Hignite on Jaime Hernandez


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Moebius clouds in Jaime Hernandez's first Locas story.

I recently read some fairly depressing essays about the Hernandez Brothers, pieces that were so ill-informed that I despaired of “comics criticism” as a valid activity. To cheer myself up I went back to Todd Hignite’s The Art of Jaime Henandez: The Secrets of Life and Death. Beautifully designed by Jordon Crane, filled to the gill with original art and photographs, this has been justly celebrated as an art book. But I’m not sure that Hignite’s writing has received the praise it deserves.

Taken just by itself, Hignite’s text is a wonderfully compact monograph which manages to compress many insights into a small package. The book covers, among other things, Jaime’s family background, the influence of classic commercial comics on his art, his interactions with punk music and lowrider culture, the context of the direct market, and the evolution of Jaime’s art and storytelling.

As I’ve said before, I’m not sure if fannish knowledge of commercial comics is essential for appreciating Jaime’s work (or Gilbert’s work) but it certainly helps in terms of analyzing it, especially in visual terms. Hignite is very good on Jaime’s debt to artists like Lucey, Ditko, and Moebius. To pick one example of many, here’s what Hignite says about Jaime’s first  Locas story, “Mechan-X”: “the Moebius-like hatching in the clouds throughout ‘Mechan-X’.” That’s very nicely observed. It’s impossible to see the clouds in this story and not think of Moebius (who also inflects the hovering scooter Maggie rides on as well as the bird’s eye view perspective in some of the panels). This sort of attention to Jaime’s visual ancestors isn’t just an example of source-hunting, it also informs us of Jaime’s larger project, which is to use as raw material the vernacular culture that surrounded him as a young man (not just comics but also wrestling, television, lowrider culture and punk music) and by some mysterious alchemy mix and blend these elements in order to create something wholly new: comics that show us a world we could have hardly guess existed. It’s almost impossible, I suspect, for a critic to do justice to Jaime’s work. Hignite comes as close as anyone has, and for that he deserves to be singled out for praise.

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51 Responses to “Hignite on Jaime Hernandez”
  1. Eric Reynolds says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Well said.

  2. MAD says:

    Thanks for bringing attention to this awesome book. I’ve devoured its contents for the past few months during my highly enjoyable binge of reading all of the Bros. work. It helped solidify my complete love of Jaime’s fantastic body of work.

    Out of curiousity: what fairly depressing essays on the Hernandez brothers did you read? I’m almost hesitant to ask for fear they’ll make me vomit with rage, though.

  3. Evan Dorkin says:

    This is a beautiful book in every way, about one of our greatest, and it kills me to not see more people falling all over themselves over it. Too many good books? Too many books, period? Bad economy? I dunno. I expected more talk about it, it deserves it. A lot of terrific projects have been received quietly these days, books that would have dropped like A-Bombs not too long ago. So weird.

  4. I really need to get my hands on this book, especially after spending two months reading and reviewing every damn Love and Rockets book!

    (I know what you mean about those depressing essays, too. When I realized what was going on there, it’s like my brain tried to reset. “No, that couldn’t possibly be the case. Could it?”)

    Evan, I assume there’s just a limited amount of attention paid to something billed as “the art of” whoever even at the best of times. People just think of it as a greatest-hits/odds-and-sods thing, even if it’s a particularly awesome such thing.

  5. Robert Boyd says:

    Jeet: “I recently read some fairly depressing essays about the Hernandez Brothers, pieces that were so ill-informed that I despaired of “comics criticism” as a valid activity.”

    Hmmm, I wonder where you read those?

    Sean: “I assume there’s just a limited amount of attention paid to something billed as “the art of” whoever even at the best of times. People just think of it as a greatest-hits/odds-and-sods thing, even if it’s a particularly awesome such thing.”

    That’s because we don’t have a tradition of monographs in comics, partly because we don’t have a very deep tradition of (non-fannish) scholarship in comics. Obviously that is changing, which is good. What I find particularly nice is that there are a lot of non-academic writers like Hignite who have shown the ability to act as independent scholars and to write monographs. (This is not a dig at academic scholars.)

