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#191584 - 09/29/07 02:26 AM Re: Debate About State of "Art-Comics" (Particularly Clowes), But w/o Superhero Nuts
Charles Reece Offline
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Registered: 08/18/99
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On sacred cows, comic book or otherwise, I'm cool with anyone criticizing any of them. Any time you get a rabid following, particularly like those found in obsessive geek enclaves, their respective favorites will acquire a sort of sacred aura about them, at least among the devoted. I myself experienced this very thing regarding Clowes over the Journal board a couple years ago. The flock didn't like the question of commodification being brought up regarding Clowes any more than superhero fanboys do when I approach the topic here regarding their fantasy favorites. There was a lengthy thread about Ware's creation of a lunchbox over there, too, that dissolved into little more than namecalling. This shit happens anywhere, really. It has more to do with people who can argue without feeling personally attached to their arguments (even if they think they're right) and people who take umbrage at having their opinions or objects of favor "insulted" by the act of critical inquiry. And although I can see some relation of this problem to what's deemed acceptable or normative disourse in academia, there's not near the resistance to having something questioned, even harshly criticized, from people with a thorough academic background as there is from those without. It's a shame if Dumas didn't experience it, but I became friends with quite a few of my professors, because I constantly argued with them. On the other hand, I had a pal in physical anthropology whom the prof was pretty sick of hearing from because he kept bringing up divine intervention. My pal eventually dropped the class, because he didn't think his views were given a fair shake. Was that because he was questioning a "sacred cow," or because his views were kind of goofy and had no relevance to a science class? I'm going with the latter. Which brings me back to the current supposed criticism of a sacred cow, Berlatsky on Clowes (and Ware). His points of contention miss their mark, and demonstrably so. Thus, they should be dismissed not out of idolatrous deference to our lord, Clowes, but out of good ol' fashioned respect for rational argument. If you wish to claim otherwise, first make a good rebuttal to Hodler. Then, if we Clowes fans here still refuse to acknowledge Berlatsky's superior thoughts on the man's work, you can get on with armchair psycholanalysis as to why.

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See, I would say that Clowes is just doing to comics what Godard did with film: distancing the aesthetic impact of the imagery and defusing the viewer's expectations for plot-involvement. So I see him reflecting the long shadow of Godard (whether he's specifically a fan of Godard or not) in his quest for artistic authenticity. Thus IMO he's not any more independent of 'the criteria of other artforms' than Bechtdel is for having followed in whatever prose literary tradition one wants to put FUN HOME into.
"Just doing [...] what Godard did with film" -- whooboy! Clowes could do worse than be damned with such faint praise. Anyway, here's the big difference you're missing: What Godard did with his sound was unique to film, even if the goal was borrowed from Brechtian theater. Brechdel, however, as my point went (and I'd apply it to PERSEPOLIS, too), did something in comics form that wouldn't lose much at all if it, say, lost the drawings, or became a film. I can't imagine taking DEATHRAY, translating it to film, much less a novel, without radically altering both the form and content.

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I would say that even those modern-lit works that ape the outward structure of a genre-fantasy-- say, Eco's "supernatural thriller" THE FOUCAULT PENDULUM-- still have a thematic attachment to the notion of a quotidian reality that can't really be found in THE DA VINCI CODE. Thematic realism can be found in both realistic and "unrealistic" works, and offhand I would say that almost every fantasy/SF work that has been accepted into the literary mainstream (such as Dumas' example of BRAVE NEW WORLD) displays this common theme. There are probably some exceptions-- Edgar Allen Poe, perhaps-- but that's why I would say that literary critics can accept a novel like KAVALIER AND CLAY, with its occasional ghosts or golems; that they perceive (correctly or not, depending on your view of the novel) that K&C is responsive to describing quotidian reality, even if it isn't a "realistic" work.

