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Thursday, July 15, 2010

A new low for Comics Comics? Here’s a quick, egocentric look at the rest of the recent comics blogosphere webonet.

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The most important comics internet writing of the week can be found here, of course.

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A few weeks back, the great Brynocki C posted his latest must-read epic, which included the following bit I wanted to republish just for Frank:

Didja hear? Artists can’t write unbiased criticism. They only see their subjects through the filter of self interest as a creator. As opposed to critics. Real critics. Real critics are as pure as new snow, with eyes of a child yet minds learned like the eldest philosopher. They castrate their creativity to write from the place of total mental stillness. Able to see through all walls of personal agenda. They use their pen of young lamb to judge what’s best not for themselves, but for all humanity. Such is the powerful power, the terrible responsibility of the true critic.

Co-sign (cosine?) that. Get it yet, Frank?

Coincidentally, by the time I read BC’s post, I had already bought and read (and decidedly did not enjoy) two of the comics under review, in the most recent of many misguided attempts to acquaint myself with the larger superhero comics world since we started Comics Comics. Every once in a while, I get the idea that it’s important to “know what I am talking about.” But that’s all over now. Honestly, I almost never write about Brian Michael Bendis or Blackest Night anyway, so I think it is safe to finally let that ambition slide. It’s healthier to rely on back issues or Bully when I need a fix of four-color fisticuffs.

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Which leads me to another recent post on superhero comics, written by everyone’s favorite new internet hyperbolizer, Matt Seneca, who seems to have genuinely taken the intellectualizing-about-capes beat to new heights in a very short time. He believes in treating “the entire mainstream like a quarter bin.” This philosophy has much to recommend it, except for a not entirely inconsequential math problem: four dollars can get you sixteen comics from a real quarter bin, but only pays for one copy of Neal Adams’ Batman: Odyssey.

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No comment.

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No comment either on Ng Suat Tong’s mostly negative take on Crumb’s Genesis, though it is the first solid online pan of the book I’ve read, and though he takes issue with things Dan, Jeet, and I have written. I’m sure all three of us would differ with some of his interpretations to varying degrees, but I am just grateful that he seems to have actually read the book in question, and didn’t manufacture our views wholesale, something you can’t always count on from certain quarters of the internet. I disagree with the ever thoughtful (if occasionally somewhat humorless) Ng on many, many things, but his essays and posts are always worth taking seriously. That comment thread is so forbiddingly unreadable, though, that it more or less banishes any thought (for me, at least) of attempting to continue the argument.

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Speaking of threads, could this be the most hilarious comment ever written? (Oh, to be a fly on the wall when it is read to Ken Smith over the telephone!) Of course, to really find it funny, you have to have wasted an awful lot of your life reading various blinkered self-proclaimed pundits going on and on about unimportant things in incredibly pedantic detail. … Then again, if you’ve made it to the end of this post, you’ve probably done just that.

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Did I miss anything? Is there any good writing about comics on the internet, or is the situation as dire as it sometimes seems?

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Okay, back to our regularly scheduled “comic book” coverage. Stay tuned as Dan and Frank argue over who should play Jarvis in the Avengers movie! (My money’s on Richard Jenkins.)

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89 Responses to “deet deet deet”
  1. Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice!

    PS: Jarvis has already been played by the voice of Paul Bettany in the two Iron Man movies. Get with the program, nerd.

    • T. Hodler says:

      What do you mean, “the voice of?” I thought those were live-action movies. Did they add in a CGI Jarvis? (I saw the first one, but have no memory of Jarvis in it…)

  2. Wait. Is this a Cage Match that Tim didn’t tell me and Dan about?

  3. Chris says:


  4. patrick ford says:

    Has there ever been anything more prescient than Gary Groth’s first editorial at TCJ web page?
    Not that it was intended to be prescient, but it certainly has proven to be.

  5. Caro says:

    Tim: I believe Suat’s name is Suat, not Ng. Ng is his surname. (I presume you were intending to call him by his first name since you did everyone else.)

    Microsoft Word says the comments thread on the post is written at an 8th-grade level. Man up and argue. I can’t make promises for the rest of us Utilitarians but I’ll try to keep my prose at the 6th grade level for you.

    • T. Hodler says:

      Ah, but to paraphrase an old school lesson: Presuming can be dooming. When in doubt, check it out.

      I did know that Ng was a family name, and after weighing the matter (and the possibility of confusion) for a few minutes, I decided that it was the best name to use in this particular context, mostly because I don’t enjoy the same level of familiarity (outside of a few e-mails) with Suat as I do with my co-bloggers. It may have been the wrong decision, but I figured that worst-case, at least the use of Ng would still be grammatically correct. Thank you for offering your “belief” as to what his name is, though.

      Thanks, too, for the information on reading levels. I have to admit that I don’t generally rely on software to determine readability—could this be the root of our aesthetic differences? And speaking of differences: “Man up?” What a problematic mode of attack! I will tiptoe past its gendered implications in shocked silence.

      In any case, my aversion to joining in on that comment thread has little to do with feeling threatened by its participants, or to its high intellectual pitch. I would be happy to argue or discuss the piece with its author at any time elsewhere, either privately or publicly. (Most of his disagreements were with Jeet and Dan, anyway, so I don’t have that much personally at stake here.) Does this make me less of a man? I suppose I should hang my head in shame.

  6. cbren says:

    Yeah, this is entertaining, please continue!

  7. Caro says:

    “Reading level” is, in fact, not the same thing as “readability.” But I can’t presume you don’t know that, despite evidence to the contrary, so I’ll just say that I’m amazed you think calculating Flesch-Kincaid by hand is a good use of your time!

