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I Got So Much Culture On My Mind 03: We Need to Review Comics Better

May 4th, 2012 by | Tags: , ,

-I’m thinking about quitting floppies for a month and then picking it up when they’re cheaper and keeping up that way. I think paying three and four dollars for digital comics is stupid, and if I skip a month, when I come back, all the comics will be two bucks, which is still stupid, but more tolerable. I mean, these people want three dollars for twenty-six pages of 20+ year old Tank Girls by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin. Really? In what world is that a deal, instead of a ripoff? And I say that as a huge Hewlett fan, from the Gorillaz to Tank Girl and back again. Bleah. I want to support, but I’m not going to be able to support if the prices are this absurd.

-My beloved friend and yours David Wolkin run an organization called Limmud NY. You can read about it here. Long story short, though, it’s about educating people with regard to their own Jewishness, and the broad spectrum of Jewish experience. It’s sorta fascinating, from the outside looking in, because it’s such a great idea. We all grow up in whatever culture or cultures we belong to and are expected to sorta keep up and mostly figure things out for ourselves. A concerted effort to educate people about their culture and how it applies to the modern day is… it’s beautiful, I think is the best word for it. I did those Black History x Comics posts for years for similar reasoning, and as a way to say that we’re here, we’ve always been here, and you don’t have to enjoy it, but please respect it. I did it because no one did it for me, so I’m glad to see Wolkin and Limmud NY doing their part. You can donate to Limmud NY here.

-Jason Latour’s giving away an art book. He’s got an ill style, and the sketchbook has life drawings and other things. I like how he draws buildings (page 7, 17) and the image on the bottom-right of page 5 is fantastic. He worked on BPRD Hell on Earth: The Pickens County Horror with Dave Stewart, and it was pretty good. Check it here and here. Mushrooms never looked so scary.

And yo, on his website, you see that header Pimp Trick Gangster Clicks? That’s how you know Latour is a real dude. Pimp Trick Gangster Click > Gnarls Barkley.

-I debuted the news that Tyler Crook is illustrating BPRD Hell on Earth: Return of the Master at ComicsAlliance. Crook is a pretty good artist, and it’s nice seeing his style evolve. I’ve got a copy of Petrograd somewhere around here. I need to sit down and read it. It’s high on my to-do list, but I keep getting distracted by old manga (this week it’s Katsuhiro Otomo’s Memories, thanks to Jog.)

-Sean Witzke reviews 25 slashers, and kneecaps Cabin in the Woods in the process.

-Tucker’s Comics of the Weak @ TCJ are always worth reading. In fact, I think CotW and Jog’s column at TCJ are the only comics reviews I read at all these days.

-Giannis Milonogiannis, a dude whose vision of the future is right in line with mine (and Otomo’s and Shirow’s) is giving away comics. Go download OLD CITY BLUES: PROSTHETIC CORPUS PHASE ONE. I liked the original OCB (isn’t that title totally futuristic? Like OCP or something), which you can buy in digital or hardcover format. You can even read it online for free if you want.

-I liked Matthew Brady’s look at Hirohiko Araki’s Rohan at the Louvre. I’ve been meaning to pick it up, but (wait for it) I keep getting distracted. The preview is pretty tight.

-Eric Stephenson’s post about Bergen St Comics deciding not to carry Before Watchmen is a good one. “They’re leaving money on the table!” is a stupid thing to say. Every business makes decisions regarding what to carry and when. That’s their right. No one carries everything, and I think not carrying a book over ethical reasons is way better than not carrying a book because you don’t like Rob Liefeld’s art or something stupid like that.

-This quote from Joss Whedon is stupid. I can barely make sense of it.