  6. Jeet Heer says:

    Thanks for the kind words everybody. Robert Boyd is exactly right that the tradition of the monograph is only now coming to comics. It’s interesting that some of the best of these have come from indepenedent scholars (Hignite and Raeburn). Now if only someone can do a monograph about Kim Deitch….
    @ Mad. Actually as a public service I won’t name those depressing essays. Sorry.

  7. QWERTYUIOP says:

    The book’s only flaw is the lack of a similar-sized “LOVE AND ROCKETS ARCHIVES” multivolume hardcover series to shelf beside it.

  8. Isn’t that what Palomar, Luba, Locas, and Locas II are?

  9. evan dorkin says:

    Re: monographs etc, yeah, I understand that, but two thoughts, likely not well-thought out –

    Although not a monograph, when the Love and Rockets sketchbook came out it was a minor bombshell, imo. The idea that relatively few people in comics weren’t hungry to see more of Jaime’s work and art and life…I dunno, I guess I just don’t get it. But I still think that we’re in a different era, when so many notable books are coming out that you can write long-ish preview articles each and every week and still miss solid-to-excellent work.

    Second thought — releases like the Complete Alec and Weathercraft and Sacco’s last book weren’t monographs, and in the comics community it felt as if these significant works were noticed in passing. I’m sure everyone reading this can name more than a few books released in the past year that they felt were unjustly and surprisingly overlooked, and not just personal favorites created by obscure (even more obscure?) cartoonists. I kinda understand why Jack Survives wasn’t bandied about on websites for a long while, but some others –? I feel as if Wilson and The Book of Genesis garnered more mainstream press than discussion “in comics”. it’s like — everyone goes “holy crap!” when these books are announced, but when they’re released everyone seems to be talking about the next Holy Crap announcement or talking about All-Star Superman (not a knock — maybe the character-based books just offer up more fun things to discuss with more people than Captain Easy or King Aroo or whatever?) or talking about…nothing.

    This is emotion-speak more than analysis-speak, I admit. Just a gut feeling. Too many books/books of note? Burn-out? Superman? Nature of the internet? ADD?

    Anyway, it’s a great book. I’d love one on Gilbert to place next to it, myself.

  10. Jeet Heer says:

    Evan is right that there are a huge number of good books coming out that don’t receive anything like the critical discussion they deserve. Part of the problem is that there are lots of “comics critics” who prefer to talk about anything other than comics. You can easily get a long discussion going about whether Dave Sim is a sexist or not (surely not a hard thing to figure out…) or copyright piracy on the net. Or about what DC is doing to Batman or whatever. But try getting people to talk about Weathercraft or Jack Survives as works of art. Let’s face it, as a critical community we suck.

  11. Haha, it’s kinda great in an affirming way to end up in Jeet’s unnamable pile. Funny.

    I’m a huge Hernandez brothers fan and have still be debating with myself whether to get this book. I haven’t been at all impressed with Hignite as a critic — his writing in “In the Studio” is unnecessarily haughty, as if he’s talking about sacred writ, not real, concrete, messy art. The art direction on the Jaime book looks good (Crane always is), but I tend to like Jaime best as a comics storyteller — his drawings on their own are wonderful, but don’t work for me as well. Anyway, Jeet’s recommendation makes me want to take a second look soon… cheers.

  12. Michael Grabowski says:

    Jeet, all those other things you mention easily elicit bloggable opinions and one doesn’t need to buy anything besides internet access to publish them. All these great books coming out cost money, take time to read (and re-read), and more time to consider and discuss meaningfully. If there were some kind of rental system (Fantagra-flix?) or cheap & easy local purchase/exchange of used copies (Johnny Craigslist?) that would help a lot, but until then…

  13. Jeet Heer says:

    @Matthias Wivel. This should go without saying, but just in case anyone is unclear on this point, nothing Matthias has written is “depressing” or “ill-informed.” He’s an excellent comics critic and I learn from everything I’ve read by him.

  14. I wanna talk about Captain Easy but almost everyone I know doesn’t have that book – it’s weird. Maybe everyone’s just broke. Or doesn’t get to hang out in the comics shop and read it without buying it – I dunno – but I remember thinking that book and easy would finally have his day but … that book hasn’t been “talked about” much – I remember having heart attacks when i would come across the old Blackbeard editions and dreaming of a day when a color sunday book came out –

    • patrick ford says:

      Frank, I’ve got the Captain Easy book. Looked forward to a Captain Easy book for years.
      Roy Crane is the best of his class. I see him as an uber Toth.
      If Toth had been able to he would have been Roy Crane. The drawing is so beautiful it has no more up left. It’s at the top of a particular type of mountain.

