Cage Match #3: My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (2008)


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

[TIM: For those new to the concept of the Comics Comics Cage Match, it’s basically a recurring feature that gives us a way to present no-holds-barred arguments about comics and comics-related issues on which we don’t quite see eye to eye. Rules: Frank puts up some thoughts, and sometime in the near future, I will respond (though it’s likely that this particular match will proceed a bit more leisurely than past conflicts). We’ll keep going back and forth until it feels like we’re done. Readers are welcome to throw tomatoes at us through the bars in the comments. (Oh, and if you haven’t read this book yet and don’t like spoilers, you may want to skip this.)]

FRANK: I’m too lazy to write a full review of David Heatley‘s “new” book, My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down, so we’re gonna have a Cage Match. I should take a scalpel to it and slice it up precisely, turn it inside out. I could easily show how there is really nothing there, that once the “shock” of his work wears off, the lines, the forms, the cartooning is all clearly sub-par.

But Heatley’s new book just makes me angry. And I think that’s what he wants. He wants to provoke reactions like mine so that he can “work out” his insecurities, his racism and his issues with women on the page. And be forgiven.

I’ve been waiting to see this cartoonist take the next step and I think his new book is incredibly disappointing.

Since Heatley keeps re-printing the same material over and over again, should I consider this the Heatley I’ve been hoping will emerge? I mean, I liked the sexual history story when it first came out. Five years ago. It was funny. But I feel like I’ve seen it in at least three different collections since then. And now it’s in his hideously ugly new book, replete with self-censorship and no explanation as to why. (He famously placed pink bars over all the genitalia for this new version and added an epilogue of sorts—more on that later)

The book is broken up into sections that are labeled as parts of Heatley’s brain. The “Race” section starts off with a dream comic of David fucking a Black woman from behind and her asking, “Did you stick it in yet?” O the humanity!

“Sambo” is up next, a dream comic about protecting himself and family from “Sambo.” (The last image is of David hitting “Sambo” over the head with a bat.)

A dream comic about the “Projects.”

Then “Black History” begins. The bulk of the new material in this book.

Y’know, it’s not like he grows as a cartoonist. This big new story about “every Black person he’s ever known” looks and reads exactly like 2003-4 Heatley. There’s little measurable growth. (Insert dick joke here.)

And as someone who’s godfather was Black, I gotta say, you’re a fucking asshole for even doing this story, Heatley. My godfather used to say, “I love it when someone says they got lots of ‘Black friends’ like they gotta say ‘Black’ just to impress me. If they your friends, why you gotta say ‘Black’? You think that same person says, ‘I got a lot of White friends’?”

And that’s sort of what Heatley does by inserting “Shout Outs” to his homies within the narrative itself. There are larger panels within the dense page design of the story that include a drawing of a figure, of a real Black person like his childhood friend Winton, with dedications like, “Dude, you were the coolest, stoney-eyed artist around!” To me, these come off as really demeaning.

There are also large sidebars and whole pages of handwritten text that are “Record Reviews” of Black music that David loves. It’s the “voice” Heatley uses to describe getting, say, a Jungle Brothers tape that makes me just shake my head. All that “Yo wassup” white-boy lingo that he spits? Give me a fucking break. Just read it, look at in the store. I don’t have the patience to describe it.

I think it’s the pairing of the two things—the narrative, the comic, these fragments of memory with the “Record Reviews/Shout Out” music-zine stuff—that really puts me off. It’s as though he’s trying so hard to prove that he really loves Black people by listing the music and art made by Black people that he enjoys—just as he lists the trespasses and aggression he feels from Black people or towards Black people. It doesn’t ring true. For me.

(Bell: end of round one)

DAN: OK, I guess I will jump in. I think what riles people up about this book is precisely the public/personal nature of it: That is, it’s a book explicitly about coming to grips with some notion of morality or a way of accepting one’s own behavior. Unlike the demonstrative fantasies of Crumb or meandering auto-bio of Joe Matt, this is direct, speaking to the reader kinda stuff. It’s specifically drawn as, in a sense, therapy. That such a process becomes so public is what, I think, some people find alternately compelling or repulsive about it. I am, of late, on the compelling side, but that is less the “critic” in me talking and more the human being — that is, I suppose, in terms of the “journey” being undertaken: I relate; I empathize. One question worth asking is: How does one judge such a work: Is it reasonable for David to expect moral outrage like Frank’s? Does such a story, and the obvious implications for one’s moral well-being, elicit a like-minded response, as it did from Frank? Is that fair? I mean, David isn’t offering a prescription for how to live — just describing his own journey. But it’s the tone and content, I guess, that Frank is reacting against. Just some stray thoughts here. Tim?

TIM: Wow. Okay, that’s a lot to chew on. This particular Cage Match might take a while, though I have a feeling neither one of us is going to emerge a clear winner, at least not in the sense of convincing the other to change his mind.

Anyway, first of all: I like David’s comics a lot more than you do, Frank. They aren’t flawless by any means, and I have extremely mixed feelings about many of his artistic choices, but they do provoke extraordinarily rich reactions and thoughts. Basically, I can imagine a really full discussion of his work lasting up to a week without exhausting a lot of what’s going on, and that’s something I couldn’t say for very many contemporary young(ish) cartoonists.

But maybe it’s best for now just to respond to the points you raise. First, you’re right: this is the umpteenth appearance of the “Sex History” story, which has been re-packaged a dozen times. Except for a one-page coda to this story, the epic new “Black History”, “Kin” (I could be wrong, but I don’t think I’ve seen this before), and I believe at least part of the portrait of his mother, nearly all of the contents of this book have appeared in previous David Heatley projects. This doesn’t bother me much personally—I like how this all reads when put together. Many of these pieces, which seem too open-ended and inconclusive on their own, gain power and cogency through their juxtaposition. I think, at least.

Second: I’m not a fan of the pink censor bars David has added to his “Sex History” strip, either. And I don’t find the explanation he provided in his Time Out New York interview to be very convincing: “I was getting fan mail from a couple twentysomething boys, saying, ‘Oh, your strip gave me a boner,’ and I thought, This isn’t what I had in mind. It’s really about longing and bad sex and lack of connection.” Mostly because, uh, while David has a pretty cute drawing style, I don’t think they’re particularly erotic as images. If readers were getting “boners”, it probably had more to do with the mental images and memories provoked by the narrative itself than with crudely drawn genitals. I also think that the censor bars make the story feel less honest, less sincere: two of the story’s greatest apparent strengths, previously.

And the coda he’s added! It’s simply bizarre, and a huge disappointment, reading almost like a repudiation of the entire point of the story that precedes it. For those who haven’t picked up the book yet, in the last page, David comes to believe that he spends far too much time masturbating to pornography, to the point where he believes he is a sex addict and enters treatment for it. This really calls into question the original story’s veracity and clashes hugely with its tone, because there’s really just no hint that this has been such a serious issue for him, and coming out of the blue as it does in a single page at the end raises a huge number of questions. I really don’t know what to make of it, but if this topic was something he wanted to explore in his comics, I think it should have been treated at greater length, or at least in a comic more clearly separate from the original.

I don’t want to go on forever, so I’ll tackle your “Black History” argument briefly, and then turn it back over to you. Basically, I don’t think your characterization of it is very fair at all. He doesn’t present himself just as having a lot of black friends, but also includes many interactions with black people who dislike him, or whom he dislikes. And even the vast bulk of his black friendships seem to either peter out or end in anger. He’s obviously playing with inflammatory material here, but it doesn’t seem like he’s trying to be self-congratulatory in that particular way.

As far as the record reviews go, I think you have much more of a solid point. Their tone really feels odd next to the comparatively heavy stuff going on in the larger story, and the “critiques” in them are so shallow and clichéd that they don’t seem to really add anything to the story, either. If the effect of black culture on David’s feelings about race were to be included, he really should have gone into it more, I think. As it is, the only value they add is the presumably unintentional one of revealing the shallowness of his actual thinking about race relations, and specifically his [unacknowledged] white privilege. One of the most unusual qualities of David’s stories is their very conspicuous lack of analysis, of summing up. The record reviews are an atypical aberration in that regard, and I don’t think they add enough context to be worth sacrificing one of David’s strongest and most compelling effects.

And Dan, I wrote this before seeing your post, but I basically think I agree with you, or at least think that it’s a fruitful way to start thinking about his work.

TIM: Don’t neglect the comments section on this one, by the way. Lots of good stuff down there.

TIM: Okay. I guess while we’re waiting for Frank to respond, and now that I’ve taken more time to actually digest Dan’s post and some of the comments, I’ll take another quick turn at bat. As far as whether or not David creates his art as therapy, I guess I’m not really interested. I’ve never really bought the idea of art as therapy, but I don’t really care if David uses it that way as long as the story on the page works for me. (I also think that the therapy bit is probably more of an interview shtick than the actual truth, but there’s no way to know that for sure.) As Dash Shaw says in the comments, “If this book really is play therapy, as Heatley says and as it would suggest, it is beyond criticism and (really) a not-for-print book that happened to find publication, which is an extremely romantic/ideal situation.” But obviously it is meant for print, and obviously David does care how readers respond to it, because otherwise: why the new pink censor bars boner-blockers?

TIM: Also, just to add fuel to the fire, I thought I’d highlight a few possibly relevant quotes from the interview with David in Comics Comics 3.

DAVID HEATLEY: I’m a big believer in psychology and therapy and all that stuff. I don’t feel that what I’m making is art therapy—it’s not that kind of thing—but it’s related to self-discovery and trying to be a better person, and it’s definitely an extension of the rest of your life, too. And most of my time is spent trying to be better in some way, and it’s an extension of that. I don’t think it changes me, but it’s a driving force to make new work.

Here’s another:

TIM HODLER: Do you ever do anything similar in your autobiographical work? I mean, try to make yourself look worse or better to make it more interesting to people? Or other people look worse or better? Or events?

DH: I don’t think I do. Let me put it this way. Chris Ware and I have been writing each other, and one time he said that I was one of the very few autobiographical cartoonists who doesn’t make himself into a character and I don’t know how you do that, but that’s true. I don’t make myself into a shticky Woody Allen/Joe Matt kind of character. I’m not—somehow there’s just a blankness to the “me” in those stories. I didn’t know I was striving for that, but I think I am striving for that. So I don’t think I’m trying to change myself one way or the other….

TH: It sounds like you’re more interested in the atmosphere or feeling of the story than you are in the plot or the characterization.