-I like Chris Arrant talking about how we (fans, press, whoever) regularly and consistently devalue the artist in comics. I kinda sorta talked about this from another angle when I was talking about Marvel’s habit of ruining good books with rapid-fire art changes. It is an actual problem for these books and a problem for how we talk about comics. The best runs in comics have steady teams — look at the comics we got out of Claremont/Byrne/Austin, Claremont/Smith, Miller/Janson, Miller/Mazzucchelli, Brubaker/Phillips, Brubaker/Rucka/Lark, Bendis/Maleev, Ennis/Dillon, Ennis/Parlov, Nocenti/Romita, and more besides. If you give a team time to stick together and gel, you get better comics than you do when you reduce the artist to the level of an art robot. Having a steady team also changes how we talk about comics. We prioritize whoever is steadily present on a comic. These days, that means a writer. So it’s “Mark Waid’s Daredevil,” even though Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin had tremendous input on what we all like about that comic. To call it Mark Waid’s Daredevil is disrespectful and inaccurate. It’s stupid. And yes, wah wah wah using multiple names is clunky, but suck it up. If you’re writing about comics, you should be able to do your job well enough to sidestep that issue. Otherwise you’re just a scrub.

-And actually, while I’m complaining about my peers — if you write a review that’s got one paragraph of art discussion toward the end… mannnnnnn. I looked at the eight most recent reviews on CBR and seven out of the eight have a few paragraphs about the writing, one paragraph about the art, and then an outro. Like they’re writing from a template. Boring.

Listen, here’s a challenge to everyone who writes reviews, especially if you do this lazy words-first thing. Find a comic you like. Write a review that’s predominately about the art, and leave one short paragraph toward the end for the writing. Talking about art isn’t hard. You look at it, you examine how it makes you feel and how it portrays the action on the page. Take a close look and find something you like, and then talk about why you like it.

This is simple, and if you’re writing about comics, you should be able to do this. You don’t have to be fluent at art. You just have to be conversational. Comics is a visual medium. There are words, yes, but when you open a page, the first thing you see is the pictures. So how about you pay attention and talk about the pictures in something more than a perfunctory manner?

-Anyway.

-Brandon Graham blog updates include sketches, snatches of new issues, and dope old manga and comics. Pay attention.

-I’m a fairly recent convert to Meredith Gran’s Octopus Pie. Maybe the middle of last year? I forget when my webcomics readin’ buddy Lauren Davis put me onto it. I haven’t made it through all the archives yet, but it’s good, good stuff.

-Comics comics comics! I’m working out how I feel about comics and comics discusso, if you can’t tell. It’s been a serious year so far. I’ve still got a lot to figure out, including what I write about and where. Pardon the dust and posts about things you don’t care about. I think the schedule I’m working with now, where Mondays have a Reading Comics bit, Wednesdays are variable, and Fridays have these posts, works well. We’ll see.

-Hawks over Celtics tonight! Josh Smith being out is no fun, but we’ll see how it goes.

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25 comments to “I Got So Much Culture On My Mind 03: We Need to Review Comics Better”

  1. I swear, when I saw the second picture, I thought, “You know, that looks like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure art…”

    Then I saw that Araki drew it and said, “Oh, that’s why.”


  2. I’ve been trying to write more about the art in the reviews I write, though I do find myself defaulting to that structure of “words, words, words, art, close” when the art’s not particularly interesting to look at (I did it with Aquaman #8, though I did include a bit in the opening paragraph about how the only characters shown smiling in that issue are the ones who are dead in the main plot. That kinda helps, right?). Definitely agree that comics should be read as a whole, not segmented into these little parts, with one getting priority over the other.

    The Whedon quote I agreed with, I think…up until he started talking about Bendis and decapitation. Then he did that thing where he didn’t shut up.


  3. Anyone got a good review of Crawl to Me (the comic)? Like, one that doesn’t come from Fangoria or some horrible website with “topless” or “robot” in the address?

    Or, I mean, if it’s just horrible, let me know that too.


  4. I love JoJo and had the same reaction as MegaSpiderMan, thanks for alerting me to this.


  5. One of my favorite superhero comic reviews ever was from Dan Grendell at the now-defunct Comic Pants, talking about Judd Winick and Cliff Chiang’s Green Arrow and Black Canary. He talked adoringly of how beautiful Chiang’s art was, of how perfectly it suited the characters, of how it forged multiple styles together while being its own. Then capped it off with the single sentence, “too bad he’s drawing such a shitty story.”

