Wednesday 12 October 2011

Critiquing the critics.
I believe it is absolutely right that the critic freely expresses his or her opinion about a work, but what is it with Ng Suat Tong?
"For my part, I found Habibi utterly repugnant and well deserving of a place on a list of worst comics of 2011."
A few months back:
"Glidden’s comic is a work of self-condemnation; a “warts and all” cautionary to all those who would seek to traffic in their trifling insights, for therein lies undistinguished banality. It is the rotting carcass of the autobiographical genre in comics."
Way back in the day, Top Shelf once stopped sending review copies to the Comics Journal because the magazine kept giving them to this guy to review. "We can see no purpose in it" they said, quite logically. "But he keeps asking for them," replied the Journal.

Now, Suat is a nice enough bloke whom I have met on occasion, and I'm concerned for him. Something must have happened in his past. Did his mother make him wear his hair in ringlets until he was fourteen? Did his father spank his bare bottom in front of all the relatives?

Please attach your personal observations in comments, though if they cross the line of good taste like mine just did, I will probably have to remove them.



Anonymous Aaron Poehler said...

Most likely a frustrated wannabe with an axe to grind, deluding himself that had he only devoted his time to creating art it would of course far surpass the common efforts of mere mortals like Craig Thompson.

12 October 2011 at 16:10:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Noah Berlatsky, too. They both remind me of Frank Costanza--he invented a holiday as an excuse to air his grievances, while they just pretend to be comics critics!

12 October 2011 at 16:15:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Will Shetterly said...

"Subaltern" is the first big clue. He's got a Procrustean ideology that Habibi doesn't fit.

12 October 2011 at 16:18:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Milo George said...

I haven't clicked on that link to Suat's review; as much as I love his and Domingos' essays, life's too short to waste reading anything on the HU website. [Someday, someone will write about how an entire generation of comics criticism was stunted and withered from the lack of editing/pre-publication internal pushback as well as the mass-addiction to page-hit counts and the culture of "fostering the discussion" for its own sake.]

I don't have my records handy, but I recall Staros was butthurt over a wide range of grievances with the Journal; Suat's reviews may have been the last straw, but "Why we should publish an interview with Chris & Brett instead of, say, with Keith Knight or with Dean Haspiel" got more discussion time than the airing of his Suat complaints -- Suat being just one reviewer of many who Chris "didn't feel The Love from" and expected TCJ to stop tapping for reviews of TS books if we ever wanted him to "turn the spigot back on" and be showered with review copies of their epoch-defining works of genius again. This was easily my favorite publisher's attempt to establish a quid pro quo with the magazine; any five minutes of that phone call would have made Kissinger blush. Dr. Ng lives on the other side of the world, by the way; shipping costs being what they were, he would probably have been the least hindered of my regulars who enjoyed beating on TS' terrible books at the time, as he got virtually no comps. Wah wah wahhhhh.

My personal observation: Eddie, you seem rather obsessed with Christian Asians who have Doctorates and comic-book collections. Has one touched you in a bad place in the past? [I don't mean Bethesda, although it is certainly a bad place.] Perhaps you should explore your issues with The Disgruntled Dr. Ng in comics/metaphorical form sometime?

yours in christ,
-- milo

12 October 2011 at 17:51:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Milo, thanks for the word from the horse's mouth... it didn't occur to me to check it with you...

but Wha?

Christian Asians?

Spaniards maybe?

I just apologized to James Sturm for my outrageous nonsense yesterday.

Who's the other Christian Asian I've upset?

12 October 2011 at 18:04:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Milo George said...

hey eddie,

I would tell you that Suat likes Jesus, but I'm now outraged about you belittling Sturm's feet. At long last, have you no sense of decency?

12 October 2011 at 19:00:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Jesus has a comic book collection?

12 October 2011 at 19:06:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Chalks said...

It's a review of local fromageries called "Cheeses of Nazareth"

I'll get my coat...

12 October 2011 at 20:19:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Michael said...

He ruined Kurtzman's war comics for me. Unforgivable.

12 October 2011 at 23:19:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

a link?

12 October 2011 at 23:25:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Milo George said...

Unless there's a YouTube video of Suat ripping up Michael's EC collection, he means the [probably print-only] essay in TCJ #250.