DH: Yeah. How would a person feel when confronted with this situation or that? How would this feel? [then, self-mockingly] I have feelings!

TIM: Frank gets back at four, so prepare for a late-afternoon explosion. In the meantime, to answer Alex Holden’s question in the comments: yes, I think the crudeness of David’s art is clearly deliberate. And I actually think it works really well with his stories. His drawings are child-like, which reinforces their primal, almost solipsistic tone; his stories read as if created by David’s “inner child”. (It may be a cliché, but it’s true all the same.) Of course, as in the case of the self-censorship mentioned above, this effect is sometimes blunted by David’s other formal choices.

FRANK: Round two: This is what I got. I read through Tim’s parts and Dan’s parts and the comments and I’ll add more soon.

Sigh. It just really makes me angry. Parts like where he says, “I can’t remember if my babysitter used the word ‘nigger’ but…” simply give him such an easy opportunity to “investigate” these “injustices”. He’s so full of bullshit righteousness. He always eventually shows himself doing the right thing, he’s always absolved.

And that’s okay, you know, because he’s an honest to god auto-bio cartoonist and it’s cool, y’know, for comics to be EDGY and REAL. So what that it underscores an incredible hostility and disrespect to others. “It’s like Crumb, man, c’mon…” I can hear some feeble defense of it all… What-fucking-ever is all I say.

And lastly, most clearly, he’s a hack of a cartoonist. Ever notice when he draws panels larger than an inch square you can truly see how shitty his line work is?

My God, look at the last story in the book. It is literally hacked out of the Bristol. It’s unbearable.

Whether his style is “intentional” or not, I don’t care. Sure there are deliberate choices. Those choices, to me, illustrate the limitations of his skill and vision. Line is line. Gary Panter’s line is strong, subtle; there are ebbs and flows. Same with R. Crumb and Mark Beyer (to use an example from the comments section)—there are discernible modulations of line that indicate a craftsman in control. I don’t get that with Heatley.

So what that he’s got the guts to show these sides of himself? There’s little craft, no narrative—just memory fragments arranged like a list. A brilliant strategy for a Truffaut movie but it doesn’t work in this comic. Or any of his comics, come to think of it. Dreams, lists of sexcapades, lists of people. Nothing adds up into a satisfying read. I’m sure to David it’s fascinating. But these anemic story arcs coupled with the Matt Feazell-like wizardry in the art department make for a profoundly disappointing “debut.”

TIM: The weird thing is, in a lot of ways I agree with you, Frank. There’s no question that David’s work so far is limited—to say the least—both in terms of craft and theme. I happen to think his drawing style works really well for those themes, but I hear you. I also agree with you (and disagree with Dan) about a lot of his storytelling. That “Black History” story in particular, as you point out, is far more meandering than anything Joe Matt has ever done, and ends kind of anti-climatically. As you imply, it’s just one thing after another. The “Kin” story, too, ends abruptly (and that’s one story where I agree that David’s drawings are simply not up-to-snuff). But…

But at the same time, I still find his work compelling, often despite myself. Somehow, as David put it in that CC3 interview, “content [leaks] in almost from the outside” despite the fact that he leaves out so much. All the little anecdotes (most of which are actually pretty mundane) trigger half-buried memories and emotions when I read them, evoke barely remembered events in my own life (usually quite different from David’s), and create a reading experience I don’t think I’ve ever gotten from any other auto-bio cartoonist, even those who I think are far superior in terms of craft and artistic ability, and whose work I probably value more highly in the end: Chester Brown, Justin Green, Julie Doucet, Crumb, etc. All the same, I can’t deny that Heatley’s work seems unique to me. (Though sometimes I wonder if the taboo nature of much of his material may make me overvalue them… I don’t know.)

And also, as I said before, I do think that somehow by putting all these stories together, as inconclusive and unsatisfying as they can be when set apart, they combine in context into something more nuanced and “whole”. The portraits of his mother and father in particular seem almost revelatory after reading the sex and race stories—suddenly a lot of weird, unexplained things in those stories spring into focus.

Finally, I really don’t think that Heatley always shows himself doing the right thing. Did you read the part where he was a camp counselor, urinating on a young child? Did you read the part where he freaked out and yelled at the medical workers in the maternity ward? There’s something there in your criticism, maybe, but it’s a lot more complicated than you’re admitting. I think, anyway. Over to you for now.

FRANK: (Round three—jab, jab, jab.) Look, I’m going on my “gut” reaction to his work. I don’t like it. And the more people try and “convince” me that his choices are artful and inventive, the more I feel indifferent to his work.

When Crumb creates a narrative of riding a woman’s shoe when he was a child and getting off on it, it’s a beautiful, repulsive, remarkable expression of lines and forms.

David’s typical choice: to use small, rhythmic panels that quickly build the scene like notes to one’s self–just do not satisfy me as a reader. There is little arc building and narrative give and take, or even a beginning and end. It’s like being told an anecdote.

These anecdotes, in the “Sex History” for example, can sometimes unite the narrative. But in “Black History”, the thread that binds it all is simply “race” and that just leaves me cold. There’s little cohesion. It’s a catalog. It’s not interesting to me. Not challenging.

“Black History” is a totally boring, list-like collection of stories, that begin and end abruptly. There’s no real narrative thread like in the “Sex History” story. That story “works” because the sexual act is the thread. That’s what connects the stories, the memories. The thread of “race” is not enough to sustain the narrative. And that might be fine for a two- or three-page comic with fifty panels per page, but for a comic of this density to go on and on and on is borderline torture for the reader.

I do agree with you that his work creates associations of long dormant memories, and that is different from “the Browns” (Chester and Jeffrey), but again, SO WHAT?

It’s totally boring. And right when I thought, “this is Black History story is totally boring”, David provides an “Interlude” where his Dad says the magic words, “Goddamn Nigger Bitch”, which will haunt David until the end of this insanely long and tedious story. (More on that later when we have the scanner. Wait ’til you see the end of “Black History”!)

TIM: Okay. Well like I just said, I agree with you on the “Black History” piece! At least on its general formlessness.

As far as “SO WHAT?”, I don’t know, I guess I do think that evoking an emotional response is a valid artistic goal. Do you really disagree? If so, you should say why! I’m interested.

Eric Reynolds weighs in with a pretty amazing comment, which everyone should read for themselves in full. But I wanted to respond to a few bits from it, because it brought up a few things I eventually wanted to get around to talking about, anyway.

First: “I liked “Sexual History” when I first read it. At the very least, it indulged my voyeuristic tendencies enough to enjoy the ride. But I also wondered if I was enjoying it in spite of David, because my armchair psychologizing/reading often seemed at odds with the author’s own conclusions (or my own interpretation of them, anyway).”

That really rings true for me, because I think that on the few times David includes his conclusions (such as the new ending to the sex story, the record reviews and shout-outs in “Black History”, etc.), they almost always seem to be at least somewhat wrong-headed, and to undercut, or to be undercut by, the story itself. For me, that kind of paradoxically adds to the whole experience, though yeah, it’s kind of a similar fascination to that which I sometimes get from reading Dave Sim (not that I’m accusing David of being Sim!) or even from the Dick Ayers autobiography. There are more layers to the comics than the cartoonist seems to realize or understand.

Second: “One thing I tend to agree with Frank about is that although I consider myself pretty thick-skinned when it comes to political incorrectness, I can’t escape that there is a fundamentally wrongheaded, racist idea at the core of the black history strip: that the author thinks he can essentially organize an entire, other race of people in a way that is comprehensive and/or meaningful to anyone but himself.”

[UPDATE: Eric modified his thoughts on this a bit later.]

Here I want to be really clear that I agree that the story is at the very least kind of questionable in terms of its approach to race. When I disagreed with Frank over this story, I was disagreeing with how Frank characterized the way Heatley presents himself in the story. I think he intentionally implicates himself several times. That being said, the more I think about the story, the more I wonder if the whole conception of it wasn’t flawed, as Eric suggests. The approach that successfully worked with sex doesn’t seem nuanced enough to deal with a topic this complicated.

I get the feeling that Heatley must’ve realized this himself, at least subconsciously, which may be why he included the really weird record reviews and shout-outs (to which, too, yeah, I agree with Frank: they come off as condescending). The weirdest of all may be his review of the TV show The Wire on the last page (I don’t know if this is what you’re referring to, Frank), where Heatley writes, “It’s certainly the only TV show to alter my race consciousness. I notice certain young black men who would have been invisible to me before, hidden behind the screen of my own ignorance and fear. I’d like to think I know something of their stories now. … Did you know it’s Barack Obama’s favorite show, too?” Now The Wire is a great show, don’t get me wrong, but this bone-headed, totally self-unaware statement, coming after some dozens of pages of pretty intense racial encounters, is a real WTF moment.

FRANK: Round four. Rope-a-dope.

The “SO WHAT” factor is large for me. It’s too easy. I’ve seen so many students, amateurs, AND professionals use “provocation” as an artistic stance. These creators are calculating (to a degree) what the readers’ emotional response will be, and I feel manipulated by the creator’s choices. I don’t like having my buttons pushed in art just for the sake of it. Generally, I think this masks the artist’s shortcomings.

From the comments section: “Is the motivation to make a good comic, or is it just picking a taboo subject so people talk about and buy the book?”

Dreams, sex stories, “Darkies”, and Dad. Heatley’s subject matter in a nut-sack, er, shell. Nut-shell.

(I have to make one last comment about the “Black History” story. It’s when the “Mumia Abu-Jamal” section starts (he went to some rallies). There’s a largish panel at the bottom of the page where the Mumia rallies begin that is like a record review. It begins, “Mumia, blah, blah, blah, I read his book, blah, blah”, and concludes with, “My wife and I joined his movement in mid-summer 1995.” Bully for you, David. Thanks for sharing.)

And then there’s David and Women.

It is interesting that the first depiction of a woman in the book is being punched in the face by David. And the first story in the “race” section contains the scene described above where David is fucking a Black woman from behind. Curious. What IS his intention in these stories? Wait. Forget it. I DON’T CARE!!

TIM: Okaay. And I don’t really have the energy right now, so I’m probably done for tonight, and won’t respond with final thoughts until tomorrow. Anyway, feel free to keep arguing in the comments ’til then.

TIM: All right. I’ve gotten some sleep, and maybe a little second wind. Though I have to say, I think my initial prediction about neither of us convincing the other seems like it’s going to come true. Basically, I don’t know where we can go from here, really, seeing as you “don’t care” what Heatley’s intentions are. That’s kind of a brick wall in terms of discussion.