    This piece wasn’t formal enough to use last names only. You should have used “Mr. Ng” if you were going for courtesy in a post with this conversational tone, since you wouldn’t call him “Ng” to his face. Might want to buy a usage guide as well as a dictionary.

    Writing snarky little capsules, no matter how pretty and “readable” the prose is, instead of arguing your ideas, and then making excuses for why you won’t argue your ideas, really does make you less of a man in my opinion than someone who is willing to say what he thinks soberly and seriously and treat dissent with respect and conversation. But it’s not “woman” that’s opposed to “man” here. It’s “boy.”

    I’ll look forward to your proving your chops (and to hearing your argument rather than your opinion) in your forthcoming reply to Suat. I hope your fellow bloggers will also reply. Do let me know when you have it ready to post! I’m breathless with anticipation at all I’m going to learn!

    • T. Hodler says:

      “Reading level” is, in fact, not the same thing as “readability.”

      Right. If you’ll recall, this all began when I called your blog’s comment thread “unreadable.” You then switched the topic to reading levels. Seems a bit churlish to blame me for the mix-up now!

      This piece wasn’t formal enough to use last names only.

      As I already wrote, using “Ng” may have been the wrong decision. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to me in any case, but if Suat is in any way offended, I of course apologize to him.

      Writing snarky little capsules, no matter how pretty and “readable” the prose is, instead of arguing your ideas, and then making excuses for why you won’t argue your ideas, really does make you less of a man in my opinion than someone who is willing to say what he thinks soberly and seriously and treat dissent with respect and conversation.

      Thanks for the compliments. Sorry you don’t think I’m a man. I actually thought I was showing respect to Suat by saying he was “ever thoughtful” and “always worth taking seriously.” Next time, I’ll try to take a lesson from your respectful reply to my “dissent”—and offer to lower my verbiage to a sixth-grade level so he can follow along. I bet he’ll appreciate that.

      I’ll look forward to your proving your chops (and to hearing your argument rather than your opinion) in your forthcoming reply to Suat.

      Again, as I already wrote, most of Suat’s stated disagreements are with Jeet and Dan, not me. I’ll let them argue with him if they wish. My only argument with the section where Suat quoted me is that on the particular point in question, I think we agree, and it was unclear why he cited me at all.

      Earlier in his piece, he writes, “What Alter fails to realize is that the presentation of a host of concomitant possibilities is not beyond the reach of a comics adaptation. This is true even if pictorial representation will never possess the elusiveness, comparatively speaking, of spare sentences on a page. If there is a weakness here, it lies with the choices and abilities of the artist not the medium.” This doesn’t really strike me as being all that different from the quote by me he republishes. So my argument with him on that is just that I don’t think we’re really arguing.

      I do have other differences with Suat’s piece, but I think it might make more sense to wait until after the Crumb roundtable in the next issue of The Comics Journal is published, as it includes some of my writing, and I don’t want to cannibalize it ahead of time. After that, if it still seems interesting, I’d be happy to get into it with Suat. Thanks for writing.

  8. Caro says:

    Tim: I make it a point of policy not to respond to snarky posts with respect, because they don’t deserve it. Saying you’re “just grateful” Suat had read the book was arrogant, and it only deserved arrogance in reply. You can thus feel free to take my parody of your disrespectful tone as an example: I’m sure it will be very easy for you. You did recognize it as a parody of your tone, didn’t you?

    There is a very palpable difference, directly stated in Suat’s essay, between what you and he assert: both of you agree that the medium of comics has potential to resist imposing the “limit on the story told in words” that Alter identifies. But whereas you say that Crumb’s work generates “new ambiguities and effects that aren’t present in the original text,” Suat says that it “largely conforms to the traditional boundaries of illustration” and that Crumb’s “new effects” don’t compare to those present in the source material. So it is not only “mere illustration,” the insights are weak. Therefore, you disagree.

    A proper reply to Suat will engage both Alter and the fine art texts Suat selected for comparison. I would be very surprised if you and he were so much on the same page that you referenced these specific sources in your already-written essay for the Journal, but, as this discussion has no bearing on the oil spill in the Gulf or anything else pressing and life threatening, I certainly can wait until after the roundtable to read your direct insights and correctives to Suat’s comparisons. I’m personally very interested in what you have to say theoretically about how comics compare to fine art and literature, as well as Suat’s comparison of Crumb with Blake and Masacchio (among others).

    I’ve heard and read this argument many times — that comics generate medium-specific, unique “new insights and ambiguities” that are comparable to those of fine art and literature. I’ve heard it over and over from the writers here and from other enthusiasts about the artistic possibilities of comics. But when critics like Suat put these comics in specific, detailed, analytical conversation with the high bar set by fine art and literature, they generally fail to measure up. And they generally receive comments, like the ones Ed Sizemore made over on HU, that the comparisons are unfair. This is contradictory: either comics are good enough for the comparisons and will stand up against them, or they’re not. Critical evidence tends toward “not.”

    I’m sure you can find examples of criticism where a comic successfully meets either the same or equivalent standards to which non-comics critics hold other arts — Anke Feuchtenberger’s “W the Whore Makes Her Tracks” catapults over the bar in my own post at HU, although my points of comparison are theoretical rather than historical.

    But it is far more common that when people who claim these achievements for comics present their readings, their arguments do not demonstrate much knowledge of the old insights and ambiguities that comics is supposedly adding to, transforming, or transcending. So this line of reasoning does not presently represent a “mature” criticism, ready to elevate comics in the minds of mainstream readers like me who lack a nostalgic committment to the medium and are looking to critics to convince me that engaging with comics, rather than prose books and criticism of other art forms, is worth my time.

