Kwik Kwotes


Thursday, April 15, 2010

I think that I can seriously say there are many different types of fiction out there, one of them is the heroic, and Art Spiegelman has no sympathy for the heroic, so I have no sympathy for Art Spiegelman.

Frank Miller, defending caped crusaders last weekend at MoCCA.

I don’t know about this heroic business; I like superhero comics mostly for the art.

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41 Responses to “Kwik Kwotes”
  1. Peter Pan says:

    I don´t think Spiegelman would even care to defend this adolescent argument.

    But, by the way, Maus isn´t heroic?

    And in the other hand, are the soldiers in 300 heroic?
    Or are they just Killing Meat Machines?

    • wayne says:

      Maybe Vladek should have kicked a few more ‘ethnics’ heads through windows, to show us he had ‘the right stuff’.

      Saying that, a lot of the old ‘humour’ stuff Spiegelman champions barely musters a smile out of me!

  2. Matt Seneca says:

    Adolescently argued, for sure, but Miller seems to have the same problem I think quite a few people have with the ’70s-and-’80s cognoscenti’s curt dismissal of hero comics — that is, that they aren’t valid because of their tropes. Like, how many quotes from Spiegelman, Gary Groth, & co. have you seen that go: “Kirby (or whoever) was a great artist who I hate reading because he worked in a bad genre”? Spiegelman certainly has a problem that way: while I understand he’s a product of his time in this regard, his refusal to see any value at all in mainstream-style comics storytelling is as narrow-sighted as the views of the folks he battled with who didn’t think there was value to be seen in any comics at all. Happily, we seem to be moving away from the kind of criticism that assigns value based on genre, but if I was Miller the sting of my art-comics peers’ repeated slaps in the face would probably have made me pretty bitter too.

  3. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I know I’d be super bitter if my career had suffered at the hands of Art Spiegelman like Frank’s surely has.

  4. anonymous says:

    ‘…It’s all about the moving target in comics criticism… Nowadays it’s all about some hipster critic telling everyone how great Jack Kirby is and trying to get everyone to pay attention to old superhero comics. I grew up hating the stuff so who am I to say?…’ – Art Spiegelman at Brown University yesterday.
    sounds like he’s calling a certain other Frank out!

  5. Art Spiegelman gets the Universal Eternal No-Prize for his incessant blathering on about how he “doesn’t get” Kirby while purporting (at what, $10,000 per speech?) to understand the medium and be an amassador for it. He’s a tool.

  6. “nowadays it’s about some hipster film critic telling everyone how great Fritz Lang is and trying to get everyone to pay attention to old Noir movies. I grew up hating that stuff so who am I to say?”
    If you substitute Kirby and superheroes out and replace it with a film reference you see how retarded it is that the OLD guard makes this argument again and again.
    Tell it to Beto or Jaime.

  7. Jeet Heer says:

    Is loving Kirby the litmus test for being a comics expert? I’ll confess that until fairly late in life, Kirby left me cold. And even now, altough I have a very high regard for Kirby, I’m not sure if I’d quite put Kirby in the same league as Herriman or McCay or Crumb or Harold Gray or Segar.

    The best way to look at this is to realize that everyone’s taste is inherently limited. It’s true that Spiegelman doesn’t have a taste for Kirby. But I’d hazard a guess and say that Frank Miller doesn’t have a taste for Milt Gross, Carl Barks, or John Stanley. You could easily reverse Miller’s statement and say: “I think that I can seriously say there are many different types of fiction out there, one of them is the humorous, and Frank Miller has no sympathy for the humorous, so I have no sympathy for Frank Miller.” Would that make any sense?

    I’d also add that I’m not sure it’s fair to Kirby to reduce his very complex life’s work to just the heroic, or the super hero genre. If I had to sum up Kirby in a word, it wouldn’t be heroic but maybe “combative” or “operatic”.

    Leaving Kirby aside, Spiegelman has a pretty capacious and eclectic taste in commerical comics, as witness his book on Jack Cole, his writings on Krigstein, and his co-editig of the Toon Treasury. I’m pretty confident that Spiegelman’s taste covers a wider range of popular comics genre than Miller’s, who doesn’t seem to be aware that anything exists outside of crime comics and superheros.

