Friday, October 26, 2007

Best American Comics of 2007

Editor's Note: This post was up for a few hours yesterday and was removed to give me a chance to clear up some points and possibly give the post a bit more coherence.


Recently popular comic blogger Heidi MacDonald (aka: The Beat) took some lumps after posting on her site an actual opinion essay. This was followed by MacDonald displaying a willingness to unburn bridges, etc...

Basically, Heidi pointed out that Chris Ware had put together a book called "Best American Comics 2007" which was filled with a lot of stuff that was Indie comics, that could be construed as not too dissimilar to Ware's own work. For those http://www2.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifunfamiliar with , he's responsible for landmark comic "Jimmy Corrigan", as well as the Acme Novelty Library and the very fun to look at Quimby the Mouse.

She then went on to state that she didn't feel that Ware and his pals were making the best American comics. The reason presented was that the ability of these writers and artists to construct a compelling narrative was often found wanting. She said she wanted a story.

I read The Beat on a regular basis, and have rolled my eyes at Heidi's snarky sniping of superhero comics, but also understand there's context there and do not expect her tastes to match my own. The same sort of complaints regarding superhero comics crop up online amongst the indie comics crowd, of which MacDonald has seemingly been identifying with, especially since she jumped from Comicon.con to Publisher's Weekly.

Before I go any further, this is my opinion, so, you know... whatever.

Ware is a master of form, and has managed to create unique comic experiences with each work I've picked up. He's sort of the consummate comic fiend's comic. He plays with the form in intricate and fascinating ways, both subtle and less so, with a unique understanding of how the medium can be manipulated.

But... and here's sorta where I agree with MacDonald. With all the artistic expertise in the world at his fingertips, I still never felt more engaged than being wowed by the form of Ware's comics. There just wasn't much to the narrative to make it particularly page turning. It's about a mopey guy who had a rotten life and sorta tries to do something about it, but, whatever...

If you dig a good Todd Solondz movie, I may have a comic to recommend.

It's a delicate thing, because I do genuinely appreciate Ware's work and vision, but I'm simply not engaged by the misanthropic comics he puts together. At least Eisner figured out how to tell the story of an unlucky soul in a few pages.

The sad, unlucky soul as protagonist is also the focus of the work of Daniel Clowes, and it seems the success of these two opened a path for comics about sad sacks being an end unto themselves, and often with far less artistry than the two guys I've menioned above.

This is, of course, a small fraction of the indie spectrum, which contains an infinite number of genres and genre-less comics.

Here's the thing... from reading blogs like The Beat and Journalista!, one would get the impression that there's this huge industry of independent comics where lives were being bought and sold, and all the world hung on the opinion of what someone like Chris Ware thought were the best comics of 2007. This, of course, isn't the case. Not just in popular culture, but in comic shops and in the larger book publishing industry.

Exact distribution numbers are somewhat hard to figure, as I'm not sure where to dig up Fantagraphics distribution versus Diamond, nor do I have any knowledge of Indie comic distribution channels.

All that said, distribution isn't the point of The Best (American) Comics of 2007. Artistic merit and writing come into play somewhere.

So, really, now you're talking subjective criteria. That's okay. I don't necessarily think that the stories listed in The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told are, necessarily, the Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, either. But that's a publisher putting their name on a collection and putting as much out there about themselves as the comics included in the collection.

If you actually clicked on the links above to MacDonald's post, you'd notice over one hundred comments, many of them extremely heated. MacDonald may have done herself a disservice by not better framing her argument, and certainly by refusing to name names. But, really, in her line of work and with the vitriol tossed her way, can you blame her? If she knew it were coming? And did she know that this was going to put a ding in her career and reputation as indie comic fans, creators and critics each stepped up to the plate to take a shot at her?

If she didn't know that was going to happen, she hasn't been paying attention to her own work since the inception of her blog.

But was she necessarily wrong? Or did she just point out that the Emperor was parading down 5th Avenue in his tidy whities?

The folks who got rankled, like Tom Spurgeon, are more or less arbiters of the indie comic scene. Of late, its been the indie comics that get the faint praise of the literary establishment when they take notice of a book like "Jimmy Corrigan", and the occasional cross over hit like the deserving "Fun House" or "Persepolis" ("Fun House" made a critic's list or two last year under the "book" category, but went largely unnoticed in most comic shops. Likewise, Persepolis was winning awards, and I've seen it all but ignored in most comic shops. Likely any tie-in with the feature animated film of Persepolis will appear at Barnes & Noble long before it appears at Slappy's Comics Universe). Whether the indie comic reviewers and blogging press had anything to do with the discovery of those comics, or that those comics reflected pre-existing tastes of the literary establishment is a tough call.