    Instead, there’s a lot of snark and a lot of insularity.

    That’s why this position about the sophisticated medium-specific possibilities of comics comes off to me as just a more strategic form of “fannish boosterism.” So-called critics who cannot see (or are willfully inattentive to) the systematic weaknesses of their art form, who contribute to solidifying the cliquishness of the subculture, and who prefer “hazing” through snark to serious critical indictment, are just talking amongst themselves. I respectfully submit that as a problem with your “strategy.”

    From your last comment above, it sounds like that is clearly just fine with you.

    • T. Hodler says:

      Yeah, see, this is what I meant when I said I appreciated that Suat didn’t manufacture my views wholesale. I’ll let your comment speak for itself.

  9. Caro says:

    My apologies: the last two sentences of the above are reversed and there is no way to edit them; please revise as you read.

  10. Caro says:

    And that last comment is what I meant when I said you make excuses.

  11. Mark Jones says:

    Suat’s comparisons are often not well executed — he simply assumes that when you put Crumb next to Blake, Crumb loses and we all must realize this or we are not being honest. His comparsions often lack a sense of scale and context — he seems to forget sometimes that what he is talking about is a part of larger narrative. Rather than elevating critical standards, this does comics and criticism a disservice. Part of the HU approach is an old one: “fine art is better than comics and it takes tough-minded truth seekers to say it.”

    Maybe we all need to “man down” a bit.

  12. Caro says:

    Which bit of what I said do you disavow, Tim? I’m more than willing to be corrected, but I can’t know what I “manufactured” if you don’t tell me. Apparently you prefer to just run away.

    I’m happy for my comments to stand on their own: they’re a first draft but if you don’t argue against them, you’re either being a snotty cliquish little child or you’re conceding me the last word. Either way you just amuse me.

    I’ve tried being snarky and I’ve tried being serious, both to no avail. I’m sticking to my points that you are afraid to argue your point with a dissenter and completely uninterested in — possibly even incapable of having — conversations outside your comfort zone, conversations that don’t stroke your ego and validate your assumptions.

    Way to be a critic, dude. You make Norman Mailer look open-minded.

  13. Mark Jones says:

    If you believe in criticism and want to elevate it, it helps to be consistent so the reader will come to trust you in some way. If you write about gender discourses at work in art, you hurt your case by telling some one he is a failure as a man becasue he has been snarky. This is the kind of discoure that professors rightly expose and criticize as sexist. Caro has not hurt Hodler here, but herself.

  14. Caro–

    You’re discovering what I did about Tim (and others here) last year. He’s not interested in engaging in any kind of dialogue. He prefers to smugly sit on his perch and sneer.


    I was feeling a little guilty about how nastily I smacked around your contribution to the TCJ/Genesis roundtable. Not anymore.

  15. Mark Jones says:

    I like to imagine Noah sitting on his perch cackling — he has stoked this HU v. CC thing like a true master.

  16. patrick ford says:

    Imagine Tim being hoodwinked by “The Hey Look At Me Utilitarians”

  17. Mark Jones says:

    What I admire about both HU and CC is the sense of commraderie among each blog’s members, who often respond to each others posts. Yet HU has a far higher percentage of attacks on each other and on posters, and the threads tend to quickly become about something other than the comic. It’s like HU people would rather talk about “art” as a concept than a piece of art. Do they really like comics, I sometimes wonder.

  18. NoahB says:

    Hey Tim. I’m going to regret this, but….

    When Caro talks about your refusal to engage, she’s not just talking about the discussion of Suat. Your whole post here is basically you saying that there’s no good comics criticism online, putting up a few examples, and either noting that you’re not going to talk about them or being snarky at them or saying a few words of ambivalent praise and ducking out.

    A link post is a link post, and you’re of course not obligated to talk about anything you don’t want to…but why raise issues that you avowedly don’t want to discuss? Why fulminate about the weaknesses of criticism if you’re not willing to engage in any criticism yourself?

    Your dismissal of Caro as mischaracterizing you is also, as she says, more of the same. A lot of conversation is creative mischaracterizations — that’s how the discussion moves forward. Language is imperfect; people are imperfect; understanding is not going to be absolute or entire. You recognize this yourself when you note that Suat didn’t get your position exactly right. But when you insist that your position has been mischaracterized and then refuse to discuss it further, you’re shutting the conversation down — and in this case, you’re shutting it down just when it looks like it’s about to get interesting. I mean, what do you say to Caro’s point that comics don’t actually have a record of generating unique ambiguities and insights? Are there works you’d present countering that? Do you feel that Crumb’s Genesis can in fact stand next to Blake? Do you think the comparison is unfair, as Ed Sizemore suggested? There just seems to be a lot of interesting places to go with the discussion, not all of which would leave you at odds with Caro. (For instance, I think you probably both think that Clowes is somebody whose work could stand with those by major literary figures.)

    I keep trying to come up with a way to sum up that doesn’t come off as overly aggressive, and I’m failing. Maybe I’ll try this: I think you have a different take on what critical discussion is and how it should work than I do, or than Caro does. I think those differences lead to frustration all round. I don’t think they’re reconcilable, and I think that they point in different directions for comics criticism and for comics. For better or worse, I also think your view is going to win, to the extent it hasn’t won already. Which is hopefully some consolation for having to sit through my particular harangue!

  19. Mark Jones says:

    One final observation: “How nastily I smacked around . . .”

    Robert is the pimp, smacking around Tim like he a ho.

    Thanks again, Noah.