Clowes strikes me as being much the same: his fantastic content isn't there just for its own sake, but seems to have some allegorical purpose behind it. Maybe it's an allegory only Clowes understands, though.
What does this mean? Fantasy is pure only if it has no attachment or relevance to our world? Is that even possible? And if it is, why would someone want to read such a thing? Maybe because it would bring us closer to the noumena, but even there, it would begin to have relevance to our world. One thing that's always struck me in this sort of discussion with "my genre is the real genre" types such as yourself is the priority you place -- even if sometimes implicitly -- on stylistic realism. Just as it is in the essay Dumas linked to, genre fiction which borrows heavily from traditional realism for its narrative form is prized as being purer than those genre authors who experiment with said form or who are less concerned with realistic sounding explanations than with questioning concepts. Thus, I'm not a genre enthusiast because I prefer Borges to Tolkien, or Lem to Asimov. Yet, ironically, you and Dumas think it's because of some need for realism that I or Ken don't mind someone like Clowes' more fantastic elements. That's fucked up, man. This all reminds me of a quote I liked while recently reading Lem's HIS MASTER'S VOICE:

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He had tried to use, as a "generator of ideas" [...,] those works of fantastic literature, that popular genre (especially in the States), called, by a persistent misconception, "science fiction." He had not read such books before; he was annoyed -- indignant, even -- expecting variety, finding monotony. "They have everything except fantasy," he said. Indeed, a mistake. The authors of these pseudo-scientific fairy tales supply the public with what it wants: truisms, cliches, stereotypes, all sufficiently costumed and made "wonderful" so that the reader may sink into a safe state of surprise and at the same time not be jostled out of his philosophy of life. If there is progress in a culture, the progress is above all conceptual, but literature, the science-fiction variety in particular, has nothing to do with that. -- p. 106-7
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#191585 - 09/29/07 04:48 PM Re: Debate About State of "Art-Comics" (Particularly Clowes), But w/o Superhero Nuts
gene phillips Offline
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Registered: 09/30/99
Posts: 5910
Loc: Houston, TX
"The sacred cow argument is not a good one, because it assumes that Clowes's work is only being praised for some other reason that its merits as the reader sees them: "we can't criticize him or allow others to, because he's the poster boy for art comics and 'New Yorker' style legitimacy."

When I "defend" Clowes, I do so - as do others - because I really like his work.

It'd be as if I said: "Gene only praises superhero comics because he has a need to identify with the kind of comics rejected by the elite - it boosts his ego to be seen taking this rebellious position." My assumption is otherwise: that you like such comics and find them interesting to talk about.

It shouldn't be that hard to imagine that many people can like his work and not be suffering from any anxiety about comics legitimacy."

Well, Charles has certainly made the argument that I've only defended superhero comics out of misplaced sentimentality for stuff I grew up with, and in so doing he's pretty much echoed every anti-genre guy out there (not just anti-superhero), so I agree that it would be wrong to totally stigmatize everyone for liking something I don't like. That's why I said that I'd like to study the various defenses others have made of Clowes to get some clue that might enlighten me as to why they like Clowes.

I have run across people who have made knee-jerk defenses of Clowes, even if you're not one of them, and that does arouse in me the suspicion of the "sacred cow disease." Maybe everyone doesn't have it, but maybe some do. Example: on Comicon I once praised Evan Dorkin for giving what I considered a better look at fan psychology in DORK #7 than Clowes had in PUSSEY, and Fan Who Shall Not Be Named acted like I was crazy. No argument. Just the jerk of the knee...

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#191586 - 09/29/07 04:57 PM Re: Debate About State of "Art-Comics" (Particularly Clowes), But w/o Superhero Nuts
gene phillips Offline
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Registered: 09/30/99
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""Just doing [...] what Godard did with film" -- whooboy! Clowes could do worse than be damned with such faint praise. Anyway, here's the big difference you're missing: What Godard did with his sound was unique to film, even if the goal was borrowed from Brechtian theater. Brechdel, however, as my point went (and I'd apply it to PERSEPOLIS, too), did something in comics form that wouldn't lose much at all if it, say, lost the drawings, or became a film. I can't imagine taking DEATHRAY, translating it to film, much less a novel, without radically altering both the form and content."

