Post #1490 • January 6, 2012, 8:28 AM • 4 Comments
I've been having a bit of a comics-conscience-crisis of late. This was sparked by a lot of things... [including] an American indy comic... that was so impossible to look at that I gave up three pages in.
I started wondering whether art really mattered at all. I found a review of Dash Shaw's massive Bottomless Belly Button... that said that readers needed to meet the comic at it's own terms.
What other medium could you ever possibly read something like this? ...if art is graded on a curve in a comic, what universal standards of quality are there? Storytelling? Characterization? ... I'm worried these laissez-faire standards will push comics further into the ascending colon of the art world. ... I can't help but have a lot of skepticism about the art world's relationship with comics—when somebody sells a single issue for $40,000, maybe I will change my mind.
And maybe it's my own snobbery. I don't know how people can read a long, bad-looking comic. I just give up after a few pages—my eyes get tired.
Of course, Nathan's eyes get tired from looking at bad art because his eyes work. He has an eye—in other words, he has taste. This next paragraph proves it.
I understand that standards of beauty vary, but to me it's obvious when there is genuine craft involved—you get absorbed in the world, it becomes believable, and the characters and story are free to really "live" in the reader's mind. And I'm not talking about classical standards of beauty. It doesn't need to be a complex, or highly detailed, or even elegant style. It just has to have a style. Box Brown, James Kochalka, and Kevin Huizenga are quite capable artists that nobody is going to confuse with Moebius, but their work is visually harmonious and appealing. Through the power of their pictures, I can connect with their stories.
The caption on an image reads:
A Dash Shaw piece where he adapts an episode of the reality TV show Blind Date. If this type of high-concept work is what critic Tom Spurgeon calls "The Future of the Comics" I'm not sure where my role is.
I think we've all been there. As Bertrand Russell said, "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are so confident while the intelligent are full of doubt." Nathan went into more detail on his Facebook wall.
My post was really an expression of frustration with comics trying to climb further into the art world. Because I think comics are "stories" and while stories can be art, I think they're stories first and art second. The art world is full of ambiguities, dominated by concepts over content, and is controlled by elites where the world of stories, well, it just makes more sense. There's more or less universal recognition of what a good character is, a tight plot, hell, even mood. If what's good and what's bad are completely irrelevant, why make art at all? Why not just stick my hand in a meat grinder and draw with whatever comes out? I mean, won't it be beautiful in its own way? The [book] I was reading looked so bad that I couldn't bear to look at it. And it made me ask a legitimate question—why do I try to make art that looks good? Of course, this is for my own personal satisfaction, of course, I will keep making the art that I make, of course I value it, but I can't help but wonder at the hypocrisy of critics who elevate unaesthetic contemporary art and fetishize the beautiful comics of days long past.
A legitimate question indeed. The answer is that if you can tell the difference between good art and bad, failing to make good art gnaws at your gut. You can take a roomful of drawing students and figure out which ones are going to go into art careers because they're the ones who get honked off when their drawings don't turn out quite right.
But in the larger scheme, we've had eyeless, clueless critics in art for a long time and they're starting to show up in comics as well, now that more and more serious comics are getting made and they have been discovered by the academy and its adherents. It's important to remember that most of them would be incapable of making anything half as good as their least favorite works of art. Their most favorite works are the kind of thing they think they would make if they had any idea how to do so. I say "they think" because if they actually went through the process of art-making, they would arrive in an entirely different creative place than the one they've conjured up in their minds. That's how the creative process works.
In other words, good reviews are pleasant, bad reviews are barely worth your attention, and Tom Spurgeon's opinion about what kind of work is the future of comics isn't worth the Kleenex that he sneezed it into. Take it from an art critic.
Hat tip to Chris Rywalt.