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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

WHAT GROTH HATH WROUGHT

I hadn't planned on saying much about the online COMICS JOURNAL until someone's helpful blogpost informed me that Noah Berlatsky had pounced on Gary Groth's opening editorial, so of course I had to go check both out.

I don't disagree with Berlatsky's verdict in this case but I won't address his essay here, as I couldn't care less about Gary Groth's low opinion of the blogosphere. But I do have to launch a protest against Gary's "brief history of comics criticism."

Gary's right in saying that comics-fandom got rolling with the efforts of EC fans like Ted White and Bhob Stewart, though it should be pointed out that both men were strongly interested in a variety of comics-work, not just EC. One may speculate that had EC never existed-- say, if it had fallen into bankruptcy before William Gaines had transformed it-- then both fans possibly would have remained interested in some if not all of the "stunted creativity" that Groth finds representative of mainstream comics following EC's demise.

Not long after his sweeping dismissal of the period, Groth summarily dismisses most of the fan-writers who formed the second phase of comics-fandom, meaning anyone who was to any degree a superhero enthusiast. The agenda is pretty clear: after Groth correctly labels the late Jerry Bails as having been primarily a "historian" rather than a critic-- which in my book means that one should not expect of him any deep critical insights-- Groth lambastes Bails's taste for having been enthusiastic about DC Comics 1959 "rejuvenated superhero line."

Wow, what a terrible moment of uncritical enthusiasm. It's almost as bad as this pronouncement by a young Gary Groth:

"When I read 'Conan'-- when he stands on a hill and hacks his way through to save a princess in a castle, I guess I do identify."

Admittedly Gary was 17 when he said this, about nine years younger than Bails was in 1959, and where Bails never recanted his liking for superheroes Groth has maximated every culpa in the book to distance himself from his younger self.

Now, I do not suggest that modern Gary is obliged to like anything that Bails or anyone else wrote from that time, just because their writings might have some historical significance. However, if Groth is writing a history as one who experienced (albeit a little later) some of the passionate interest in fantasy and superheroes that marked early fandom, I consider it ingenuous of him to elide his own experience in that aspect of fandom. He may have renounced all that sci-fi jazz in terms of his current personal tastes, but in writing even a "cursory survey" of critical thought in comics I think he's obliged to state for the record that he was once One Of Us. Surely one can see this in early issues of COMICS JOURNAL, which, whatever Gary's intentions, had a lot more in common with early superhero-fanzines than with GRAPHIC STORY MAGAZINE, which is apparently the Algonquin Round Table of discourse to which modern Gary aspires. (Whether he really did back in the 70s is arguable.)

Additionally, his implication that Nothing Good Came Out of Superhero Fandom overlooks that without that horribly meretricous rejuvenation of the DC superhero line in 1959, fans of all stripes might not have ever seen a FANTASTIC FOUR by Lee and Kirby, least of all the young Gary whose first comic was FF #13. Without the re-conceived superheroes of DC and Marvel, it's dubious as to whether comic books would have survived long enough into the 70s for the upgrade in criticism circa 1973.

What price superheroes?

Maybe without them, no comics, and no COMICS JOURNAL.

That too has to be a critical part of anyone's history of criticism.

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