But, a few quick final(?) thoughts:

First, I don’t think the charge that Heatley is manipulating his audience really rings true to me. He certainly does provoke emotional responses, but he also, I think, engages the reader’s intellect as well. To bring up the Dave Sim comparison again: Sim’s a guy who tries to manipulate his readers, by using various rhetorical tricks, and jerry-rigging his evidence and arguments. Heatley generally does the opposite; he usually presents events without analysis or comment, leaving it up to the reader to make sense of them. (In the few occasions where he does provide analysis, such as the new final page of the sex story, or in the “record reviews” of his race story, I think they weaken his work, as mentioned earlier. But those are relatively rare occasions.)

Second, I don’t think there’s any way to be sure about Heatley’s motivations in tackling these taboo subjects. Are they exploitative, or courageous? Or both? I don’t know, and while I understand why people would suspect bad faith on Heatley’s part, I don’t think I ultimately agree. Despite what you have said, he simply does portray himself in an often unflattering light. I think that he appears to be making a genuine effort to depict the “truth” as well as he can, at least most of the time. And I don’t think it makes sense to say first that he tries to make himself always look good, and then once you admit that he doesn’t, say that it doesn’t matter. Either it matters, or it doesn’t!

Third, and I realize this is only my opinion, and can’t really be argued, but despite the many failings I think can be attributed to “Black History”, I really didn’t find it boring. Exhausting? Sure. (Kind of like this Cage Match, maybe.) But not boring. And I think that the fact that you read the story, which is quite long, under less than ideal conditions—standing in a bookstore (please correct me if I am mistaken—rather than in a comfortable chair, at leisure, with time to digest the content, might have made it more difficult to engage with the story I get the impression from reading your comments that you haven’t really fully engaged with Heatley’s story, or given it the time and thought it deserves to be fair to it. I think that whatever Heatley may get wrong, his stories more or less demand strong engagement if the reader is going to do them justice. He doesn’t spoon feed you; you have to decide for yourself. (And yes, I acknowledge that Heatley’s choice of subject matter is going to cause a lot of people not to want to engage just on principle. But I think that kind of knee-jerk reaction isn’t a very fair or fruitful way to think about his work.)

Fourth, I want to second Eric’s opinion in the comments about David’s design sense, which I think is indeed strong. I also think that we haven’t acknowledged just how good David is at isolating evocative, resonant, telling moments, which greatly enhances his storytelling.

Finally, I think Heatley’s weaknesses and virtues as an artist are tightly interwoven. You have to work out for yourself whether it’s worth the effort to read him. For myself, I have to say that for all my problems with his work, I find it unique, memorable, and occasionally powerful. I’m glad I’ve read him; his stories, warts and all, have expanded my concept of what comics can do.

Over to you.

TIM: Oh, and this isn’t really a good place to put it, but I did want to highlight part of a comment from Tom Spurgeon that I thought was particularly smart, and made a point I hadn’t considered, but which seems obvious in retrospect:

“The thing I don’t like about the pink bars in the sex story is that it changes the context by which he refused to treat his wife the same way as the rest of the people in the book, which I thought was hilarious and somehow meaningful in ways other than the obvious ways.”

Okay, I’m done.

FRANK: Round five (circle, keep feet moving.)

All strong arguments, Tim.

I agree that Heatley’s work is complicated. And that my “knee-jerk” reaction (“I don’t like it, it’s boring.”—I still say it’s boring, no matter how many wacky things happen in the story) is not a sufficient counter-argument, but what else can I say? Even when I totally love something, I often don’t have that much to say about it. Formally, it’s interesting, but not overly so. Deadening and repetitive is a more apt description. If I were to dissect it page by page, I’m sure I’d find some surprises, but it just leaves me cold. I look at stuff like Fun Home and think the same thing: “It’s good, but it doesn’t do anything for me.” Totally different styles, approaches, goals, but still in the “I don’t care” category. When someone says they think Brian Chippendale is boring, and that they don’t like it, what am I supposed to say to them? I say, “OK, that’s cool.” I don’t try and convince people that they need to investigate that further. That’s what the TCJ message board is for. I don’t do that. And while the point of this Cage Match may be to convince each other of the work’s merits or its failings, I just don’t have much else to say.

And if I talk about why it makes me angry, or that I think Heatley is a self-centered careerist, then it just sounds like sour grapes.

When I learned that the original sub-title for “Black History” was “To All My Niggas”, it made me angry. Do I have to qualify that feeling I had/have? Why? Why is the onus on me, the reader?

You write, “I think that he appears to be making a genuine effort to depict the ‘truth’ as well as he can, at least most of the time.” Funny how his “White privilege” is never really discussed. He doesn’t pull back like in the record reviews and provide a context for his actions/thoughts. He’ll show his Dad using racial slurs, but not much else in the way of “background” or a lucid self-analysis, except within the spare narrative. There are plenty of occasions where he shows himself “looking bad”, but I think that’s just part of the endless list of anecdotes. I don’t feel that it balances out the “looking good”. It’s a self-serving narrative device.

To me, he “gets away” with a lot because the work is sort of beyond reproach because it’s auto-biographical. In a work of fiction, there would be an artifice that would act as a filter. Here the rawness is unsettling. That’s its strength, but it’s also a crutch. He’s always free to expose, expose, expose. He’s “beyond criticism” as someone wrote in the comments section. It’s extremely difficult to pin down why it pisses me off, but it does. He’s a good person in his comics, he’s a bad person. So what. We all are in real life. Heatley “investigates” this. So what. Is it good art? To some, sure. To me, it sucks, I don’t like it. I have problems with it. Obviously.

And lastly: I wonder what his rock star buddy Tunde from TV on the Radio has to say about his “Shout-Out” in the book?

TIM: I wonder about that, too. It would be interesting to know; maybe he likes it? In any case, it looks like we’ve reached an impasse here. You’ve raised some good points, even if I ultimately mostly disagree with you. But I don’t want to keep rehearsing the same arguments, and it may be that we are (finally) coming to a kind of natural close here for the Cage Match. Dan wants to weigh in one more time, but probably won’t be able to get to it until tomorrow, due to the New York Art Book Fair. Until then, everyone should feel free to keep arguing in the comments.

TIM: Dan? Are you out there?

DAN: Well, for now, I’ll bow out. Seems like all has been said that could be said. I would like to weigh in again at some point, mostly in defense of the book as a book, and my own feeling that it’s largely successful on its own terms. I suppose I come down with Tim on most things, but frankly I am also too burnt out on this ongoing book fair and other pressing work to be able to post anything nearly as thoughtful or cogent as what Tim has done, not to mention many others. I think this has been by and large a really fascinating discussion. Thanks.

TIM: That’s it, folks. Thanks, and good night.

UPDATE: David Heatley responds.

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126 Responses to “Cage Match #3: My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (2008)”
  1. Alex Holden says:

    I hope you get around to discussing the form as well.
    The (to some, inflammatory) content is pretty easy to get caught up in.

    I often see Heatley’s artwork described as “deceptively crude”. Do you agree with this? I think a better term might be “deliberately crude”. At least in the sex story. I’ve only flipped through the rest of the book at the store.

  2. Dan Nadel says:

    I think the form is hugely important — David is certainly very formally conscious, right down to which style he uses for which purpose. I think Frank has thoughts on that as well.

  3. Tom Spurgeon says:


    Do you really think it’s a comic about coming to terms with these things? Or is it a comic that allows Heatley to come to terms with these things? And if it’s the latter, doesn’t his open ambition kind of change one’s perspective on the nature of that coming to terms?

  4. T Hodler says:

    Hey Tom —

    I can’t speak for Dan, obviously, but I think you raise a really good point there. For me personally, that tendency does raise a lot of mixed feelings, but basically I think it is beside the point as long as the story itself works. Dalí was a self-promotional dick, but if you like his paintings, you like them anyway. If not, you probably dislike them for the paintings themselves, not his personality. I hope I’m not eliding your argument… I’m not trying to.

  5. Inkstuds says:

    I do also have issues with the Pink Bars. Ultimately, it is David’s story and he can do what he pleases, but it really takes away from the stories flow and you are distracted by what looks like little post it notes on the page.

    This form of revisionism reminds me of Joey Chips and silly daddy, where he went back and changed stories because they did not fit in with who he was present day(born again).

  6. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Tim, I don’t know David, and I don’t care about his personality. He could be the best guy in the whole world. He could be a puppy-kicker.

    I’m just surprised to see Dan cite those comics as representing his coming to terms with certain things, because I don’t see that within the stories. If Dan does, I’d like to know where and how.

    If it’s not within the stories, then I’d suggest Dan is projecting onto the stories that use for them because that’s a common way people use art. However, then we have to take into consideration David’s own statements about the value of his art — at least as competing values — and one of those values seems to be becoming successful at it.

    In other words, I’m happy to give weight to a text-only way of looking at this issue. Now where the fuck is it?

  7. Dash Shaw says:

    I think Heatley is a complicated and interesting artist.

    If this book really is play therapy, as Heatley says and as it would suggest, it is beyond criticism and (really) a not-for-print book that happened to find publication, which is an extremely romantic/ideal situation. The problem is that Heatley’s been tipping his hand too much recently (the bogus pink censor bars, the MoCCA lecture where he sounded, to me, like a careerist.) But, then again, isn’t honesty about tipping your hand? I guess I’d like it if sincerity/honesty as a form of seduction or manipulation was addressed directly in his work, because it ends up being what you have to debate. It’s a hard thing to talk about. But at least his work can spark a debate like this!

  8. Brad Mackay says:

    “…once the ‘shock’ of his work wears off, the lines, the forms, the cartooning is all clearly sub-par.”

    C’mon! That’s a pretty simplistic take on Heatley’s work Frank. It’s like what my Mom would say if i gave her a copy of one of David’s books!

    I sat in on a presentation he gave at TCAF in 2005 (i think?) where he walked the audience through his process, and I was both surprised and heartened with the degree of deliberation behind every line he puts on the page. If i remember correctly, he originally started making more polished comics but was concerned that they looked too polished – so switched to his current style. I like it – always have – and find it fits comfortably alongside the likes of Beyer and Panter (and thematically with Crumb et al.).

    It may look sub-par, but the storytelling is undeniably strong — i mean, who can forget how his Sex History story felt when you first read it? C’mon!