  15. Jeet is absolutely right: There is a dire dearth of in-depth discussion and criticism of alternative/art/alt/lit comics online right now. I noticed with some alarm a while back that I don’t think there’s anyone in the comics blogosphere who writes regularly (let alone regularly and well!) about altcomix who wasn’t already doing so three years ago, other than perhaps Matt Seneca, who I think still writes about super/action books more often than not. Plus, Jog is writing fewer reviews, and my perception (I haven’t really counted, this is just the sense I get from my RSS) is that Spurge is too. No one is filling that void.

    • My view:

      Number one reason why people do not discuss alternative comics on the internet is that so many alternative comic people are total assholes about criticism. Everything is a war to them. Praise is good, but if people try to tell them something or somebody comes out and says they don’t like something, there are cries for blood.

      One reason why I think there’s a lot of more interesting writing on mainstream comics these days is that there is no community or personal reprisal against bloggers or commenters who simply don’t think that Comic-XY is the coolest thing ever. I have a strong sense–and many of the people I talk to have shared the sentiment–that dissension is not allowed. So many times, people have looked both ways, cutting their eyes, before leaning in to whisper “I didn’t really like it.” And that happens literally, not just in the shows. Whereas, in the bigger comics, there isn’t such a sense that the sensitive artist is looking over everyone’s shoulder waiting to mark off their black books.

      And some of the comics that are coming out and getting that mainstream press…I’m not going to fuck MY shit up and name names, but some of those comics are horrible and we’re just not foolish enough to risk being kicked out of the comics club by saying it.

      There is a strong sense among many people that a person can be kicked out of comics, effectively.

      • It’s hard for me to conceive of the small group of people who make and review alternative comics as having the power to excommunicate anyone from anything. I mean, just to take one of the topics of this thread as a for instance, the Hooded Utilitarian is hosted by the single biggest institution in alternative-comics criticism. That said, I guess the best advice is that if someone treats you like shit because you disagree with them, take your business elsewhere. Don’t participate in discussions with folks who act like dicks. And if you’ve got your own site, it’s easy enough to prevent them from participating in yours.

        But rereading your post, I’m not sure if you mean you fear reprisals from critics or from the artists themselves…the latter, I’m not sure how best to handle. I’ve never really dealt with that.

  16. Well, thanks Jeet, the feeling is mutual.

    As I believe I’ve mentioned before, there does, however, seem to be a tendency to dismiss out of hand what happens on that unnamable blog, despite the fact that the criticism there is actually very varied and does something to address the wish for more informed conversation on artcomics (and other things) expressed here (a wish that I share by the way).

  17. MAD says:

    Adding to what Matthias said: The Art of Jaime Hernandez is not perfect, and I found (sorry Jeet) Hignite’s writing to be its weakest aspect. It’s littered with purple prose that grows increasingly annoying as the book goes on. I’m guessing Matthias and I are seeing the same aspect in his writing that he characterizes as “unnecessarily haughty.” HIgnite’s analysis is sound enough (and insightful) but sometimes I couldn’t help but roll my eyes while reading the book.

    As for the overall lack of good criticism: yep.

  18. Jeet Heer says:

    @mad. Well, I wouldn’t say that Hignite is not a fluid or journalistic writer. But that’s not where he’s coming from or what he’s aiming for. If you judge a writer by the quality of his research, the depth of his insight, and the ability to convey a lot of ideas and information in a short space, then Hignite is very fine writer indeed. I am very familiar with Jaime Hernandez’s work but I learned a great deal from this book.

  19. Another “Part of the problem is that there are lots of ‘comics critics’ who prefer” to start an argumentative blog entry bemoaning another critic’s work… but then can’t be bothered (or are too weaselly) to link to the work and address it directly. Are we supposed to read your mind? Did I miss the secret password to the little boys’ room?

    I don’t know if “fannish knowledge of commercial comics is essential for appreciating Jaime’s work” but I think general superficial knowledge of comics might actually be a hindrance in some ways. Several younger cartoonists I know dislike his work intensely because all they see in it is Archie Comics, and nothing else. At best I imagine they read it like a parody of those comics, not the singular blend of disparate cultural influences it is.

