Robot 6

The Middle Ground #17: I Don’t Give A Damn About My Bad Reputation

hopey1Is it just me, or do some “classic” comics scare other people off by their reputation alone? I remember, for the longest time as a kid, being convinced that Maus or Watchmen would be not for me because I wasn’t smart enough, or mature enough, to handle such “heavy” reading (As it turned out, Watchmen ended up disappointing me because I lost interest the first time around – I look forward to your letters, as Craig Ferguson would say – and Maus bowled me over entirely, when I finally got over myself), and only read some other classics because I managed to stumble into them before I had discovered how highly regarded they were.

More recently, there was Love and Rockets. It’s more than a little embarrassing to admit, but up until a couple of years ago, I’d pretty much successfully gone out of my way to avoid reading anything by the Hernandez Bros., and it was almost entirely because of the reputation of their work. Surely, I thought, nothing could stand up to the probably-hyperbolic praise thrown in their direction! Not only that, but it seemed impenetrable in a way that superhero comics never did, for some strange reason: A longrunning series true to urban cultures so alien to someone from Scotland with no immediately obvious “in” to start reading with? How am I supposed to start that?

(There were, admittedly, somewhat additional extenuating circumstances: For one, I had had a relatively unsuccessful prior attempt at the series, when Deadline started serializing some of Jaime’s work in the latter days of that magazine – I think it was “The Death of Speedy,” but can’t be sure – and it didn’t work for me because the episodes were too short and too far apart to seem like anything other than disjointed curios with nice art. For another, I had been warned off the series as being overrated and not worth the effort by a friend whose opinions I trusted fairly implicitly, and who rarely talked things down. His signpost to beware seemed like a fair warning, at the time.)

My point, or as much of a point as I have, is this: I was an idiot every single time I got scared of a book because of its reputation. For one thing, it’s comics – You read it and it clicks or it doesn’t, and that’s the end of it; it’s not like you’ll be judged by anyone other than your peers and the internet for admitting that you don’t like something. The books themselves aren’t going to turn on you and try and eat your hands if they sense your displeasure through some weird chemical reaction or whatever (Although, that would be awesome). But, maybe even more importantly, some things need protected from their own reputations a bit. Love and Rockets is spectacular, and amazingly approachable (What brought me over to the dark side of actually reading it was free time and finding Locas in my local library; never underestimate the power of the library system, friends), and the kind of thing that I feel embarrassed to have been reticent to read in the first place, which explains why I admit to it in public like this. Let my stupidity be a warning to you, dear readers: Read whatever you want, and ignore what everyone else thinks, especially if they’re telling you that you’ll like it.

…Unless it’s Watchmen. You can pretty much watch the movie and skip that one.

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The thing with Watchmen, I think it was very much a product of its time. So much today has been influenced by Watchmen, consciously or otherwise, that it probably doesn’t feel very revolutionary. Not unlike the feeling I get watching classic B&W movies. They’re heralded as being essential viewing, but they seem boring by today’s standards, and I often feel that I’ve seen this before (and I likely have, and probably from the hands of less capable directors and actors, comparatively speaking).

I read Watchmen right when it first got collected. I was in high school then, and it was unlike any other comic book that I had read. The Cold War paranoia in particular spoke to my sensibilities, but there was so much for me to love about it It challenged me. I reread it multiple times that year, but for much different reasons than I’d reread an issue of Marvel Two-In-One. However, I can completely appreciate how others who came upon it much later may not find it as groundbreaking. Especially if one is too young to remember being scared of nuclear war, the Reagan years, or, heck, a time before Watchmen.

Which gets me thinking… I wonder what the Watchmen of our time will be? A country divided, fighting seemingly never-ending wars, fears of terrorism and anything that’s not considered “traditionally” American. The time is ripe for a creator to tap into this uneasiness and produce something great.
-r-

Same thing for me pretty much. I haven’t read quite a few titles for no reason but the fact that I’m annoyed by “Read it! You’ll love it I swear! Really! No, really! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey, read it! I told you about the book five minutes ago, why haven’t you read it yet?” That’s exaggerating a bit of course, but that’s what it feels like.
Then there are those books that turn me off because of art alone, like Chew and anything by Jason. “GASP!” Yeah, I know. Yes, they’re technically competent, but I just don’t like the styles.

funkygreenjerusalem

August 17, 2010 at 7:52 pm

I haven’t read Love & Rockets, not because of it’s rep, but because I don’t know where to start.
Despite their being numerous collections about, none seem to make it clear where you are meant to start.
I’m sure I could jump in and pick it up, but would that give the full experience?

