plainly and simply parasitical on the obvious or univocal reading

Monday, January 31, 2005

Things are great all over

Tom Spurgeon wonderfully articulates something I've thought but couldn't quite phrase. Check this out:

Very few writers on the medium talk about this, but there's a swagger to junk comics that can be very appealing, a knowledge and assurance that they'll be hitting all the right buttons, pleasure centers that have very little to do with artistic quality. When people ask why comic book aren't as popular as they used to be, it's probably good to remind them that nothing ever is and then, maybe, to suggest it's not that other media do what comics used to do but do it better; it's that they bother to do it at all now and in fact do it with greater frequency. So many of us were sent plunging into comics to find more of what we know we liked. I can't imagine anyone having to leave one form for another just to get that pulpy fix.


It stands to reason that the more casually intended art, art where the bulk of what's produced emphasizes an immediate, surface reward rather than a slow-building, long-term, deeper pay-off, will suffer as a natural delivery system for that kind of work falls out of favor. Could that be why of all the comic books out here, superhero books are doing the worst job of finding their potential audience? I know it's why most superhero comics seem to me really ill served by their collections.

Fantastic. And I particularly admire Tom for simply saying that he prefers comics books to graphic novels (or what have you) rather than saying they're better. As he points out, there is undeniably some work that is better served when presented in one single volume, so really it is just a matter of deciding to like one type of work more than another. But I wouldn't say that most of the superhero comics being made nowadays are ill served by their collections, mainly just because that seems to be what they're written for; the stories are closed/finite, the multiple plot and subplot threads that play themselves out over any number of issues and years being largely abandoned in favor of a "part x of n" style format (and by the way, why? Ugh!). But I suspect that he's talking more about collections of older material. Usually I agree, if only because the artwork of the older books, made for printing on cheap papers, looks terrible on perfect-bound glossy paper. I mean just awful. That's my biggest complaint, anyway. There's also the notable absence of the non story content, but you won't find too many people who are bothered by that, I guess. I do still love the Essentials collections from Marvel, though, particulary because they are cheap and contain a large amount of material, and it isn't presented in some reverential way. And I think that is my other big gripe: the reverential presentation of something that doesn't need it (and note that I did not say that it doesn't merit it). It's as though the material's status as a precious fetish object follows it out of the polybagged monthly and into this new collected format.

Again, that mostly concerns the older material. The new stuff that already has all of the ugly computer coloring and is already made for printing on glossy paper doesn't suffer the same, uh, slickification...yeah. And of course content-wise it is, as I said, more likely to feature closed, finite stories anyway. It's also more likely to be all serious and dark and moody and won't interest me in the slightest. I don't think there's anything wrong with making or liking the serious and moody superhero stuff, it's just that those things tend to leave out the aspects of superhero narratives that interest me and to hold onto the things that don't. But who cares what I like or don't? My point is that Tom is awesome.

In other news, Tim has a couple of interesting posts right in a row. Nostalgianiks, he hath your number.

Also, via Dave Fiore comes news of the return to blogging of David Allison, who tells us, conveniently, why we love both Annie Hall and Punch Drunk Love. Thanks, Daves.

Dave (Fiore) also has some great things to say about identity formation, self-realization and other fun things over at Peiratikos (in the comment thread). I can't give Dave all the credit--Rose and some other posters provide him (and he them) with interesting counterpoints and attempted clarifications (though bear in mid that they are using language, so there won't be even the slightest chance of a mutually satisfying clarification, but we aren't hung up on that sort of thing, are we?).

That's what I've been reading and enjoying this weekend. I also notice that my links sorely need updating. Does anyone know what happened to Jon?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Finding the Writerly in the Readerly, or for God's Sake, Like What You Like.

Who dares disturb my slumber?

Anyway, some of the posts I've read recently have made me feel like doing a bit of blogging again, so here I am. I think it all started, as so many of these things do, at Dave's blog. Other bloggers and readers were doing the "Dave's crazy" thing, which is always fun to read, even though I don't understand why it is that people think so. Well, it had been about two months since I'd even looked at a blog, so I scrolled down and found a post with a link to a piece on Eightball 23 by Dave Intermittent that I found troubling (which is to say I disagreed with enough of it to get stuck thinking about it for several hours. But fear not, I have no life, so it was no big interruption) as well as a link to a great entry by Matt Rossi that has sparked this post. Well, that one and this other one by Ed Cunard about Hugh Grant (somewhat). Really it starts in the comment thread at Ed's post where they get on the track about "is it okay to like such-and-such thing?" Folks, the answer is always yes. It's also quite okay to dislike it, whatever it is. It certainly helps to be able to say why you like or don't like something (well, it helps the person you're talking/writing to. You probably don't need help determining why you like or dislike something), but I wouldn't call it essential. I'm talking about guilty pleasure without the guilt (unless the guilt is necessary for the pleasure to be had, of course). I think that liking something shamelessly-even something that you should, by all reasonable accounts, consider awful-enables you to really broaden and enhance your critical experience. Not to mention just enjoying yourself without feeling like anyone's judging. First of all, they're not, and second, what if they are? But we're all adults here, nobody needs to be told that.

Ed likes Hugh Grant films. Dave loves Gerry Conway Spider-Man stories from the 70's (seriously, go read a 70's Conway/Andru Marvel Team-Up and then read a post on Dave's blog. The tonal resemblance is staggering). I dig the heck out of The O.C. And to be consistent with myself, I can even say why: it's because the rapidity with which events occur reminds me of old comics. Remember in the early days of the blog when I was recapping those old Defenders issues I dug up? I was remarking about the same sort of thing. In the first season, one of the characters divorces her husband, has a fling with her daughter's ex-boyfriend who is in high school, then dates and marries another person--all in the same season. That's nutso pacing right there, and it's like that for all of the characters. It's not serious in any way at all. There are no "very special" episodes. And best of all, it stymied my expectations. I expected a rote noble savage narrative, and got something else entirely. Writerly text on prime time Fox? I was elated, and instantly hooked.

So I like what I like without any shame. Do we really need a common critical resting place? I'm not sure we do. What's the point? There's much more to be gained by everyone finding something to like and then trying to articulate why, to show others what they see in it, to perhaps illuminate and add to our understanding. I'm not sure that I can argue for or even accept the idea of a universal aesthetic sense anyway, as I have, so far as I know, only ever been one person. I happen to think that the notion that reason-with-a-capital-r will lead us to a greater understanding of truth-with-a-capital-t or beauty-with-a-capital-b is absurd. I don't mean to say that it isn't real, just that it doesn't really matter whether it's real or not. And it doesn't add to my enjoyment or understanding of the things I like, or of things that other people are demonstrating to me that they like, so screw it.

I don't think I'm arguing for an abandonment of quality standards. Certainly in order to know whether or not we like something, we must have a standard of some kind. I'm pretty sure, however (though not absolutely certain), that I cannot accept the universality of those standards. And that doesn't mean that I won't still mock people for liking things that I dislike when I'm commenting at the Rampage. That's part of the fun and illumination as well. I read an essay somewhere once positing that intellectual fashion statements, or taste statements, are an essential part of the conversation. Which means that that jerk who always waits for just the right moment to proclaim that this or that critical darling is overrated (whether or not they're prepared to say why) is an essential part of the conversation--although I personally have little patience for those who would accuse somebody of liking something just to appear cool or hip; that's completely unknowable, and just a stupid thing to say just because you don't see what someone likes about something. Every emperor is a little bit naked. Jesus, the more I type the more nonsensical this gets, so I'll wrap up now. But yeah, there's so much awesomeness in the world, who has time for shame?