  9. T Hodler says:

    Tom: Ha! Touché. I’m going to eat lunch now and think about it.

    Also, great comment, Dash.

  10. Sean T. Collins says:

    I haven’t taken a look at my copy of the collection yet, though I was kind of gobsmacked to find out about the censoring of My Sex History. It seemed to me that the whole point of that strip was to be completely un-censored. It’s the sexual autobio equivalent of a real splatterfest like Dead Alive, where the constant, vulgar spectacle of it all takes a Louisville Slugger to your brain until it’s beaten into a new way of reacting to what you’re seeing. The over-the-top-ness is the point. Isn’t it?

  11. Heidi M. says:

    At a brief B&N panel I moderated on Monday, Heatley was very frank about being a narcissist and how that informs his work. I got the impression that the effect on the audience is a secondary motivation for him.

  12. Dan Nadel says:

    Tom, I think the stories are used to come to terms with things AND also about coming to terms with things. The latter is implicit in the act of creating such a thing, and the former I glean from interviews with him. As for how open ambition factors into all of it… I dunno. I need to puzzle that one out some more.

  13. Dan Nadel says:

    Dash gets it right: “I guess I’d like it if sincerity/honesty as a form of seduction or manipulation was addressed directly in his work, because it ends up being what you have to debate.”

  14. Frank Santoro says:

    “I like it – always have – and find it fits comfortably alongside the likes of Beyer and Panter (and thematically with Crumb et al.).”

    You said what? Next to Beyer? Next to Panter? And Crumb?

    go ahead, say that again. You can like it, I just want to hear someone say it again.

  15. Tom Devlin says:

    I would like to put forth a motion that Heatley should be referred to as “Pink Bars” from now on.

  16. Anonymous says:

    the thing with beyer, panter and heatley is they’re all so idiosyncratic. it takes it a bit beyond criticism, where if you insult the drawings, you’re insulting the drawer as well (which is apparently what frank is doing here).

    sorry to post anonymously.

  17. Frank Santoro says:

    wait, what am I doing?

  18. Anonymous says:

    Hey! That cover is a rip off of Dan Clowes!

  19. Brian says:

    The idea that a drawer is beyond criticism for being idiosyncratic is insane.

    The idea that David Heatley is an idiosyncratic drawer (or cartoonist) is likewise flawed. Beyer is an awful comparison. Mark Beyer is actually distinctive and alone in what he’s doing, even if Rory Hayes stands as a precedent. Heatley is not any more idiosyncratic than Jeffrey Brown, who is himself easily comparable to any number of college kids doing autobio minicomics. It’s just generic cartooning, no better than the doodles I do.

    There’s no sense of place, or emotion, or anything being conveyed by how Heatley draws. Beyer conveys a whole sense of dread out of weird perspective, layout, and obsessive markmaking. Heatley can draw himself with a boner over and over again to lay out his sexual history, which is completely different. I hate to say “I can do that” when looking at a piece of art but seriously there are any number of middle school students who can make lines into a drawing of a penis.

    And Gary Panter is just straight-up masterful.

  20. Patrick says:

    I kinda get whiplash going from Tim’s part of the dialogue to Frank’s, since Frank seems so viscerally repulsed/annoyed by the book. Early on, though, Frank says:

    “I’ve been waiting to see this cartoonist take the next step and I think his new book is incredibly disappointing.”

    …which makes me think that Frank must see (or have once seen) something promising in Heatley’s work. If so, what?

  21. Frank Santoro says:

    I saw something promising five years ago. it was fresh. but five years later, to me, it’s the same one-note song.

  22. Eric Reynolds says:

    What a fascinating debate. I was surprised by some of my own reactions to this book, especially considering that much of it wasn’t new to me. I would never have said anything about it on the net except I am inspired enough by this debate to join.

    Dash and Spurgeon articulate well for me how the inherent tension between Heatley’s work and his public persona elicits such polarized reactions. I tend to wrestle with the same impression that I think Dash has, that David’s self-promotional efforts tend to undercut the suggestion that the work functions as play therapy. I haven’t figured out how to reconcile that, or if I should even try.

    I’ve often liked David’s work in the past, particularly his fictional “Overpeck” in MOME, but I have very conflicted feelings about My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down, particularly in what the juxtaposition of the sexual history and black history strips under one cover reveals about each other, as well as their creator. I liked “Sexual History” when I first read it. At the very least, it indulged my voyeuristic tendencies enough to enjoy the ride. But I also wondered if I was enjoying it in spite of David, because my armchair psychologizing/reading often seemed at odds with the author’s own conclusions (or my own interpretation of them, anyway).

    But the sexual history strip invites so many different readings now in this new context, with its new epilogue and other editing (including the bars) that it’s a fascinating subject for discussion.

    The whole book has an element of wanting to have things both ways. It wants to provoke, unless you’re someone David doesn’t want to provoke (such as old African American buddies or his wife). It wants to have a therapeutic affect on the author, but also indulge the author’s narcissism (in a purely clinical way, those two notions would seem mutually exlcusive to me). It wants to be completely “honest” but also seems to define “honesty” in a “just the facts, m’am” kind of way that doesn’t assign truth any real value beyond the purely objective.

    It all makes for a compelling read, let’s be clear; all of these conflicts within the work, and between earlier drafts and this one, add layers of potential readings that really makes this book an all you can eat buffet for critics (The hard part is going to be keeping Frank from gorging himself).

    One thing I tend to agree with Frank about is that although I consider myself pretty thick-skinned when it comes to political incorrectness, I can’t escape that there is a fundamentally wrongheaded, racist idea at the core of the black history strip: that the author thinks he can essentially organize an entire, other race of people in a way that is comprehensive and/or meaningful to anyone but himself. I find that idea much more uncomfortable than purely transgressive work from people like Johnny Ryan. If you’re a black person who once met David and he doesn’t remember it, do you exist?

    On a less critical level, I would also love to know what a psychoanalyst thinks it means that David was compelled to cover his representations of penises with pink censor bars but racial stereotypes like Sambo lips are unworthy of censoring.

    Anyway, in the spirit of David’s m.o. for letting it all hang out, I hope he can forgive me for posting this.

  23. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Dan, I disagree with you that sorting through an issue is implicit in making art about it. I’m not exactly sure why you give clarifying weight to certain statements. I’m also pretty sure I just made up the phrase “clarifying weight.”

    Eric: I like a lot of David Heatley’s work, but your comment at the end? It has never occurred to me Heatley is letting it all hang out, except maybe a page into that sex story but even that went away by the end. In fact, the thing I liked about the sex story is that it seemed to me to saying the notion of letting it all hang out was a lie.

    Not that it’s relevant to anything, but I think I liked Overpeck more than anything in Brain. I’m not sure I’d bet a million dollars I still would like the one over the other after reading them both again, but if the Nazis were to break in right this moment and say there were going to burn one or the other and I had to make a choice, I would totally not win an Oscar because it would be really easy.

    The thing I don’t like about the pink bars in the sex story is that it changes the context by which he refused to treat his wife the same way as the rest of the people in the book, which I thought was hilarious and somehow meaningful in ways other than the obvious ways.

    I can’t get over the sneaking suspicion that as much as I like a lot of his work, that sex story was the 30 Days of Night of alternative comics, in that everyone even vaguely working in or reading that type of comic went “what a fucking awesome idea” 10 to 1 over reacting to the comic.

    Tim, that is one goddamn long lunch.

  24. Eric Reynolds says:

    My comment about Heatley letting it all hang out referred more to something I read in an interview with him, where he talked about how important it was to just be as honest and inclusive as possible, to more or less let it all hang out. So I was more referring to what I think he’s trying to do than what I think he’s doing, per se. That said, I’m not sure I can buy that the idea of My Sexual History was to put to lie the idea of letting it all hang out, I would need to read it again with that in mind.

  25. Anonymous says:

    The “he’s racist” reaction is something i would have expected in the 90’s, but not today. Please acknowledge that our idea of “the other” is more complicated than we’d like to admit!

  26. Brian says:

    I think Frank is acknowledging the idea that racism is more complicated than Heatley would like to admit, and that this then sabotages his comics about such issues.

  27. Eric Reynolds says:

    I’m not saying “he’s racist”, of course it’s infinitely more complicated than that.

  28. T Hodler says:

    Eric —

    That is an amazing comment you just wrote.

    And Tom —

    Sorry. I tried to kind of respond in the actual text of the post (though I didn’t do so explicitly), but that probably wasn’t obvious enough. (And in retrospectt, I didn’t really respond to it at all anyway.) Basically, I misunderstood the point of your initial comment, and jumped right in arguing against a different point altogether.

    I still might be misunderstanding you,but just to be sure, let me take your points one by one:

    1. Do you really think it’s a comic about coming to terms with these things?

    I think the new last page of the sex story is about that, and I think it’s the worst page of the story.

    2. Or is it a comic that allows Heatley to come to terms with these things?

    This seems more plausible to me.

    3. Doesn’t his open ambition kind of change one’s perspective on the nature of that coming to terms?

    Yes, I think it does. But, and I could be wrong, I don’t think his open ambition is actually depicted in the comics very often, except for maybe on the cover comics where God’s holding him in his hand and such. But yes, I think it complicates how I look at his comics. It makes them kind of more fascinatingly self-contradictory, and more difficult to fully unpack.

    But I don’t have much more to say about it than that right now. I shouldn’t have jumped in on your question to Dan!

    Let me know if I need to take another lunch to think about this some more…

  29. Alex Holden says:

    What I got out of Tom’s comment about ambition changing the reading of the book is:

    Is Heatley tackling taboo subjects (at least in following sex history with black history) to get attention/publicity?

  30. Alex Holden says:

    what I mean by that is:

    Is the motivation to make a good comic, or is it just picking a taboo subject so people talk about and buy the book?

    Heatley’s self promoting tendencies certainly put that on the table, in my opinion. Which colors my reading of the work.

  31. T Hodler says:

    Hmm. That’s interesting. I didn’t get that at all if Tom meant that, and it’s something to think about. Basically, I don’t think the verdict on Heatley’s motives is obvious enough for me to accuse him of that. Others may disagree, of course, but personally, I’d keep an open mind without some kind of evidence that that was his reasoning.

    But it’s worth pondering, I suppose, especially in regard to the “Black History” story, which is certainly less successful in many ways than the “Sex History” strip.

