criticism Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources
Digital comics | Apple rejected 59 comics this year for in-app buying, although many of them were allowed into the iBookstore. I looked at the phenomenon, and talked to Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson about the effect that had on Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals, which is available via the comiXology website and Android app, iBooks, and Image’s own website, but can’t be bought in-app from comiXology’s iPad app. “”It absolutely hurt digital sales on Sex Criminals #2,” Stepheneson said. “This is a series that is getting fantastic word of mouth, it’s amazing work by Matt and Chip that is receiving rave reviews and selling out instantly. Not being able to offer the book to curious readers through our app or the comiXology app is a significant deterrent to reaching the widest possible audience.” [Publishers Weekly]
Creators | Anime legend Hayao Miyazaki, who announced his retirement just two months ago, is reportedly drawing a samurai manga set during the Warring States Period. Asked on the Japanese television show Sekai-ichi Uketai Jugyō over the weekend how the 72-year-old filmmaker will spend his retirement, Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki replied, “I think he will serialize a manga. From the beginning, he likes drawing about his favorite things. That’s his stress relief.” He also confirmed the manga’s setting before cutting off the line of questioning with, “He’ll get angry if I talk too much. Let’s stop talking about this.” Miyazaki has illustrated several manga over the past four decades, most notably the seven-volume Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. [Anime News Network]
Libraries | Mitch Stacy takes a look at the new Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University, which is scheduled to open this weekend with a gala celebration. [ABC News]
Editorial cartoons | The Durban, South Africa, police have confirmed they’re investigating criminal charges against cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, who goes by the pen name Zapiro, stemming from a cartoon that portrayed the Hindu god Ganesha in a manner many Hindus found offensive.
The cartoon, which criticizes the local cricket organization for corruption, depicts a scowling Ganesha holding a cricket bat and piles of cash while the head of the cricket organization is being sacrificed before him. Businessman Vivian Reddy, whom the newspaper The Citizen notes is also a benefactor of the African National Congress, filed a criminal complaint; the cartoon has also sparked protests among local Hindus, who marched on the offices of the Sunday Times last week. The ANC is also taking the anti-Zapiro side, perhaps in part because of his depictions of its president, Jacob Zuma. Zapiro, meanwhile, isn’t taking calls, but he stated a few days ago that he stands by his cartoon, adding, “It didn’t cross our minds that so many people would be upset.” [The Citizen]
“When it comes to art, and especially a style of art, you can’t be wrong. If you like it, it is good. Really. That’s why there isn’t much point in seeking out validation from an ‘expert’ taste-maker. Hang on, what about technique? Surely, they can pass judgement on an artist’s technique, right? Yes, it might be possible to discern someone’s relative proficiency with a brush, but technique alone is not art. I’ll talk more about that later. So does all this mean that we shouldn’t look at the art we like critically? Of course not, and I’ll talk about that later, too.”
– Joshua Middleton, firing back at critics who argue that one style of art is objectively better than another.
To be clear, Middleton doesn’t believe that all criticism is worthless, and he explains as much in his post. He just thinks that criticism serves a specific purpose, but that critics sometimes allow their opinions to creep outside of the areas where they’re genuinely useful: like discussing proficiency with a particular technique or the artist’s ability to accomplish her goals.
It’s a thought-provoking, heartfelt read and the first in hopefully a series of articles Middleton plans to write on the subject.
(Image from Space in Text)
Last weekend I was supposed to speak at the Kidlit Blogger conference in New York, but I had to bow out shortly beforehand because of scheduling problems. However, in preparing for the panel, I pulled together some notes on reviewing graphic novels that I thought might be of interest to writers, and maybe to readers as well. And because a good writer wastes nothing, here you go!
Types of reviews: Most of my reviews are written for the mildly interested reader, a group that could include casual readers, fans of any genre and librarians, and the aim of the review is to help that reader determine whether he or she would like that book. That’s different from me liking the book. There’s always a large measure of taste involved in any review, and if a book is solid but somehow done in a style or genre I don’t care for, that doesn’t mean someone else won’t like it. Having had the experience of totally trashing a book that other people love, and loving a book most people hated, I don’t even try to believe that my taste is universal.
So, in this type of review I give an indication of what the story is about, who the characters are, what the art is like, and how the story is told, then discuss what worked particularly well or don’t work at all. If I have a physical copy of the book, I might note the presentation, particularly if the production values are especially good (or especially bad). I seldom do an entirely positive or entirely negative review of a book, because most books have flaws and high points. I generally avoid spoilers in those types of reviews.
Occasionally a book is so bad I just pull out the sledgehammer and trash it. The book has to be spectacularly, offensively bad for me to do that—if it’s merely boring, the muse won’t come. So that doesn’t happen too often. Actually, my favorite kind of review is the one where I think a book is going go to be awful and I am pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be good.
