Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Dexterous platitudes


Monday, November 8, 2010

Read Comments (9)

I’ve been doing research recently on Lynd Ward (whose wordless woodcut novels were just published by the Library of America). I found a trove of New York Times reviews of these early books—they all appeared between 1929 and 1937—and in each, the reviewer has a hard time taking the material seriously.  Take, for instance, a 1933 Times review of Prelude to a Million Years. The review is by John Chamberlain, a syndicated columnist and book critic.

What the ‘reader’ will make of a series of woodcuts which tell this story is conjectural. For our own part, we wish Mr. Ward would employ his dexterity in catching shades of emotion in the illustration of other people’s written stories. The art of painting, or of the woodcut, by its very static nature, is not a good medium for drama, which must march. It is a platitude, of course, to say this, but the platitude has not yet convinced Mr. Ward.

Aside from the laughable “critical” faculties at work here, it’s interesting that the idea of pictures standing in for words seems such a difficult concept to grasp. Chamberlain feels that pictures in books are for illustration; they are secondary to the words and ought to play a supporting role. What might he have said of a comic book, in which words and pictures work together, often on equal footing?

The reviewer’s small-minded conception of the medium makes this quote by Ward, part of his 1953 Caldecott acceptance speech, in which he so succinctly describes what comics alone can do, all the better:

No other medium in which the artist can work has that particular element to offer, and it is that one thing that makes the book a form something different for the artist from what it is for the writer. It is true that the writer works with a succession of words, paragraphs and chapters that because of their sequence in time have a significance completely dependent upon that time sequence; but the turning of the page is not essential to that sequence, and, save at the end of the chapter, is more often than not likely to be an interruption that is tolerated rather than utilized for its own sake. For the artist, however, the turning of the page is the thing he has that no other worker in the visual artist has: the power to control a succession of images in time, so that the cumulative effect upon the viewer is the result of not only what images are thrown at him, but the order in which they come. Thus the significance of those coming late in the sequence is built up by what comes earlier.

Labels: ,

Ben Jones


Monday, December 14, 2009

Read Comments (3)

Well, here is something: Ben Jones on the New York Times T Magazine web site. Go watch the video.

Labels: ,

Must Be Those Other Beatles…


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Read Comments (5)

I just can’t resist: This article in the NY Times is truly, um, “special”. I’m not sure even your average fanboy feels as strongly about the Image Comics reunion (I’m somehow surprised these artists are still even alive — shouldn’t the weight of history have crushed them or something?) as The Times’ Mr. Gustines, who begins his article with this whopper: “IMAGE UNITED is akin to a Beatles reunion.” He must be talking about these Beatles. Wow.

Labels: , , , ,



Friday, January 4, 2008

Read Comment (1)

With this New York Times piece, I veer between drawing realistic eyes and little dot eyeballs, and it holds this strong unconscious meaning in the story. Or maybe not. Maybe nobody cares.

–Daniel Clowes, in an interview at the A.V. Club.

Huh. That’s interesting. I hadn’t noticed that.

Also, since most Comics Comics readers live under rocks, you may not know that the irreplaceable and much-missed Comics Reporter is back up and running. Now you do.

Labels: , ,



Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Read Comments (2)

1. I don’t want to turn this blog into an all-Lauren Weinstein, all-the-time promotional vehicle, but it’s been a good month for her. First, there was the new Believer interview, and now she’s mentioned in the same breath as the great Daniel Clowes in a New York Times review of Ariel Schrag‘s new anthology Stuck in the Middle. Which is too awesome not to mention.

2. I also don’t want to turn this blog into an all-Patrick Smith, all-the-time promotional vehicle, but he is apparently the 146th greatest cartoonist of all time, which is also too awesome not to mention.

3. I enjoy Sean T. Collins’s blog quite a bit, but I don’t really agree with this sentiment from a recent post:

The thing that most irks me about [Alan] Moore’s work, even his best work, even his work I enjoy a great deal, is how ostentatiously writerly it is–the way his Godlike Authorial Hand shows in every move machination of his clockwork-precise plotting. And the thing is, to employ a criterion frequently used to lambaste superhero comics of a very different sort, what does this say to you about life, anyway? I think it’s awesome that there’s a completely symmetrical of issue of Watchmen, but it has sweet fuck-all to do with the way the world actually works.

First of all, who said art has to tell you anything about life? Who says art has to tell you anything about anything? This is not a criterion I use to evaluate comics. (I realize that not everyone will agree with me on this.)

Secondly, whatever a person might think of Alan Moore’s work in particular (I mostly like it, especially in the work from his pre-ABC years), this kind of complicated, thought-out, formalistic art has a very long and healthy pedigree, and I for one find discovering the hidden riddles, subtle thematic symmetries, and multiple levels of meaning buried in a well-conceived example of that kind of work to be one of art’s primary pleasures. It’s why I like the books of Nabokov and Borges and Gene Wolfe, the comics of Ware and Clowes, and the films of Kubrick. This kind of art may not reflect “the way the world actually works”, but it can certainly reflect the way the artist’s mind works, and can provide a readerly pleasure otherwise unavailable. A comic or movie or whatever that really reflected the way the world works would be as chaotic and unformed and nonsensical as life itself, and very difficult to understand.