Watchmen? Product of its time. Sure, just like Shakespeare plays are products of their time.

To say Watchmen can be boiled down to the movie is dismissing everything about it that makes it special. Or we could just discount the, oh, I dunno, 20 people I’ve lent the book to who have all been bowled over by it. Sorry, but every time I lend the book to someone, they can tell that it’s the storytelling and not the story, per se, that makes the book special.

Nothing in the last 25 years has touched Watchmen when it came to storytelling. Most of the people I’ve lent it to have loved Top Ten more in terms of the story, or maybe V For Vendetta – but no one will contest that in terms of formal technique, Watchmen stands head and shoulders above the rest. And yes, I’m a fan of Chris Ware.

Watchmen-bashing has become kind of a fad in recent years. I guess because it was so popular and revolutionary, and everyone wants to feel like they’re especially intelligent, they go after the sacred cow and say they’re better than it. Now yes, there are some superficial elements of Watchmen that are somewhat dated (heck, I had no idea what a Republic Serial villain was when I first read it in the 90′s), and so much of what Watchmen did has been so overdone since it came out that its elements could be seen by someone not paying attention to anything but the present as cliche, but to overlook the sheer level of craft put forth by Moore and Gibbons, the amazing characterization and world building, and all the techniques it pioneered is incredibly short-sighted and unimaginative. Hating something solely because it’s popular is basically being a conformist, except with a bigger ego than your average fan of American Idol or whatever. Like what you like and don’t what you don’t, but it’s ridiculous to base that on what others think.

Brian Nicholson

August 17, 2010 at 11:42 pm

He’s being sarcastic, guys. The Watchmen movie is obviously garbage.

Love And Rockets has its charms.

I feel the same way you feel about Watchmen when it comes to Jimmy Corrigan. Ware is very good at evoking a mood, but there was no surface to the thing.

“I haven’t read Love & Rockets, not because of it’s rep, but because I don’t know where to start.
Despite their being numerous collections about, none seem to make it clear where you are meant to start.
I’m sure I could jump in and pick it up, but would that give the full experience?”

That’s how I feel about X-Men.

It took me a while to get to Watchmen because I was 6 when it came out, and by the time I was old enough to care I felt like the book had been so influential on the comics I was reading, that through some osmosis like process I had therefore already read Watchmen. I was, of course, an idiot for assuming such a thing.

Love & Rockets is intimidating to me because it has such a reputation and it feels like there’s just so much of it. I picked up Heartbreak Soup a few years ago and instantly fell in love with the characters. Maggie the Mechanic I had trouble getting into for some reason, but after enjoying Jaime’s contribution to the latest L&R: New Stories volume I’m ready to give it another shot. Yeah, in some respects I’ll be 30 years late to the party, but good comics have no expiration date.

Funny you mention Watchmen and L&R, because those two were exactly what got me into comics in the first place. I was 16 and looking for an after-school job and applied at the local comic book shop, though I wasn’t a fan, and in that way totally unqualified. I admitted this to the owner, who chose me for the job over 40+ other applicants, partially for that reason – he figured I’d actually work, rather than stand around reading comics! However it turned out there wasn’t a lot of actual work to be done, and a lot of standing around, and eventually (after being disappointed with random stuff I picked up) I asked some of my fellow employees if there was something high-quality with which I could dive into comics. One guy gave me Watchmen, then on its last issue; the other gave me L&R, then on its second collection. I then went into the back issues and checked out Moore’s Swamp Thing, and other Fantagraphics titles and so on…. An addict was born!

funkygreenjerusalem

August 18, 2010 at 5:16 pm

How to Read Love and Rockets:

Cheers for that!

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