Thursday, 11 January 2007

The state of the Independent.

Eddie Campbell interviews Lat at First Second Books. (part one)
* * * *
Hayley Campbell sent me a package from England. First out of it is a copy of the special edition of the magazine that comes with the newspaper the Independent on Sunday. This edition, of 10 oct 2006, is special because they've let the comics crowd take it over. A good idea in principle, and I get to see a few of my old pals appear 'in public.'

There are four pages of Chris Ware, one of text introducing three pages of his 'Building Stories'. I'm presuming its a new presentation of the set that ran in the NY Times, which ranks among Ware's finest works. There's a five page interview with Marjane Satrapi with a huge portrait of her by Charles Burns. Paul Gravett on Alan Moore, Melinda Gebbie and Lost Girls for four pages, couple of other features, and then comics people get to illustrate the regular sections, instead of the usual photographs. Nick Abadzis on food and drink, Neal Fox on fashion, Ed Hillyer on style, Barnaby Richards on homes (right), Guy DeLisle on motoring. A lovely idea.

But I have found that the whole package tends to invite deconstruction rather than enjoyment. Looking at Ware first:
“The idea of serialised fiction in periodicals is by no means new, your literature-shaping and deadline-crushed countryman Charles Dickens being probably the best and most successful example."
Is that a wise thing to write? surely it's the parts of his work due most to the serial nature of the conception that make Dickens dreary to the modern consumer.

"It's probably immaterial to mention here that such cartoon serialisation gave rise to both the radio and television sitcom, but I'll do it anyway"
Again, in this consumer age, Is it a good and practical manoeuvre to tell the reader that there are available more up-to-date models than the one you're presenting?

"Most art forms don’t require an explanation or justification every time a new composition appears…but for some reason comics are still “emerging” as a viable art form in their own right… "
The term 'art form' strikes me as somewhat outmoded. The concern with an activity being an art form or not an art form belongs to another time when when the world thought such things mattered. Out of curiosity I googled 'art form' and the first thing to come up was:
"Art - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
An art form is a specific form for artistic expression to take, ... Are comics an art form, medium, genre, style, or perhaps more than one of these? ..."

COMICS! The last damn thing in the world that wants to be an art form!. Or maybe not. I have a book on my shelf: Arguing About Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debates. ed Alex Neill and Aaron Ridley there are a pair of essays arguing the case for food as an art form. "What I am about to show is that it (food) does not have the same kinds of meaning as the major art forms have." (Elizabeth Telfer). Art has meaning? where? For quite some time now High Art has removed itself beyond not just function and beauty but also meaning. In fact High Art does not tend to concern itself with 'form' either. In the postmodern, democratic world the question of whether this or that is an 'art form' is surely irrelevant. The danger in all of Ware's piece is to paint comics into a very conservative position, asking for the blessing of some imagined authority, which Is not quite what the medium needs.

I am sure that the casual reader must think of comics as not much more than a genre of image-types. The samples of both Hillyer's and Gebbie's work on show would encourage the presumption.
Long time readers of comic books may not be capable of stepping back far enough to see it, but these images, the way they are framed and the way they work, come unmistakably out of comic book culture:

Abadzis' figures on the other hand always have the look of worthy professional illustration. But that's not what the medium needs either.

In the Lost Girls article Gravett shows his usual tendency to run up and down his scales and arpeggios. He finds space to mention everything Moore has done in the last twenty years, even though he apparently visited him for the occasion. You'd think they'd have had more important stuff to discuss. We could only wish for some of Moore's dramatic declarations along the lines of the one about how everything will turn to steam in 2015 approx when the world's total information will be duplicating its size every second. That and a big Charles Burns drawing ito record his memorable presence, would have been very nice thank you. Still, the whole magazine probably hinged on Paul's contacts and expertise. So we shouldn't complain.

Oddly, Satrapi is what the medium needs. The blurb describes her:"Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian exile. And a former punk and drug dealer." I don't know about anyone else, but it's now so long since the punk era that the word, for me, at least as a singular noun, has long since resorted to it's original meaning: punk n 1. slang a) someone worthless or unimportant b)a petty criminal or hoodlum c) an inexperienced boy.
Nevertheless: "The people in authority have been peddling the illussion of 'civilisation'....Take Paris, cut off its electricity and water, and empty the supermarkets. In three days people will be murdering each other and eating the corpses.
...The struggle to preserve human life on Earth is already a lost cause. The world is in such a state that I don't believe it will recover.... But that will be a blessing because i believe the planet will be better off without us. With a few cats and rats, I think the world will be a much happier place."

It is difficult to imagine Satrapi asking for her work to be considered Art. That would be to recognise a heirarchy of authority. With her bold FUCK YOU she will not allow that.

And what the medium absolutely doesn't need is the clot who wrote the legend along the foot of the contents page:
"MR HUSBAND"S MODERN ETIQUETTE: Is it acceptable for ADULTS to read COMICS in public? the dandy or THE BEANO: best indulged behind closed doors, guily pleasure style. VIZ: the watch-out-for me-I'm-bonkers equivalent of wearing a FAKE TUXEDO t-shirt. Anything by Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, et al: FINE, because graphic novels pack more EMOTIONAL MATURITY into a single frame than any novel about BOY-WIZARDS many 'grown-ups' insist on reading."
I didn't even notice that until two minutes ago. I suddenly feel embarrassed about taking this thing seriously enough to write about it here. Actually it's worse. I feel nauseous. Having done the work I'm going to have to post it anyway.