I love Kurtzman's war comics, but if Suat's dissent not only eradicated the generations of EC-fanzine praise but the comics too, well, that's one hell of an essay.

13 October 2011 at 03:30:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

yes, but...

it's just comics.

13 October 2011 at 04:32:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Michael said...

It was meant a bit tongue-in-cheek there because of course I can still enjoy the comics, I just can never un-think all the objections to them that were raised in the critique. And after all "it's just comics" and those comics didn't pretend to be anything more, so the level of his critique seemed to be all out of proportion to the material he was considering, though of course he was also attacking the hallowed reputation those books have received in some quarters.

I don't think that issue of TCJ is yet archived online, though the subscriber firewall probably makes that not matter anyway.

13 October 2011 at 07:58:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a bit appalled at the venom directed at Suat in some of these comments. He's a tough critic, yes, but an honest and thorough one, no hatchet man.

When I had my column at HU Suat went out of his way, above and beyond, to help me-- a stranger-- with scans, advice, and technical help. A lovely, lovely guy. But one with strong aesthetic and ethical standards.

Mr Poehler, you trot out again the cheap jeer at critics that they're jealous of the artists. That's dead in the water.

And has it occurred to you that Suat has other things to do with his time-- such as saving lives as a doctor?

-- Alex buchet

13 October 2011 at 08:41:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Will Shetterly said...

I haven't read Habibi yet (I just reserved it at our library), but I got to ask: does it really have no sympathetic Arabs?

13 October 2011 at 09:47:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Pepo Pérez said...

Alex, I'm sure that Sarah Gidden or Craig Thompson are also lovely, lovely people. But they had to fit the criticism. This isn't personal. At least as I see it.

13 October 2011 at 11:17:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pepo, Campbell personally attacked Suat as a neurotic, insane nut. Poehler attacked him personally as a venomous, bitter, lying, jealous wannabe.

Suat did not attack either Thompson or Glidden personally.

Frankly, I'm disappointed at Campbell's oikishness in this post.You can take the boy out of Glasgow, but you can't take Glasgow out of the boy.

(And how's THAT for stupid, prejudiced, ad hominem attacks?)

As of writing, I'm halfway through reading Habibi, and will reserve judgement on the book itself.
--Alex Buchet

13 October 2011 at 12:58:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Pepo Pérez said...

A severe judgement, I hope.

; )

Am I the only one who has caught the tongue-in-cheek mode or what?

13 October 2011 at 14:01:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Pepo Pérez said...

"Suat did not attack either Thompson or Glidden personally"

I'm not agree, Alex. There are many ways to attack "personally". But... That's the rules of the game. It's called criticism.

And, BTW,

what happens to Glasgow?

13 October 2011 at 14:10:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Look, Alex, as a doctor he may be a great humanitarian, but as a critic, somebody's got to tell him to stop being a cunt. It's always the right thing to do. My daughter Hayley once told me to stop being a cunt. "Dad, You're being a cunt", she said. I immediately recognized the error of my behaviour and I bought my wife a bunch of flowers and I resolved to be less of a cunt from that moment on, though I know there have been relapses. My pal Evans was once such a cunt that he had to buy two people a bottle of Scotch all in one day, and I know because I was one of them. Believe me, if we are all forthright about this, the world will be a much better place. You go out and try it.

13 October 2011 at 15:43:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dead right. Usually you get called a cunt after a few pints, to which the answer is either a fight (not with my physique and courage) or agree and stop being one, accompanied by getting the round in.

On the comics side, HU does seem to exisit purely to moan about how crap comics are. There appears to be little joy in the hobby.

13 October 2011 at 16:07:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said Eddie.

Mortal Ken

13 October 2011 at 16:13:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Lou Copeland said...

I'm with you, Eddie. I wrote that guy off years ago. There's a chasm of difference between hyper-critical and mean spirited, and I can't walk away with anything constructive from the later.

Yeah… Berlatsky too. Won't go near his site.

13 October 2011 at 17:13:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Chalks said...

I resent the implication that people sporting hair ringlets are neurotic, insane nuts. Frankly, we can do without that sort of fallacious follicle folly.

