The Middle Ground #96 | Here was where the money lay, classic art has had its day
I’ve never quite understood whether or not the whole notion of “artcomix” is meant to be an identifier, an insult, both or something else altogether.
That isn’t to say that comics can’t be art, because – well, come on, the idea that they can’t is just ridiculous. “Artcomix” as a thing, though, it makes me wrinkle my nose in distrust and wonder why we can’t just say “comics” for everything and get on with it. It’s not like there’s really a genre of comics called “Stupidcomix” and one called “Worthycomixthatyoushouldprobablyreadbutyou’llneverquitegetaroundtobecausecomeonreallysometimeslifeseemstooshort”; “art” isn’t even a genre, as such (Although there are, I guess, “art (house) movies,” but that, too, feels like too lazy a shorthand). It’s a thing in and of itself. Any genre can be (or have, or inspire) art, it’s not something that exists off to the side and stays to itself.
I don’t know. Perhaps it’s my own art school background – I know, you wouldn’t have thought it considering how useless I am when it comes to writing about art, and how rarely I do it, but I honestly went to art school way back when – but whenever I see the word, I instinctively think of it as some kind of derogatory thing, like the creator has done something to be willfully obtuse and push casual readers away with their work, and aimed to create Art-with-a-capital-A with little thought of the reader, the story or anything outside of their own ego and excitement. Okay, that definitely is my own art school background, in so many ways; the defensiveness about the idea of “art” versus entertainment, and “art” being used as a pejorative are such that they can only really be explained away by the mental scars of years at an art school, after all. But nonetheless: There’s something about “artcomix” that separates them from just “comics” that feels as it’s being said in a negative way, and that just seems… confusing, I guess.
A lot of my confusion comes from not really understanding what constitutes an “artcomic” and what doesn’t; I’ve seen Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly mentioned with the subgenre on many an occasion, but to my mind, both publishers put out some of the least niche material in comics as often as not – To me, Love and Rockets, Guy Delisle’s stuff or Ganges are comics that you can give to anyone and they’ll get it, in a way that they wouldn’t get Batgirl or Incredible Hulk, say – and so that muddies my mental waters a bit. Picturebox feels like it fits the idea a little more closely, with smaller print runs and more support of more esoteric material, but even then, that’s the kind of thing that I want to hug and be protective of, and defend as necessary and vital in a way that Spider-Men or Justice League International isn’t.
All of which is to say, ultimately, that “artcomix” makes me nervous and uncomfortable and resistant, as a term. It makes “art” into some kind of “other,” and doing that just creates barriers unnecessarily, and makes it easier for people not to think that maybe not everything is for them without ever really trying to find out for themselves. Comix is comics is comicks. Let you be your own judge of art, I guess.