of nothing here, but I'm still mulling things over from yesterday's Parker article and the reactions to it that I have seen. Upon thinking about it, I realized that if I were to say that I prefer (X) type of comic, I would have to attach such an extended list of qualifiers to it that the (X) would lose its meaning and become unnecessary. So I might as well abandon it altogether. What good has it done me? Even if I deign to evaluate a specific comic in terms of work that has come before, it will still be work of my choosing, and may not even be of the same type. That also goes for the critical lens through which I am evaluating it as well, and even then I may use multiple critical lenses simultaneously. What I'm saying is that the work at hand is related to all of the things that I relate it to simply by virtue of the fact that I am able to make a convincing case that it is so. That is my prerogative and yours, as a reader.

In truth, even now as I evaluate weblog discussions of comics, I am doing so from one of my preferred critical lenses, feminism, though I am replacing gender essentialism with generic essentialism. After all, as most folks point out, the similarities between superhero and autobiographical comics far exceed the differences. And they are also, as I said, far from the only options. In fact, by way of example, I'll list the best comics I've read recently: Louis Riel, The Fixer, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Blackhawk, Wigwam Bam... none of those books fits particularly tidily into a nicely packaged description. But even if they did, what good would it do to limit them thusly? I find that if I allow myself to unpack various different meanings from each of them, they come to remind me more of each other, and then play off of each other, inform and enhance my understanding of each other.

Now, as you may have guessed, I am not a casual reader. These sorts of intellectual/academic exercises are my idea of a good time (I can hear you weeping for me now). What I'm getting at is that I'd think that a casual reader would care even less than I do about these boundaries of generic identity. But the comments that I read on blogs and messboards suggest otherwise. I find that odd. Ah well, these are the things I think about at 4am I guess...

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