13 October 2011 at 18:19:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anthony Thorne said...

I'm a quarter of the way through HABIBI now and enjoying it, and I already feel that a lot of the accusations I've encountered are off base. It's a comic, a broad-canvas movie, a cleverly witty display of 'comic book' tropes meshed with more typically sombre subject matter (i.e it's a book where something will go 'Bonk!' if it lands on somebody's head), a fascinating mix of all the experimental and stylistic devices that EC outlined a short while ago, and probably much more. Ng Suat's aggressive hate reminds me of some of the film reviews you'll find at FilmFreakCental, where Walter Chaw hateshateshates the majority of movies that he writes about. HABIBI is fine so far and I'm not expecting things to change for the worse as I get further through it.

13 October 2011 at 20:21:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

a couple of things overlooked.

Michael, I didn't miss the lightness in your words, indeed I was on your side there. Why troll through the history of comics asking them to be other than cheap entertainments (as Suat was doing I presume)? If the critic wants serious commentary about war, why is he looking for it in comic books? Read Wilfred Owen, or look at Goya, or Grosz. Kurtzman's books are worth keeping because they're well made comics. To want other than that is to be disappointed in snow because it's cold.

As Chalks points out, wittily, what Alex says in paraphrase is much more 'orrible than either I or Aaron intended. Whose side are you on, Alex?

as for the remark about Glasgow, I have explained that to our Spanish friend Pepo in an email. That's just in case anyone thinks it's still a loose end. Glasgow in the popular imagination is a thuggish and dangerous place.

13 October 2011 at 20:31:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

One more thing, Alex,

"Suat did not attack ... Glidden personally."

oh yes he did. She was naturally upset and wondered why on earth anyone would turn a book review into such a personal attack. And I felt the same way on her behalf.

Some critics (I'm not addressing Alex here. he writes with good manners, and there are plenty who do) seem to think they are dealing with archival material, that there isn't a human being at the other end. I know, because I am guilty of it myself. (I did it as recently as yesterday's post). Imagine yourself saying it in a room full of sensible people before you hit that send button. What Suat said would have been unacceptable behavior in such a room. Somebody would have pointed it out to him, perhaps in the terms I have suggested above. Then perhaps he would have wiped the saliva off his lapels and changed a few phrases.

13 October 2011 at 21:20:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Milo George said...

I just borrowed my roommate's copy of TCJ #250 to reread the war section of Suat's EC piece; he specifically grounds his assessment of them as children's comics and not as Goya's competition, although Goya and a few other folks are brought in a bit at the tail end of the section but not in the high/low art way you imagined. Sorry, Eddie.

You should snag a copy of #250, by the way; you needn't read Suat's piece to continue your fantasies [saliva on his lapels?], but the issue is packed with great stuff. Did anyone else forget that there's a conversation between Carl Banks and John Stanley in this thing? Man.

I need to know: Who produces the most percussive-sounding "cunt," an angered Scot or an Australian?

13 October 2011 at 22:30:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

ha! yes, the danger of being lured off the main argument. I should get out of here.

nobody saying anything in anger that I can hear.

what starts as a good humoured call for decorum ends up acquiring a moral fixity. we should call it a day at "it's just comics."

I looked for that issue of the Journal and didn't find it, but I did find the one after it, in which Charles Hatfield and I each spent an entire 4-column page getting mad at RC Harvey for entirely different reasons and over separate articles by RC., who considered it a matter of professional pride that he was still entitled to his opinions on both arguments no matter what we had to say. And that ends up being the real currency, in place of knowledge and ideas and the uncovering of the connections between things. opinions and "the mass-addiction to page-hit counts", as you say. I notice mine went up after i called everybody a wossname. And certainly the saliva on the lapels was a horror-image designed to aggravate. What else would you expect of a comic book artist? Or a comic-book critic calling the result of somebody's honest labour a 'rotting carcass'?

13 October 2011 at 23:39:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Michael Evans said...

'Who produces the most percussive-sounding "cunt," an angered Scot or an Australian?'

Campbell, shall we record ourselves and let others make the judgement between your Caledonian burr and my Antipodean inflection.

14 October 2011 at 00:12:00 GMT-5  
Blogger h.n. said...

Ng Suat Tong shows his colours from the start; it was only after reading Nadim Damluji’s review of Habibi that spurred him to read it himself, 'The generous tone of his article convinced me that Thompson’s comic was still worth reading despite its flaws.'