Publishing | Sales of comic books and graphic novels in July fell 6.17 percent versus July 2010, with dollar sales of comic books sold through Diamond Comic Distributors falling 4.27 percent and graphic novels falling 10.10 percent year-over-year. Unit sales for comics were only down slightly, at .52 percent, which ICv2 points out “indicates that comic book cover prices have in fact declined. The problem is that circulation numbers have not risen enough to make up for the decline in revenue from lower cover prices.” Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man #666, which kicked off the “Spider-Island” event, was the best-selling comic of the month, while League of Extraordinary Gentlemen III Century #2 from Top Shelf topped the graphic novel chart. John Jackson Miller has commentary.
Marvel saw a slight increase in its dollar market share for July when compared to June, while DC’s jumped from 28.03 percent in June to 30.55 percent in July. IDW, the No. 5 publisher in terms of dollar share in June, moved to the No. 3 position in July. The top seven publishers were rounded out by Image, Dark Horse, Dynamite and BOOM! [ICv2]
The Comics Journal, a venerable, influential and controversial mainstay of comics journalism that had developed an air of the walking wounded in recent years, has radically revamped and relaunched its online presence. Its new editors are Dan Nadel and Tim Hodler, best known as the minds behind Comics Comics magazine and, in Nadel’s case, the art-comics publisher PictureBox Inc.
The print version of the Journal will continue to be helmed by founding editor and Fantagraphics co-publisher Gary Groth, acting in a more hands-on capacity as of the forthcoming Issue #301 than he has in years, by the sound of it. Kristy Valenti serves as editorial coordinator. Contributors to the new TCJ.com include Frank Santoro, Jeet Heer, Joe “Jog” McCulloch, Ken Parille, Ryan Holmberg, Rob Clough, Richard Gehr, R.C. Harvey, R. Fiore, Vanessa Davis, Bob Levin, Patrick Rosenkranz, Nicole Rudick, Dash Shaw, Jason T. Miles, Andrew Leland, Naomi Fry, Jesse Pearson, Tom De Haven, Shaenon Garrity, Matt Seneca, Tucker Stone and Hillary Chute. On a Robot 6-related note, my colleague Chris Mautner and I will also be contributing.
A look at the new site reveals a multifaceted approach, with reviews, columns, interviews, lengthy features and essays (the current lead feature is a look at the legacy of, and turmoil surrounding, Frank Frazetta by writer Bob Levin), an events calendar, selected highlights from the magazine’s archives, and more. The biggest news, perhaps, is that Hodler and Nadel plan to have literally the entire 300-issue Comics Journal archive scanned and posted online by the end of this year and made available in its entirety to the print magazine’s subscribers. Click here for Hodler and Nadel’s welcome letter, in which they explain some of the changes and reveal a bit of what’s ahead. (And click here for their farewell letter to Comics Comics.)
If you’ve made your way around the Interwebs at all over the past few days (or at least the comic-book derived portion of such) you may have noticed a couple of posts devoted to what’s being called the “Best Online Comics Criticism of 2010.” And, unless your memory is as faulty as mine, you may also recall similar lists being made around the same time last year, as this is an annual event created and overseen by the esteemed critic (and Hooded Utilitarian contributor) Ng Suat Tong.
Suat was kind enough back in January of ’09 to invite me to be one of the judges for this year’s round-up. the other judges consisting of Tim Hodler, Johanna Draper Carlson, Melinda Beasi, Derik Badman, Shannon Garrity and Bill Randall. I’ll go through this year’s winners, with my personal commentary in a minute, but if you’re the impatient type, you can see the final results here and here.
First, some brief observances …
and quite a few writers complained to me today that they would write better but they aren’t getting paid to do it.
having lived the first 10 years of my career making no money and having lived with artists and writers who have done the same… I don’t care about that.
you either work really hard and really try to make something worthwhile or you don’t. money has nothing to do with it. if you find a way to make money doing it fantastic. that I lived for many years under the impression that I was never ever ever going to make a dime. and so did a great many of my peers. money and the quality of your work should have nothing to do with each other. it just an excuse to fail.
