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Sometimes an interview can be interesting because of the questions the interview subject doesn’t answer. Case in point: Blogger and critic Noah Berlatsky’s interview with The Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon. Pivoting off a recent Savage Critics roundtable on Daniel Clowes’s divisive black-comedy graphic novel Wilson, Berlatksy sets Spurgeon up with a characterization of literary comics of the sort Clowes creates as self-pitying, misanthropic, pessimistic, and tedious. It’s a characterization Spurgeon’s having none of:
[Berlatsky:] …there’s a default stance in certain regions of lit comics land which is basically: “life sucks and people are awful.” Which I think is glib and overdone and tedious, a, and which, b, can be made even more irritating by the fact that the people promulgating it are, you know, fairly successful, and (what with various autobiographical elements thrown in) the result often looks like a lot of self-pity over not very much.
So…I’m wondering how strongly you would push back against that characterization of lit comics in general…and also whether you feel it is or is not ever appropriate to think about a creator’s biography in relation to his or her work in that way.
[Spurgeon:] At this point I wouldn’t push back at all against the stance that says the default mode in lit comics land is basically “life sucks and people are awful” because it’s no longer an argument I take seriously. I don’t think it’s true by any reasonable measure and I’m done with entertaining the notion until someone presents the argument in a much more effective or compelling fashion than what always sounds to me like some angry, lonely, re-written Usenet post from 1997.
First of all, amen. If anything, I feel sorry for people who write off an entire swathe of comics, including the gorgeously crafted and emotionally devastating work of guys like Clowes and Chris Ware (to name the two best-known and most frequently lambasted creators) as woe-is-me whining. What I don’t feel is the need to seriously engage those people.
But this got me to thinking about how there are a small handful of similar arguments about comics I could happily go my whole life without ever encountering again. “Superhero comics are just quasi-fascist male adolescent power fantasies” and “Manga isn’t real comics, it’s just big-eyed panty-flashing speed-lined nonsense for people who fetishize Japan” round out my Unholy Trinity of lame arguments that ignorantly pooh-pooh whole segments of the industry. But the list could go on: People who treat the DC/Marvel rivalry like a titanic clash of good vs. evil, webcomics triumphalism, manga triumphalism, superheroes as modern myths, and “the New Mainstream” can all go jump in a lake.
Chances are that if you’re reading this blog, you’ve discussed comics enough to repeatedly run into opinions that make you want to chew your own foot off. Go ahead and share them in the comments. We can’t promise we won’t use them ourselves, but we’ll at least know you won’t be listening when we do.