As I read FUN HOME, I think it does use comics-imagery to change the nature of the discourse from what it would have been in prose or film, so I reject that argument. The imagery may not be as intense as it is in some Clowes stuff, but what RC Harvey likes to call "the visual-verbal blend" is there.

However, FUN HOME may not be the best example for your purposes if you still haven't actually read the thing, as was the case on the thread referenced.

I haven't said that I think Clowes' content is as groundbreaking as that of Godard; merely that there's a similarity of stylistic strategies.

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#191587 - 09/29/07 05:09 PM Re: Debate About State of "Art-Comics" (Particularly Clowes), But w/o Superhero Nuts
Charles Reece Offline
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Registered: 08/18/99
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Charles might've made the argument that the reason certain adults come up with elaborate critical schemes using hoity-toity words for a bunch of crude kids comics was to justify their still reading them, but he didn't say the reason adults like to read them is out of rebellion against another group. One can justify reading them if one has the need on their own terms, rather than pretending as if they're something else (myths, great literature, etc.). Case in point: Charles likes to read them too, but not because he's railing against the academic elite.

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However, FUN HOME may not be the best example for your purposes if you still haven't actually read the thing, as was the case on the thread referenced.
Yeah, yeah, and A BEAUTIFUL MIND might not actually be another one of Hollywood's sappy melodramatic takes on the lovelife of an intellectual in lieu of looking at what actually made him interesting in the first place, his intellect and the ideas coming from his intellect. If only I'd seen it, people could tell me how I was predisposed to dislike it beforehand, while ignoring the reason I didn't like it was for the reason I stated before seeing it. It's a lose-lose situation, but at least I saved some time and money.
_________________________
The Gospel, wherein much Truth is written.

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#191588 - 09/29/07 05:49 PM Re: Debate About State of "Art-Comics" (Particularly Clowes), But w/o Superhero Nuts
gene phillips Offline
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Registered: 09/30/99
Posts: 5910
Loc: Houston, TX
"What does this mean? Fantasy is pure only if it has no attachment or relevance to our world? Is that even possible? And if it is, why would someone want to read such a thing? Maybe because it would bring us closer to the noumena, but even there, it would begin to have relevance to our world. One thing that's always struck me in this sort of discussion with "my genre is the real genre" types such as yourself is the priority you place -- even if sometimes implicitly -- on stylistic realism. Just as it is in the essay Dumas linked to, genre fiction which borrows heavily from traditional realism for its narrative form is prized as being purer than those genre authors who experiment with said form or who are less concerned with realistic sounding explanations than with questioning concepts. Thus, I'm not a genre enthusiast because I prefer Borges to Tolkien, or Lem to Asimov. Yet, ironically, you and Dumas think it's because of some need for realism that I or Ken don't mind someone like Clowes' more fantastic elements. That's fucked up, man. This all reminds me of a quote I liked while recently reading Lem's HIS MASTER'S VOICE"

I haven't said no relevance; I'm talking about how much a given work references the "real world" of everyday, quotidian experience.

Your term "stylistic realism" strikes me as a misnomer. What you're talking about is closer to what's termed "the invisible style" in reference to the dominant cinematic style of Hollywood's Golden Age, where the emphasis is on telling the story in a straightforward manner, with no stylistic flourishes that would distract from the story. But I don't consider this to be "realism," any more than the tales of the 1001 Nights are "realism." Within the context of the "invisible style," one can do a work that purports to take place in a wholly-realistic world-- anything from Zola's GERMINAL to a Jackie Collins potboiler-- or a tale about genies and wizards.

It's also a mistake to see genre-fiction as owing too much to realistic narrative, as if it were a straight one-to-one descent from Richardson and Fielding to whoever you want to consider the first prose makers of "genre fantasy." Pretty much everyone in the world is raised on stories told in the "invisible style," whether you're talking out-and-out fairy tales or stuff more in the vein of the Hardy Boys. That's because straightforward stories are the type of stories told to children in all societies-- all those known to me, anyway. Nobody in Fielding's time, our time or the time of Ugh the Caveman is reared on stories which are hyper-aware of their own status as fiction. That's a narrative conceit that grows out of a level of civilization that begins to question the nature of the narrative experience. Whether it's a Greek Skeptic questioning whether or not the anthropomorphic adventures of the gods make any sense to the rational mind, or Hemingway deconstructing romantic cliches, the implication is that the rational mind needs something beyond or behind the straightforward telling of the story.