Artistic commendation is worthy of striving for, so I don't want to dismiss any praise anybody has received from folks outside of the comic-sphere. And, honestly, I haven't seen the damn book that MacDonald is discussing, so I can't answer my own questions on this one.

But the fanboy behavior that the Indie-fans drum up in the comments makes the usual Gwen Stacey-related Spidey post on Newsarama look like a blip.

Unfortunately, Heidi is in a professional position where she CAN'T name names. She's not in the easy position of the critic as a face for Publisher's Weekly and as a blog manager. People give Matt Brady a hard time for not giving creators and the Big 2 the business, but... seriously, how long before that fatted calf would disappear if he decided to take Joe Quesada to task for every slight superhero fans believe he should answer for?

As does Matt Brady, so does Heidi.

Meanwhile, Tom Spurgeon and Co. are in a comfortable position where the artists and writers need them far more than Tom needs the creators. Any exposure is good exposure in small publishing where no marketing or advertising budget exists. As readers of The Comics Reporter, etc... make their decisions for purchases based upon comments on sites like Spurgeons or from other journals, its a different balance of power.

The bottom line in this case seems not to be that Heidi pointed out that some comics which get the indie street cred maybe aren't all that good (that's no secret), or even that Heidi may have divergent taste from the arbiters of the self-appointed comic literary meritocracy.

A recent post at Chronological Snobbery takes a pass through Chuck Klosterman-land to dish up a reminder of how hipsters and taste-makers believe their subjective tastes to be better informed than that of pretty much everyone else. While the Chron Snob post is interested in the legacy of 1980's hair band Ratt, it seemed to echo some of the same traits of the Best American Comics argument, albeit in a medium which even the people inside of the fanbase find divisive and geeky.

Success breeds contempt in any industry. Whether "SexyBack" is a good song or not is going to be diluted by the insistence that anything that popular was made for the masses and therefore not worthy of note. For more on the Klosterman ponderings, go here.

Comics being an almost sealed system, DC and Marvel are bigger kids on the block, and are therefore "mainstream", despite the small audience compared to almost any other medium. There's a built in snark factor for the crowd who loudly refuses to be associated with the super medium.

It doesn't seem that Ware and Anne Elizabeth Moore meant the name of their collection ironically, but the book reflects little outside of the tastes of a niche within the already nichey world of comics. All things being equal, it's either a ballsy or arrogant statement to assume that your taste in comics is going to define the best of the year, I don't care how diverse your buying habits. It's probably somewhat fair to state that a lot of what went into the volume is a lot of the same, as Heidi suggests. After all, its fair to say the same of DC's output, tentacle porn, or anything that someone has tried to dub with a genre name. Indie comics have remained mostly genre-free in the same way that "college music" did until a marketing exec dubbed Nirvana and Pearl Jam as "alternative" in 1992 or 3 (and, unlike electronica, the name stuck). Staying under the radar gives you the advantage of staying out of a category unless you're seeking one.

Most likely publisher Houghton-Mifflin can't get the reprint rights to most of DC and Marvel's stuff, anyway. If DC were interested in a best of the year, they quit printing their Blue Ribbon digests a long time ago. Not to mention the fact that a self-contained, single issue story in this era in a post Bendis superhero comic is far more the exception than the rule.

Not that Moore and Ware would consider those sorts of stories, but...

Is Heidi correct in asserting that the kids these days can't tell a story?

Oh, hell. I think (thus, my opinion) more DC writers fit that profile than not, just as 90% of any medium isn't all that great (including independently produced comix).

It's just a bitch to buy a $2.99 comic, get home and say "That was it?" Moreso when its an expensive graphic novel or indie comic that you wanted to take a risk on. Like any movie that's getting good reviews, its always an interesting venture to see what and why a comic is getting hyped outside of superhero circles. (my personal theory: With stunning regularity, the comics are about outsiders trying to make good and overcome their traumatic past. Sort of the same formula as Spider-Man and Batman, only without the spandex and web-shooters.)

Just as even the best comics of 2007 come at a price of $22. Is $22 the price of finding out if a tree falls in the woods, does it make a noise?

I will watch and reject dumb TV

Last night I watched three episodes of Elivira's "The Search for the Next Elvira".

I refuse to watch the new NBC show "Phenomenon".

Pulled comic post

hey, i want to apologize to anyone who read the comic post I'd had up earlier this evening. I actually read what I'd wrote and decided that maybe writing a lengthy post like that over several days and taking several angles ina single post wasn't working.

Jason had posted a well articulated and well thought out response. Which also led me to realize that my post made absolutely no sense.