  20. Caro says:

    Hi Mark: It’s certainly accurate to say about me that I care deeply about art as a concept, although not more or less than any given piece of art. If you review the Ghost World roundtable over at HU, you’ll see that I came into the conversation about comics with exactly the assumption you say Suat has. I had read one that impressed me but I saw everything else as basically at the level of young adult fiction. It was Noah who convinced me that comics could hold up. He did it by trashing Ghost World. He convinced me — even though he didn’t think Ghost World stood up.

    Jeet criticized that roundtable fairly harshly and didn’t catch that what was happening in the conversation was that we were comparing Ghost World against critical issues in literary theory, not doing a close reading of the comic. That oversight seems to me to be often the case when Comics Comics and HU butt heads — CC has a historical, medium-specific approach where’s HU’s is broader and more theoretical. Here, all other approaches but the historical are ignored or dismissed. (Occasionally they’re damned and mocked, in the most juvenile snarky prose possible, but I suppose that’s the Internet Effect.) But HU’s non-medium-specific approach does not deserve the derision heaped on it in the post above: it’s just as valid — and far more common in literature — than the approach CC uses.

    I come here and I think “these people have never read Jameson or Zizek or Barthes or Krauss, and are completely uninterested in what’s interesting to me. All they want is for me to say ‘comics are sooo cool'” (or historically significant or aesthetically significant or whatever.) That they haven’t read it is an impression; it could be wrong. They probably just think it’s not worth their time. But either way, those critical conversations rarely find their way into the conversation here.

    So from my perspective, having read a great deal of criticism about other arts and having engaged with other arts besides comics for a couple of decades now, it seems like appreciating comics assumes a nostalgic affection and willingness to cut them critical slack.

    Of course that’s not true; comics don’t all need that slack: when you put Anke Feuchtenberger against A.S. Byatt or Luce Irigaray, she wins. When you put Dan Clowes against pretty much any of his actual contemporaries in literature or Derrida, he also wins. Comics isn’t incapable of winning the toe-to-toe with literature and fine art on any critical terms, general or academic. But critics don’t demand it. That’s why this is, to me, a debate about critical approaches to art rather than about any specific “piece of art.”

    And on the level of approach, there’s a price of entry here and in the subculture generally. You either love comics and only say nice boosterish appreciative things about comics, and — most destructively — think of everything in terms of a “comics-centric narrative,” or you’re not welcome to talk about comics. That’s not a “critical community about an art form”; that’s just a subclique of the subculture.

    I’d welcome seeing, from this community, arguments against Suat’s position that attempt to rebut the assumption “when you put Crumb next to Blake, Crumb loses.” The bar, though, is that for people who really appreciate what Blake achieved, it is hard to see how Crumb wins. So — as I mentioned in the comment Tim refused to respond to — in order to convince those people, you need to show that you really understand and address what those people see in Blake. It is insufficient just to articulate what you see in Crumb.

    Comparisons and contexts are the point of criticism — whether it’s written in shorthand for an experienced audience or spelled out for a general one. Although the writers at this site clearly know their comics history backwards and forwards, they appear to be entirely ignorant of the history of criticism, and — more importantly — they think it, as well as the history of the other arts to a lesser degree, are less relevant than comics own internal history. It’s “Comic Book Exceptionalism.”

    The approach of Comics Comics is to pretend that criticism has no history of its own and that comics are best served by protecting them from that history. I think that’s a shame.

  21. NoahB says:

    “I like to imagine Noah sitting on his perch cackling — he has stoked this HU v. CC thing like a true master.”

    Actually, the whole thing is making my stomach hurt, if you must know.

    As I’ve said repeatedly, I have a lot of respect for CC. Dan’s piece in the Best American Criticism book was easily my favorite thing in there; I think Frank and Jog are great; Jeet is obviously enormously knowledgeable. I’ve had very pleasant interactions with Tim and wish him no ill.

    I disagree often with things that are posted here, and I also disagree (as I say above) wish some of what I see (perhaps inaccurately) as CC’s stances towards criticism. I don’t think that needs to mean a duel to the death.

    Mark, re what I think of comics, there’s some discussion of that here.

    Comics Comics (if I understand it correctly) is built around the friendship between Dan, Tim, and Frank, and has expanded to include other likeminded folks. HU is me mostly signing up folks I enjoy disagreeing with (like Matthias or Domingos or Erica Friedman or Caro herself, who first showed up on the blog to give me what for at length about Dan Clowes and other matters.) As a result, and for better or worse, HU tends to be more combative — which isn’t to say there aren’t many productive disagreements here, nor to say that HU is one long mudslinging match (however it may look to some!)

    Thanks for your comment on the Suat piece, by the by. I don’t agree that the HU approach is to elevate fine art necessarily; I don’t really think there is an HU approach in that sense, since, as I said, I try to find people who have different perspectives. Personally I like Peanuts way more than I like da Vinci, for what that’s worth.

  22. Mark Jones says:

    Caro, When I read the above post, thoughtful as it is, I see that you have turned all of this into a battle in which you set yourself up as the well-read intellectual and CC people as semi-smart nostalgia hounds. You “know” and they are “ignorant” of serious traditions. I wonder why you even care, what’s at stake for you. If CC is parochial, ignore them. Do you want to convince them and people who read this blog that they are narrow-minded, it’s not going to happen with your curent method. It think Tim was wrong for how he treated you, but you are just as misguided.

    “But either way, those critical conversations rarely find their way into the conversation here.” Must they talk about what you like to be valid? This shows the same kind of narrowness that you acusse them of.

    Has Tom Supergeon read Barthes — my guess, maybe a wrong one, would be no in that he never refers to him or reads comics as Barthes might. But I have learned so much from reading him. His theorical grounding is irrelevant to how i think about him as a critic.

    “The bar, though, is that for people who really appreciate what Blake achieved, it is hard to see how Crumb wins.” Is criticism really just a contest in which one artists wins?