  32. Anonymous says:

    I´m not a fan of DH and hadn´t read the black strip yet.
    But in my opinion there is something missing in this debate: DH is an artist. And as an artist he might be trying to discover something by experimenting and experiments in art may seem odd to people, as history shows.
    I remember Frank S. telling in an interview that when someone told him how to finish “Storyville” he got mad. I understood that completly.
    I like Santoro´s intentions as an artist, though I cannot understand a thing in Chimera´s “plot”.
    Somedy can argue that it doesn´t have narrative craft at all.
    But I would never say that. I would say: “look at this guy, he is trying to discover something”.
    An will stare happy because of that, though I cannot understand.
    I think DH is trying to discover something, about the unknowable of us a human beings. We, humans ar so strange, absurd and full of contradictions.
    Nothing is clear for us.
    And here you are trying to explain art, and maybe the intention of DH to get a hint of the mistery of life.
    My question is: can this be archieved?
    Perhaps even Heatley can´t understand his own art.
    Maybe it just deserves to be experienced.
    good night

  33. nrh says:

    I don’t know why everyone’s shrugging off the art critique a little — isn’t the most important function of an autobiographical cartoonist the way they portray the world around them, the feeling that someone sat at a desk and turned all of these people and things into marks? If anything is going to damn Heatley it’s that weird sense you get from his drawings, that he’s actually taking away from the humanity of the world without him…and might some of the more abrasive French auto-bio cartoonists be a more apt comparison than Joe Matt, Crumb, Green and so on?

  34. Frank Santoro says:

    no one is trying to explain his intentions. none of us are telling him “what to do” or “what not to do”.

    It’s great that David is experimenting, trying to make sense of the world around him.

    but, I don’t like it.

    So what that David is trying “to figure it out”?
    I should lower my standards because he’s “experimenting”?

  35. Anonymous says:

    That´s right Frank, the thing about “lowering my standards”
    When I read your CM i felt that you were aplying standards. In a way ou are not only saying that you don´t like it, but I feel you are also aplying standards like “this doesn´t fit in the standard-good craft section, this doesn´t fit in the standard-good sincere section”.
    And I don´t beleive in standards in art (and your comics are for me a living proof of that).

  36. Frank Santoro says:

    “And I don´t beleive in standards in art (and your comics are for me a living proof of that).”

    hey good one!

  37. Simon says:

    i don’t really have anything to contribute to the conversation at large, but i wanted to add that white people who only listen to the native tongues and think they’re totally down with rap are really lame.

  38. Eric Reynolds says:

    Tim wrote:

    “For me, that kind of paradoxically adds to the whole experience”

    I couldn’t agree more, and in a way I think this effectively argues the merit in his work. The work is undeniably compelling in a way that very few comics are. But one reason I like “Overpeck” so much more is that somehow, by stripping away the autobio, all of the truly weird Freudian aspects of David’s work just becomes fun and weird, and somehow more meaningful. In the context of autobio I end up second guessing everything. This may just be a personal preference; I encouraged Jeffrey Brown to do fiction for Mome for many of the same reasons.

    I want to clarify something I wrote earlier. I posted my earlier, long comment without having looked at the book in a few weeks. I went back and looked at it tonight. Earlier I wrote:

    “I can’t escape that there is a fundamentally wrongheaded, racist idea at the core of the black history strip: that the author thinks he can essentially organize an entire, other race of people in a way that is comprehensive and/or meaningful to anyone but himself.”

    I need to clarify this a bit. First, I probably should have said “itemize” rather than “categorize,” for whatever that’s worth. But also, looking back at the book tonight, I see that David actually calls the strip an “incomplete” history. This was contrary to what I remembered, and it’s an important point. I think the reason I misremembered this is due to the fact that I’m pretty sure the solicitation copy explicity referred to it as a “complete” history. I very much took issue with the very notion of it as a “complete” anything and appreciate that David actually never claims this in the book. But the fact that I could confuse this still gives me pause…

    Also, to touch on one other thing. Frank has been very critical of Heatley’s formal skills. I take a certain issue with this. I think David’s sense of graphic design and storytelling is actually fairly sophisticated. I think David’s weak at representational drawing but has a strong sense of comics and panel to panel progression and has rightly determined that the smaller, rhythmic panel approach better serves his skillset. It’s to his credit, really — he plays to his strengths.

  39. ULAND says:

    I have to say that I’m pretty dumbfounded over Heatley identifying himself as a narcissist and admitting it informs his work. To me, that’s like me telling you I have athletes foot and then putting my feet up on the table. Narcissism, in the classic sense, is not some kind of cute affectation, it really is a kind of sickness.
    For someone who’s apparently interested in therapy, it seems kind of odd to let that go unchecked.

  40. ULAND says:

    More Narcissism:
    “The 33-year-old artist, who lives with his wife and kids in Jackson Heights, Queens, admits that his belief in God—“not in a Christian God but something that kind of directs my purpose””

  41. blaise says:

    “I’m doing a strip now called “Black History,” a page of which I’m showing here too. It’s using the same conceit as [My Sexual History]. i.e. Can I really understand my relationship with women by showing only the moments when I was having sexual contact with them (the answer, hopefully, no). Can I make a sweeping statement about black people, by segregating them all into one comic strip? Again, I hope not.”

    from his drawger account

  42. T Hodler says:

    Hey Blaise —

    I’m glad you pointed out that quote; it’s good to have more context.

    Not to be a jerk about it, but I would point out that the way he sets it up in that quote doesn’t really work. The “Sex History” strip isn’t about every woman he’s ever met — it’s not “Women’s History”. Instead, it only lists everyone he’s ever had sex with. So the two stories aren’t really parallel. (If I really wanted to be a jerk about it, I’d point out that it’s a little troubling and revealing that he even thought they were parallel. If a woman doesn’t have sex with him, she doesn’t exist?)

    But to be more generous about it, it’s good to remember that Heatley doesn’t intend his story to be a sweeping statement, as Eric also pointed out earlier by highlighting the word “incomplete” in the story’s subtitle.


  43. Alex Holden says:

    Something that caused my initial thought of “is this guy just trying to be controversial?” was the page of Black History that Blaise linked to, in which the line art is inverted, making it look more blackface. It also features the subtitle “To All My Niggas”. I don’t recall seeing that in the final version.

  44. by Michael DeForge says:

    I agree with Eric’s comment re: Heatley’s sense of design. His page layouts have always been the most compelling aspect of his work to me (I don’t really care for his writing at all.) I think it’s worth taking a look through the process posts on his Drawger site linked above before writing him off as a “hack.”

  45. Dustin Harbin says:

    Two things, quickly:

    1) I’m surprised, Frank, that someone as well-spoken as you has distilled his argument down to “I don’t like it. It’s boring.” Especially after the in-depth drubbing you gave Heavy Liquid a few months ago. Get your head in the game, Rocky!

    2) I have no critical (or even formal education) background, but it has never occurred to me to separate the artists’ intentions, background, persona, blah-blah-blah, from the piece of art. I think all that stuff informs the audience’s reaction to a piece; for art to be “successful”, it probably needs to be able to stand without all that stuff, but I think–especially in terms of comics, and especially especially for autobio comics–that all these ideas of therapy and narcissism and political incorrectness and etc. are very much a part of things.

  46. Frank Santoro says:

    My head is in the game, Dusty.

    “I don’t like it” is my jab. “It’s boring” is my my rope-a-dope.

    I’m gonna tire Tim out by the 7th round.

  47. Dustin Harbin says:

    It is clear that you have eaten lightning, but I have yet to see you crap thunder.

  48. Frank Santoro says:

    Easy to sit on the sidelines, Dusty.

  49. Heidi M. says:

    >>>This really calls into question the original story's veracity and clashes hugely with its tone, because there's really just no hint that this has been such a serious issue for him,

    Drawing a story with every sexual experience you have ever had gives no HINT that the guys is a sex addict?

    Sorry for the call out but that really amused me.

    Heatley's work is more formally inventive than Joe Matt or Chester Brown — who are also sexually obsessed, masturbate to porn and draw comics about it —

  50. Dustin Harbin says:

    You’re right. I haven’t read the Black History yet, and so can’t really comment.

    I guess I miss the Santoran formal angle; which, even though I disagreed with a lot of the Heavy Liquid stoning, gave me a lot to think about after the fact, which is always the best thing about this blog, and what sets it apart from many others.

    I’ll be quiet.

  51. Dustin Harbin says:

    Whoa! In my previous comment I was answering Frank, not Heidi. I love you Heidi, but the idea that David Heatley is more formally inventive than Chester Brown is spine-numbingly crazy.

  52. Heidi M. says:

    Oops, comment mysteriously cut off. Anyway I was going to say that THE PLAYBOY by Brown deals with similar thems of sex, race and masturbation but in a way that is more honest and open-minded.

  53. T Hodler says:

    Hey Heidi —

    I hear you, but have you read the new coda yet? Or re-read the story? In fact, though when you read through it the first time, it seems like David has had an extraordinarily high amount of sex, it really doesn’t read that way subsequently.

    The real point is, that while he depicts himself masturbating in the original story, he doesn’t make it seem like he’s hopelessly addicted to masturbating to porn starring women in glasses, to the point where he needs treatment. I don’t know. I guess it’s possible to disagree, but the sudden shift seemed really strange to me!

  54. Eric Reynolds says:

    “it has never occurred to me to separate the artists’ intentions, background, persona, blah-blah-blah, from the piece of art.”

    Few books have invited it so thunderously…

    Heid, you’re wrong about Heatley and Chester. Chester created Underwater, for god’s sake! He tried to use comics to depict language acquisition! He used Harold Gray to tell Canadian history! Chester wins that one.

    “I’d point out that it’s a little troubling and revealing that he even thought they were parallel.”

    This is one thing that bothers me about “black history”. David has a sexual history; he has no ‘black’ history, per se. For example, I once almost married an African-American woman out of college. We dated for almost four years. We had a sexual history; it did not give me a ‘black’ one.

  55. Josh Simmons says:

    Well said, Eric– This reminds me of something that bothered me at the beginning of this cage match– Frank said:

    “And as someone who’s godfather was Black, I gotta say, you’re a fucking asshole for even doing this story, Heatley. My godfather used to say, “I love it when someone says they got lots of ‘Black friends’ like they gotta say ‘Black’ just to impress me. If they your friends, why you gotta say ‘Black’? You think that same person says, ‘I got a lot of White friends’?”

