Monday, October 15, 2007

Somebody Had To Say It

Back in the before time, in the long long ago, when this blog was updated weekdaily, I toyed with doing a post about what pissed me off about "art comics" (other than some people's ridiculous affectation of spelling it with an "X"). I held off for two reasons: I didn't want to deal with the inevitable shitstorm that would come from the MoCCA crowd (all fine people, but just as full of their nutniks as the cape crowd), and Two, I didn't want to bother saying something I felt was so important and then just have it be dismissed because of my lack of indie cred (and the fact that maybe five people would read it).

So I was pleased when I heard Heidi MacDonald had written a post about one of my indie pet peeves, the overabundance, overhyping, and dare I say fad of autobiographical comics as the predominant genre among independent/alt comics. After all, if someone with her experience in the wild world of comics has similar concerns, I obviously must be onto something. And certainly someone so well-respected among the blogosphere would get a fair hearing from a thoughtful, receptive audience?

Oh, one of these days I'll learn to stop overestimating my fellow human beings.

So, yeah. Shitstorm Central. To be fair, there is a nugget of pointdom in the criticisms of the original post's structure. But hey, I'm hardly one to talk in that regard. And when you consider the sheer amount of venom involved, it hardly seems an appropriate response to one person's musings.

I haven't read the Best of 2007 compilation yet, but I did flip through the previous edition, and had much the same reaction: Some damn good stuff, but is this it? Actually, I know full well it ain't, which is what bugs me. Because I'd hate to see art comics fall into the same trap as mainstream commercial books. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but that's another entry.)

I've had online nerd fights with the guys who only want superheroes from their comics, and let me tell you, they're not fun. But even worse are the guys who insist that superhero comics are the only "real" comics. Yeah, they exist, and they scare the piss out of me, too. I love superheroes, as anyone who's spent five minutes in my presence can attest, but I'm aware they're not all there is. I mean, if I read only superheroes, I'd have missed out on dozens of great books like The Life And Times of Scrooge McDuck, Murder Mysteries, Squee, Haunted Tank, Pride of Baghdad, Action Philosophers, Life on Other Planets, and Bone.

But I'd also have missed out on those books if all I read was stuff like Blankets.

I'm the only guy on the Internet who doesn't love Scott Pilgrim, but I do have to give Bryan Lee O'Malley chops for turning his quarter-life crisis into an actual story. Same for Brian Wood (why are so many of the top comics guys of this decade named Brian, anyway?), Jessica Abel, the Hernandezes, and a good-sized batch of other folks all the way back to Spiegelman and beyond. Hell, even Gene Luen Yang, of American Born Chinese, was able to weave his semi-autobiographical comic about assimilation and teen angst into a narrative that mixed fable, farce, and genuine self-reflection. And it was more than a guy (or a girl) moping and doing stuff.

So it's not like the crisis point is at hand or anything. But boy, does one get tired of reading the most effluvient praise heaped on nothing but memoir comic after memoir comic. It could give people the wrong idea, y'know?

There's also the question of how much of this the market can stand. Superheroes have imploded how many times now? The autobio comic fad the mainstrespectable publishing industry is going through now won't last forever. One of my best friends is working on an autobio book right now. It's darn good so far, but my biggest fear for him is that he'll finish it at the exact moment the wider world stops caring, and the only praise he'll get is from people who read it not for its own sake, but because it's a safe and inoffensive iteration of The Thing They Like.

Because that's where this could go. A first year psych student who's read Crisis on Infinite Earths could figure it out: Combine the industry's pathological need to be liked with a big enough pile of scraps from the popular kids' table and the capacity for solipsistic lack of self-reflection, and you have a recipe for an indie-dogma that could cause an irreparable schism and devolution of the audience into the highbrow equivalent of Marvel Zombies vs. Johnny DCs. Heck, we may have seen the first shots of that one already.

So yeah, she's got a point. Stagnancy in anything is bad, and autobio is in critical condition at the moment. I'd hate to see it develop into tumor status, or metastasize into a big melon of a growth creeping over everything. And hell, there can never be too many people saying artists need to keep a part of their heads in the fundamentals of good storytelling. And then there's the "I'm a better nerd than you are" factor and on and on and on and if you've heard me talk you know what I'm saying.

My point being: Don't take any shit from the zeitgeist, Ace.

Oh, and I'll try not to wear my Superman T-Shirt to MoCCA next year.

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