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#191589 - 09/29/07 06:12 PM Re: Debate About State of "Art-Comics" (Particularly Clowes), But w/o Superhero Nuts
gene phillips Offline
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Registered: 09/30/99
Posts: 5910
Loc: Houston, TX
QUOTE]Originally posted by Charles Reece:
Charles might've made the argument that the reason certain adults come up with elaborate critical schemes using hoity-toity words for a bunch of crude kids comics was to justify their still reading them, but he didn't say the reason adults like to read them is out of rebellion against another group. One can justify reading them if one has the need on their own terms, rather than pretending as if they're something else (myths, great literature, etc.). Case in point: Charles likes to read them too, but not because he's railing against the academic elite.

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However, FUN HOME may not be the best example for your purposes if you still haven't actually read the thing, as was the case on the thread referenced.
Yeah, yeah, and A BEAUTIFUL MIND might not actually be another one of Hollywood's sappy melodramatic takes on the lovelife of an intellectual in lieu of looking at what actually made him interesting in the first place, his intellect and the ideas coming from his intellect. If only I'd seen it, people could tell me how I was predisposed to dislike it beforehand, while ignoring the reason I didn't like it was for the reason I stated before seeing it. It's a lose-lose situation, but at least I saved some time and money.
[/QUOTE]

You can state any reason you like for not reading the thing, but until you've actually read it, you can't make any definitive statements about whether it uses the language of comics adequately. So you might want to stick with picking on PERSEPOLIS.

I didn't say you had accused me of railing against another group, though it wouldn't surprise me to find that somewhere. However, you have accused me of falling into the sort of anxiety Ken describes:

"anxiety about comics legitimacy."

I don't plan to search out your previous statements to this effect any more than you plan to read FUN HOME. But even in your posting here you imply that I can't just read "cheap comics-stories" on their own terms. I say this is just you oversimplifying things for your own agenda, rather than my anxieties. So my accusation against your tendency to oversimplify stands.

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#191590 - 09/29/07 06:23 PM Re: Debate About State of "Art-Comics" (Particularly Clowes), But w/o Superhero Nuts
gene phillips Offline
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Registered: 09/30/99
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Loc: Houston, TX
And of course, I completely disagree with Lem, but I don't plan to repeat arguments I've already put forth on earlier threads. Lem's idea of variety is the same sort I think (though I can't be sure) that Berlatsky is criticizing. It's an artsty-fartsy version of "variety," so of course it's instilled with an agenda to privilege whatever the author considers to be "art" above the common ruck. Maybe not every champion of Clowes is an oversimplifying elitist, but Lem sure is.

I read Lem's CYBERIAD. It was entertaining when I was reading it, but none of its hypothetical "variety" stuck with me.

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#191591 - 09/29/07 08:42 PM Re: Debate About State of "Art-Comics" (Particularly Clowes), But w/o Superhero Nuts
Charles Reece Offline
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Quote:
I haven't said no relevance; I'm talking about how much a given work references the "real world" of everyday, quotidian experience.
Ballard, Delany, Borges, and Lem strike you as being more concerned with quotidian experience than Heinlein, King and even Tolkien? Yeah, right.

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Your term "stylistic realism" strikes me as a misnomer. What you're talking about is closer to what's termed "the invisible style" in reference to the dominant cinematic style of Hollywood's Golden Age, where the emphasis is on telling the story in a straightforward manner, with no stylistic flourishes that would distract from the story. But I don't consider this to be "realism," any more than the tales of the 1001 Nights are "realism." Within the context of the "invisible style," one can do a work that purports to take place in a wholly-realistic world-- anything from Zola's GERMINAL to a Jackie Collins potboiler-- or a tale about genies and wizards.
One of the major techniques of realism is transparency. Surely, you know this, so I'm not going to argue about it. Maybe you don't want to consider that realism. Okay, just replace 'realism' in what I said with 'transparency.' What I like about the fantastic art of the people whom I've named most definitely isn't their "transparency." And it's ironic that someone favoring transparency in fantastic works is saying this of me.
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#191592 - 09/30/07 03:47 PM Re: Debate About State of "Art-Comics" (Particularly Clowes), But w/o Superhero Nuts
gene phillips Offline
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"Transparency" seems too vague in this context.