    Um, by telling us your godfather was black, aren’t you sort of doing the very thing that your godfather says annoys him? It seems you take issue with Heatley telling us he had black friends which sort of leads to implying that he has some sort of authority with which to speak– But then it’s like you’re one-upping him by informing us that your godfather was black, which, I suppose, gives you a higher authority to call a cracker on being “racist” and an “asshole.” But as Eric also points out above, he had a deep, personal relationship with a black person, but he’s not getting outraged personally on the behalf of black people everywhere. It almost stinks of just another layer of the white guilt Heatley seems to enjoy slathering himself in in his story. But ah, that’s the excitement of race issues!!! So much to talk over and get worked up about.

  56. Josh Simmons says:

    Also: Oh boy, just wait until you guys see Heatley’s Kramers 7 strip– RACE CITY.

  57. Brad Mackay says:

    Frank, I generally agree with most of what you say on here, and even when i don’t I agree with your general intention; to stir shit up. But in this case, your criticisms of Heatley seem a little shallow. Maybe weak is abetter word.

    On the formal front, you say that he doesn’t stand up to Gary Panter and Mark Beyer because their work displays “discernible modulations of line that indicate a craftsman in control.” I never went to art school, but what the hell does a ‘modulated line’ look like? Are you talking about a steady hand? If so, i can assure you that he is very deliberate — i have a piece of his original art, and it’s as smooth as can be.

    And as for your criticism of the Black History strip, you critcize him for giving a “shout-out” to a black kid he knew in high school, which smacks of tokenism. But then you go and paraphrase your (black) stepdad in support of your argument.

    Like I said at the top, I think you’re typically bang on and clever – but your argument here just seem sto be founded on personal dislike (of Heatley) rather than his work. I’m picking up a similar vibe from some of the commenters who have cited Heatley’s “careerism” and self-promotion. Fine — if you don;t like aspects of the guy’s personality (*ahem* Joe Matt) just say so. But don’t let that colour (*ahem*) your appreciation of his work.

  58. Frank Santoro says:

    Hey Josh

    I thought about not revealing that my godfather was Black. But the quote was something he and I used to talk a lot about. And when I read the Black History story and the Record reviews and Shout-outs it came to my mind.

    If I weren’t to mention that he was Black it wouldn’t carry the same weight. It also explains why I’m sensitive to this story, period. As someone who had “people of color” in my family, I find the whole story comically aggravating.

    My arguments in this match may be shallow, yes, normally I try and do better when I’m really reviewing something. But I’m just angry and I don’t have the patience to review it like I did Heavy Liquid in the last cage match.

  59. Josh Simmons says:

    Mr. Frank– Your reaction did seem sort of personal and emotional. Which is fine, I’m enjoying the hot-headed back and forth over this book. Also, I agree with and enjoy a lot of your comics writin’s– Personally I just would like to see more deconstructing about Heatley’s art and content beyond his being “racist” (which, if he is, I think it’s fair to say he’s a perfectly harmless racist–Sort of reminds me of the Chester Brown strip where he beats himself up for being racist because he doesn’t like naked black girls in Playboy– My reaction was, hey, he just doesn’t like black girls, is all!). But your reaction is very interesting– I’d imagine a number of people might react to the strip the same way. It just seems to be giving the book a little too much credit, or more attention than it deserves. Considering some of the incredibly crude racial humor that is very mainstream nowadays (Borat, South Park, etc.), it seems a strip like this deserves more of a shrugging off than outrage (Granted, I haven’t read it yet, but it sounds embarrassing more than anything). I have my own problems with Heatley’s work, a big part of it being the drawing. But I like a lot of it, and agree with Eric that Overpeck is his best story so far….Seemed like he was pushing himself a bit beyond the incredible self-absorption….Some fantastic page design and deliriously weird and creepy storytelling, too……

  60. Frank Santoro says:

    Thanks Josh

    (I was just discussing your work to a class at SVA, hahaaa –that mini-comic from’05 SPX)

    Look, this is in my backyard. Borat, whatever, doesn’t happen in my “community”. I’m calling David out cuz no one else has.

  61. Alex Holden says:

    I wonder how much opinions would vary if this book were the next issue of Deadpan instead of a Ware/Clowes/Panter lauded Pantheon (talk about a loaded word!) book.

    Perhaps the stature of the release is amplifying opinions about the content?

  62. Frank Santoro says:

    If it were a comic it wouldn’t be on the display table at St. Marks Books, thats for sure.

  63. Heidi M. says:

    Eric: Oh yeah! I agree — Chet covers many topics INLCUDING sex, masturbation and pornography. LOUIS REIL, anyone? But I think “The Playboy” covers it all.

    Brad, re the “smooth line” that is, I believe the opposite of what Santoro is trying to say. Panter and Beyer use modulated lines the give weight, shade and texture. It’s “lively.”

  64. Patrick says:

    Well, Frank, you haven’t “called David out” if you can’t back up your arguments thoughtfully or persuasively.

    Saying, “well, that’s just how I feel” doesn’t really work as criticism. And if you disdain his work too much to discuss it (or Tim’s responses) more deeply, then I’d venture it’s a poor subject for a cage match.

  65. Frank Santoro says:

    I started this Cage match with Tim and Dan to provide the forum in which to do so. I think I did what I set out to do, thank you very much.

  66. Cavities Comix says:

    it is embarrassing that this weak book has taken up so much of my time. are you not exhausted?

  67. Frank Santoro says:

    I saw the new edition of Heavy Liquid today. It looks okay. More subdued colors. I still have things to say about that book. hahaa.

  68. Dash Shaw says:

    Just want to chime in with a few things:
    I think Heatley’s comics are very moving and well designed and the borderline-hieroglyphic drawings often work beautifully.
    When I said that Heatley’s MoCCA lecture made him sound like a careerist, that was based entirely on his prepared lecture. He was given an hour (or so) to talk about whatever he wanted, and I thought it was weird that it sounded like an illustrators’ business lecture (“this appeared in this magazine, which led to this… this person liked my work, so…”) It was absurd. Maybe the lecture was recorded and is available online somewhere. Maybe my impression was off-base. But it was a public lecture and not a private conversation or anything. I’ve talked to him briefly a few times and he’s a nice guy. As for his reasoning behind the pink censor bars, Heatley either (a) made a totally stupid decision based on a totally stupid reaction or (b) is lying to us about his reasoning. Either option doesn’t reflect well on him, and I just don’t think he’s totally stupid.

  69. Anonymous says:

    I don´t like Heatley´s comics. I had his book in my wishlist and finally cancelled my order, because I remembered his Kramers and Mome stories where terrible boring and left me nothing either.

    Although I do think he is an interesting artist, looking for something. And I suspect he might be as weird as a person as his comics. So, perhaps, he is true to himself.

    I think I might guess why Frank doesn´t like this comic. I can obviously be way wrong. But here it goes…
    I notice Frank is a more form and structure oriented artist, than a sentimental-content one.
    If that distinction can be made.
    I can´t imagine a Santoro story deep in exposing personal and inner feelings.
    It would be great, but I can´t imagine it.
    They will surely be more related with external matters.
    I am not saying he is insensitive at all. I am saying he puts his feelings in form and structure and not content.
    And here we have a story that gets out almost nothing more than feelings, and feelings and feelings. Good or wrong, David Heatley exposes his feelings.
    And that might be too much for Frank tastes (?)

    Also we people (all of us, come on!) have racist, violent, inmoral thoughts all of the time. I do agree with Frank he might be getting those out just to get to be a better known cartoonist. I always suspected DH wants to sit at the side of Ware, someone he really admires, as his art shows. When he made that autobio comic about his career in comics it felt like he was desperate to get known in the comics medium (maybe I am wrong here too)

    I agree with Frank that his intentions don´t seem sincere at all. Perhaps he IS trying to provocate the audience and get a stonger impact. That could be

    But he also might be trying to, in a way, con himslef, letting out feelings that describe human nature, or thoughts that not every people dares to get out. As if he would be dividing his personality in two.

    C´mon David!! We want to hear YOUR thoughts on this.

    PS: I am starting to feel DH is really a superstar and the reason why that KE7 came out so expensive. Ha!

  70. Dash Shaw says:

    Oh, crap. Correction:
    When I said “hieroglyphic” in my last post, I meant the definition “like Egyptian hieroglyphics” NOT the “difficult to understand” definition.
    Stupid English language…

  71. Eric Reynolds says:

    I was just looking again at the book again and boy I do like the color dream strips more than the nonfiction and/or B&W work (the focus here has been so much on the sexual/black history strips). They're just as weird and uncomfortable and freudian but somehow by being an attempt to reveal the subconscious rather than the conscious I find them much more effective (perhaps like Overpeck) and visually there's just so much more going on in them. Those history strips overwhelm the book even though I know they're the intended anchors of it.

  72. Frank Santoro says:

    to anon-
    Yah, man, I’m all about symbolism. Direct, diary-like inner feeling stuff is okay if it looks good, has solid, solid form. And doesn’t “prokoke” me for the hell of it. And I would really never do a comic so direct, that is definitely correct. So, yes, right on. I agree. So it totally tweaks me. Yes. Shit. I don’t think I knew that about myself! Looky there! Heatley’s comics have unlocked my brain! My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down!

    No, I’m just drunk and watching Craig Ferguson.

  73. minorhenchman says:

    I’m surprised that Frank compared Heatley to Matt Feazall and used that as a negative. I like Feazall a lot more than Mark Beyer– Feazall is a solid craftsman whose style is well suited to his material, and conveys lots of pictorial information. Mark Beyer does marry a crudeness with a hand that modulates his effects with line and mark-making but to me, it seem that it’s just a little showing off to cover his lack of solid content.

    But Matt Feazall is no expressionist, so the comparison itself is weird. He’s just a cartoon minimalist, more similar to strip artist like Charles Schulz

  74. minorhenchman says:

    I wonder if everyone feels a need to like and defend all these “expressionist” cartoonists cause we’ve got so few of them? I mean there are so few people trying to push those edges visually in comics vs. the “fine art” world. Not all of them are as good as each other – maybe if we had ten times more, some of the more mediocre ones would be praised as much.

  75. villainer says:

    wait, so when R. Crumb (most overrated individual in comics history) does this, it’s satire and genius, but when David Heatley does it, it’s ignorant and mediocre?

    could someone explain this to me?