This isn’t quite what he’s talking about, but I did want to say a few words about this aspect of Bendis’s critique specifically. True, many artists in every art form toil primarily for love of the game, out of an innate need to create rather than out of hope for monetary reward. But journalism about and criticism of comics of the sort Bendis is calling for makes making comics, never the world’s most lucrative profession for the vast majority of people who participate in it, look like the California Gold Rush of 1848 by comparison. In a way, it stands to reason: Given the comparatively small number of paying gigs in comics, and the comparatively small audience for the product of those gigs, the number of paying gigs for comics criticism and journalism of any kind — including copy-and-paste and pseudo-hip snark, let alone in-depth investigative reporting and pages-long close reading of creators’ work — is going to be vanishingly low.
comics as an art form is in fantastic shape. the only things missing? thoughtful longform investigative journalism and critique. all we get nowadays are knee-jerk reviews and cut and paste blogging. which I have no problem with but it’s ALL we get. on a slow news week like this one I would love to see some of our better reporters rolling up her sleeves and helping the medium thrive. even reviews of trade paperbacks and graphic novels have seemed to have fallen by the wayside even though the sales are crazy large.
you’ll forgive me but I think that a snarky pseudo-hip attitude towards mainstream comics is uninteresting. if you’re a cut-and-paste blogger or comics journalist and I just annoyed the shit out of you… prove me wrong.
I am enjoying the e-mails from professionals agreeing with me but not wanting to stir the pot Cut and paste blogging is cut and pastes from an article from another source… then adding a line of comment & signing their name to it.
I’m sorry I got on my high horse, I just do love this medium and I know a lot of you out there do as well. I miss amazing heroes and for clarification I go to almost every cut-and-paste comics blog
–Brian Michael Bendis, the industry’s most popular writer, taking aim at a lot of people who write about the industry, on Twitter today. Shots fired! Shots fired!
(And now, by cutting-and-pasting his tweets, adding a line of comment, and signing my name to it, I’ve become part of the problem. Dammit!)
Last week, Tom Spurgeon took a page from Monty Python and said he’d like to have an argument: “What are all these superhero comics really saying?” Given the genre’s domination of both the Direct Market and the comics internet, Spurgeon said he wanted to see a more in-depth discussion of what the heck is going on in these weird and wild comics, particularly regarding their heroes’ behavior and any potential larger message beyond “superheroes are awesome.”
In response, I proposed an argument of my own: “Why do superheroes dominate the online conversation the way they do?” In light of how many comics commentators and critics clearly read a wide variety of comics, or at least have been known to from time to time, I’m perplexed by why The Rise of Arsenal gets so much more airtime than Art in Time or 20th Century Boys.
“Likable characters are for weak-minded narcissists.” So says Daniel Clowes, the author of the recently released Wilson — and given that the book and its irascible protagonist have proven about as divisive as the Lost finale, his tongue may be only partially in cheek. The titular character in Clowes’s novel is a self-described people person who’s constantly decrying the way culture and technology fragment and divide society, but he does this in the nastiest and most insulting way possible to everyone he knows, leaving him no better off than the IT workers, superhero-blockbuster fans and so on he lambastes. He’s a tough character to like.
But does that mean Wilson is a tough book to like? Isn’t there such a thing as an unlikable character you love to read about nonetheless? Tim Hodler of Comics Comics says no and yes, respectively. In a post on the book, Hodler argues that the response to Wilson, particularly the negative response, has centered far too much on Wilson’s unlikability, ignoring the way other art forms have showcased jerks for centuries to memorable effect:
When you think about it, it only makes sense: Because the comics conversation is so dominated by old arguments, it can be tough to make room for new ones. That’s the thesis of a new post by The Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon listing “Three Arguments We Could Be Having.” After we here at Robot 6 pivoted off Spurgeon’s interview with Noah Berlatsky to list the comics arguments we’d prefer never to hear again, Spurge is returning the favor by suggesting three he thinks we’d be better off having in their place: “1) Does reprinting archival comics have a moral component?; 2) Why are so many Direct Market shops still female unfriendly?; 3) What are all these superhero comics really saying?”
In other words, while the current golden age of reprints is a boon to all fans of the medium, what do its practitioners owe the creators of the comics they’re reprinting in terms of not just royalties, but also the best possible packaging and analysis of the material? Everyone’s got horror stories about some creepy store where the wares or employees make it a “shop at your own risk” situation for women and girls — why has that not translated to industry-wide action on those affronted consumers’ behalf? Should superhero comics be expected to have more of a message than “superheroes are awesome,” and if that is the message you go with, shouldn’t that be reflected across the board instead of occasionally having them indulge in really nasty behavior or suffer jarringly grim setbacks to get across the importance of a particular storyline?
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.
A great comic review can make you feel like you’ve read the book without showing you so much as a panel…but, y’know, showing a panel really can’t hurt. And three recent reviews — Tucker Stone on Taiyo Matsumoto’s Blue Spring, Charles Hatfield on Blaise Larmee’s Young Lions, and Noah Berlatsky on Junji Ito’s Uzumaki — really struck me with their well-selected spot art. A glance at each review’s illustrations — dynamic, sexy, and horrific respectively — can probably tell you whether these books are the kind of thing you wanna check out, which is great, because each review is a solid examination of what makes them worth checking out in the first place. Click the links, feast your eyes, and see what you think.