    It was awesome. For that matter, where is Dan Grendell these days? (pre-Comic Pants he wrote for AiCN)


  6. God, that Cabin in the Woods takedown was BEAUTIFUL. I want to marry it and give it lots of babies.


  7. My personal… problem, I guess, is that when it comes to comics I take in art as a way of delievering ‘words’. It may be more or less sucsesfull, but it still is all about that communicative function.

    How does comic art make me feel? On it’s own it… doesn’t, aside from a fleeting pure aesthetical (dis)pleasure, which I personally usually don’t value all that much.


  8. “I guess the thing that I want to say about fandom is that it’s the closest thing to religion there is that isn’t actually religion…” -Whedon

    This is a position I also hold. However I don’t see it as a good thing.


  9. @William George: I don’t think Whedon sees it as a good thing either. But he’ll gladly take the checks anyway.

    Disclaimer: I loved Avengers as much as I hated Astonishing X-Men, Buffy Season 8, and Cabin in the Woods. Which is quite a damn bit.


  10. Not sure if we’re talking about the same Limmud, but hard to imagine there’s another out there. So you might be interested in this piece, which emerges from a different (fairly marginal) strain of the American Jewish world. Hit the ‘Footprints’ tag for more on the Black/Jewish relations, which might also be of interest.

    Old City Blues and Rohan both look gorgeous. Thanks for the rec.


  11. @@Dan Coyle: Yeah, I feel the exact opposite. The review does raise some interesting points, but I also think the reviewer is over-intellectualizing this movie to a degree that makes it impossible to enjoy simply for what it is. My problem with this review is I feel the reviewer thinks Cabin in the Woods is actually smarter than what it is, and striving for more than it is.


  12. It’s strange seeing how much Araki has improved. It used to be that he couldn’t draw a human body with anything resembling human proportions to save his life. The normal proportion for a human is usually 6 to 7 heads tall, but the heroes populating Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure were continually 10 to 12 heads tall. They were almost giants. And that’s just the most glaring problem for me.
    But Araki made those flaws work for him instead of against him. There is this strange goofy camp to it that makes it easier for me to forgive than someone like Liefeld who also has problems with anatomy. And also unlike Liefeld I see a lot of improvement between the earlier volumes of Jojo and Rohan. Araki is able to improve those issues of anatomy that I had with him and without sacrificing that flamboyant style.


  13. You know what, Dub? I think I’ll take you up on that review premise. I’m gonna need to find a few scans for my review just to save time, but I hope you won’t mind me mailing you a copy or linking it.


  14. One of the more subtle problems in the treatment of the artist in mainstream comics is one of language:

    “Claremont/Byrne/Austin, Claremont/Smith, Miller/Janson, Miller/Mazzucchelli, Brubaker/Phillips, Brubaker/Rucka/Lark, Bendis/Maleev, Ennis/Dillon, Ennis/Parlov, Nocenti/Romita”

    Do you see it?

    We need to change the way artists are treated in comics, certainly, but that’s subverted even in the language we use to talk about collaborations.
    I know you just started listening to the Beatles in the last year or two, so I don’t know if you know about all the shit McCartney caught trying to credit songs as McCartney/Lennon instead of the traditional Lennon/McCartney, but there’s certainly a precedent for that first name meaning a whole lot to some people.

    Treating the artist more respectfully overall is obviously far more important than whose name we say first, but I think we’re going to have to address the issue of accreditation eventually too.

    Also, thank you so much for the point on reviewing the art too. I generally try to split my reviews about 50/50, depending on the strengths of the art/story, but I found myself focusing more on the story in one I’m revising now. Guess it’s time for another revision.

    Finally, Old City Blues is a book I picked up at C2E2 but haven’t gotten to reading yet. One flip through it and I said “I bet Brothers would love this.” Glad I was right.


  15. Hell, even Mike Carey and Peter Gross list each other as co-creators on The Unwritten and people still just refer to it as Carey’s.


  16. I’m glad I’m not the only one…the CBR reviews totally follow a template, with a rare exception here and there.

    And I totally agree that comic reviewers need to elevate their games. I’d even call into question the idea of reviewing single issues that are part of an arc. The way most superhero stories are written today, it’s akin to reviewing a chapter of a book, or a third of a movie.