  76. Connor w says:

    villainer, let me try:

    For what it’s worth, I personally think the difference is that there are a lot of Crumb comics where the content lingers with me long after I’ve read them. Heatley’s stuff, while interesting, and certainly memorable, doesn’t have effect me beyond it’s capacity to make me consider my own sexual history. That’s a significant feeling, but I’t doesn’t get to me unless I’m physically reading the book. Obviously, this is subjective, and not a good enough reason to determine which is the better artist, but I strongly believe that the effect of the Crumb comics are intentional, and crafted by his will. I feel that the effect from this Heatley comic is an incidental product of the format that he’s found for himself. But I guess the argument could be made that the work is supposed to speak for itself anyway, regardless of what the artist wanted.

    I guess the question is where does the novelty of an alternative format end and lasting substance begin? I don’t enjoy Crumb simply because it shocks me. I personally am not impressed by experimentation for the sake of pure shock. It’s 2008, big deal. But reading Heatley’s work was certainly an experience. I wonder if it will have significance as time goes on, when the shock value wares off, or if Heatley will explore new territory. I really hope he does, It’s more productive if there’s experimentation of the medium instead of the market . 76 comments of heated analysis says to me that at the very least, despite the question of lasting value, or the value of Dan Heatley as an artist, it’s relevant in some way to comics at this point in time.

  77. villainer says:

    also, sorry to the CC guys for hijacking this away from Heatley. seriously, I probably shouldnt have posted…

  78. T Hodler says:

    Let’s try to keep this on Heatley’s work as much as possible, otherwise a thread as long as this becomes completely unreadable.

    Villainer — I cut one comment of yours, the long rant on Crumb. Please don’t take offense; that just seemed like the biggest thread-hijacker. I left the rest up for now, but like I said, I think it’s best if the thread is relatively focused.

  79. T Hodler says:

    Just to be clear, I don’t mind a little talk on Crumb (or anyone else), as long as it doesn’t get crazy unrelated.

  80. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I don’t get the Heatley and Crumb comparison; it’s like comparing Shane Simmons and Jack Jackson. Or, to make the point in less loaded fashion, peanut butter and pizza. I can certainly grasp how someone can dislike both, but I don’t get how the dislikes relate.

  81. Anonymous says:

    I see Heatley as part of the increasingly uninvolving ‘dull white guy’ comic genre: masturbation, sexual frustration, embarassing relationships (and predictable sexism/mysoginy for exes), shitty jobs, dead relatives, school heartbreak, life at art school, boring dreams, misanthropy, record collections… ad nausaem. Even the best anthologies of the past 20 years have given way too much room for this (Kramer’s being a notable exception).

    What happened to IMAGINATION? So many of these guys need to take a serious look at Ron Rege or Dan Clowes to see how to make the everyday into something magical and mysterious. I don’t want to pay thirty dollars to read a book by a guy more dull and less talented than myself!

    Heatley’s drawing is just ugly, without any of the eyeball kick of a Panter or Hayes. He tosses around issues of race and sex – but without much emotional insight, visual nous, outrage, humour or satire.

    OK – you might cut this comment. But like a lot of deeply idiosycratic (but hugely influential) artists, Crumb’s genius has led to whole rainforests of sub-par autobio musings (and weakly ‘self-critical’ racism). Crumb’s like Brando, Richard Pryor or the Beatles – so many trying to be like them, without realising such iconoclasts are impossible to copy without looking foolish. And Crumb’s autobio schtick is becoming got pretty tiresome back when Bush Sr. was in charge…

  82. Anonymous says:

    ps. ALL my family are black. Crumb IS racist – but in a way that bypasses my usual socio-political assumptions and somehow hits something else. I’ve noticed how his troubling attitude to race has got a lot less column inches that his sexism.

    Back to Heatley – too many manfanboys in ‘alt’ comics have looked at Crumb’s example and gone for out and out racism (usually condescending, sentimental or fearful) hiding behind ‘cuteness’ or ‘irony’. Heatley is just embarassing with this, but some of my favourites have had me snarling with their racial attitudes – such as Ware, Friedman and Spiegelman (check out those smiling dogs in ‘Maus’).

  83. T Hodler says:

    No, Anon., no reason to cut that comment. You were brief and to the point, and kept focus.

    By the way, Villainer, I accidentally deleted your follow-up comment, and I am deeply sorry about that. I’m probably remembering it wrong, but in it, you asserted that you aren’t trying to be a troll with your questions about Crumb (I believe you), and took issue with what you take to be the predominantly negative tone of most autobio comics. Please feel free to re-post or correct me if you want. And sorry again.

  84. Anonymous says:

    Is there anyway we could talk about that short “Sambo” sequence in detail? It seems to me that the question of just what, exactly, Heatley is depicting/representing in those drawings (in comparison to, say, Crumb’s racial caricatures) seems to be at the crux of all this…

  85. T Hodler says:

    Sure. Go for it. What do you think? (It’s definitely one of the thorniest in the book…)

  86. T Hodler says:

    Okay, Anonymous, I’ll go ahead and bite, since I don’t know when you’ll be able to get around to it.

    “Sambo”, I think, is clearly racist, at least in as far as it depicts extremely unpleasant racial stereotypes, and reveals David’s subconscious racism. I think Heatley is of course aware of that, and aware that readers will be aware of that, for whatever that’s worth. He wants people to know that he has racially prejudiced thoughts, at least on a subconscious level.

    To the extent that that provides a context for the “Black History” story (and I have a lot of big problems with that story, as I’ve gone on and on about), and to the extent that the story instigates conversations about the unexamined prejudices that most people seem to hold but not speak about, I think the story has positive value. I can also honestly say that I would not be offended by a similar strip created by a black cartoonist depicting anti-white prejudice, and have not been offended by somewhat similar strips by female cartoonists displaying anger against men (such as a few of Julie Doucet’s dream comics, for example.)

    Of course, I also can’t deny that as a white male, it is considerably easier for me to shrug off these kinds of things as essentially benign, since I am not part of a minority group facing any kind of systematic oppression and prejudice. My white male privilege makes me distrust my own judgment about resolving the question one way or the other. But I’m definitely interested in hearing what other people think.

  87. Anonymous says:

    Well, if Crumb is a racist it’s mostly because he seems unable to represent African-Americans as actual people — whether it’s Angelfood McSpade or his bluesman drawings, he’s just channeling these (sort of) archaic cultural myths, sometimes to the point of irony, sometimes not. Since Crumb seems to be not only a hermit but someone who lives inside his own head and grew up less in a community than this sealed-off family unit and a junk culture of sorts, this makes a lot of sense.

    Heatley, on the other hand, is representing himself, as an actual human being, interacting with other human beings; the most useful tension in the ‘narrative’ (for lack of a better word) is Heatley constantly screwing up, letting his ingrained racist tendencies win time after time. What’s disturbing is how he draws conclusions that constantly undermine any really deep condemnation of himself. The other thing that’s really disturbing is how, dream comic or not, that “Sambo” drawing goes so far beyond cultural caricature and seems to be depicting a real, specific loathing for another person, without the kind of observation or empathy which would grant that other person any kind of real humanity beyond being this caricature on a page (which is what has always disturbed me so much about all the women in “Sexual History”).

  88. villainer says:

    I don’t mind you deleted my comments, really.
    I’ll just kind of echo as brief as possible what I said in my second post–
    I am not trying to shit on Crumb or troll or insult him personally–I don’t understand how somone so largely mediocre as Crumb became an elderstatesman of the form, a genius of his time, a master of the comics form. For an individual so widely hailed as a comics’ master, there is no variety– no variety in tone of stories, type of story told, panelling, pacing, drama, and way it’s drawn. I see a just OK cartoonist who got too popular too quick to ever take the time to learn and explore something else. I also am frustrated with Crumb because his immense popularity then after created this huge caricature that much much better autobiographical cartoonists have been playing to ever since– a sexually frustrated misanthropic loser who has a deep love for an art form that nobody “gets.”

    if I ever get bored enough to do an autobiographical comic, it’s going to be 3 pages of me, where I grew up, the things I like, the things I struggle with on a day to day basis, and then like 18 pages talking about how fucking sweet my life is.

  89. Anonymous says:

    Is there anyway we can now talk about the cover for Best American Comics 2007.? On the cover Heatley’s name is as big as the series editor’s name. He did the cover and the dustjacket.

  90. T Hodler says:


    Well, in regard to Crumb, I haven’t read his blues stuff in a while, but I don’t really agree with you that he’s unable to portray African Americans as human figures. I think that in, for example, his Charlie Patton biography

    he depicts the man with the same kind of nuance and sophistication that he has brought to biographical stories about white cultural figures (say, his Philip K. Dick piece, for example).

    Second, I don’t think his family background or social inclinations are really a good reason to excuse him from racism, if you think the charge is fair. I mean, Crumb’s an incredibly bright guy, who has interacted with plenty of black people in his life. I’m not really prepared to offer up any kind of comprehensive defense or condemnation of him on this right now — I’m just saying that Crumb should be defended or attacked on the basis of his work, and doesn’t need special excuses made for him.

    As to your comments on Heatley, you say “he draws conclusions that constantly undermine any really deep condemnation of himself.” But I maintain that he doesn’t draw any conclusions at all in his stories, and in fact, leaves it up to the reader to draw conclusions. Maybe I’m forgetting something, though, and I’d be obliged if you could point out examples of what you’re referring to.

    I agree that “Sambo” is very disturbing in its anger and violence, but presented a case for it still possessing some artistic virtue in my last comment — do you agree with what I wrote? Disagree? I’m genuinely curious.

    Finally, your last thought seems similar to the criticism Noah Berlatsky has offered up for Heatley: that he withholds humanity from the characters in his story. I don’t really buy that criticism, not because it doesn’t have some truth to it, but because it ignores the fact that he doesn’t give much depth or humanity to his portrayal of himself either. As Heatley says in the interview I quoted in the Cage Match proper, “Somehow there’s just a blankness to the ‘me’ in those stories. I didn’t know I was striving for that, but I think I am striving for that. So I don’t think I’m trying to change myself one way or the other….” I think that aspect of Heatley’s work has to be taken into account as well, even if you think he fails at what he’s trying to accomplish.

    Lots of interesting points, either way. Thanks for commenting.

  91. T Hodler says:

    Villainer — I’m glad there’s no hard feelings.

    Anonymous on the Best American Comics cover — Yes, that large cover credit Heatley gave himself was very funny and transparent, I thought.

