Today’s “It Kids” of snark and anti-establishmentarianism, Tucker and Nina Stone, are interviewed by Chris Mautner at Blog@Newsarama. Depending on your point of view, you will find them to be ultra-haters or honest proponents of an outsider viewpoint. Nina, who is new to comics, comments on the rollout of her exposure. Sometimes it pays off:
NS: OK. I saw that some of [the site comments] directed toward me were saying things like “this is like jumping into chapter seventy in a seventy-five chapter book and you really shouldn’t expect to understand.” And, you know, I learned from my American Splendor experience. I didn’t like the comic – and my opinion was based solely on that comic, at that time. People “commented” that I should really read his older stuff to get a better picture of what he’s really all about. So, I read a bit of his older stuff and watched the movie…and now I totally adore Harvey Pekar. And his wife. And I get it. I get what the comic was about, how it came to be, why it was successful, etc.
Sometimes it doesn’t:
So, after reading Final Crisis and all those comments, I decided to go to DCcomics.com, and spend a little time around there. Maybe there is some little primer there? Well, there actually IS some section that says “New to comics?” — so I clicked on it and it’s basically — I found it really funny because it has a FAQs page with minimal links and the questions are: “What are comics?” “Where can I buy comics?” “Where can I learn about comics and the comic fan community?” “And How does DC Comics, WildStorm, and Vertigo fit into all of this?” None of those FAQs really helped. So I clicked on Heroes and Villains and basically it tells me that to get caught up I need to read — 52, was that it?
Tucker argues from a more informed viewpoint, and once again, depending on which side you’re on, he’s either a connoisseur or an elitist:
It’s the same standard—that if it’s good, then it’s art, and if it’s not good, well it’s comics and you should shut up–over and over and it shouldn’t be because comics are in the same exact some marketplace as everything else. They’re not fighting for the comics dollar. There isn’t a comics dollar. They’re fighting for the entertainment dollar, It’s not just that manga sells more. Comics are up against TV, movies, video games, playing outside with a rope—run of the mill super-hero comics are fighting for the same free time that everything else is fighting for. It’s not enough that a comic is entertaining—it’s got to be more entertaining then it would be to watch a cat do something cute on YouTube, because that’s what it’s competing with for my time.
Stone also deals directly with the problem so many critics have: Contact between author and subject is all too possible and taints the whole barrel:
I made the mistake of responding directly to a creator who didn’t like the way I treated his shitty comic book. Back and forth, debating it like we respected each other’s opinion when in the end, I didn’t feel any different, he didn’t like me, and it wasn’t like he was going to break down and admit the thing was trash, and it wasn’t like I was going to lie and pretend I was kidding. At the end I felt dirty. I shouldn’t have done that. That’s me though, I had to learn. Now, I think I would just not get into it with them.
In a way,Tucker Stone is saying the most obvious thing possible: We should raise the bar to separate what is considered good from the vast sea of mediocrity masquerading as the majority of comics. And yet so many people spend so much time talking about that mediocrity. Dick Hyacinth picks up on the theme:
Comics readers seem to love the mediocre. I don’t think the problem with comics criticism (in a broad, broad, very inclusive sense) isn’t that it rewards terrible, bottom-of-the-barrell work; it’s that it rewards second-rate work. Any stab at respectability, no matter how modest, is too-often greeted with hosannas. I’ve seen people laud Kingdom Come because it used foreshadowing–which I’m sure we all remember is an actual, honest-to-god literary technique! I guess that’s a step up from those who think crying superheroes holding the charred remains of less-famous superheroes connotes respectability.
The way the comicnets obsess over mediocre comics, it’s as if movie blogs kept arguing the deep meaning and value of Beverly Hills Chihuahua and College all the time.
In all candor, The Beat is as guilty of this as anyone. Confronted with a sincere press release on something of, shall we say, “limited appeal,” we run it anyway, just in hopes that improvement is in the offing.
Look, did you see? We did it again. “Limited appeal.”
We meant to say “mediocre comics.”
We truly believe that this is a golden age for the graphic storytelling medium. Our recent trip to SPX proved that; it was the comics equivalent of a Christmas stocking, full of goodies and treasure. There are more and better trained cartoonists around us than at perhaps any time since the Golden Age of illustration.
Yet, every week we get stacks of comics from major publishers, and just sorting them out is a tedious chore, one to be fobbed off on interns, who, in turn, hate doing it. These comics have become so inbred, so tortured in their self-reflexive appeal to an an ever shrinking base that the brain automatically shifts away. Don’t get us wrong; there will be some new readers who will take the Nina Stone challenge and like it; in an Internet-driven world where mastery of inane factoids is currency, the draconian choice between total immersion or total rejection makes some kind of sense. So creating products for the cult makes economic sense. It’s the dearth of NON-cult products for new audiences that seems total nonsense. And despite what you may have heard, good comics(FUN HOME, WATCHMEN) win over more new readers than crappy comics do.
At the same time, having worked in the comics industry, I know that the monthly or weekly grind lowers one’s resistance to crap. The joy of just getting a book out every month soon drowns out the tastebuds, and it’s only long afterwards that, stepping back, you can see the poverty of imagination.
There are lot of barely readable or unreadable comics out there, and yet they are being argued over as if they were a novel by Dostoyevsky. And you know what? They aren’t.
And people gradually wake up to that fact. Every once in a while, a comic comes along that hastens the awakening. This week, it’s NIGHTWING #149. Greg Burgas tales up the call.
Over at Every Day Is Like Wednesday, I came across a description of Nightwing #149: “[I]t is incredibly, spectacularly awful.” Caleb goes far more into it, and I just thought, “I must buy this. I must read it.” And so I bought it. And I read it. Boy howdy, he’s right. He celebrates its awfulness, however, believing that nothing can come “anywhere near the terrible glory” that is Nightwing #149. I can’t be quite so blasé about it, however. This is a bad comic. More than that, it’s a depressing comic. In a DC Universe that has recently been all about cruelty, this stands out. If you didn’t buy it, I thought I’d break it down for you.
Everyone grows up sometime. You just can’t keep arguing over this stuff and thinking about it without a little bit of your soul dying. Thus it pleases us to see a bright, perceptive person like Laura Hudson beginning to emerge into the light:
Coming directly off of my weekend at SPX, as well as recently reading a string of excellent, engrossing non-superhero graphic novels like Skim, Swallow Me Whole, and Alan’s War, picking up a comic book like Nightwing #149 feels a lot like shutting my hand in a car door. And I’m thinking — I’m thinking I should stop doing that.
We all need to raise the bar a little. I do; you do. We all do. It’s not that potboiling pieces of mediocre pap (or worse) won’t still come out. It’s just that we need to stop pretending they matter in any way, shape, or form.