Sunday, October 31, 2010

NON, NON, SHAENON! (part 2)

I'm going to try to squeeze all my remaining responses to the Shaenon Garrity piece, and my responses to it on THE BEAT, into one post.

First, just to get it out of the way, here's a link to the 6-19-09 Garrity essay in which she claimed that a thread I started on Comicon.com had a "typical" title-- which was a roundabout way of claiming that my thread was of a piece with posts about "crazy things John Byrne said." As I asserted in the comments-section of the essay, I started the thread to debate the ethics of Bryan Talbot's gossipy book on comics-pros, with special reference to comics-fandom's whipping-boy Dave Sim. Garrity did not respond to me. Guess she was busy dreaming up more "half-assed" essays.

I don't know about other Garrity essays, but the 10-25-10 essay certainly qualifies. As I noted in Part 1 the "ten things" are her interpretation of interviews she had with assorted under-age-30 interviewees, in which she claimed she could prognosticate the "future of comics"-- though one of her first points is to assess the past with a Gary Grothian "had they but listened to me" hubris:

The comic book could have survived if the direct market hadn't been run, since the 1990s, like a less competent and smellier version of one of those fly-by-night outfits that hawk gold on the Glenn Beck show, but, as Kurt Vonnegut said about the fate of the planet Earth in general, we were too damn lazy to try very hard…and too damn cheap.


I don't defend every manifestation of the DM and the various strategies used both by "mainstream" and "independents" to exploit it. But Garrity's critique is so general as to be meaningless, which is one reason that on THE BEAT's comment-section for this item I accused her of "telling elitists what they want to hear." Elitists love to characterize mainstream comics (and distribution channels thereof) in terms of the Sammy Glick vulgarian hustler stereotype. The real world is more complicated: however much Stan Lee SEEMS to embody the stereotype, a close reading of his career will show divergences that don't conform to it. Further, it's easy for someone who's never been in a position of corporate responsibility to loftily proclaim that (say) Paul Levitz didn't do enough, but the critique means nothing without reference to some example, preferably culled from the "real world," where some business concern actually *did* something akin to what Garrity claims should have been done.

Garrity's overconfidence as to the potential reformation of the audience's tastes by some comic-book version of Irving Thalberg is similarly undercut by her listing of the "canon" of comics-icons with whom her interviewees show "passing familiarity." Of the five, WATCHMEN certainly did raise a bar of cultural perception as to what comic books could do. I can't say the same of the other four, however. CALVIN AND HOBBS, DEATH NOTE, BONE and NARUTO are all very-good-to-good genre offerings, but there's nothing about any of them that substantially changes the game, and the case of the two manga canon-entries is complicated by the fact that they gained some of their fame thanks to having had their anime adaptations air on national television. On a side-note, one wonders whether CALVIN AND HOBBES would have gained its formidable reputation had it had the misfortune to debut today, when, as Garrity herself tells us, "newspaper comics are dead."

A less-justifiable thesis is that "monthly comic books are dead." I can easily believe that Garrity's audience of young-uns aren't aware of the monthly format, and that the exposure of collected TPBs in bookstores has led many to 'wait for the trade,' presumably without even being aware of the monthly. However, the current habits of the under-thirties are not set as in stone. If they should happen to advance past that magical age of 30, to a point where many of them will gain access to more discretionary income, maybe *some* of them will be invested enough to seek out periodical comics, and thus help shore up their status as "loss leaders." Garrity clearly subscribes to the elitist argument that the DM dominated by the "Big Two" will die off as soon as its aging customer base does so. This certainly could happen. But I find it revelatory that to my knowledge no fan-writer has ever suggested that comics-fans might conceivably *change* their habits as they pass the Age of No Return. It's within the realm of possibility, especially considering the aphorism that You Can't Trust Anyone Over Thirty.

Some minor disagreements on the "Manga Has Changed the Game" point: manga probably doesn't deserve any credit for changing attitudes about the "fun" of having merchandisers spin off cool crap from your characters. Todd MacFarlane re-established that meme long before manga TPBs became popular, and no matter how much a Bill Watterson may abhor the (ha ha) "commodity fetish," Charles Schulz's example remains both more pertinent to (and visible within) American culture. Also, while I don't rule out the possibility that a future generation of comics-masters will be influenced more by NARUTO than by BATMAN, we haven't seen this blossoming of manga-influenced wunderkind quite yet. Scott McCloud's a helluva creator, but I can't think of too many manga-babies on his creative level.

Finally, I'll pass over the "girls rule boys drool" part of the essay because it's just too tiresome to refute.

A final note with reference to THE BEAT argument, that has nothing to do with Garrity's essay. In the course of the comments there I took a shot at Tom Spurgeon, no better or worse IMO than a lot of the shots he's taken at me or at others. He responded to my shot with a couple of posts, one of which ends thusly:

I won’t read your response. Mwah.


I find this amusing because I once broke off an argument with him on Comicon.com because I disliked his continued misrepresentation of my position. A little later he was good enough to tell me I had been a "pussy" for walking out.

Wonder if that's one of those famous "applies to thee but not to me" elitist insults? Have a nice life yourself, Tom.

4 comments:

VoiceplateDeals said...

Wow I just read this whole blog and I don't have a clue to what you were talking about..LOL
I guess I need to get out their and read more comics, I loved the Kurt Vonnegut qoute though!
And I know who Stan Lee is and Enjoyed watching him on the big bang theory

Gene Phillips said...

Thanks for the response, but the Vonnegut quote is from my opponent.

I don't agree with its application to comics, but after Election Day tomorrow, I'll probably find it more apt for the country as a whole.

Richard Bensam said...

And out goes my last shred of respect for Tom Spurgeon.

(No, in fairness, several people participating in that thread come across equally badly.)

Gene Phillips said...

Thanks for your input, Richard.

I won't say I was being anything but snarky toward Tom (though I like to think my evaluation of Garrity's essay here is more substantive). Still, he didn't seem to take what he often dishes out too well...