Which means that Ng Suat Tong had already made up his mind of what he thought about 'Habibi' and his apparent revulsion, turns of phrase, and moral-outrage-once-removed is more about Orientalism, with the book as its latest exponent. I suspect the same goes for Glidden's work. They are focal points on which to expound (though the ironing of a critic calling an artist's work as onanistic AND masturbatory, that ironing is delicious).

If one is sensitive to occidental appropriation of exotic motiefs, then you will see Orientalism everywhere (Alice, tea, pajamas), and if you make the conclusion that such appropriation is always about the Western urge to dominate in a post-colonial era, well, that's an assertion of first principles based on a political stance.

Where I come from, you use it to beat people over the head with, either sincerely or in oneupmanship.

I read Habibi and found it to be a sustaining, grabbing narrative. The many transmutations and transformations that take place don't fit well with one another, at least to my taste. But maybe I'm reading it with Western eyes, and Craig Thompson has already absorbed too much of the idiom of the Other for me to be satisfied with his graphic analogies.

So I don't think I'll read it again, not in the way I reread some of Hugo Pratt's stories (by the way, if there's one thing I lay awake at night thinking about, it's that scene in 'How to be an Artist' in the big Alec, for fuck's sake, HP wants to ask you something and you never get around to it?).

It's only comics. Bye bye.

14 October 2011 at 06:26:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Milo George said...

Hey, isn't the issue with your Harv letter the one with the "I wonder if James Sturm exaggerated his ... let's say hands" cover? The circle is complete, although I would still like to find out about Scot/Oz cunts. We don't have that word in the US, you know.

14 October 2011 at 13:01:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Ray Davis said...

For red-blooded Americans, "cunt" carries only pleasant-to-sublime associations. ("The genitals Beauty," as the fellow who invented superhero lycra said.) In my red-blooded American experience the most effective way to short-out critical hissy fits has instead been to inquire in a moronic tone "Why for you be so mean?" or "Was that the human thing to do?"

However, even the most peaceable of us occasionally need an outlet.

14 October 2011 at 21:44:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Ray, thanks

Milo, I just realized what you're referring to, on account of this copy here is coverless. I forgot I had liked that cover so much I trimmed it off and filed it in my permanent archive. Sturm needs wider recognition. he's doing a great job with that school, so he's not at the drawing board. that's life.

also on the cover:
'mean spirited reviews, polarizing opinions, and long-winded discourse on comics minutiae'
who'd a thunk the comics journal had a sense o' humor?

14 October 2011 at 23:28:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'One more thing, Alex,

"Suat did not attack ... Glidden personally."

oh yes he did. She was naturally upset and wondered why on earth anyone would turn a book review into such a personal attack. And I felt the same way on her behalf.'

Eddie, Glidden was the central character of this autobiographical work. It would be impossible to write critically about it without writing critically about Glidden.

As for Glasgow, yes, I concede that this former European Capital of Culture is no mean city.

And I encourage all visitors from overseas to solicit the sweetness of a Glasgow Kiss from any helpful Glaswegian passerby; with some luck, he or she will be willing to accommodate you.

--Alex Buchet

15 October 2011 at 10:16:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Don't leave out the Glasgow smile:

A critic who loses his civilized manners over a book has made it personal no matter what the book is about

"Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae." - Kurt Vonnegut

15 October 2011 at 15:54:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like that image. Maybe I'll make a cartoon of it.

I don't detect 'rage and loathing' in Suat's review of Glidden's book; he simply states that he thinks it's a failure. Harsh, perhaps, but that's a necessary privilege of criticism.(I haven't read it myself, but I'm not persuaded by Suat's takedown from the excerpts he posts.)

If you put yourself front and centre in your work, you must be prepared for criticism that overlaps onto yourself. Eddie, you of all people know this.

Besides, in your work the character'Eddie Campbell' isn't Eddie Campbell; I doubt 'Sarah Glidden' is Sarah Glidden.

Bah, it's all blood under the bridge anyway...

--Alex Buchet

16 October 2011 at 07:52:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

"if you put yourself... you must be prepared for criticism"

If you look back you'll see that's the first thing I said. Why are you objecting to me turning the same kind of criticism on the critics? Why should they be immune, as you seem to be suggesting? or are you just saying that I should have a higher standard of decorum?

16 October 2011 at 14:51:00 GMT-5  

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