I <3 Comics...

You know what I love? Comics.

Granted, the comics-related phrase I utter most often in a week is “fuck’n comics,” but then no one can break your heart like the one you love. Yeah, I totally love comics, and the schizophrenic state of my bookshelves will explain that it is not a certain genre, style, or delivery format that I love, but comics as a medium.

Starting at P, my bookshelf reads Palestine by Joe Sacco, Pazzo di te by Giovanni and Accardi, Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa, Past Lies by De Phillipes, Weir, and Mitten, Peng by Corey Lewis, Pedigree Girls by Sherwin Tija, Perfect Example by John Porcillino, Persepolis by Marjane Satarapi, Pervert Club by Will Allison, Perverso by Rich Tommasi, Phoenix by Osamu Tezuka, Pip & Norton by Dave Cooper, Le Piquer d’Etoiles by Shizuka Nakano, Pizzeria Kamikaze by Karef and Hanuka, Placebo Man by Tomer Hanuka, Planetary by Ellis, Cassaday, and Martin, Planetes by Makoto Yuklimura, Pokemon: The Electric Tale of Pikachu, Pop Gun War by Farel Dalrymple, Powers by Bendis and Oeming, Preacher by Ennis and Dillon, Pride of Baghdad by Vaughan and Henrichon, Princess of Darkness by Yuichiro Tanuma, Project’s Romance, Superior, and Telstar by various, Project X: Cup Noodles and Seven Eleven by various, Promethea by Moore, Williams, and Gray, Pussey! By Dan Clowes, and Put The Book Back On The Shelf by Various.

This all-encompassing love of comics is not universally shared; I’ve known this for a very long time. I try not to let the clique-ism and self-consciousness bother me when it comes to people dismissing work out of hand, but honestly? I think about the same of someone who writes off manga as a whole as someone who writes off comics as a whole: not much. And it’s not just manga, but any genre/format/style/country’s work. It seems so completely limited in scope, and more often than not those words seem spoken from a position of ignorance rather than any considered or researched position.

Every once in a while I’ll come across an essay, blog post, or even snarky comment from someone who’s been through a fandom and come out the other side, and when they have grievances I tend to give them a bit more weight… as in any weight… and really listen to what they have to say. I stumbled over a discussion about “Moe” a few months back that was like that, and it was really interesting because of it… I learned something, it was great. But coming across a series of columns like Bob Holt’s ‘I Love Comics’ at comicsnob.com? Not so much. I can’t even pull out a quote to illustrate why I think the column is weak, so much as the columns just belie a shallowness of experience and thought on the subject. Rather than write on the subject I was just going to be content to leave a comment, but according to Bob:

“I guess it comes down to this. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion (I think someone once remarked that they’re kind of like a certain body part). I’d like to think that we encourage discussion from people of all levels of experience here. If someone’s inexperience is a factor, all we can do is recommend something for them to check out. I think limiting the discussion to those select few that can be universally ordained as “experts” is dangerous and narrow-minded, especially if we’re interested in how neophytes to the world of comics perceive our little world here.” – Bob Holt, ComicSnob.com

Really? I’m more of a “I’d rather here what people who know what they’re talking about” kind of a guy, than a “people making pronouncements based on their under-informed opinions” kind of a guy, but then this is the internet. In the end, we’ll just agree to disagree that basing your opinions of manga on 15 different books and hear-say picked up on the internet constitutes something worthwhile.

In a related, though not entirely dissimilar situation, I personally think Jacob Covey is one of the most talented designers working in the comics industry at the moment. He’s probably best known for his stunning design on the recently released Popeye Volume 1 Collection from Fantagraphics books, but he’s probably second-best known for the following comment, posted to the Fantagraphics blog:

“I said Manga is crap. The only reason I said this is that Manga is crap. As David notes, however, “The general dismissal of manga’s artistic merit isn’t anything new, but the added doses of cynicism and condescension made it seem somehow special.” True. I AM cynical and condescending to a special degree but I am uncomfortable with an entire genre of comics being dominated by a single “look” that, furthermore, relies heavily on a masked fixation with adolescence. Perhaps that’s too psychological of me but, friends, it’s gross.” – Jacob Covey, Fantagraphics.com/blog (archived by John Jakala)

Jacob, where to start? Is it with all of the manga porn that your employer publishes? I guess that could still be ‘crap’ though… How about the non-porn manga that Fantagraphics has published, including Anywhere But Here by Tori Miki, or Screw Style by Yoshiharu Tsuge in Comics Journal #250? Crap as well? I think the art-comics establishment might disagree with you there, sir. To say nothing of the “artcomix-friendly” manga published by D&Q, Fanfare/Ponent-Mon, or Vertical… I dunno about you but I won’t be the one standing up to loudly proclaim Abandon The Old In Tokyo as crap.

