Robot 6

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.

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3 Comments

Ganges isnt artcomix. Its pure comics, playing wholly with the for for comics sake.

If yku want artcomix now, just look to the crude, amped up genre zines floating around that are crude and sexed up for art’s sake. Rub the Blood is just that. They had a preconcieved notion, drew crap for art’s sake, and made fun of Leifeld for doing the exact same thing: for the fun.

Yeah. That was the whole point. But, they could have at least followed their formula. No one in there was influenced by Image ’92.

I personally do not know people who lump all the things described above into “artcomix.”

It sounds like, from the article, the main group of people lumping things under that term are mainstream readers who haven’t taken a lot of time to familiarize themselves with what’s happening outside of the normal monthly genre floppies. Anyone who would lump everything D&Q and Fanta does under a single heading certainly hasn’t read a ton of it. And getting into an academic discussion of terminology with people who aren’t that interested in the subject matter is futile.

If they need “artcomix” as a term to lump together all the things they’re not that interested in reading, that’s fine. I’m sure there’s dozens of subgenres of country music, but I just call it all “country” because I don’t listen to very much of it. And I’m sure my opinion matters zero to the people making country music.

I don’t think “Art” neccessarily has to imply exclusivity or values like social/spiritual worthiness.
it seems to me that with art-comix (as with art-house cinema, art-rock, and post-modern literature) what you have is a preoccupation with form and means as subjects which are as interesting as whatever other nominal “content” may be present.
So, rather than have the object be a representation of some external reality or message, it’s a presentation of its own qualities, material and structural, explicit and implicit.
The elements which are, in mainstream narrative genres of any medium, the main focus of the experience, become macguffins within a plot which consists of people making things so that other people can appreciate them.
It’s not a matter of Art > Entertainment, or Art = difficult, it’s just a matter of what elements of creative work the individual finds most fascinating.
Personally, I find it difficult to appreciate, or even give sustained attention to, football, but I don’t infer from that that “football” has some insidious elitist meaning, I just find it boring to watch, so I watch other things instead.

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