Anyway, I apologize.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I am sorry about the huge fire in California

Okay.

I know two days ago I blew off the fires in California (to people I was talking to at work and elsewhere, not here at LoM).

I am sorry.

California burst into flames every year that I could recall, and I wasn't really clear until yesterday that this is a lot more serious than the usual fires which consume a few homes.

So, anyway, The League shares our sympathies and best wishes with the folks of Southern California and Mexico who are dealing with the fires.

Nerd Mailing List Catalog

Apparently my nerdiness caught up with me. Someone bought some nerd mailing list I was on, and this catalog recently showed up at my house: The Pyramid Collection

It's not nu-agey stuff. It's sort of a weird mix of Ren Fest wear, pixie costumes, fantasy-novel themed lingerie, and other good ideas.

My favorite item: Dragon Commode Lid

This item screams out to be found by the Admiral under the tree on Christmas morning

Don't worry, Judy! There's one for you, too.

I can't really make fun. Anyone whose ever been to League HQ knows what it means to commit to a particular geeky lifestyle.

One of the things I find bizarre about wallpaper stores, etc... are how all of the stuff looks pretty much the same. Inoffensive patterns on inoffensive earth-tone colors, so your house can look pretty much exactly how everybody else's house looks.

I don't really understand people who don't have a pursuit or two, so certainly that plays into my thinking on the subject. And while our doors are always open to whomever wants to pop by, it's still where I live, and if I can't use that space to suit my needs, what space am I supposed to use?

I do understand needing to compromise with your spouse on home decorating, our house seemingly not a good point to that fact. But sometimes you find particular stuff interesting and you go with it.

That isn't to say that people without lots of knick-knacks all over their houses haven't found something that works for them, or that home decoration isn't a passion of theirs to begin with. But I think when you cross a line from "this would look cool and people would like it" to worrying about what other people will think if they see your house and it somehow makes them itchy. That said, somethings are just bad ideas.

As much as I want everyone to be able to do whatever they want, there are some rules about what's in your house versus your choice of wardrobe. You can STILL go out and look like an everyday schmuck on the street. You don't need to dress up as Superman just because you like the character (although, you know... would it be totally crazy to do so...? Jamie says yes, but I don't know...).

The Pyramid catalog is full of all kinds of ideas, but you might want to save those for your special times. or LARPing.

Some ideas are just more socially acceptable, whether we like it or not. After all, Jason loves his music, live and recorded. Nobody bats an eye at his music festival posters or guitars strewn about his house, but you get one Monster Commode Seat (this one's for Mom!), and everyone thinks you're crazy.

So, if you're into your fantasy novels, why not decorate with the dragon lamp?

The weird one is sports. Into football? Wear a jersey like you're the fat guy who got cut and nobody cares. However, you can't paint your living room Viking purple and gold. And your child, at that, even though you have to look at them anyway.

Cookie Party

Last night we had a Halloween Cookie Party.

Nicole made a delightful spaghetti dinner (which was great, but nowhere near as shocking as Jason's decision to invite us over for Jambalaya on Monday. Jason often uses the grill, but his gas stove usually goes untouched). Anyhow, we all had too much to eat, even with both Steans Boys in attendance, and Nicole and Jamie having a pile of spaghetti. We still had leftovers. That's a lotta pasta.

Around 8:00ish, Steven and Lauren came over, and the cookie making/ nonsense commenced. Well, really, Jamie spent like, an hour sifting sugar.I have no idea what was going on, but when I asked was greeted with a disgruntled shout... something about lumpy frosting.

No sooner had Steven and Lauren shown up (with Australian delicacies in hand) than JimD called the house to instruct me to go see 30 Days of Night. I passed off the phone to longtime JimD friend and fan, Steven, and I sorta hoped that would push JimD over the edge and relocate him to Austin.

Anyhow, we watched a bit of Ed Wood and the 1931 Frankenstein (which I view annually). We glazed cookies, and then got into the Tim Tam (very good!) and the Vegemite (which tasted just as bad today as I remember it tasting when I was 10).

There were many delightful Halloween cookies. Sadly, few photos. Steven took some, so perhaps he'll post them.

It's good to have Steven and Lauren back in town and frosting cookies.

However, there was absolutely nothing spooky about our pre-Halloween party.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

More Fall is Falling

Today we got up and immediately agreed to hit The Salt Lick to get a plate of brisket and go hear the Flying A's. Fall is here, as evidenced by the lovely weather we had on our way out.

Tomorrow the temperature drops from the high 80's to somewhere below 65 for a high.

It's Austin. Don't like the weather? It'll change in ten minutes.

