by T. Hodler
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.