    Meanwhile, I think Gilbert is still undervalued, or at least the range of his work is. His experimental (though I think surreal is the better term) work is among comics’ best, I think, much more interesting and challenging than someone like Woodring. I think Gilbert is comics’ Bunuel, not its Garcia Marquez. Has any critic focused on this segment of his stuff? And I think Gilbert is able to convey disparate *tones* via his drawing that Jaime is not. Jaime’s work is, obviously, nearly flawless, but Gilbert is the one who is capable of surprising me, even if some of it looks rushed or like “a job”.

    How mind-boggling and sad that the two artists most responsible for engendering the cornucopia of comics available today are themselves now mostly misunderstood or ignored. When all these bullshit non-narrative “art” comics (PictureBox) and blandly nostalgic genre indulgences (Walking Dead, Ed Brubaker) and limp, decidedly un-exotic manga imports are forgotten – and they will be – it’s pretty obvious whose work will remain.

    As for the Hignite book, I agree with Mad’s assessment of the writing, which made me wince throughout. The best aspects of the book, of course, were the behind-the-scenes and biographical photos and info, and the beautifully reproduced art.

    As for the new Captain Easy book(s) — I had it on hold at the library when it was first announced, but then it was delayed like six months, and the library canceled their order and never picked it up. This is becoming a predictable trend with FBI’s reprint books: Pogo is still nowhere in sight, the TS Sullivant book disappeared without a whimper, every single volume of Krazy Kat gets pushed back a half-year, Nancy has been delayed, etc.

  20. Nothing moves the conversation forward like calling things “bullshit” and putting “art” in sneer quotes!

  21. Ooh, you really told me! Two or three naughty words out of six paragraphs! Let’s all join hands and “despair of ‘comics criticism’ as a valid activity”. What I said “moves the conversation forward” as much or more than articles that start out with vague accusations and condescensions and then elide any specifics. That’s the antithesis of a conversation, that’s half an equation, and it’s lazy criticism. But Heer is quite good at making his own personal generalizations stand in for UNIVERSAL TRUTHS (saying Chester Brown’s new book is, flatly, “the most eagerly anticipated comic book of 2011” — Really? Is there any way to prove that?)

    Like I give a shit what the TEAM COMIX “Cognoscente” thinks anyway. Let me know when you’re all done using the bathroom together, I’d like to “move” something of my own down the toilet.

  22. Jeet Heer says:

    @Jeffrey Meyer.
    1. I’m not sure what purpose it would serve to mention the essays I had in mind, since I wasn’t critiquing them at this time. The simple point I wanted to make is that there is a lot of bad comics criticism out there, compared to which Hignite’s book is a relief. I don’t see that as a particularly controversial point.
    2. If your library had a book on order and then cancelled the order because the book is late, the simle solution is to ask them to order it again. Of course it’s no fun waiting for books like Pogo but believe me, there are more than enough good comics out there (and good comics reprints) to keep you busy for a long time, especially if you have access to a good public library.
    3. I agree with the point about Gilbert and Jaime being underrated right now. Part of the problem is that they work in the idiom of classic comic books (circa 1955-1970), althought they’ve completely transformed that idiom and shown it to possess a richness that few would imagine. But over the last 20 years, there’s been an influx into comics of people bringing in new artistic approaches and styles from other traditions (painting, kid’s books, book design etc). Compared to this influx, some people (lazily and wrongly) assume that the Hernandez brothers are old hat. I think one of the acheivements of Hignite’s book is that it challenges this perception and gives us a chance to look at Jaime’s work anew.
    4. I think part of a critic’s job is to put out strong statements and let other people challenge them or deal with them. So, yeah, I think Brown’s book is the “most eagerly anticipated book of 2011.” Agree or disagree? What’s more anticipated than Brown? If you don’t like Brown feel free to say why, at length. We have a comment section here and a fairly liberal policy of allowing comments, so fire away.

  23. “Look! That hatchwork in the clouds! Hernandez got that from Moebius! Isn’t that cool!!!”

    Paraphrasing another great moment in the annals of comics criticism from Jeet Heer.