Which isn’t to say that I disagree with Collins’s larger point: art doesn’t have to be so deterministically planned out to succeed, and certainly more improvised fictions also have their particular charms and effects. (And it would be foolish to deny that over-plotting can be stifling, and that Moore’s comics sometimes suffer from that.) But both strategies can work, and I imagine most artists use a little bit of both as a matter of course.

Also, I have to say that judging from the recent mainstream comics I’ve read, it’s simply not the case that writers are over-thinking their comics’ formal aspects.

UPDATE: While I was writing this, Collins put up another post, clarifying his problems with Moore, and making his argument a lot more supportable. I don’t really think Moore is quite as guilty (in terms of leaving “only one way to skin the cat” of his stories) as Collins does, but it’s certainly a fair point.

4. On a somewhat related note, a Jon Hastings post referenced by Collins does a really good job of explaining one of the more common problems with current mainstream comics. (I’m referring to part II of the post.) This argument seems a lot more convincing and specific than the standard complaint that the problem is just “too much continuity”.

When I read superhero comics as a kid (and I didn’t read very many, other than the odd issues my mother bought me for long trips or on days when I was home sick), the references to past events and other comics titles were often the most exciting parts. They indicated that there was a whole big world of this stuff to explore, Iron Man and the Hulk had had tons of previous adventures, and if only I could track down Avengers #89, Hulk #55, or whatever, I could follow along. (I never actually went ahead to do that, and left the mysteries unsolved by continuing to read superhero comics only very sporadically, but I may have enjoyed the ones I did read all the more just because of that. I never spoiled my imagined versions of their incredible adventures by actually reading them.) Which is all just to say that I think Hastings is making sense when he explains why comics “continuity” references doesn’t always work that way anymore.

5. And now the bloviating ends.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Why Didn’t They Mention This


Friday, May 4, 2007

Post Comment

in that Times article about all the New York comic shops?

Bryan Talbot‘s American tour for Alice in Sunderland had its moments: `The signing at Jim Hanley’s Universe in New York was nearly cancelled — a guy jumped from the 60th floor of the Empire State Building just a couple of hours before. He hit a ledge but one of his legs made it to the sidewalk right outside the store and the police closed off the street. Fortunately they’d cleaned it up and the store reopened in time for the signing. We were shown photos of the errant (and extremely grisly) leg by the store staff! It happened on Friday 13th.’

—Dave Langford’s Ansible

UPDATE: A few minutes after I posted this, I realized that the reason it went unmentioned is that the Times writer visited the Staten Island branch of Hanley’s, not the Manhattan one. But still—this is the kind of thing you find a way to work in!

Labels: , , ,

I Spoke Too Soon


Monday, December 4, 2006

Read Comments (9)

I was wrong, and in a good way. Ivan Brunetti‘s Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, & True Stories, is starting to get some well-deserved hype, this time a longish, overwhelmingly positive review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. This is an unalloyed good thing, both for Brunetti and for the field as a whole. But…

Well, maybe it is just a little alloyed, but only because the reviewer was one lazy and condescending (at least in this instance) critic named David Hajdu, who is probably best known for his book about the ’60s folk scene in Greenwich Village, Positively 4th Street. I say lazy and condescending because it is quite clear from reading his review that he didn’t bother to do the relevant research, but still felt qualified to act as a generous mandarin, bestowing status on a “disreputable” art form that has finally earned his good graces.

Take for starters his description of the book’s editor:

Brunetti, a comics artist and writer himself, is best known for his comic-book series “Schizo,” a hodge-podge of spare, poetic vignettes heavily influenced by Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts.”

It seems likely to me from this that Hajdu only read the two pages of Brunetti comics included in the book under review, but let’s be generous and assume he skimmed Schizo‘s unusually gentle fourth issue. Hajdu clearly didn’t bother checking into the earlier issues, which might well be the most scarifying comics ever drawn. “Spare”, “poetic”, and “Peanuts” are not the words (well, “poetic” maybe, but not the way Hajdu means it).

Here’s a less important one:

[Brunetti] likes the funnies to be funny; we get few adventure stories — not even, among the historical selections, a panel of “Little Lulu” or Carl Barks’s “Donald Duck,” both of which were more dramatic than literally comic.

Hmm. Little Lulu always seemed pretty funny to me.

More from the maestro:

[Brunetti] is indifferent, even silently hostile, to superheroes, none of whom appear anywhere in the book … There is no question that the vast bulk of superhero comics are factory-made product, rather than works of individual expression; still, at least a few mainstream comics published in recent years — including a series of Batman stories drawn by David Mazzucchelli, who has other work in the anthology — are as artful and subtle as some stories in this book.

Mazzuchelli‘s work on Batman is greatly accomplished, but so many of his other, non-superhero comics are superior that it would be very strange to include it while skipping the rest.