    “Comparisons and contexts are the point of criticism” There is only one point? Here is a problem with “HU style”: It is a moral criticsm that dicates proper and improper methods, and those who do not ascribe to said methods are deemed bad; bad critics, bad as men. HU style has trouble seeing beyond itself. Its point is the only point.

  23. Mark Jones says:

    “It is a moral criticsm that dicates proper and improper methods, and those who do not ascribe to said methods are deemed bad; bad critics, bad as men. HU style has trouble seeing beyond itself. Its point is the only point.”

    Though to be fair, then the moral tone flips, as Noah has kindly done above and as happens all over HU. I see a house style, not in tastes, but in methods of argument and in the way that the critical and moral ground constantly shifts to give the arguer the moral high ground.

  24. NoahB says:

    Hey Mark. I think most people try to claim the moral highground when they argue, surely!

    In any case: you seem to be suggesting that the choices of what to talk about are more or less arbitrary; Caro wants to talk about this, CC wants to talk about that, what’s the difference? You don’t really seem to engage with the central point — that is, that comics has a tradition of being a relatively small subculture, and that its relationship to critical conversations can have an effect on whether it stays a relatively small subculture or whether it can appeal to different audiences.

    Caro thinks comics should try to do that; it should become part of a broader aesthetic conversation. It seems like if you want to argue with her, you need to either say, (a) those broader aesthetic conversations are stupid and not worth having (and possibly as an addendum comics should remain a small subculture) or (b) comics is already engaged in those conversations and you just don’t see it, or I guess (c) those broader aesthetic conversations don’t really exist. You seem to kind of be plumping for (a), though in a roundabout fashion.

    I think you’re misreading Caro (creatively, no doubt!) in much of your fisking. For example, she doesn’t think criticism that doesn’t engage in these traditions is invalid; she thinks it’s limited. I think that’s an important distinction.

    You attempt to do a turnabout by saying, well, CC does its thing, HU does its thing, you both think you’re right, it’s a moral stalemate. Despite your assertions about HU style, though, and certainly despite my own limitations (which are many), I do in fact try to give a voice to people I don’t agree with and who approach things from a variety of perspectives, including the historical, comic-centric one on CC (and, as you suggest, to some extent at the Comics Reporter.) I interviewed Tom Spurgeon if you’ll remember — which was something of a debacle and perhaps a mistake, but I don’t think suggests that I was trying to exclude his viewpoint. Jog has guest-posted at HU (and I’d have him guest post again and again if he wanted to and didn’t have other committments.) For that matter, Suat’s approach and CC’s are in general fairly congenial I think — certainly Suat often takes a historical perspective, and his canon isn’t too different from the one folks here have. Similarly, I don’t see Matthias’ perspective and CC’s as being by any means exclusive.

    So when you say “Must they talk about what you like to be valid?” — the fact is, I try to get people on the site who talk about things I *don’t* like, because I think it’s useful to be challenged. The best way to get asked to do a guest post on HU (not presuming that anyone has this as a goal at all, but anyway…) is to show up in comments and out-argue me. (And yes, Mark, if you wanted to write something for the blog, I’d be thrilled. You can email me at noahberlatsky at gmail.)

    There are other things to talk about maybe, but I fear everyone’s probably sick of me already. I guess in conclusion I’d just note that Caro is not presenting herself as well-read — rather, she is in fact staggeringly, frighteningly well-read. Way better read than me, anyway. That’s why she’s so much fun to argue with.

  25. Caro says:

    Mark: I’m by no means a “well-read intellectual” when it comes to comics. My expertise is criticism. But I think the charge “it’s point is the only point” applies equally well to Comics Comics as it does to HU – it is a fairly common stance among critics as you point out in your follow-up comment. So we can stay in our little boxes (what I earlier called “comfort zone”) and never argue our points, or we can argue. But it would make no sense for me to try and argue Comics Comics’ case…

    I can recast this as something other than a battle if the lingo bothers you – what I want is for someone who values the kind of criticism that happens here at Comics Comics to

    a) clarify what critical tradition they fit into,
    b) articulate and put into historical context their own “well-read intellectualism”, in terms of critical sources and genealogies, not just primary sources but secondary as well
    c) and then, when I come back and challenge them — probably on either the limited and limiting historicism of their vantage point or on their debt to journalism — defend why it’s not only just as intellectual as what I do but an equally or more valuable critical strategy.

    I don’t want them to change their minds or their approach, except insofar as their approach is to avoid doing those three things and snarking instead.

    I do read the posts here, the site that generally is considered to be the very best comics criticism site, and I compare them with the posts at, say, Senses of Cinema and I come up with something approximating “smart nostalgia hounds.” (It’s as good a phrase as any, and the “semi” applies more or less on a case by case basis so I’ll go with “smart.”)

    I’d really like to be proven wrong. I want them to be serious about criticism, not just serious about comics, because as Noah says, everybody takes them seriously. In an era when academics are shunned, these folks probably carry the brunt of what comics criticism will look like in the ensuing decades.

    So I’d like to better understand what they think they are doing. You are absolutely correct that it’s a style in methods of argument, but that is precisely my point about the history of criticism. The HU style is the closest thing I’ve found — not exactly the same but trying — to the style that criticism used to use, before it got co-opted by mass journalism. It used to be Vidal and Mailer, Buckley and Mailer, Vidal and Buckley. Debates between Krauss and Greenberg, Kael and Adler. Yes, I think those critical models are “better” and “more intellectual” than models from rock criticism and journalism. I stand by that opinion and am willing to argue it.