  17. That quote from Joss Whedon isn’t a quote. It’s a bunch of quotes stuck together, with the interviewer’s questions/interplay pulled out.


  18. @Don Delgado: Never even heard of it, but I looked at the preview on CBR and it doesn’t seem that great.

    @Jaelinque: That’s really interesting to me. I tend to think of comics as picture books, for lack of a better, and that’s where my primary enjoyment comes from. I’m curious–why do you stick with comics, rather than novels or whatever else?

    @N Jahr: Good reading. THanks.

    @Joe H: Araki is the only dude that should ever be allowed to draw a Prince comic. It’d be glorious.

    @Sean Kelly: Do it do it do it

    @David Fairbanks: That is super perceptive. I’ve tried to consciously switch it up, but it’s hard to break that writer/artist format. Even cartoonists are referred to as writer/artists, not artist/writers! Though, in thinking about it, I tend to refer to manga creators as artists or cartoonists, and rarely as writers or writer/artists. That was a good thing to pull out. I’ll have to keep it in mind.

    @Kieron Gillen: That would explain it! I read it and it was so weird that I decided not to click through. My general disinterest toward Whedon didn’t help either, I don’t think.


  19. @david brothers: I try to use the phrase cartoonist as often as possible when it fits, but that mostly seems to be with indie books and manga (because for some reason I still haven’t integrated “manga-ka” into my vocabulary).

    I was going to say that it feels uncomfortable as hell to say Quitely/Morrison or Gibbons/Moore or McKean/Gaiman, but it’s not as weird as I expected it to be.


  20. […] Thought! David Brothers’s negative words about reviews on CBR are not wrong. Discussing art is something I struggled with during my time there, often falling […]


  21. A pingback from Chad Nevett?

    Jesus, that’s an almost fatal level of irony there.


  22. @david brothers: My usual answer to that (and yes, I’ve been told that liking comics ‘for the narrative’ is a wrong way to like them so many times, that I have a ‘usual answer’) is that in comics art is a powerful and extremely interesting narrative tool, that it delivers ‘words’ in a unique way, communicating the message (or several messages) by working on a different level, pulling different strings in a human mind. So in a way art works in comics just like exact language, precise words, word structures, rhythm, etc. work in a book (which is an extremely flawed analogy, because comics make use of words in a direct way as well, but still). Art as (a part of the) form and message as function intertwine and blend, shaping each other and providing a narrative experience unique to the medium.

    The honest answer would be that I got dragged into comics in my mid-teens by a superficial flashiness and over-the-top epicness of superheroics and simply went from there into semi-mindless addiction to the medium.

    However, now that you’ve made me think about it, it might be just that my visual imagination is severely (as much as I hate to use that word in relation to myself) lacking. In a way my mind works as a one-way translator: I easily take in and ‘decipher’ visual images and I easily ‘translate’ them into words describing them, the reverse, however is hard. Not impossible, but hard enough that visualizing something from a description requires directed effort and, as such, breaks the flow of media/art consumption. When I was still a child who read a lot, it didn’t bother me all that much: I just skimmed over detailed descriptions without noticing that I was doing so. Then one day I noticed and since then every description meant ‘stop, concentrate, visualize’. Eventually I got better at it, but it still is pretty much a chore. Come to think of it, that might be why most of poetry never worked for me.
    Comics, like any visual medium, remove some of the beautiful ambiguity present in literature, but for me personally they also remove most of that flow-breaking need to visualize from words. Art is my crutch here, even when it’s not that good: somehow ‘translating’ from images to ‘better’ images existing as ideas of what things drawn ‘actually look like’ is often easier then imagining things described by words.
    And that is why I like comics (not that I don’t read novels and stuff).

    Wow, that turned out long. I apologize for any possible mistakes: ESL here.


  23. @Jaelinque: Thanks for replying! I hope I didn’t give the impression that I thought you read comics wrong. Your answer is really interesting and well-considered. Thank you.


  24. Couldn’t stand Tucker’s Comics of the Weak column. The author is trying way too hard to be snarky and dismissive.


  25. @Jumpman: Dang, my bad. I must’ve linked the wrong column by accident. Here’s the really good and really funny one.