  8. bryanocki C says:

    Yeah. Art Spiegelman at Brown U. and you had to be a student to go. But it’s ok cause there are no non student “underground” cartoonists in Providence anyway.

    There is a seriously deep human flaw that leads us to hate something as a whole when in fact we could really really appreciate certain details if we could just bring ourselves to look. I’d say that problem is defining the times right now, well beyond comic books.

  9. Jon Hastings says:

    Jeet –

    1 – I think Frank Miller makes some pretty humorous comics (on purpose!).

    2 – It’s one thing to not to like Kirby, but it’s another to dismiss pro-Kirby arguments as the product of shallow hipsterism. (Walt Kelly’s work doesn’t do much for me, personally, but I completely get why he belongs in the Pantheon). It seems to me that part of being an “expert” has to do with transcending your personal taste. Spiegelman at least revognizes the limits of his personal taste – the “who am I to say?” – but I’m not sure that balances the “hipster” dig. (I mean, I’d also point out that Kirby’s fans include critics who don’t seem all that hipsterish to me – Gary Groth, Kim Thompson, etc.)

  10. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I think artists get way too much unexamined credit for their work as critics — largely because they’re skilled writer with insights they can express in evocative ways, and the body of writers about comics have a hard time doing that — when a huge problem that crops up time and again is that most artists have a different end goal than most critics. When Art Spiegelman builds a history of comics and cartoonists of value he does so in part because these are artists he finds useful and enlightening when it comes to making comics himself. To put it in unfairly sweeping terms, he doesn’t find Kirby useful, so he has a harder time finding Kirby important.

    That said, I think there’s an element of nerd courtism going on when you take throwaway lines and try to apply serious analysis to them. I’m sure in many ways Spiegelman was trying to be funny, not provide a serious description of how Kirby is brought to him.

  11. T. Hodler says:

    That’s true. Also, while “anonymous” has a pretty unimpeachable track record in terms of comment-thread credibility, we don’t really have Spiegelman’s exact quote, so it probably isn’t fair to crucify him just yet.

    But jeez, I don’t see how we can live with ourselves if we don’t set up a recurring “Nerd Court” feature. In fact, I’m adding a tag right now.

  12. Jon Hastings says:

    Tom –

    I see your points, but when Jacques Rivette compared Hou Hsiao-hsien to James Cameron can’t we (a) recognize that as an artist/critic Rivette is coming from a different place than a “mere” critic and (b) call bullshit anyway? I mean, sure, it’s a funny line, but there’s a real argument underneath it. Engaging with that argument seems like it should be in bounds, especially since Rivette’s words are going to carry more weight than anonymous internet critic #73’s.

  13. Jon Hastings says:

    (added: obivously, I’m just arguing for the sake of it here. Spiegelman is free to like whatever he wants, etc. I do think it would be bizarre to blame pro-Kirby/pro-old super-hero arguments on “young hipsters”, but whatever…)

  14. phil dokes says:

    If you like Kirby or not, to not understand his talent (or at least his influence) is like someone not “getting” The Beatles.

  15. Jeet Heer says:

    As usual, Tom Spurgeon is right. As I never tire of saying, artists invent their own ancestors. The family tree of an artist is defined as much by who is excluded as who is included. To take a big example, Tolstoy hated Shakespeare. Of course, it’s easy to say he was wrong. But we also have to see that a Tolstoy who loved Shakespeare would have been a very different writer than the one that actually existed. A Shakespeare-loving Tolstoy would not have written War and Peace. Just so, a Kirby-loving Spiegelman would not have created Maus.

    We all have our blindspots, they help define who we are. To take an even smaller example: I have tried many times to appreciate the comics written by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiaman. Aside from a few short stories, I’ve never had luck.

    So the principle that “everyone has to love everything” can’t work. In any case, it’s applied selectively. I’ve never heard Frank Miller celebrate Carl Barks, Milt Gross, John Stanley, E.C. Segar or Frank King. Why isn’t he criticized for that? Because it would be a silly criticism.

    By the way, I know Miller does try at times to be intentionally funny. But my memory of these occasions are painful.