But I guess what I take the biggest issue with in Mr. Covey’s blog entry is the ridiculous assertion that manga “relies heavily on a masked fixation with adolescence.” Mr Covey?


Defend Western Civilization in 100,000 words or less. Use graphs.

So, those are my thoughts on cultural and artistic elitism, at the moment anyway. If Frederick L. Schodt, or hell, even Toren Smith, would care to show up in the comments section and debate the relative merits of manga versus other forms of artistic expression in comics, or even declare it all crap, by all means, I’m willing to listen. Everyone else has got to qualify their positions a little bit better than they have been for me to pay any attention from now on…

– Christopher

18 Replies to “I <3 Comics...”

  1. Phew, I thought this was going to be a critique of superhero comics as “an entire genre of comics being dominated by a single “look” that, furthermore, relies heavily on a masked fixation with adolescence.”

    On the flip side I do recognize my own inability to appreciate manga. I feel a bit lost and wasn’t particularly captivated by what I’ve picked up but that’s just my own tastes as with anything else. Still, I did like “Push Man and Other Stories,” and I’m thinking of taking on Manga in a similar fashion to my current Project BD (although I’m less likely to learn Japanese to be able to get untranslated work).

    I always find these types of criticisms slightly fascinating. A while ago I decided to stop criticising and see if I could learn to appreciate something like manga or if I tried and it didn’t work, it would be like sonic-jazz or prog-rock and just be something I’m not into.

  2. Chris,

    In my own defense, I never once wrote off manga out of hand. In fact, in the first column in the series (Manga Shmanga) I state, “I don’t think manga is better than North American comic books, but I am not going to argue that North American comic books are better, either. I think they’re both great, but they both have ways in which they suck (professional opinion). They’re just different.”

    I understand that you think that the Fanboys Fight Back column suffered from a limited experience in manga, but once again, my intention was to provide things that discourage me (as an outsider coming into manga from mainstream and indie North American comics) from delving into it – not a scholarly analysis of the subject.

    Then in my most recent column (Manga’s Good Bits), I actually talk about the things that I think manga does better than North American comics – specifically referring to Marvel and DC. This was a way to point out to people on my side of the fence that manga’s got some things going for it. Heck, I’m starting to read some of it. You left me a snarky comment, but I still don’t know what problems you had with my assertions in that column.

    One of the things we’re trying to do at Comicsnob.com is bring together various viewpoints, because we can’t all be fans of everything. I’d like to think that I speak for a lot of comics fans who may like all kinds of floppy comics, but are intimidated by manga. Meanwhile, Matt speaks for those manga fans who started in DC/Marvel, made the switch, and are reluctant to go back to floppies for one reason or another. Over time, we’ll be adding more contributors with different experiences, and our worldview will broaden.

    It’s in the discussion that common ground and growth can take place. That’s why I want to encourage people with limited experience to comment and ask questions. When one of the biggest problems with comics today is actually getting people into the stores (perhaps not a big problem for someplace like The Beguiling, but certainly a huge problem at a lot of small shops in the U.S.), it may be of benefit to hear from those who aren’t already deeply entrenched in the culture to find out why they’re reluctant to come in.

    There are so many places that newbies are either explicitly or implicitly unwelcome. Based on your last sentence, I know that comics212 is explicitly one of those places. I just hope that The Beguiling doesn’t also have that same elitism when a newbie walks in the door.

  3. Leaving aside Jacob’s broader issues for a moment, Chris, do you think that the reaction to external factors some people express towards manga may come in part from how manga resists being read the way other traditions are usually read: as more comics? There seems sometimes a presumption of a correct reading that comes from people already reading the material that extends beyond the quality of the material into its aims and projected audience.

    A few times I’ll see a review where someone goes, “I really enjoyed this; it was the kind of fantasy I would have enjoyed ten times more as a teen” and then I’ll see a comment on that review where a writer is like, “You dumbass; it’s not meant for teens at all!”

  4. Tom- I’ve got no love lost for manga elitists; I think that the bullshit-storm that erupts when some fangirl-or-boy freaks out over To Terra being identified as Shoujo erroniously is just as onerous in a lot of ways as dismissing To Terra entirely. I also saw this idea posted somewhere, no idea where, that in fact hardcore manga fans are much more closed-off and narrow-minded in their reading choices than people who have no experience with manga. I’d have to say that totally fits in with my experiences as a retailer and as a writer. I’m not really sure how much I’m allowed to talk about our Library business on blog, but in the abstract, the average young library patron’s tastes are very… specific.

    But getting to the larger point in your question, I think that being put-off by fans of a certain type of media or individual project is not new, and also unfortunate. But considering how much of their identity is wrapped up in manga and anime, I’m not surprised to see how defensive and occasionally irrational fans get about it either. I guess my advice would be to grow a thicker skin, and deal with the situations as they pop up in exactly the way Anne Ishi did in the To Terra example…

  5. Bob- Look, you seem like a nice guy who’s very handsome, and so I’m not really interested in fighting with you about this. But the aims of your site and your writing as stated above don’t, in my opinion, match up with the reality of what you’re posting.

