Saturday, December 4, 2010
Evan Dorkin made an interesting comment about how when the Love and Rockets Sketchbook came out in the late ‘80s it was a minor bombshell. And it was. He also goes on to talk about major releases by some big name cartoonists which were basically noticed in passing by folks within comics. He said that he feels as if Wilson and The Book of Genesis garnered more mainstream press than discussion within comics circles. Let’s go to the videotape!
Here’s the full quote:
evan dorkin says:
December 2, 2010 at 4:32 pm
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.
So, I thought I’d riff a little bit on what I think Evan is getting at – because I definitely remember when the L ’n R Sketchbook came out and how big of a deal it was for many of us at the time. I will be over-generalizing and painting this whole picture with broad strokes, so please forgive me if I ramble and can’t tie this all up with a nice little bow by the end of this post.
It seems to me that there used to be more of a “general consensus” attitude about hot button topics in comics. Whether the topic was “Kirby” or “Indie Comics” or whatever, there seemed to be room within the comics shop (where these discussions took place) for everything to exist on the shelf together, literally and figuratively. Most folks hated Kirby (“look at how he draws square fingers”), and most of those same folks loved Mage, which was an “indie comic”. There was a real interest in non-mainstream work, because in the indies you didn’t have the Comics Code. So there was a sort of groundswell of fans that wanted something else.
And then of course the mainstream companies started giving the fans that something else, and indie, gritty, realistic adventure comics basically destroyed the market in the mid-1990s. By that time though the other upstart indie creators like Los Bros., Burns, and Clowes were sort of migrating out of the comics shop and into the legitimate bookstores. We all know the story, right? Well, I may be totally off the mark but I think some of the excitement within comics of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s has just been spread around so much that “within comics” that feeling feels flat in comparison to the old days.
Meaning there definitely is more mainstream press coverage of books like Wilson or the new Joe Sacco (there was a BBC roundtable on the book for Christ’s sake), and, I think because of that, there is less of a discussion of Clowes and Sacco within comics or on the comics blogs or wherever, because those creators are well known to us and there isn’t that discovery or shock of the new anymore. A lot of the kids who I see at Copacetic or at shows often don’t want to be bothered with comics history or something new and “adult” like Ware or Sacco. And they don’t like superheroes either. And they don’t like Los Bros. because there are too many girls in bikinis every issue. They want to discover something new or claim something new for their own rather than cling to a specific history that is already written out for them. And so they leave Clowes and Sacco to the mainstream press and don’t really chime in when the topic on a comics blog is “Ditko.”
And who can blame them? There’s a real disconnect. I can extol the virtues of back issues and comics history until I’m blue in the face, but the truth is that comics is growing beyond its own familiar borders. It’s so fractured now that we don’t have to all be conversant in all the current releases and hot topics or ancient history. I feel like I meet people who are new comics readers all the time – and when I ask them what they like, they invariably say, in one form or another, “all kinds of things.” They like Sin City and they like Ghost World. They like Naruto and they like Barefoot Gen. They might like Kirby but probably not, cuz they don’t like superheroes. They’ll look at the Ditko horror story in an old Charlton but they won’t buy the old comic. They will buy the horror reprint book with Ditko stories in it, tho’. There’s a disconnect – they didn’t grow up on comics – and they only want to buy “books.” And hey! That’s okay.
I guess I’m just trying to wrestle with my own feelings about the way things are changing within comics. The whole “embarrassment of riches” aspect of what’s available and of what’s being published these days is something that we all are contending with. It is hard to keep up with all the great books – new ones and reprints. Maybe the reprints are squeezing the new books out of the discussion sometimes. Who knows? Maybe the core fans of established creators like Burns and Clowes and Los Bros. don’t read or write blog comments much. Who knows?
The “embarrassment of riches” argument makes me think a little bit of indie film and the whole American jazz scene. Remember when there were a ton of indie movies in theaters and Hollywood was banking on the next Tarantino? Well, that’s over, right? Hollywood’s fractured and there are probably more filmmakers than ever crowding out each other for a screen in NYC or LA. That sort of feels a little like comics these days. Lots of new work and a limited direct connect to the fans. The old channels for distro are drying up and folks are scrambling trying to find online solutions. I have no idea what’s going on in indie film these days, do you? Is it me or was that just part of the “general consensus” attitude of the pre-internet ‘90s? I feel like I talked about Tarantino and Jarmusch and Wong Kar-wai with total strangers on the BART train all the time back then. Sort of like I talk comics with total strangers these days. It’s in the air. But for how long? Forgive me for being melodramatic. It’s just that I remember when the shit hit the fan during “comics golden ages” of the recent past—like in ’87, in ’96, and in ’08—and the whole industry went south. Fast. When I hear the “it’s a Golden Age” talk I start playing my Duck and Cover training video.
I’m saying we should be happy we argue and have a fractured, fucked up scene and try to foster it to stay fucked up. Jazz musicians and fans used to argue bitterly about how bebop was bullshit and that the New Orleans tradition was the best. Now most of those guys are dead and there’s no one who replaces them really. The musicians change styles, the fans change tastes, they get older and it all fades. I mean, think about it: jazz was the most popular art form in America sixty years ago and now it is just gone. Gone! There are financial foundations for the art form just to keep it alive. Finding a guy to argue jazz with these days is like looking for parts for a ’29 Ford Roadster. I don’t want comics to necessarily to be like it was in the old days but I do want that feeling of revering certain comics and certain creators in a way that this current ham-radio blogosphere doesn’t allow. Discussions in person or in letters columns were easier to navigate. You could say “Fuck You” to someone’s face in the comics shop and then the next minute be talking with them avidly about a Batman movie. Things don’t seem to play out that way on the interweb. I feel like sometimes I wanna crawl through fiber-optic cables and slash people’s throats and that’s no good. But I do think it’s good that we all have these different opinions and tastes. It’s fucked up but it means we’re still alive.
Okay, okay, lemme try and reel this back in a little bit. It was a bitter pill to swallow when I had to “sell” Love and Rockets to a new reader when I worked at a comics shop. It is hard to remember a time when I thought Los Bros.’ star would dim in the hearts of new fans. But I would just do just my best Bill Boichel impression and would explain that it was like The Beatles, insomuch as they changed everything. “Well, I never liked The Beatles,” said the twenty-year-old college sophomore. And as a retailer or a guy working for a retailer, what am I supposed to say to that? Basically, I have to say, well why don’t you check out this Akira or this All Star Superman. What do you think I say? I can only try and meet them halfway. Tastes change.
Confidential to Evan: I’m agreeing with you. Please don’t make fun of me too much in the comments section.