  16. Jon Hastings says:

    Jeet – I don’t deny what you or Tom are saying about this. But attributing pro-Kirby/pro-old super-hero sentiment to young, hipster critics (leaving out the pro-Kirby arguments put forth by guys like Groth, R. Fiore, etc.) (jokingly or otherwise) seems to me to be a legitimate target for criticism – or at least discussion. Likewise with Rivette’s comparison of Hou Hsiao-hsien to James Cameron.

    Still, I think it is possible to (a) not want Spiegelman to be any different than he is and (b) think that certain historical/critical judgments he might make in the context of his writing and lectures are wrong. And I’m not sure at all that it’s even necessary to bring in any special pleading because he’s an Artist/Critic and not merely a critic. (That can border on condescending, no? Like – “You can’t take what Frank Santoro writes about comics too seriously, because he’s an Artist, after all!”) Any critic (any reader, any audience member, for that matter) will have blind spots and those blind spots are no doubt tied up with any “individual voice” the critic might have. I’m not sure it makes a difference whether we’re talking about Artist/Critics or just plain Critics. (I.e., certainly Pauline Kael wouldn’t have been Pauline Kael without her own set of blind spots, etc.)

    (Tangentially, I have criticized Miller before for what I feel is his self-serving and bogus take on comics history. Not quite the same thing as criticizing him for not liking Carl Barks, but…)

  17. I’m tired of Spurge getting on here and bein’ all rational ‘n shit, haha.

  18. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Hey, I’m not voting for or against any subject’s legitimacy for conversation — that is a power that should belong to no man. It’s all good. And I admit there are dangers in going too far with my suggestion that some artists approach criticism differently because they’re artists, save for when it’s applied in sweeping fashion to discredit Frank Santoro, because fuck that guy.

    I would just suggest for my part of that conversation 1) the potential difference in perspective, 2) some caution that Art was really all that serious about what he was saying (if he said it), and 3) some definitional inquiry is probably required, starting with the word “hipster.” Okay, maybe ending with the word “hipster.”

  19. wayne says:

    I think a key figure in this ‘divide’ is Crumb – who not only dismissed all superhero comics (and even the ‘illustrator’ approach of Frazetta, Williamson etc.), but famously despises the entire genre of science fiction and nearly all post-war popular music.

    But then he also had the incredible talent and influence to generate a whole different ‘continuum’ where ‘American comics’ isn’t synonymous with men in tights and rocket pilots. His comments about mass media in the R.Crumb Handbook could be a near-manifesto for many of the underground/alt cartoonists that followed.

  20. tim.mbp says:

    Gavin Lees did a writeup of Art’s lecture from Puyallup. I’m assuming it’s the same one he gave at Brown.

  21. ****
    Jon Hastings says:
    April 16, 2010 at 1:30 pm
    …but when Jacques Rivette compared Hou Hsiao-hsien to James Cameron…


    WTF?! When did that happen? I like some of Rivette’s stuff (esp. “Duelle”) but find the majority of his later films to be supreme hogwash. Hou, on the other hand, is a genius (though his last couple have been weaker, too).

    I think Frank Miller sucks.

    This is the internet! I’m using it!

    Does Spiegelman like Capp? Resnais liked Capp. I think Resnais is 100 times the artist Spiegelman is.

  22. One interesting thing to note– on the inside of “Read Yourself Raw” (Pantheon Books, 1987), reprinting Raw Nos. 1 -3, there is a list of 52 individuals to whom the book is dedicated. Located within this serious bit of name-dropping, at position #26, between George Herriman and Joan Koop respectively, is none other than Jack Kirby. Although the dedication indicates “DEDICATED (by various Raw artists) TO:”, the list clearly proves that there was one of those dreaded hipsters on the loose in the Raw offices way back when, and Mr. Spiegelman had some knowledge of it. In the end– so what? Who the hell cares if so-and-so doesn’t care for the work of so-and-so? I think those kind of salvoes are wonderful in that they cause people to run around taking up arms to defend their respective hero, but we should be used to such pronouncements issuing forth from the mouths of opinionated artists. In fact, to be an artist is to have an opinion. In the blogosphere, however, everyone has an opinion but not everyone is an artist.

  23. Gabe Fowler says:


  24. EH says:

    How much is “Jack Kirby” standing in for “superheros” in general here?