It later occured to me that *some* of what we're talking about deals with the question of whether a given work's fictional representations can be taken as they are presented (Asimov, Zola) or whether they call attention to their status as creations (Lem, Borges). I couldn't remember if the word "representationalism" was a real entity or not, so I looked up dictionary.com and found:

"1. Also called representative realism. Epistemology. the view that the objects of perception are ideas or sense data that represent external objects, esp. the Lockean doctrine that the perceived idea represents exactly the primary qualities of the external object."

I'm not a Lockean as such, but this basic statement does seem to agree with what I'm saying about representations. Asimov's characters and situations are represented as utterly true within the fictional milieu, even if Lem might consider the facts of Asimov's milieu to be based on "truisms" rather than truth. I can't make direct comparisons to Lem since I've read little of his stuff, but yeah, Ballard, Delany and Borges all seem like they're less interested in their representations as mirrors of fictional reality than as mirrors of the quandaries of real-world reality.

If you like that approach better, okay. But there's potential for good and bad work in both approaches. Both Asimov and Delany have written inspired works, and both have written awfully-indulgent shit.

I gave the linked essay a quick read. I think his argument is a variation of the old argument: "you gotta know how to write within the rules before you can figure out how to break them properly." Thus Joyce's short stories in DUBLINERS are pretty much representational while ULYSSES is not, using the stream-of-consciousness to break down the reader's perception of the fictional creations. I haven't reread the essay today, but isn't one of the writers' main complaints about pseudo-artists using certain narrative strategies in a calculated manner, to evoke a response that the artist has really just copied from other, better creators? Kind of like Rob Liefeld using certain poses and stances to signal to undisciminating readers: "Hey, I'm a totally bitchin' action artist" when in truth he can't draw a real action-scene to save his life.

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#191593 - 09/30/07 11:21 PM Re: Debate About State of "Art-Comics" (Particularly Clowes), But w/o Superhero Nuts
Peter Urkowitz Offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by gene phillips:
And of course, I completely disagree with Lem, but I don't plan to repeat arguments I've already put forth on earlier threads. Lem's idea of variety is the same sort I think (though I can't be sure) that Berlatsky is criticizing. It's an artsty-fartsy version of "variety," so of course it's instilled with an agenda to privilege whatever the author considers to be "art" above the common ruck. Maybe not every champion of Clowes is an oversimplifying elitist, but Lem sure is.

I read Lem's CYBERIAD. It was entertaining when I was reading it, but none of its hypothetical "variety" stuck with me.
Hey, I loved Lem's "Cyberiad" when I read it in my teens, and I don't remember anything in it that criticized other sci-fi works or held itself up as more-artistic-than-thou or whatever. It just seemed to be a fun jaunt, with occasional sociopolitical points to make, and occasional storytelling flourishes, and robot characters that seemed remarkably human.

I remember being especially impressed with the translation, since some of the stories involved poetry that required every word to start with the letter N, or similarly language-specific wordplay. How they managed to transpose such virtuosity from Polish (I think?) to English is beyond me. Great stuff!

As usual, Gene and Charles, when you two start arguing, I soon lose sight of which side each of you is on, or even what you are arguing about. You both are wicked smart guys, and sometimes I learn interesting things from both of you. Somewhere along the way you both seem to have started to assume the worst about one another, though, which seems a shame. If only the two of you could pool your resources to fight off some greater threat to humanity or something. . . smile

Actually, you two kind of remind me of the two main characters from the "Cyberiad," two mad scientists who are forever trying to out-do one another, causing much mayhem between them, but who do occasionally manage to work together for the greater good. Now I want to go back and read that book again! It even had fun pictures! smile

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