  24. Jeet Heer says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.

  25. […] Jeet Heer sings the praises of Todd Hignite’s The Art of Jaime Hernandez. I don’t know why things always get so nasty in Comics Comics comment threads — I think […]

  26. Alec Trench says:

    There’s a lot of Moebius in there.
    It’s like Moebius with a different artist doing the characters.
    a bit.

    “How mind-boggling and sad that the two artists most responsible for engendering the cornucopia of comics available today are themselves now mostly misunderstood or ignored.”
    Would that be William Heath and Rudolphe Topffer?
    Or maybe (just maybe) Harvey Kurtzman and Will Eisner?
    No, silly me, it must be Justin Green and Robert Crumb.
    Either them or Spiegelman and Bagge.
    Canniff and Dirks?
    Oh, I give up, who is it? Who’s responsible?
    Whoever it was, they’ve sure got some explaining to do.

  27. NoahB says:

    Jeffrey, Jeet’s talking about this roundtable focused on Charles Hatfield’s book Alternative Comics. Ng Suat Tong and Charles Hatfield actually had entries about Gilbert Hernandez that I think Jeet liked. And Jeet himself actually has a fair bit to say, which would presumably be of interest to folks on this thread. Jeet’s despair was caused by the entries by me and Robert Stanley Martin, I think.

    The discussion is all focused on Gilbert, incidentally. There’s basically no discussion of Jaime.

    Sorry if this is some horrible breach of netiquette; it seems a little silly to talk about the thing and not just link over there though. And as Jeet says, folks can read the blog posts and decide for themselves this way. Or alternately I guess the powers that be can delete this if it’s deemed verboten.

  28. NoahB says:

    Sorry; I meant Jeet has a fair bit to say in comments on the blog. He doesn’t post in the roundtable itself.

  29. Jeet Heer says:

    Well, out of politeness (or the principle that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all) I wasn’t going to name the essays. But if Noah B. and Robert Stanley Martin want to own up to them, then who am I to stand in the way of authorial pride. There were several good essays in the roundtable, including the ones mentioned by Ng Suat Tong and Charles Hatfield. I’d also add that Caroline Small and Mattias Wivel wrote interesting things as well. It was only the duo of Berlatsky and Martin that depressed me.

  30. Do barnacles sink a boat or help it float?

  31. MAD says:

    Haha!! Well, now that the cat’s out of the bag, I went and read those posts/threads (that’s what I get for not showing up over there in over a month).

    My reaction, after taking quite a bit of time to read through it all? More bemusement than depression. It seemed like the usual internet trolling + subsequent war, only with fancier words (which is also somewhat related to Noah’s earliest point about academia v. blogs). I wouldn’t worry too much about it, Jeet.

    I will mention one important aspect about the nature of criticism that crystallized in my mind while reading post #237 or so: this is the reason no creator of any of the works discussed therein would ever be caught dead in the middle of such a discussion (in both my experience and opinion, of course). And I’m actually damn glad of that small, but significant, detail.

  32. NoahB says:

    Well, good, glad no offense taken for the link.

  33. NoahB says:

    Sorry…just quickly then I’ll leave you all alone…

    Jeet, I think negativity and disagreement are useful parts of criticism. So in general, if you have something to say about me, I’d prefer you just said it.

    Obviously you’ll write what you want and how you want, which is as it should be. But, if I understood you, you seemed to be suggesting above that you were avoiding mentioning my name out of consideration for my feelings. I just wanted to be clear what my feelings actually were.

  34. Jeet Heer says:

    Well, it was not so much a consideration of you feelings, but rather my firm conviction that it would be cruel to you and Robert Stanley Martin to call attention to what you wrote and to have more people read it. I guess that was a foolish hope, but I did want to shield you from further embarrassment.

  35. Actually, Jeet, I wonder if your real concern was that you didn’t want people seeing what an ass you’d made of yourself in the comments, particularly early on. Accusing people who don’t agree with you of having a blinkered viewpoint that reinforces racist and sexist hegemonic values was beyond obnoxious. However, it’s also a fairly hackneyed tactic among certain academic factions, which was I wrote it was academic-speak for saying someone has cooties. It’s also why it was so easy to mock you in response.