    Just out of curiosity, what percentage of those who loves Kirby/superheros were first exposed when they were 10-year-old boys?

    Because my nonscientific sampling is that among my friends, those who were not exposed to superheroes as 10-year-old boys generally have about an 85% chance of not caring at all about them or for them. The virtues of Kirby are kind of narrowly confined within the genre he worked, and if you don’t care for that genre, it takes a lot of ‘splainin to talk about why he is great.

  25. Jeet Heer says:

    @EH. I think you’re exactly right. In my experience people who haven’t read superhero comics as kids have a good shot at appreciating Crumb, Spiegelman, Ware or Barry but have a much harder time seeing the merits Kirby. Although I do find that seeing Kirby’s original art helps break down some barriers, so that at the least his visual spendour shines through. But to appreciate Kirby’s stories, you have to have some childhood investment in superheroes.

  26. Bullshit. I didn’t start reading comics until I was 15, and I started with garbage like Alpha Flight and brilliance like Love & Rockets simultaneously… I had no childhood investment in superheroes, nor do I care about the genre as an adult — but I do find the work of particular creators (here, Kirby) compelling regardless of the content.

    Kirby’s “Fourth World” stuff is as interesting (and sloppy) as, say, most PK Dick books… That Spiegelman (who I believe is a PKD fan) can’t see that is, as I’ve said repeatedly, total snobbery. Yes, there are superheroes, but you needn’t be familiar with or enamored of them to appreciate Kirby’s tremendously bizarre imagination and his complete belief in the world he was creating on paper.

    And needless to say Kirby did work in what? a *dozen* other genres? often at the same time? Oh — but maybe if he had crapped out a 12-page holocaust story artie would be more forgiving and tout him as his own daring discovery? Seems like Spiegelman is the one in a genre ghetto (victim lit) not Kirby.

    I’m curious — Is Spiegelman an athiest?

  27. Jeet:
    “But to appreciate Kirby’s stories, you have to have some childhood investment in superheroes.”

    When you write stuff like this I get surprised at your bias and attitiude. Obviously you have forgotten the “Street Code” story from Argosy magazine. Not to mention all of his Romance, Westerns or War stories that have really nothing to do with his “superhero” work except for the framing and drawing style.

  28. NoahB says:

    I’m actually not a huge fan of a lot of Kirby stuff — I find it enjoyable but not a personal favorite by a long shot, for what that’s worth.

    Having said that…Spiegelman’s quote seems pretty ironic coming from him in particular. He’s basically accusing comics critics of fetishizing low-brow material in a drive for hipster cred. But…Spiegelman is himself absolutely consumed with fetishizing/rescuing/repurposing low-brow material and presenting it in such a way as to obtain something that looks very like hipster cred. The comics at the end of No Towers, the Plastic Man book, even the way he uses funny-animal iconography in Maus — he’s obsessed.

    Moreover, he’s really anxious about it. It’s not enough to reproduce old comics, you have to reproduce them in a way that suggests they have some relationship to 9/11 even when they don’t. It’s not enough to like funny animals, you have to put them (gasp!) in the Holocaust. It’s not enough to love Jack Cole, you have to get Chip Kidd to intervene so that everybody knows it’s cool. Even a lot of the cover copy in Raw is constantly harping on the low art/high art distinction, and how comics bridge it, and how great that is, but we are still high art, don’t ever doubt it, no no no.

    He just seems to have an enormous chip on his shoulder around these issues — as many art comics people do, to be fair. Still, it’s hard not to see this quote as him projecting a little, or a lot. The truth is, in their attitude to their sources and in their take on comics in general, I think Spiegelman and Frank Miller are a lot more similar than they are different.

  29. NoahB says:

    You know, on second thought, that’s probably unfair to Miller, whose enthusiasms seem much less stand-offish and nervous than Spiegelman’s. I probably should have said that Spiegelman’s quote seems to apply to his own relationship to his sources much more than to Miller’s relationship to his (not that Spiegelman was thinking of Miller in the first place, of course.)

  30. bryanocki C says:

    Alpha Flight 1-28 ruled. You guys should change this website to Diarrhea Diarrhea.

