Variety Pack


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

1. This old interview with Matt Groening popped up in my RSS reader about a week back, devoid of any context or explanation. I’ve decided to take it as a sign that now is the time for me to declare that — strange as it sounds to say about one of the wealthiest and most-celebrated cartoonists alive — I think Groening’s comics work is highly underrated.

Most episodes still have a few funny moments in them, but The Simpsons lost me as a big fan at least a decade ago. And while I was initially excited by the concept of Futurama, it never hit that sweet spot for me that the first two or three seasons of The Simpsons and many of Groening’s early Life in Hell strips reached on a regular basis. The strips collected in books like Work is Hell, Love is Hell, and School is Hell are not just incredibly funny and insightful, they also display a barely concealed sense of real dread over the human condition. That underlying pain raises the humor above the amusing into something that I find genuinely moving, and even strangely comforting — yeah, sure, life is pointless, but at least I’m not the only one who feels that way. To me, early Groening at his best belongs to the same great tradition as Kafka and Ecclesiastes. (Or at least it’s a small, awkwardly beautiful fish swimming in the same big river.)

2. Incidentally, it occurs to me that with all the endlessly recurring talk about “literary” comics versus “art” comics, if you go by the only definition of literary comics that makes much sense to me (the relative importance and prominence of the words), then Groening and Lynda Barry are two of the most literary cartoonists around. It’s strange that their names never come up in those discussions.

3. Since I’ve written some harsh things about the critic Noah Berlatsky in the past, it seems only right to point out his recent post on Alan Moore, which I think is quite good. I don’t necessarily agree with him in all the particulars, but it’s a really strong, fair, smart piece. For some reason, writing about Moore tends to bring out the best in him.

4. Finally, I don’t think I’ve linked to Charles Hatfield & Craig Fischer’s relatively new comics site yet, but it’s been worth regular stops for a while now. (I probably never would have bought the fascinating Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure comic if I hadn’t read their write-up, so I owe them for that alone.)

Anyway, while I regularly disagree with many of their individual judgments, their writing is unfailingly thoughtful and fair. This week, they took on Frank’s Storeyville. Again, I don’t concur with everything they say about it, but it’s nice to see the book finally getting some real (and overdue) critical attention. (If I didn’t feel constrained by ethics, I’d write more about it myself.) I hope this helps get a good conversation going.

[UPDATE:] 5. & 6.: A Gary Panter interview and Gary Groth on Jules Feiffer.

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3 Responses to “Variety Pack”
  1. Charles Hatfield says:

    Tim, thanks for the appreciative words re: what Craig and I are doing over at Thought Balloonists!

    We love doing tag-team reviews. Most especially, we love being able to hold forth about comics without editorial restrictions. We can gab for a loooooong time. 🙂

    We hope to keep TB going for a good while. It’s encouraging to see such kinds words about our efforts, so, again, thanks.

    It’s funny to me that this post is in the category “Comics vs. Literature.” Hey, dem’s fighting woids!

    Speaking of which, do you have any idea whether the MP3 of that Comic-Con panel Dan was on last year is still available, somewhere? I am sorry I missed that (I missed the whole Con last year), and I’m hoping I can listen to the recording…

  2. T Hodler says:

    Hey Charles —

    Thanks for the comment. The tag team review is definitely a great format. I hope you’re able to keep it up.

    I don’t know whether that old “Are Comics Literature?” (or whatever the name was) is still up on the internet anywhere. It looks like has taken it down, and that’s where I heard it originally. It might be worth asking Douglas Wolk, who I believe was the moderator.

    Oh, and the COMICS VS. LITERATURE tag was for Variety Pack Point #2, not #4, so don’t get too angry, please.

  3. Craig Fischer says:

    Thanks for the praise about Thought Balloonists, Tim, especially since it’d be easy for you to accuse me of plagiarism.

    Why? Two reasons: (1.) In my TB tribute to Steve Gerber, “We’re All Bozos on this Blog,” I argued that Gerber’s best Marvel work was THE DEFENDERS; and (2.) At the end of my review of FF: THE LOST ADVENTURE, I reprinted a letter from Gerber that was published in FF #19.

    Just this week–way behind the curve–I finally procured copies of the last two issues of COMICS COMICS (#2 and 3, the newspapers), and read your two-part Gerber article. Of course, I discovered that you reprinted Gerber’s letter first, and that you likewise think Gerber’s DEFENDERS run is the bee’s knees (although you’re much more eloquent and detailed about your reasons than I was).

    I’m sorry about my inadvertent plagiarism, and I thought your article was terrific. I hope Gerber read it before he died. I think it would’ve given him comfort to know that someone understood his work and could write about it so honestly.

    And hey, I’d be happy to read anything you write about STOREYVILLE, nepotism be damned…

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