    And what was so depressing about what I wrote about Gilbert, anyway? That his work is never going to generate much interest beyond the comics subculture? I think time has pretty much borne out that observation.

    As for your concern with not being cruel, spare me. If I thought that posting reflected poorly on me, I’d ask Noah to take it down. It’s there for people to read, and the more the merrier.

  36. Jeet Heer says:

    @Robert Stanley Martin. Actually, I’m very pleased by what I wrote in reponse to you and Noah, and in fact my only concern was that I was too polite. In any case, now that the cat, so to speak, is out of the bag, anyone interested can go read for themselves. As I’ve said before, I rest my case.

  37. phil says:

    oh gawd…the HU people again. So many words, that say nothin’!

  38. If they say nothing, why do you get mad?

    • phil says:

      Who said i was mad? Didn’t mean to disparage all of the HU folk, but it always SEEMS TO ME that i can immediately tell when someone from that forum comments here because they are trying to “”enlighten”” the discussion and let everyone know what is “””real art””” with lots of “””””””””””airquotes”””””””””””, but always end up callin’ someone an ass or deeming something bullshit. Where normally differences on generally are “Well, what can i say, i just didn’t like ______”

      All for good discussion and disagreement, but this passive/aggressive tango-jousting i see, tres passe!

      • Well, certain writers there have taste for polemics, but I’d suggest at least making an effort to read what they’re writing. Polemics can bring out interesting and unorthodox perspectives on material you thought you had all figured out — I know it has for me. I recognize that at times, the tone at HU is abrasive and annoying — and a certain amount of bullshit goes on there — but it’s far from as stupid as is consistently being suggested here and in other places in what seems to me an attempt to dismiss uncomfortable discourse without having to engage it.

        Again, I write at HU, so I’m not impartial, but I’ve experienced it as an inspirational intellectual community with an interest in comics, just as CC is in its own, different way.

        • Matthias, I can’t speak for everyone as to the problems they have with HU, but a community wherein one can write multiple posts and even more comments purporting to speak to an issue as complex as sexism and gender representation in the work of a given creator when that person is only looking at isolated pages from a single book he hasn’t even read…inspiring isn’t the word for it, I don’t think. I can say for myself that when I realized the whole HU gang was spending all this time debating the work of Gilbert Hernandez at the instigation of someone who wrote the following:

          “I haven’t actually read Poison River, but other pages Charles reproduces, and the bits I’ve seen of Hernandez’s other work (I believe I read Heartbreak Soup once upon a time)…”

          …I reacted with something akin to horror, and absolutely like sorrow for the Comics Journal for hosting it. I mean, that’s a conversation-ender. It’d be like me expecting for my opinions about, say, Bruce Springsteen to be taken seriously based on the 30-second RealAudio snippets from The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle I heard on Amazon this one time. I’ll grant you that a conversation with that mindset as one of its poles makes for “uncomfortable discourse,” but in much the same way that I let Jeffrey Meyer slide when he ignorantly referred to PictureBox’s catalogue as “non-narrative” (well, until now, at least) there are some discourses that are best left un-engaged.

          • Sean, I understand those reservations, and Noah does tend to write in that kind of seat-of-the-pants style, sometimes even insultingly, which offers his critics an easy out, despite the fact that he may have a point anyway. The question he raised re: Gilbert Hernandez certainly fostered discussion and some interesting writing from several people including Caro and Charles Hatfield — more interesting than pretty much anything else I’ve seen written on Los Bros. Not bad for a conversation-ender.

            Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in informed criticism (and I’ve been enjoying your reading of Love and Rockets these past months, thanks for doing that!), but I don’t really see a contradiction here. Yes, he doesn’t know much about Beto’s work, and I think he is largely wrong about it, but he is well-informed about many other things, which nevertheless made his reading of those few pages relevant to people trying to understand Beto’s work better.

  39. patrick ford says:

    TCJ #300 printed one letter and a reply.
    I thought taken together they comprised a perfect illustration.