  31. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I think it was really sweet of Noah to say a whole bunch of stupid stuff about Art Spiegelman so that Jeet would feel less embarrassed about that childhood investment/Kirby line.

  32. Jeet Heer says:

    @Tom Spurgeon. Yeah, thanks Noah!

    @Frank and Ryan. I these particular taste judgements are all goverened by biases experiences, and I’m trying to be upfront about what my biases are. I think this is might be one area where we’re all going to just have to agree to disagree.

  33. oh…okay. Can we argue about only living people next time?

  34. siegfried sasso says:

    A little late, but here’s where that Rivette quote came from:

  35. Groth says:

    For what it’s worth, I’ve NEVER been “hipster critic,” so I suspect Art was not referring to me. I hope to God not, anyway.

    I did once harass Art for a good 20 minutes over Kirby in a Journal interview for which he probably hasn’t —and shouldn’t have— forgiven me. I thought it was a pretty fascinating, though; he actually articulated his problems with Kirby, which is good coming from Art because there are few people who understand and appreciate comics better than Art and to watch Art grapple with a “great” cartoonist whose sensibility was anathema to his was instructive.

    Crumb once told me he liked Kirby’s “Street Code.” For what that’s worth.

    • T. Hodler says:

      My suggestion that he was talking about you was intended to be taken as a joke—sorry if that wasn’t clear. In actuality, I think Spiegelman probably was referring to Comics Comics, at least indirectly.

      Crumb also had some generally positive words about Kirby in The R. Crumb Handbook, which I just noticed the other day and was kind of surprised to see.

  36. patrick ford says:

    Actually all Spiegelman did was prove he hadn’t read Street Code. Or perhaps that he remembers it as he wants to remember it, not necessarily as it is.
    Spiegelman describes Kirby’s work as fascist , and says Kirby shows a character splintering a door like the Hulk in Street Code where in fact Kirby’s face is pushed into a glass door embedded with chicken wire (remember those) and the glass cracks slightly but remains intact.
    Spiegelman: “Wonderful. I really enjoyed that. It was nuts. It was amazing because it was nuts. It was as crazy as Rory Hayes. To retranslate his life into superheroic idioms… [Laughs.] Like when somebody goes through a door to come home for milk and cookies, and he’s basically splintering it like the Hulk! [laughs] It’s really nuts!”
    The interesting thing about Kirby’s story Street Code is it is a virtual Rosetta (Key)Stone which places his entire world view in context, and in only a few pages.
    Kirby felt that man as an individual had to struggle to overcome an instinctive nature.
    That instinctive nature is rooted in man’s being descended from as Jared Diamond puts it, “The Third Chimpanzee,” or as Kirby often put it “Killer Baboons.”
    I think in Kirby’s eyes the “soul” of man is; man can (should) be reflective, and self-aware. He should be able to recognize the instinctive urges which can overwhelm his better judgment. This is always a struggle even intelligent men can be governed by impulse, just look at how many sex scandals there are.
    Kirby:”It’s you and I who manufacture evil and virtue. As human beings we must discipline ourselves to recognize them for what they are, learn the impact of both upon others, and dish out these products of our own humanity with understanding and moderation.”
    As far as Kirby’s work being “fascist?”
    Kirby: “”I quoted Hitler in the Forever People. Glorious Godfree’s looking at a crowd and says,’The entire crowd while I was talking to them had the same expression, it never wavered.'”
    If you watch baboons you’ll find the leader jumping up and down pounding on a rock shrieking, and the tribe gathers around him, they won’t move a muscle, like Hitler at the Nuremberg rallies, at his signal they will go out and kill.”

  37. patrick ford says:

    BTW while I don’t want to speak for Jeet, perhaps it would make more sense if he’d said that a person who has a deep dislike of superheroes going back to childhood might be so put off by the surface of Kirby’s work in the genre they would be blind to it’s virtue(I liked them as a kid, am so disinterested today that I haven’t seen a superhero movie since the first Tim Burton Batman, excepting The Incredibles which I took my children to see).
    Speigelman pretty much admits to this in TCJ interview, and I’d wager Speigelman hasn’t read much or any of Kirby’s post 60’s work.
    Glory Boat could be stripped of it’s trappings and remain a great story in any genre.

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