    You can say that you want to “encourage people with limited experience to comment and ask questions,” but you never acknowledge in your writing, particularly not in your tone, that you’re one of those people. While you may never have dismissed manga out of hand, I also never accused you of doing that either. Instead, my problem is that you said “a is better than b” without knowing much about b, instead of saying “I really like this thing that a does, but I find it absent in b. Am I missing the mark? What can you recommend that I might enjoy?” The latter is the “commenting and questioning” you say you want your site to be. The former is the actuality of your column, which sees you come off as, at best, woefully underinformed to be making the assertions you do.

    “…it may be of benefit to hear from those who aren’t already deeply entrenched in the culture to find out why they’re reluctant to come in.”

    Completely agreed. I would love to hear from whomever about their experiences and opinions, but only so far as their commentary doesn’t extend past their experiences and opinions. At least not if it’s going to be stated as fact.

    “There are so many places that newbies are either explicitly or implicitly unwelcome. Based on your last sentence, I know that comics212 is explicitly one of those places. I just hope that The Beguiling doesn’t also have that same elitism when a newbie walks in the door.”

    Actually, I’m the friendly one at the store.

    – Christopher

  6. Hey Chris-

    I’m glad you appreciated my response to the “To Terra…” situation. I think there is never nothing that can’t not be righted with humor.

    But seriously, in a North America that gets so caught up in the inanities of authenticity (ibid. Frey, LeRoy, TokyoPop’s “100% authentic Japanese!” slogan), I’m never surprised at our insistence on labeling everything in ways that will make it easy to beat the shit out of them. That’s essentially how the Ku Klux Klan and Williamsburg, Brooklyn were founded, after all. But you know, I’m always annoyed by competitive fandom (e.g. “You mean to tell me you don’t know Brian Lee O’Malley?!!?”)…or for that matter entitled fandom (e.g. “I actually work with comics so I know what I’m talking about”), disenfranchised fandom (e.g. “They just don’t make comics like they used to. Now it’s all crap manga.”), and violated fandom (e.g. “I can’t believe what a douchebag that inker is. I’ll never pick up another of his comics.” BTW I have nothing against inkers. They just seem like an easy target, much like directors of marketing & publicity of small presses like Vertical.).

    During the “To Terra…” “scandal” I joked with some people at Viz that our fans (including our own selves) have too much time on our hands. They joked that there was a really frustrating period at the company when everyone was single. I responded that likewise, it has been so long since anyone at Vertical had seen ass that we can’t even tell the difference between boys and girls anymore…hence the genre/gender “scnadal”.

    My point is, someone needs to pat us all on the head and tell us we’re worthwhile human beings, so we don’t get at each others’ throats over “difference”. In other words, we all need to get laid. Look at us, I feel sorry for us. Why can’t we be more like Dungeons & Dragons fans? Unapologetically happy to believe in dragons, no matter their color? In fact at NY Comic-Con I propose all the exhibitors and journalists hold hands around the Javitz Center and sing “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera.

  7. You have certainly made the best and most eloquent use of a picture of Jon-Benet Ramsey. Certainly more than the freaks who put on and judge these Pretty Baby barnshows.

    That said, I don’t like the way girls are depicted in a lot of manga. On the other hand, Jon Benet was a real little girl being whored out by her mother, not a drawing–although both things represent a discomfiting level of skeeve.

  8. “Actually, I’m the friendly one at the store.”
    Hahaha!! This is true folks. Though Peter is quite friendly as well in my own experiences.
    As far as Manga goes, I don’t own a lot, but the ones I do own I’ve enjoyed, and it’s certainly a market in comics that’s expanding with an audience as opposed to contracting, so it is all good if it brings folks into comics and comic stores.
    But I’ll shut up now, cause I don’t really know much about the subject…

  9. I think your last paragraph nails what really bugs me about this whole “manga is for just for chicks and little kids” argument, as well as the opposing “American comics are all dudes in tights” one that many “exclusive” otaku have, is not so much that people admit that they don’t like it, but that people make assumptions about a medium (one with many diffrent genres and demographics) that has had MAYBE 1% of its total output over the last 10 years published in this language. And that doesn’t even consider the fact that most of the material published in North America caters to a younger audience. Its like reading nothing but Dan Brown or Stephen King books and coming to the conclusion that all American fiction is dogshit. If you haven’t read a mightly big sampling of a diverse range of diffrent titles your opinion really isn’t going to have much weight to it.
    And for the record, that picture freaked the hell out of me. Not what I was expecting to see when if clicked on the site…

  10. Using a Hitler comparison to end an argument is called Godinsky’s Law, I just found out.

    Could we call using JonBenet to end an argument Butcher’s Law? (please say yes, please say yes)

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