  92. Anonymous says:

    Don’t have much time to respond, but sorry I didn’t read your response first. I do think the value you point out to the “Sambo” strip is valid; the Doucet comparison is really interesting and deserves further comment. I wasn’t trying to be a Crumb apologist, but clumsily trying to suggest that the relationship between public and private life in Crumb is really different than it is in Heatley’s work.

    I don’t buy the “blankness to my character” comment though; after all, he drew it, and his character is in every single line on the page, right?

    The Berlatsky critique sounds interesting, was it on his site?

  93. T Hodler says:

    Okay. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree about the “blankness” thing — I think it’s very real, and was, for me, the key to understanding how his stories were “supposed” to work.

    Berlatsky wrote his review for Comixology:

  94. DerikB says:

    Nothing brilliant to add here, but I just wanted to thank everyone involved for an interesting discussion. I’ve not read the Heatley book yet, but it will be interesting to see how much this conversation colors my reading.

    I do wish you guys used multiple posts for all these back and forths. The constantly edited single posts make it had to follow along when something new is added.

  95. Anonymous says:

    Dear David,
    The Sambo lips in your new book gave us big boners, too!
    The Twentysomething Boys

  96. Eric Reynolds says:

    That should really be the final word right there.

  97. Ron Regé, Jr. says:

    but – what about the Ramones?

  98. Anonymous says:

    reading heatley’s work one can’t help but notice the dishonesty posing as honesty. and it’s not the same as joe matt–joe matt knows that he is a jerk and that his comics are dishonest in that they represent his view only, but reading heatley you come away thinking that he did think was being honest by choosing to talk about every single woman in his life except his wife.

    and then to add to that dishonesty, he adds the crazy pink bars, which if you read the interviews and his blog on his site, he has yet to give an honest answer to. his answers have ranged from not wanting people to masturbate (then dont do comics about sex) to thinking it would be “funny”. if he would just say, you know this was being published by pantheon and i thought since it had the ability to reach a lot of people by means of distribution, i didn’t want nudity to stand in the way of it not reaching its widest audience. really the pink bars are funny?

    and to say that “Mome” is a modern day underground anthology, what does that mean? The flagship anthology by North American’s largest, heck perhaps the world’s largest independent comics publisher in the year 2008 is underground? what he thinks no one reads “Mome”? Again dishonest.

    It’s hard not to think of Heatley as a careerist when his own flyer for the presentation Dash is talking about said something to the effect for minicomics and fantagraphics to the new yorker and pantheon books..i mean, how much more obnoxious can one be? oh thanks fanta, publisher of clowes and los bros. and the best cartoonists of the past 30 years, you were just a stepping stone–on the same level as self publishing, i’ve reach the big leagues now!

  99. Eric Reynolds says:

    I wish MOME sold like the old underground comics!

  100. Inkstuds says:

    Eric, maybe you should take a cue from Crumb and start selling Mome out of your baby carriage. Or get back into those good old fashioned head shops.

  101. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I hate the new head shops, aka Apple Stores.

    Man, that one guy hates Crumb.

  102. Marc Arsenault says:

    I wish any comics sold like the old undergrounds! Seriously. It’s been, what? 34 years since the UG crash… I have alot to say about this all… I’m just real busy right now. Talk soon.

  103. Marc Arsenault says:

    re: dishonesty posing as honesty. I sense that Heatley is not fabricating from nowhere, unlike a great deal of his (i would say) literary antecedent Jerzy Kosinsky (in certain respects). There is an authenticity, but maybe not the depth or style to sell it… (sell, as in convince).

  104. LOST CAT says:

    Why is it that we excuse people from doing shameful things just because they make a comic out of it? I think that therapy and catharsis have been lame excuses in the past. The artist doesn’t get over the guilt or feel reconciled; he is rewarded with accolades and continues his behavior. The reader views the disgusting act as an artistic moment.

  105. Anonymous says:

    what is shameful? is humanity shameful? instead we should ignore these inherent aspects of ourselves. no, more than that – we should criticize people who reveal these aspects. these people called “artists.”

  106. Dustin Harbin says:

    I think that art-as-catharsis or self-examination is in and of itself valuable specifically BECAUSE it provides a way for us to examine and discuss these sorts of ideas/issues, through the lens (and with a comforting “remove” from the subject) of someone else’s art.

    For instance, this discussion, would have been much less interesting if it just started with someone posting “I lump most black people into one big group and feel generally ambivalent about that group.”

    I don’t think it excuses anything; but I think it has value. In fact, I’m way more comfortable dealing with this sort of ugly issue in someone’s autobio strip than I am in say, The Spirit or Tintin or whatever. You can say whatever you like about the times those strips were created in or whatever, but Ebony White is hard to stomach. I’d much rather look at David Heatley or R. Crumb doing potentially embarassing self-examination. It’s the idea that this is presented as part of the artist’s persona that is compelling to me, repugnant though it may also be.

    I’m not sure any of that makes sense.

  107. Anonymous says:

    What are the odds that the subject of his next comic will be him sitting at the computer reading this discussion?

  108. Dustin Harbin says:

    I’ve never met David Heatley, but my guess is NONE.

  109. LOST CAT says:

    Anonymous sed: “what is shameful? is humanity shameful?”

    It would seem that Heatly would consider much of what he talks about to be shameful. The question is what does he do with it. So many artists draw themselves in anguish over what they have done (eg Joe Matt, Crumb) but do not talk about what they can do to change. They don’t have to depict this if they don’t want, but I’m sick of hearing “At least he’s honest” as an argument that this kind of work helps people. And I do not think that the lowest thing you can depict amounts to “humanity.”

  110. Anonymous says:

    I know a cage-match isn’t a “review” per se, but any critical discussion needs a set of standards to follow. This is worth reading:

    I don’t know if all of Updike’s rules apply, exactly, but I guess my point is that you all might wish to come up with some of your own.

    “Review the book, not the reputation” is (in my opinion) not a bad place to start.

  111. T Hodler says:

    I agree with you, Anonymous (& generally agree with Updike's rules as well), and made the same book-not-reputation argument myself a few times during the debate. I certainly tried to follow that rule myself, and if I failed, I regret it.

  112. Brad Mackay says:

    Hello? Is anybody still out there? If so, I thought it was worthwhile to revisit Heatley’s controversial decision to censor the more explicit parts of his My Sexual History strip – arguably one of his more popular autobio works.

    I went and re-read his blog post, and it seems like it was based on a personal revelation about what he considers his own an unhealthy relationship with sex. essentially, he’s become the Anti-Joe Matt: a cartoonist who regrets his reliance on porn in hsi sex life.

    Taken in in this context, his decison to slap pink bars on the strip and add a new afterword to it kind of makes sense no?

    To quote hsi post:

    “I don’t long to recapture any idealized moment in my past when I had a certain all-powerful woman’s attention all to myself and I could ‘have my way’ with her body. My sexual energy is directed at my wife alone these days and it feels great.”

    I mean, the strip may be worse off as a result, but his thought process seems far clearer than what most people were saying above.

  113. T Hodler says:

    Thanks for pointing out that blog post, Brad. I hadn’t read it.

    Here’s the URL, if anyone is curious:

  114. T Hodler says:

    Oh, and I should say that while Heatley’s reasoning does make a bit more sense in his blog post than it does in the much shorter “anti-boners” quote from the Time Out New York interview, I still think that both the censoring and the new last page significantly weaken the story, for reasons already stated.

    But it’s good to hear a fuller version of Heatley’s argument.

  115. Anonymous says:

    He could have redrawn the sex history or at least handdrawn the censor bars. Something weird is going on inside Heatley’s head and his comics would be a lot more interesting if they were actually delving into what’s going on.
    The new previously-unpublished stories, the race and family history, are the roughest, least polished stories in the book. hmmmm.

  116. patrick says:

    I think it’s fair enough to compare the two versions, but criticizing his reasoning for changing it seems beside the point.

    As he explains it on his blog, Heatley changed the strip to make it more closely express how he feels about the subject now (as opposed to when he initially drew it). We may find it less effective, but from the artist’s point of view that’s not always the most important consideration. I don’t think it’s a decision he’s obliged to justify.

  117. Anonymous says:

    oh just shut up Patrick

  118. Brad Mackay says:

    Tim – I haven’t actually read the latest version of the Sex strip, but from what i have seen I tend to agree with you. I can’t imagine what it would be like if Crumb or Joe Matt decided to revisit their most perverted strips. It’s interestng that Heatley decided to mess with it — as opposed to drawing an entirey new strip about his newfound chasteness. Maybe a “My Monogamous Missionary Style Sexual History.”

    As for what Patrick said (“We may find it less effective, but from the artist’s point of view that’s not always the most important consideration. I don’t think it’s a decision he’s obliged to justify.”) Sure – as an artist he’s not obliged to justify anything. But his readers have every reason to question and criticize his artistic choices. If they like it – yah – if they don’t – boo!

  119. Brad Mackay says:

    BTW: Dear Frank – i forgot to reply to your dare (“go ahead, say that again. You can like it, I just want to hear someone say it again.”) about Heatley being in the same vein as Crumb (thematically) and Beyer (formally).

    I’d totally do that for you, but only if you’re willing to repeat your line about “discernible modulations of line.” That one cracks me up man!

  120. Patrick says:

    I agree with you, Brad, I think. He published two versions, and I think it’s fair to compare (and criticize) the results.

    My only point is that I think it’s a bit of a downward spiral to go into whether the artist’s motivations/reasoning behind his choices are right and proper.

  121. Patrick says:

    Incidentally, anonymously telling someone to “shut up” is a pretty cowardly thing to do.

  122. Tom Spurgeon says:

    did Gilbert Hernandez ever say why he made Tonantzin less naked in the collected version of Human Diastrophism? I was always confused by that, and this last discussion of pinkbararama reminded me of it.

  123. Frank Santoro says:

    huh. I’ll ask Bill Boichel. Hold on.

  124. Anonymous says:


    I have a vague recollection of him talking about this somewhere when the book was initially released, but I certainly can’t recall any particulars.
    I would venture that he felt the exploitative aspect of her nudity worked at cross purposes with and so undercut the story’s criticism of exploitation.

    -Bill Boichel

  125. debate popular says:

    I wanted to say on the subject of racism and is almost a general custom of discriminating not only acts but showing the difference. Note making it somehow. Very good post though I read it and complicate it too long.

  126. […] was headed. That’s a great call. And not just because what he ended up doing instead was so divisive, but because I really did feel that that was his best work yet. What happened there — is it […]

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