In conclusion, why should all these folk feel an affiliation just because they like to draw their pictures sequentially? And to lump them all together in a magazine and write that baloney you see in the previous paragraph implies that they share some kind of cultural viewpoint.
All of the people who say FUCK YOU would be a much more useful aggregation.
* * * *

If you read my posts early in the day you might want to recheck yesterday's as I made a late afternoon edit that included adding a couple of links.



Blogger Faff said...

From what I recall about the magazine it was all arranged around Paul Gravett and his contacts and as you will well remember the man has a certain evangelical zeal about comics. Paul's mission in life seems to be to make comics acceptable to everybody and he does promote the best of work in the most conservative manner.

11 January 2007 at 07:44:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Unknown said...

I proudly read my comics in public. No matter who writes/draws them or the subject matter.
More readers need to take their habit public.

If people can't handle it, that's their problem.

11 January 2007 at 09:04:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Kelly Kilmer said...

A book is a book. I read them both in public. If someone takes offense at what I'm reading (I'm more inclined to have someone say something if I'm reading a *ahem* "political" title by say, Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky, then if I'm reading a "Comic" per se.) Either way, if they take offense they're likely to get a tongue lashing or an ass kicking by me.
Glad to see Satrapi on the cover of that publication. She's freaking amazing with the work she does. When her work first came out, some critics started up a ridiculous argument "Can she draw?" My answer was "Hell yes and she tells a damn good story, too." Some people!!
OMG the word verification is so damn small and the letters are so pushed together I think I need trifocals to get this published...who the hell puts three "w's" together?? (Ha! I had to enter a different one-didn't work the first time ;))

11 January 2007 at 12:00:00 GMT-5  
Blogger spacedlaw said...

I read my comics wherever I can - just like any books - I just get a bit embarassed when they have me in fits of giggles (last time happened last summer reading Manu Larcenet on the subway in Paris and I had to stop I was laughing so hard I had tears splashing everwhere - making a mess : it was time to close the book to save it from drowning).

Towards the end of your post, I felt you would pull out your "not in the shit business" cartoon again... I really love it and it would feel appropriate.

11 January 2007 at 12:56:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Thanks to all.
peter, you'll remember of course that I immortalised paul as 'the man at the croosroads' in How To be An Artist.
Not sure why we're talking about reading in public. the thing that raised my ire was the suggestion that to give points to comics we need to take them away from something else, in this case harry potter. Not sure i made that clear.
yes, Nathalie... not in the shit business indeed.
Kelly: did you say you were reading a comic in public, percy?

11 January 2007 at 19:20:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Hawthorn said...

I actually do often feel embarrased reading my comics in public, though I find it depends greatly on which comic I'm reading. Reading the generic, smash-up mainstream superhero book, invariably with near-naked girls on the cover, is a bit shameful. I should posibly just re-think some of the books I read.

Also, it seems Marjane Satrapi is a comicy George Carlin. Who knew?

11 January 2007 at 23:01:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Faff said...

Eddie, Yeah I remembered "the man at the crossroads" from "Fate of The Artist". Not quite sure how this got into reading in public but it seems like a natural extension to the evangelical nature of the magazine. Don't quite understand why anyone has to put down one thing to promote another but the "we're better than soap operas but not as good as hollywood movies" thing seems to be a popular way to promote worthiness (popular though pretty pointless). It seems harder and harder for writers to promote something based on it's own worth.

12 January 2007 at 06:56:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm, more condescension from lazy journalists, can't say I'm surprised. Whenever you read someone in a newspaper writing about comics there's always the feeling that they're wearing protective clothing and examining the specimen with tweezers.

Can't help but feel the UK/US comics world is partly to blame for this; why would an Independent reader--even one whose interest was stimulated by that feature--want to enter a comic store with a window filled with action figures and Star Trek models? Sure, they shouldn't be so snobbish, but how do you convince people "comics aren't just for kids" by making the shops look like Toys 'R' Us? I was in Paris a couple of times over the summer and spent some time browsing the comic racks in the Virgin Megastore on the Champs Elysses. A whole floor there, no toys, just rows and rows of books in a uniform format. The result: suited businessmen flicking through titles on their lunchbreak. Sure, there's a cultural difference but the contrast with the stores here couldn't be more striking.

End of rant... The (English language) comics business exasperates me sometimes. Comics should be treated with the same respect as any other medium without having to explain that, "Yes, it's an intelligent medium" for the fiftieth time; we all know this. But sometimes it feels like arguing the benefits of eating less with an obese person while they reach for another pizza.

12 January 2007 at 15:29:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Isabelinho said...

Maybe you're right Eddie, barbarians are destroying any kind of hierarchy today (and they're calling their destruction "democracy", a word completely devoid of any meaning - see, I can also play the "deconstruction" game). Call me a conservative, but I can't see where's the positive side in the fact that the society of the spectacle is turning everybody into Peter Pan syndrome afflicted "grown ups".

26 January 2007 at 12:41:00 GMT-5  

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