    Michael Slembrouck:

    I thought it was funny that issue 298 of The Comics Journal had a lengthy essay [Comicopia, R.C. Harvey] about the dead chimp/stimulus bill editorial cartoon and how, racist or not, the author failed in the presentation of his opinion, which was preceded by a review that did that exact thing. My initial reaction to Robert Stanley Martin’s review of Speak of the Devil was juvenile, but oh well: This guy’s a jerk-off. I’m a Beto fan (no dis to Jaime, but I prefer Beto) but, sure, Speak of the Devil didn’t impress me all that much compared to some of his other work. I even partially agree with Martin’s complaint (and he has only one, which he harps on and on about for the whole “review”) and it’s that the story could use a little more depth. That’s where I stop agreeing with him, even partially.

    Martin correctly identifies his complaints as pedantic, but I’m not sure who he’s trying to impress by painting himself as an expert on high school athletes, girl gymnasts and the suburban mindset. He seems to be rather stereotypical in his opinions of all three, however, which puts his demand for more depth in the form of realism on shaky ground. His claims that no one will believe the crimes portrayed in the story because we all watch CSI not only add to that but are offensive (or, more mildly, irritating). The “fact” that apparently no club anywhere has had their wait-staff dress as bunnies in decades and how this helps to ruin the book make me really start to think that this guy (Martin) is actually not a jerk-off but someone clearly lacking intelligence yet putting on the airs that he’s not. Maybe no club anywhere does currently make its wait-staff dress as sexy bunnies, I don’t know, I haven’t visited every club everywhere regularly for ten plus years to keep up on their dress codes (I have been to a Hooters in the past decade, though, and anyone who claims their outfits aren’t comparable to bunny outfits is blind). But that’s not the point. Clearly, what has made Beto’s comics so great is their realistic attention to minute details of very specific stereotypes.

    Everything becomes clear at the end of the review, though. Robert Stanley Martin is one of those people who enjoys saying of an artist: “their early stuff is better, before they sold out,” or something along those lines. This is not the elitist attitude that TCJ has been criticized for, it’s the pretentious claptrap found in any fandom that stops it from being expanded. I stand by my initial reaction and really hope he doesn’t contribute anything else to TCJ in the future. Strong opinions are of course a trademark of TCJ, but they’re intelligent opinions, too.

    Otherwise, an excellent issue.

    Robert Stanley Martin Replies:

    Michael Dean offered me the opportunity to reply to this letter, but I’m not quite sure what to reply to without rehashing the review. Mr. Slembrouck continually misstates or exaggerates what I wrote. Attitudes are attributed to me that I never expressed and do not hold. He finds my views of “high school athletes, girl gymnasts and the suburban mindset” stereotypical, but he doesn’t elaborate on what he finds hackneyed or simplistic about them. Part of me wonders if the letter is a joke. The writing skills on display are pitiful, and the author barely seems to know how to read.

    The only complaint that isn’t completely incoherent or nonsensical deals with my criticism of a character’s Playboy-Bunny-style work outfit. However, it’s a straw man. In my review, I wrote that the outfit was an anachronism, and that, in terms of the story, it raised questions about Hernandez’s depiction of her husband. Mr. Slembrouck ignores the latter part of that criticism, and he exaggerates the rest into an absolute, no-exceptions claim that no establishment anywhere today has their servers dress in such a manner. My response is that, beyond drastically improving his reading comprehension skills, Mr. Slembrouck needs to learn the difference between something being generally true and universally so. Of course, Mr. Slembrouck also thinks Playboy Bunnies and Hooters Girls have similar outfits, so maybe that is too fine a distinction for him to understand.

    Mr. Slembrouck asks whom I was trying to impress with my critique of Speak of the Devil. The answer is no one. The Journal commissioned a review of 1,000-6,000 words and sent me a copy of the book. I just fulfilled the assignment. I took no pleasure in writing the review. My preference is to talk about work I enjoy, and if I don’t like something, my hope is that it is bad in an interesting way. Speak of the Devil didn’t even manage that. It is a mind-numbingly awful book. I mean that literally; the experience of reading, thinking and writing about it left me depressed. Reading, thinking and writing about Mr. Slembrouck’s insulting and illiterate letter didn’t leave me feeling much better.

  40. Hey Frank, I read and enjoyed the Capt Easy book. I didn’t really start to warm to it until about halfway through; dunno whether it was because the strips started getting better or I just started to “get” it.

    • Cool! I thin it’s a great book – except that cover stock that gets dinged up so easily. Anyways that’s my original art color guide in the back! I bought it from Dragon Lady Comics about five years ago for a song…

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