    I’m a fan of serious, smart criticism, just as devoutly devoted to it as you guys are to comics. I find it in film, in visual art, in literature. I haven’t found it in comics yet. Everybody says Comics Comics is it, but it looks to me like niche cultural journalism masquerading as serious criticism.

    I am eagerly awaiting to be proven wrong.

  26. T. Hodler says:

    Jeez, when I started off my post by calling it a “new low” for Comics Comics, I had no idea what was in store. Remind me never to eat lunch again. Apparently, it’s a crime not to respond immediately to every razor-sharp remark. At the risk of driving away the last remnants of our surely dwindling and already meager readership, I will respond one more time to what strike me as the relevant points. (Forgive me if I miss one or two from the morass.) After that, everyone else can have the last word. As many times as you want.

    @Caro: I don’t disavow (or avow) any of what you said because it’s not based on anything I wrote. (And let me point out to you and each of your friends that until you started manufacturing positions for me, I in fact responded to each of your comments in detail.)

    In fact, in the only part of your comment that has any bearing at all on my words, you cooked the evidence. You write that I say that “Crumb’s work generates ‘new ambiguities and effects that aren’t present in the original text,'” when in fact, as you know quite well, because you replaced the word to buttress your point, I actually said that “the choices Crumb makes enable an entirely new set of ambiguities and effects.” “Enable” is a neutral term that does not imply whether or not Crumb was successful. This is not in conflict with Suat’s point as I see it, and as he writes, “If there is a weakness here, it lies with the choices and abilities of the artist not the medium.” (By the way, that kind of selective editing makes me much less interested in hearing lectures from you about the “proper” way to perform criticism.)

    The rest of your comment, as far as I can tell, has absolutely nothing to do with anything I have ever said or written. I’m not sure why you think I am your dancing bear, obliged to spend all day defending all of the positions of the straw men you’ve erected, but as I am not sorry to say, I feel no such duty. Am I allowed to make up a whole bunch of opinions, attribute them to you, enumerate them at great length, and then call you a “little child” if you aren’t interested in defending them? You know what? I don’t care if I am allowed to do that or not—I don’t think it would be a worthwhile use of my time, or yours. I certainly wouldn’t insult you if you weren’t interested in immediately running an unannounced rhetorical obstacle course of my design about a subject you didn’t care much about, but hey, to each their own.

    @Noah– You accuse me of raising issues that I “avowedly don’t want to discuss.” In fact, the only issue I raised, besides the fact that I thought Suat’s post was interesting, was the unreadability of the resulting comments thread. No one has asked me to discuss that at all. Instead, somehow, you have all taken this statement as an invitation to replicate the thread over here, which frankly puzzles me. You guys already have a blog!

    I think it’s been more than eighteen months since the last time I linked to the Hooded Utilitarian, and now I remember why I decided to stop.

    @Robert — Applause.

    @Everyone — Okay, barring unforeseen circumstances, that’s it for me on this topic. So go to it, and call me a coward and a baby and smug and what not until you feel better. And ride your critical-theory hobbyhorses as long as you want over on this blog before you get tired and remember that you have a site of your own. Somehow I doubt all this will convince me that the comment threads on the Hooded Utilitarian are worth reading (and frankly, I’m not sure why you care so much about my opinion about it), but who knows?

  27. Caro says:

    Hey Mark, Noah’s comment does a much better job than my first paragraph of addressing that point about moral high-ground.

    (And thank you for the compliment, Noah. The books I haven’t read always loom large in my mind. I’m glad someone thinks I’m getting somewhere!)

    One other quick point, Mark: I know many, many people who have learned a great deal from Tom Spurgeon and also from Comics Comics. There is value in all these forms of writing and all of them should exist. But that doesn’t preclude our clashing and arguing over them.

  28. I’ll say this Ms. Small, I think you might be right about the way our subculture shies away from certain forms of criticism. However, your approach doesn’t feel inclusive. Why should fanboys like me listen to you when I know you’re just going to repeatedly make light of the fact that I’m not as smart as you? I think you just like to talk over the heads of folks like me to feel superior, honestly, and it just makes me not want to read what you have to say despite how “right” you may be.

  29. Mark Jones says:

    Caro: “I’m a fan of serious, smart criticism . . . I find it in film, in visual art, in literature. I haven’t found it in comics yet.”

    There’s none at HU, none at CC, none at CR, none in academic journals, none in Bookforum, none in TCJ? what about your own writing? I think your standards must be too high, or there’s something else going on. There’s less of it, for sure, than mediums that have a much longer history and established critical traditions, supported by insitutions like colleges.

    “(And yes, Mark, if you wanted to write something for the blog, I’d be thrilled. You can email me at noahberlatsky at gmail.)”

    Thank you — but I would not do well there.

  30. patford says:

    This pretty much says it all:

    Internecine Blog Fracas
    Posted by Noah Berlatsky at 12:01 PM – No Comments »

    For those interested in that kind of thing, there is a massive to do in the comics comics blog thread with Tim Hodler, Caro, me, and others arguing with various levels of snarkiness.

  31. NoahB says:

    Hey Tim.

    You linked to Sean’s blog with a “no comment’ (I know it’s a joke; the joke is that he asked you to comment and you won’t, which doesn’t exactly undercut my point.) You boast some about not wanting to talk about super-hero comics. You sneer at unnamed critics who perform sinister misrepresentations. That’s three or four issues raised and not even vaguely discussed, or more if you count the “there’s no good comics criticism on the internet”, which is an assertion that you do nothing in particular to follow up on.

    You’re right that you have no obligation to respond to anyone, of course. The one thing you actually have done a great deal to clarify, in one way or another, is why you don’t like the HU comments threads. I’m sorry that these discussion irritate and bore you. Take care.