More than that, considering the nature of this anthology, Hajdu’s argument is just silly. Only when discussing comics do people feel the constant need to glorify or excuse work on licensed properties in this way. You’d never find a critic reviewing an anthology of contemporary literature and bemoaning the lack of excerpts from Star Wars novels. (Who knows, maybe there’s a book about Yoda that’s just as good as the story about a novelist suffering writer’s block at Yaddo—it would still feel out-of-place in a book meant to showcase stories that are personal and intimate.) If Hajdu really feels like comics are now finally “suitable for adults”, maybe he could treat them with the respect (and expectations) accorded to other adult media.

Hajdu continues by calling for the deletion of Aline Kominsky-Crumb‘s “clumsy noodling” and praising Kim Deitch “for her [sic] cynical romance with the past and sheer kookiness of spirit.” I love Kominsky-Crumb’s work, but I guess I should give Hajdu a pass here, seeing as everyone’s entitled to their own taste. But would it be too much to ask that, if he’s going to say an artist may be “the literary voice of our time”, and do it in the New York Times, that he actually bother to conduct enough research to get the Possible Voice of Our Time’s gender right? [UPDATE: The Kim Deitch gender mix-up was apparently an editing error, in which case the writer should of course be excused.]

Here’s his final paragraph, a wonderful mixture of clichés, misconceptions, and patronization:

Now going under the name graphic fiction, no doubt temporarily, the comics are all grown up, and this anthology represents the most cogent proof since Will Eisner pioneered the graphic novel and Art Spiegelman brought long-form comics to early perfection. What other kinds of art or entertainment invented for young people ever transcended their provenance as kid stuff? Not coloring books, nor paper dolls, nor board games. There are no Etch a Sketch drawings in the Museum of Modern Art and no View-Master slides in the International Center for Photography. While it took more than a century for the medium to be accepted as suitable for adults, the fact that the comics made it here at all testifies to their resilience and adaptability.

Ugh. Well, I guess it’s good that comics are more of a legitimate art form than the old View-Master, but this seems like faint praise to me.

(By the way, this isn’t the first time Hajdu has written about “grown-up” comics for a prominent cultural publication, or the first time he’s proven himself not quite up to the job.)

I should stop whining. What does it matter really? It’s nice overall that the big cultural arbiters are recognizing comics, and these mistakes aren’t really that important. But it would be even nicer if the people deciding what art is serious and legitimate would take their own jobs just as seriously.

And what is Hajdu up to next? He’s working on a new book, a history of the comics. As he graciously acknowledged in a 2003 interview, it’s something he “knew virtually nothing about before”, but he’s found that doing the research “is the fun part”. I hope that the new year finds Hajdu having lots of fun.


Oh, and one more thing, related only in general theme: When you’re putting together a large-scale, scholarly exhibit of the Masters of the American Comics, ostensibly in order to demonstrate the artistic significance of the form and its practitioners, and you display one of the most famous and iconic comic book covers of all time, go ahead and make the effort to find out who drew it. Don’t just credit Harvey Kurtzman on a guess. Especially when Basil Wolverton‘s signature is clearly legible, right at the bottom of the page.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Odds and Ends


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Post Comment

Sorry we missed a day blogging. I ate too many burgers this weekend, and kind of needed a break. (Green-chile cheeseburgers are amazing things, but should be eaten in moderation.

Anyway, I still haven’t come up with the energy for a really well-considered post, so here are a few random things I thought worth noting.

1. The week before last in the New York Times, John Hodgman wrote a really nice review of recent comics, including MOME, Ganges, et cetera. (Most of you probably saw it.) I don’t agree with everything he has to say, but it’s thoughtful, informed, and it isn’t patronizing. This isn’t the first smart comics review Hodgman’s written in the Times, and with any luck, it won’t be the last. Maybe other writers for big-time newspapers and magazines will even follow his example.

2. Last week, on his invaluable Comics Reporter blog, Tom Spurgeon advanced an argument about superhero comics addressing hot-button political issues that happens to more or less, kinda-sorta parallel one of my own recent posts, albeit in a much more focused and coherent manner. Marvel Comics’ own Aubrey Sitterson wrote in to disagree, mostly using straw-man tactics.

I was going to write more about all of this, but ultimately decided against it, as I don’t want to bore readers by talking about superheroes too much. But suffice it to say that Sitterson is only able to think of one modern superhero comic that actually supports his argument, and it’s Watchmen. As usual.

I forgot to mention it earlier, but maybe the fact that none of the characters in that book are used to sell Pez dispensers has something to do with Watchmen‘s artistic success.

3. Many of you may already be aware of Big Fun magazine, but if you’re not, and you’re a fan of classic adventure strips, I highly recommend that you seek it out. The included strips are fairly hard-to-find elsewhere, and they’ve been extremely well-reproduced. Leslie Turner’s Captain Easy, Noel SicklesScorchy Smith, and Warren Tufts’ Lance are all currently being serialized, and the artwork is simply fantastic.

More, and better, entries later in the week.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,