Schizophrenia: or, Five Unrelated Links


Thursday, September 9, 2010

1. New Richard Sala site.

2. The kind of readers who frequent this site have probably already seen this, but if not, you really should check out Daniel Raeburn’s website. Last week, he posted free pdfs of all four issues of The Imp, which includes an unfairly large proportion of the best and most insightful comics criticism of the last fifteen years. This is essential reading.

3. New Matthew Thurber site.

4. David Bordwell delivers a typically meaty essay on the downsides of episodic, serialized entertainment, focusing mainly on the prime delivery method for the highest grade junk of this type: television.

Having been lured by intriguing people more or less like us, you keep watching. Once you’re committed, however, there is trouble on the horizon. There are two possible outcomes. The series keeps up its quality and maintains your loyalty and offers you years of enjoyment. Then it is canceled. This is outrageous. You have lost some friends. Alternatively, the series declines in quality, and this makes you unhappy. You may drift away. Either way, your devotion has been spit upon.

It’s true that there is a third possibility. You might die before the series ends. How comforting is that?

With film you’re in and you’re out and you go on with your life. TV is like a long relationship that ends abruptly or wistfully. One way or another, TV will break your heart.

Incidentally, along the way, he quotes the late, great Gilbert Seldes (best known to funny-page aficionados for his seminal essay on Krazy Kat).

But the main interest here for comics readers, or course, is that, at least here in America, their medium of choice is the second most popular purveyor of long-lived serial entertainment. Though with comics the heart-breaking potential is even greater. From Blondie and Gasoline Alley to Batman and Spider-Man, a surprising number of ancient titles are still around, potentially offering a lifetime of fiction featuring the exact same characters. (That the recent cancellations of strips such as Cathy and Little Orphan Annie have received so much attention is testament to how rarely such cash cows are allowed to expire.)

It is sometimes fun to wonder what it might be like if television was run like the comics industry — would The Beverly Hillbillies still be on the air, with its fifth cast, rei-magined to exude a “grim and gritty” atmosphere? I guess Dallas was sort of like that… And then there’s Star Trek. And 90210. Ah, maybe this isn’t so much fun to think about after all. The Bordwell essay’s still worthwhile.

5. Finally, I like it when Sammy Harkham writes about comics. He does it too rarely. Last month, he published a short but sweet post on artist and beermonger Ron Regé. This led to an interesting exchange in the comments about the practice of constructing comics stories out of a collection of smaller, interconnected strips (e.g. Ice Haven, much of David Heatley’s work, Wimbledon Green). One particular anonymous commenter was very much against the practice, considering it a trendy cheat, doomed to appear as dated in the future as ’90s-era CGI “morphing” does today (my analogy, not his/hers).

Derik Badman draws attention to two previous posts worth reading on the subject, written by Charles Hatfield and Craig Fischer.

I end up on the boring but correctly neutral side of another anonymous commenter in that thread—”Who cares if it is a trendo or a gimmick?”—but I really do enjoy the effect of this kind of comics “mosaic” when it’s done right. And generally, even when an artistic technique is considered newfangled, gimmicky, or showoffy, there’s a good chance it has actually been around for a long time. (See Steven Moore’s recent The Novel: An Alternate History, for an entertaining recounting of a few millennia worth of examples of literary postmodernism, all somehow predating capital-M Modernism by centuries.) And this same phenomenon seems to be true in this discussion as well. One name in particular that doesn’t seem to be coming up yet (unless I missed it) is John Stanley. In fact, a big part of the enjoyment for me of reading his Melvin Monster and (especially) Thirteen Going on Eighteen books has come from the inventive and surprising ways in which he builds his issues through combining standalone stories. I am sure there are many more (and better) examples of pre-’90s and ’00s cartoonists doing this kind of thing, but my main point is simply that nothing new exists under the sun, a clichéd insight that’s been repeated by about a million morons like myself, probably since well before it appeared in Ecclesiastes. Let me say it once more for old time’s sake.

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8 Responses to “Schizophrenia: or, Five Unrelated Links”
  1. DerikB says:

    I read that Bordwell post and thought of comics serialization too. I’m always surprised how often I can relate his posts on film to comics. One of the best blogs I read.

    I assume from the context that you read Moore’s book? Would you recommend it?

  2. Shannon says:

    Dr. Who I belive would be one of the rare TV properties that operates like you’re saying, Tim. That’s about the only one I can think of with an ongoing body of work.

    • T. Hodler says:

      Oh, of course. Good call. (Actually, I was just googliing around to see if I could find the earliest real hit television series (you know, as something that might compare to Superman or Blondie), and series like The Tonight Show and Today came up, which are obviously still ongoing. I guess they’re a little different in that they’re not narrative, though.)

  3. Heidi M. says:


    “Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these? For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this. ”

    Definitely my favorite bible verse.

    We have one ongoing example of television in the soap opera itself — one or two still air instead of Oprah or Springer. Their general and consistent mediocrity is a testament to the problems of the looooong serial form. At least you can enjoy a random Blondie strip in theory; a random episode of General Hospital, not so much.

  4. VEe! says:

    Thanks for the information on Daniel Raeburn’s IMP downloads. I purchased the last issue on Historietas late last year. Raeburn’s work is truly great. THANKS! I have so much to read and little time.

  5. Chris D. says:

    I don’t think serialization is a problem. If it were, probably no one would be posting here, because we all love comics and comics are traditionally serialized. The real issues are the false belief that art and commerce must necessarily intwine, and creators who listen to fans instead of their own souls. If more aspiring TV creators would go through YouTube instead of networks, you’d get better programming. Instead they see money before expression. Instead of begging for a career, they should make the audience come to them. Create the scene. And if creators told the story they really wanted to, instead of tinkering for fans, I think at least very flawed stories would be more respectable because they would be more personal, not art-by-committee. Instead you get things like Lost, which the creators want you to believe is a character-driven show, except the problem is that they can’t write dialogue and their characters are all caricatures. They drop in plot-related mysteries to hook you, then try to pretend it’s a character show because people respond more to the love triangles than the science fiction. In the end, both aspects are unsuccessful and the show feels very muddled. They care more about second guessing the audience than writing. People get sucked into a show like Lost for years, it completely falls apart for the reasons I mentioned, and then it’s harder for a new long-form story to pull an audience. This is entirely the creators’ fault. When creators get over their superstitions related to commerce, you’ll get better stuff. But there are always followers, so this will never happen in a huge wave.

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