  32. T. Hodler says:

    Okay, right, I raised a few more issues in the initial post. But when exactly did I vow not to want to discuss them, as you accused me of doing? Somehow I missed the parts where anyone tried to start a discussion about those topics.

    Incidentally, I meant the superhero stuff to be more self-mockery than boasting, but that’s my bad if it came off wrong.

    As for saying there’s no good comics criticism on the internet: actually I asked readers if there was anything good that I’ve missed.

  33. NoahB says:

    You’d do fine, Mark! Really and truly.

    Ah well. It’s our loss.

  34. is the HU v. comicscomics feud some kind of elaborate comment on he israel/palestine conflict? like…two proud entities dragging each other down into total absurdity/chaos?

    my apologies to the real world for making such a ridiculous comparison. i like both HU and comicscomics and i think it’s lame that they can’t let each other alone (let alone be into each other!). i felt irked by tims linking to caro in his post and then i iwshed caro hadnt commented back. you’re both interesing writers with different ways of saying things. the end.

  35. Caro says:

    Austin, you’re of course right and I realize I’d be a better person if I handled it your way, but it’s to the point that it is a feud, and it’s not good if we can’t talk to each other without dragging each other down. To prove it, I’ll buy drinks at SPX for anybody from Comics Comics who is willing to talk face to face. You can even gang up on me.

    Tim, this is the first time I’ve ever said anything to you. I honestly didn’t half know who you were until yesterday. You’re the one who involved me in this fracas with your ridiculous post. So don’t even try to say that you’ve responded to my criticisms in detail at some previous point in time. You may have talked to Noah and Suat previously, but you haven’t talked to me.

    The difference between “generates” and “enables” would have been worth maintaining if you hadn’t also said that the enabled ambiguities and effects “aren’t present in the original text.” If you know enough about them to know that they aren’t present in the original text, then they actually existed and were not just hypothetical potential ambiguities and effects. If you wanted to say “enables but does not realize,” you should have also said “might not be present in the original text.” So I stand by my recasting of your sentence, and I stand by the conclusion I drew from it.

    Mr Santoro (you can call me Caro): trust me when I say that arguing with anybody over personal and ideological slights on the Internet does not make me feel superior in any way.

    But please don’t talk about inclusiveness: I came over here today, after following Austin’s excellent advice up to this point, not only because the type of analysis I admire and engage in is mocked and denigrated over here, but because Tim singled me out for one of his snide little mocking in-jokes. I’m pretty sure the also-snide posts I made in the first two instances are the first time I have EVER been nasty to anyone at Comics Comics. I abhor snark. But Tim acted like a popular kid bullying the geeks and snickering about them when they walk past, stealing their notes and making fun of them. His original post made it perfectly clear I am not welcome here. My feelings aren’t hurt by that but I’m long past the point of going off to whine to my friends that “Tim was mean to me.” That’s why I’m here instead of commenting at HU today, and that’s why I’m not being as conciliatory as I was the last time I posted here, in response to Jeet’s similar but vastly more professional slam on the Ghost World roundtable. Don’t bait me if you don’t want me to bite.

    The truth of the matter is that I have had a lot of respect for the work done here; your historical work is actually much closer to my own research than what I do on HU and I fully understand resistance to highly theoretical approaches to criticism. Academia badly needs to address the consequences of upping the ante on counter-intuitive theoretical constructs and disengaging from public conversations about art. I have NOTHING against you as people and would have been more than happy to talk to you about your ideas on your own terms: I have personal friends who share this blog’s hostility to academic writing in comics, and Jeet and I have at least one mutual friend. I have no interest in excluding you in any way.

    But I don’t want to be “inclusive” of sarcasm, mockery, and bullying — especially when it is not intended to provoke discussion and debate but just to denigrate. I don’t expect overtures of friendship from random people on the Internet, but this site has a reputation of being a professional operation, and Tim’s post isn’t professional in any way.

    I’m not part of this subculture, but my experience at SPX and with the people at has been that it can be extraordinarily welcoming, extremely intelligent, and alive and fresh in a very exciting way. But this particular subclique is very exclusive and judgmental. If you want to be exclusive, if you want to avoid having people come over to challenge your snide remarks on your own turf, you should either keep your nasty opinions to yourself or learn to articulate them politely. Otherwise the people you attack will feel they have the right to defend themselves in kind.

    The original post in this thread is not an acceptable way to handle differences of opinion and approach. It’s not professional, it’s not courteous, and it’s not smart. Tim owes an apology. If I get it, I’ll give him one too.

  36. 1) Tim, “Jarvis” in the Iron Man movies is Tony’s talking computer system, instead of a human butler. That’s the Jarvis that Paul Bettany voices. Quit making out in the back row and pay some attention next time, bro.

    2) Noah, just to clarify, I actually did quite the opposite of “ask[ing Tim] to comment” in my little thing about Alan Moore and superheroes. I wrote about Moore and superheroes despite the prospect that Tim might comment about it, in fact, because that’s what Tim does every time I write about Alan Moore and superheroes (and Hollywood movies) and we always disagree and never get anywhere. That’s the joke, and that’s why I said “At the risk of once again summoning a grumpy Tim Hodler, Beetljuice-style” before I started. To be fair, I’d just watched Beetlejuice a couple days prior, reinforcing how undesirable a visit from Beetlejuice is (he dropped Jeffrey Jones from a second-story balcony!). I totally understand how people in whose minds the reference wasn’t as fresh, or who haven’t been following me and Tim’s running argument about this (i.e. everyone who isn’t me and Tim) might have missed the gist. At any rate I’d already taken revenge against Tim: I’m the guy who caused him to read Blackest Night.

