If I Could Write
by T. Hodler
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Exceptional one-person comic strips like “Little Nemo,” “Krazy Kat,” and “Peanuts” were among the first to be championed as high art partly because standard industry practices such as “ghosting” and assembly-line production obscure idiosyncrasies, freeze evolution, and desiccate scholarly and fannish narratives. Our impulse to uncover a human source — to project from reproducible artifact to traceable performer, so that we might begin to speak of cinematographer “John Alton” as we would of “Humphrey Bogart” — isn’t just a taxonomic convenience. It also reflects frustrated feelings of gratitude and intimacy, as evidenced by the career of Walt Disney comics artist and writer Carl Barks. Although Barks wrote, drew, and inked his own work for decades, his employer blocked fan mail and withheld contributor credits on the theory that sales would decline if children thought anyone other than Walt Disney was involved in the comic books. As a result, Barks wasn’t successfully contacted by readers until 1960, and his first interview (conducted in 1962) was only allowed publication in 1968. Given no clues other than style, loyal fans identified and collected Barks as “The Duck Artist,” “The Good Duck Artist,” or simply “The Good Artist,” the last eventually inscribed on his gravestone.
—From “High, Low, and Lethem”, a just-posted, confidence-killing essay in which the great Ray Davis takes nearly every subject I’ve written about for Comics Comics over the last five years—from Steve Gerber and Carl Barks to Jonathan Lethem’s Omega the Unknown and the auteur theory’s connection to comics, among others—and writes something actually worthwhile, intelligent, and stylish about them. He shows me up as a lazy halfwit actually. The funny thing is that I’m fairly certain he’s never heard of me or Comics Comics at all, and the confluence of thought is purely coincidental. Oh well, I guess I need to try harder.