No More Promises I Can’t Keep


Monday, July 24, 2006

It figures that as soon as I finally got around to publicly committing myself to a blogging schedule, I’d suddenly get swamped at work, find the air-conditioner-free book-strewn hellhole I call a “home office” rendered uninhabitable due to a heatwave, and generally find any excuse I could not to write.

Which basically just goes to show that transparency in business is overrated.

In that spirit, let’s get things restarted with a little intra-blog debate.

Last week, Dan wrote:

There’s been a lot of hoopla about the lack of women in the Masters of American Comics exhibition opening in New York in September, most of which I think is misguided. There aren’t any because, for most of the century comics were created almost exclusively by men. There’s no way around that.

Proceeding with all due caution into these dangerous waters, I think that Dan is generally right, but not entirely so.

For a couple of reasons. One, the exhibit does go all the way up to quite recent cartoonists, including Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, and Chris Ware, and even if there weren’t many great women cartoonists in the old days (or at least not many who could actually be considered “Masters” by way of prestige and influence), that’s not necessarily true later on in the century.

As Chris Ware himself suggested in an April letter to ARTnews about their November cover story, Why Have There Been No Great Women Comic-Book Artists?, at least one great 20th century woman comic-book artist does exist, and Lynda Barry could (and should) have been included in the exhibit. Like any good comics “pundit”, I take my marching orders from Mr. Ware, and in this case, as always, he is right.

Secondly, as the older history of comics is further explored, you never know who or what is going to turn up. As Dan himself showed in Art Out of Time, sometimes great cartoonists fall through the cracks, and it can take years or decades before their work is rediscovered (if ever). Who knows what visionary, now-forgotten female cartoonists will find their way into the future canon?

Reputations change with time, as Melville’s did (for the better), and James Branch Cabell’s did (for the worse). One hundred years from now, their positions may reverse themselves once more.

In some future millenium, when museum curators are putting together an exhibit of “20th Century Cartooning Masters”, Boody Rogers may well be hung on the same wall as Milton Caniff, without anyone even realizing that in the actual 20th century, their names would never be uttered in the same breath.

Until that glorious day, let us find whatever small disagreements we can, and argue about them with passion and force, so that the time may pass more swiftly…

Labels: , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “No More Promises I Can’t Keep”
  1. Melchior del Darién says:

    Yeah, I raised an eyebrow at that part of Dan’s entry, too. Even though there were fewer women creators relative to men in the earlier part of the century, several women were indeed producing memorable work. What’s notable and surprising is that there are none canonized amongst the “Masters of American Comics.” When I first became aware of this controversy, several candidates came to mind: Helen Hokinson (New Yorker cartoonist specializing in bourgeois matrons), Marjorie Henderson Buell (creator of Little Lulu), and Dale Messick (Brenda Starr).

  2. Anonymous says:

    What about Roz Chast? She did it again with this week’s New Yorker cover: the old “shrink and the guy on the couch gag” updated for the dog-days of summer!

Leave a Reply