Return of Robb

It's been nothing short of a lovely weekend since I walked out of work on Friday, second to last to leave the building. No matter where I work, somehow I'm always last to leave.

Friday we headed to Manuel's on Congress where we met up with Matt & Nicole, as well as Lauren, who was flying solo as Steven prepared to return to Austin after a few weeks in Australia. Lauren had been with him, and for reasons I never gathered, she returned slightly ahead of our man, Harms.

At dinner I got very drunk. I have no idea why, but it seemed like a swell idea at the time. I do not drink much. Honestly, I never have. Certainly the years we were gone to Arizona, huge chunks of time would pass and I would have not so much as a beer with the fellows after work. But with Fall coming on, more than a year back in Austin under our belts, work seemingly going well, dinner with good friends and Lauren's birthday so recent... it seemed a good night to tie one on.

We all came back to League HQ after dinner, where I gradually sobered, and Lauren unwittingly popped open old wounds regarding my opinion of portions of my undergraduate education which led to an unpleasant tirade about the critical analysis of film as an academic pursuit vis-a-vis the Narrative Strategies course I took circa 1995... Anyway, it got late and Matt and Nicole bothc amped out at League HQ.

We woke up today, got breakfast for our guests, found the game on cable and watched Ut spiral out of control, eventually pulling it together again in the 4th quarter and putting a score on the board that suggests things were much more in hand than they ever actually were.

Ate an early dinner at Chuy's as we never had lunch (Matt and Nicole had departed), and came home to a message that an old friend, Robb K, was in town and would be appearing at the Texas Showdown for a limited engagement.

Once upon a time... when we were young and probably much more fun than we are today... Anyway, it had been, we realized, seven full years since we'd seen Robb. Honestly, I wasn't really sure what continent Robb was on. I'd heard he'd been craching in Berlin for a while, and would occasionally hear dispatches from the Seattle contingent that he was in New York or God-knows-where.

So, really, a sudden appearance by Robb is something one should really always have in the back of their mind as a possibility, even when one has not seen Robb in seven years.

We met up at the Showdown, pulling together with a fragment of the folks from back in golden, old days of college. Pat, Jeff, Matt, Robb and Jamie. It could have just as easily been an evening in 1997 or so, sitting around with a beer out back of some bar with Robb still hand rolling cigarettes.

We've gotten older now. Jeff is married, and so Keora was there. Nicole came and saw a glimpse of Matt's sordid past. But we're not all so different, even with jobs and mortgages and all that. We worry about different things, maybe. Certainly not school or grades or whatever we were worried about then. We're now almost ten years from when college graduation, and life's rolled on.

A gentleman cut in on our conversation and asked for a haiku.

We tried to push him off, but, as Matt said, there's so little Austin weirdness left, sometimes you have to grab onto the weirdness when it happens. Even when the guy ashes on Jeff by accident while asking for the haiku. So we had a collaborative haiku.

And despite the fact I kept wondering how this guy was going to try to make money off of us, I dashed off the final line and handed it off. "Time passes us by."

Because sometimes it does.

Whether we've been doing the same things for ten years, or whether we occasionally manage to pull it together and catch a glimpse of good days, I don't know. The days in Austin have been good again. We talked over that while we were eating at Chuy's thsi evening with Jason. It's been a strange 15 months or so. Lots of good days and bad, as I guess it goes, life is evening itself out. 24 months ago, going to Chuy's for an early dinner was something we would have talked about wishing we could do.

As much as I loved parts of yesterday, the parts you can remember while watching your friend hand roll cigarettes for the first time in seven years, there's always tomorrow. You sort of have to think about what you're going to do then, and the next day.

We made our Mister Miracle escape from the X-Pit and the Orphanage of Granny Goodness, but, like Scott Free, I know that's only the beginning. The traps aren't always so obvious, and complacency is as much a trap as anything else. We'll keep moving, listening for the pinging of Mother Box to tell us when its time to spring the manacles and jump free from the nose cone of the rocket.

Lately, I hear people grumbling a bit about Fall coming on, about shorter days and the end of summer. Maybe its too many years at universities and in education, but Fall is a time for new things, for thinking about the year ahead.

Up in Seattle, My and Brandy have found out they're pregnant. Jeff and Keora are talking about trying. On Thursday Peabo and Adriana stopped by with Owen (who looks like every other male member of Peabo's family already), and Peabo's as happya s I've ever seen him. Xander is already moving so fast, CB should put him in red jammies and call him The Flash, and David is here from North Carolina.

The world moves on, and time passes us by.

That's not a bad thing. We're doing okay. Both despite and because of the events of the past year, so are our family and friends.