  37. NoahB says:

    Hey Sean. My apologies for the confusion; I wasn’t in the know on all the back and forth obviously!

  38. Caro – Ok, I hear you. Poor choice of words on my part. My bad.

    Thanks for this bit – ” I fully understand resistance to highly theoretical approaches to criticism. Academia badly needs to address the consequences of upping the ante on counter-intuitive theoretical constructs and disengaging from public conversations about art.” – which is what I was trying to get at.

    Look forward to having that discussion with you in the future.

    • Caro says:

      Frank — I second Noah’s thanks for your graciousness, and add extra hearty thanks for identifying a point of agreement where we can start a face-to-face conversation! It could have been very uncomfortable otherwise…staring into the beer, trying to avoid eye contact, “uh, buy any good mini comics?”…hum hum…squirm.

      I am very much looking forward to the discussion as well; just drop me an email if you’re going to be at SPX.

  39. NoahB says:

    And just in reply to Austin before I leave you all alone — I really don’t want to feud. That’s why I try to emphasize whenever we have one of these back and forths that I respect the folks here and what they do. I have differences of opinion with writers here on occasion, and I sometimes blog about them. I do that precisely because I respect the folks here and think their ideas are worth engaging.

    I’ve got a post for next week which talks more about Jeet’s discussion of interviews, because I thought the thread raised a bunch of interesting issues which were worth discussing further. If folks from Comics Comics want to comment over there and tell me why I’m wrong about everything, we would as always be thrilled and delighted to have you.

  40. Uland says:

    I think a lot of this would be really interesting if it were a case of serious critics debating something of demonstrable import, but it seems like these little piss sessions are what is done instead of serious and meaningful criticism.It gives all pissers a real sense of importance, or something, like ‘ we’re on the vanguard of comics criticism’. As though it’s some kind sealed off world that can be mastered. It’s more a by-product of certain small scale activities ( comics) and has no distinct character of its own. Why should it?
    I think Tim is sort of silently sneering at the H.U folks, because they deserve it.
    I don’t think he owes any “engagement” to you, just as Noah, I’m sure, feels he doesn’t owe the subjects of his screeds ( Kim Deitch draws ugly, recall) any quarter. And he doesn’t. That’s fine. What is also fine is the rest of us not taking it very seriously.

    Why would anyone who is on a completely different wave-length from Noah ( You are if you don’t think Chris Ware is a piece of shit) feel compelled to give him any time at all? He can’t illicit that kind of interest without appealing to some kind of lefty moralistic paradigm, which is why he praises anything and everything that he imagines might challenge, say, a fan of Chris Ware ( white, straight, not interested in Adorno). He knows that he can’t engage us with the things that we really like or love and actually have a real feel for without humbling himself a bit; he’d reveal that he really doesn’t have a taste for American comics; No real interest in the relatively settled-upon aesthetics of comics.

    Why should we engage with this?

  41. NoahB says:

    Oh…and thanks Frank. You’re a prince.

  42. Uland says:

    H.U is an exemplar of shitty, bad bad taste disguised as socio-political “awareness”. Fuck the lot of you. Except for Crippen, who for some reason lost interest….

  43. manuelR says:

    Way to up the level of discussion, uland.

  44. Joan de' Arc says:

    Caro wrote: “Man up and argue.”

    Haw! You’re ridiculous! and may have some interesting stuff to say but you’re an asshole!

    Caro wrote: “His original post made it perfectly clear I am not welcome here. My feelings aren’t hurt by that but I’m long past the point of going off to whine to my friends that ‘Tim was mean to me.'”

    Instead you’re whining about it here! 3,312 words of insufferable whining! Jezus christ, you’re a fucking windbag! What do you do all day!?! I’m beginning to think you’re a hacker’s algorithm designed to respond to every disagreeable utterance regarding “Caro!”

    Caro wrote: “The original post in this thread is not an acceptable way to handle differences of opinion and approach. It’s not professional, it’s not courteous, and it’s not smart. Tim owes an apology. If I get it, I’ll give him one too.”

    Tim doesn’t owe you a thing. This is a blog! You can do whatever the fuck you want on a blog! Haven’t you read the email? Go to the library If you desire rigorous analysis. And what rule book are you playing by to assert what’s acceptable, professional, courteous and smart?

  45. Uland says:

    manuelr—You can’t “up” anything this worthless, you can only try to help put it out of its ( and ours) misery.
    I should have hit much harder. It was too sloppy. Feeling sort of off today…

  46. Frank Santoro says: “I’ll say this Ms. Small, I think you might be right about the way our subculture shies away from certain forms of criticism. However, your approach doesn’t feel inclusive”

    You’ve got to be kidding — that’s the very approach ComicsComics, BlogFlume, Flog, Co-Mix and most of Team Comics in general takes, not the other way around. If ever there was a bunch of childish clubhousers, it’s the comics ghetto.

    • I dunno, I think I try to be inclusive. Seriously. Anyone is invited over to my clubhouse any day. What I meant, Jeffrey, was Caro’s language. Seriously. Yah, I’m a snobbish clubby prick on this blog sometimes and this is the comics ghetto fer sure. Nice to see you stop by again.

  47. Layne says:

    What do you do all day!?!

    Half hour spent checking’s referrer logs here, an hour refreshing the ol’ Google alert for any mentions there, cultivating a healthy garden of grudges, and before you know it, it’s time to get dinner out of the microwave. Soliciting intellectual validation from Clippy the Office Assistant would probably account for at least a few minutes, too.

  48. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I’ve read Barthes. Death of Work and Text in Venice, right?

    Also: football is a game of inches, but that doesn’t mean you design your plays so that if executed well they gain you a couple of inches.