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Monday, March 28, 2011


I've decided to try an experiment not unlike my 2008 post, AN ARCHETYPAL LIBRARY.

Earlier this year I reviewed Tony Isabella's coffeetable compendium 1000 COMIC BOOKS YOU SHOULD READ. My main complaint with the book was what I called its "herky-jerky organization," which is actually high praise compared to the review the book got from Tom Spurgeon. I suggested that Isabella might have done better to have focused on particular stories, whether they were done-in-one or serialized.

Then, having thrown this suggestion out into the Intervoid, I started to make such a list myself.

I grew disinterested, though, because I realized that a general list like Isabella's didn't suit me. In this essay I noted that I had no opposition to anyone making, as Isabella did, a list of "favorites" based on their personal agreeability, e.g., "I thought that girl on the cover was hot" or "This was my very first BATMAN book." But it just wasn't my thing.

I've mentioned that I recently finished Philip Wheelwright's BURNING FOUNTAIN, in which he argues for the complexity of symbolism in terms not unlike the ones I've used here since the blog's beginning. Wheelwright's term for this complexity is *plurisignation,* which stresses the ability of symbols to transmit a plurality of meanings. He didn't advance a term for the type of symbol that has the barest possible representational meaning-- which I've called the "null-myth" on occasion-- but just to follow Wheelwright's example for awhile I'll say that this might be termed *monosignation.*

Most stories, ranging from undistinguished formula-tales to overwrought artsy-farts, are monosignative. Such stories are all about getting from a thematic Point A to Point B, or, in the artier ones (like the Joseph Losey/Harold Pinter film ACCIDENT), from B to A. However, both good formulaic stories and fine artistic stories are equally capable of plurisignation.

My "1001 myths" posts will be a listing of such stories, and I'll have at least one new post pretty much every Monday. I won't rule out posting other entries on other days, but Monday will be the day that any interested party can check in and be reasonably sure that something will have been added. I have no idea whether or not any 'net readers will be interested enough to do so, but I'm cognizant that periodicity is just as important to online readers as Wednesday is for comic-shop customers.

Other specifications:

*Though I mentioned mythic comic strips in the LIBRARY post, I'm only dealing with comic books here. Whatever the failings of the comic-book medium, they are the superior of the strip-medium in terms of being able to tell a wider variety of stories-- and that means a wider variety of myths. In the final analysis the sobriquet "comic book" isn't as inaccurate as some have said: the comic-book form really is intrinsically more "book-like" than the strip can ever be, long soap-operatic continuities notwithstanding.

*Though I intend to go into more detail than Isabella's snapshot summations of each item's importance, these will be short writeups that seek to capture the *essence* of each fictional myth.

*My initial way of choosing which stories to include will be alphabetical, one for each letter, going by the title of the publication in which the story appeared. After I get to #26, I may choose another pattern, or I may not.

*I've always maintained that mythic symbolism can appear in any genre, no matter how fantastic or realistic. However, realistic genres have historically enjoyed more prominence in other media. Westerns, for instance, have a strong myth-history in prose and in film, but for whatever reason the genre has not prospered in comic books.

*Currently the superhero genre enjoys the lion's share of complex expressive myths. One may carp as one likes as to how far the genre fails by standards of technical literary excellence, but as Leslie Fiedler observed, mythopoesis does not begin and end with technical superiority.

*Nevertheless, to show that myth-criticism does apply across the board from all types of art-and/or-entertainment comics, I'll start by alternating "Superhero Myths" with "Everything Else-Myths." Again, I may change this later if I come up with another pattern as opposed to the alphabetical one.

*And finally, just because I did raise the question as to what was my first BATMAN comic-- here it is in all its tacky glory, with not a chance in hell of getting anywhere on the 1001 list.

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