If I Could Write


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Exceptional one-person comic strips like “Little Nemo,” “Krazy Kat,” and “Peanuts” were among the first to be championed as high art partly because standard industry practices such as “ghosting” and assembly-line production obscure idiosyncrasies, freeze evolution, and desiccate scholarly and fannish narratives. Our impulse to uncover a human source — to project from reproducible artifact to traceable performer, so that we might begin to speak of cinematographer “John Alton” as we would of “Humphrey Bogart” — isn’t just a taxonomic convenience. It also reflects frustrated feelings of gratitude and intimacy, as evidenced by the career of Walt Disney comics artist and writer Carl Barks. Although Barks wrote, drew, and inked his own work for decades, his employer blocked fan mail and withheld contributor credits on the theory that sales would decline if children thought anyone other than Walt Disney was involved in the comic books. As a result, Barks wasn’t successfully contacted by readers until 1960, and his first interview (conducted in 1962) was only allowed publication in 1968. Given no clues other than style, loyal fans identified and collected Barks as “The Duck Artist,” “The Good Duck Artist,” or simply “The Good Artist,” the last eventually inscribed on his gravestone.

—From “High, Low, and Lethem”, a just-posted, confidence-killing essay in which the great Ray Davis takes nearly every subject I’ve written about for Comics Comics over the last five years—from Steve Gerber and Carl Barks to Jonathan Lethem’s Omega the Unknown and the auteur theory’s connection to comics, among others—and writes something actually worthwhile, intelligent, and stylish about them. He shows me up as a lazy halfwit actually. The funny thing is that I’m fairly certain he’s never heard of me or Comics Comics at all, and the confluence of thought is purely coincidental. Oh well, I guess I need to try harder.

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4 Responses to “If I Could Write”
  1. david t says:

    an interesting essay indeed, thanks for pointing it out.

  2. david r says:

    an essay notable for it’s verve and confidence, even if it didn’t have anything interesting to say, which it does. The web site it’s posted on also has a very interesting and engaging design, particularly in the way that comments are presented. Bookmarked for further study.

  3. Nate says:

    This essay distills so much of our messy thinking on the author function comments sections. Very impressive.
    By some weird coincidence I just finished reading 21st century Omega comic. As with the essay, I’m still chewing on it.
    In any case, thanks for linking to this!

  4. Ray Davis says:

    Just tripped over this on my monthly trawl, and wanted to thank you for the (over-)extremely kind words. I’ve heard a few reactions from readers in the mainstream and science fiction communities. But other than Eddie Campbell, you’re the first who mostly focus on comics, and I can’t imagine a more flattering source of approval.

    I picked up the first issue of ComicsComics when I saw it at Comic Relief in Berkeley, and liked it a lot. Unfortunately, my day job clamped down hard not long afterward, and so I missed your continued adventures in print and on-line until now. Having just downloaded and consumed the PDF, I feel particularly sad about not seeing Issue 2, which I expect I would have cited in the Gerber section of the essay.

    At any rate, I have plenty of catching up to do! Thank you for making so much fine material publicly available on the blog.

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