Wednesday, August 31, 2011

INVADERS FROM MARX PT. 3

Since I don't regard Marguerite Van Cook's "Sublime Capital" essay as particularly well-organized, I decided I should simply go down the list of objections in  bullet-point format.  Here goes:

Kirby perhaps presupposed himself a participant in a post WW2 America that had fought and earned the right to play fair. He imagined that a handshake would suffice as he saw himself a part of an institution that in reality would later belittle his role.
From what source does Van Cook derive this handshake motif?  I've read a considerable number of Kirby interviews and don't remember him describing any "handshake deals."  In the interviews I recall, Kirby consistently cavilled against the fact that the publisher held all the aces and could refuse to give artists work if they wanted contracts.  But when he joined Goodman's company in the late 1950s, Kirby was no dewey-eyed innocent, as Van Cook implied in this segment.  Indeed, since Kirby and Joe Simon had allegedly experienced ill treatment by Martin Goodman over the CAPTAIN AMERICA property, Kirby certainly had no reason to believe that Goodman would "play fair" fifteen years later.

Lee working in a family business, saw himself as management rather than worker and this self-elevation transferred to how he interpreted his creative relationship, which gave more import to words, as though they signified his class and its rights and its sanction.


This is an absurdly broad characterization of Lee's frequent statements that he believed that the person who conceptualized a given work was the creator.  I've never read anything by Lee that even slightly resembles this Derrida-ized emphasis on words alone. In fact, if one examines side-by-side the Lee and Kirby accounts of almost any given character's creation, each always emphasizes the "original germ" concept in order to take credit as the true "original creator."  Thus Kirby as much as Lee has denied the viability of Van Cook's concept of "reified creativity."   
Van Cook then quotes a passage from Terry Eagleton:

‘Mass’ culture is not the inevitable product of ‘industrial’ society, but the offspring of a particular form of industrialism which organizes production for profit rather than for use, which concerns itself with what will sell rather than with what is valuable.

This is typical Marx-mallow reasoning: if a product sells well within mass culture, those sales are immediately suspect and cannot be part of that vague canon of "what is valuable."  Possibly Eagleton defines value somewhere better than Van Cook does in her essay, but the section Van Cook quotes is meaningless precisely because it opposes cultural value to sales-value in a laughable dualism.  That doesn't stop Van Cook from accepting the duality as a given, though.

Kirby and Lee became engaged in a culture that conflated their cultural output with their commercial product. Their value as artists was secondary to their commercial potential.
 Secondary to whom, Van Cook?  Martin Goodman probably cared about nothing but the bottom line of good sales.  But the subculture of fans who continue to talk fifty years later about the Lee-Kirby books, books intended for an ephemeral juvenile audience, are certainly no longer regarding the works in terms of their "commerical potential," except when engaged in the actual buying or selling a particular comic-book issue.  To speak of art and commerce as "conflated" implies the existence of some time and place where the two were not so intertwined.  At least when Theodor Adorno asserts the existence of some originary Pure Land of Art Untainted by Commerce, he puts his cockeyed premise on the table for all to behold, as Van Cook does not.

Then Van Cook decides that the Classical rhetorician Longinus can be used in her quest to prove the Logocentrism of Stan Lee:

Longinus further says the sublime rhetoric of the speech-writer resides in “great thoughts, strong emotions, certain figures of thought and speech, noble diction, and dignified word arrangement,” which might also begin to expose possibilities in the interactions between words and ideas in comics. All of these elements one would hope to discover in the pages of a heroic narrative of the superhero comics, but might be particularly explicit in a production such as Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s “Thor.”

Van Cook's argument boils down to claiming that because Stan Lee wrote with "noble diction and dignified word arrangement" in THOR, in contrast to the way the Thunder-god's adventures might have sounded had they followed the shorthand notes Kirby placed on the margins of his art:

The effect would be comical beyond its acceptable level of dramatic kitsch if the entire comic were to be spoken in Kirby’s New York slang circa the Bowery Boys. As the language is transformed by Lee it is able to support its authority within the ideological tenor of received historicity.

And then later:

Both men recognize their own class in relation to the content. Kirby, who remained proud of his heritage as the son of a Lower East Side immigrant, does not write his text in “Thor-speak” but uses his working class action voice to express his ideas. This forces questions about how class operated between the men. Implicitly, art is produced in a strangely abased position in the social hierarchy of production. Art appears to be the tool of the intuitive, untamed mind, while writing evidences intellectual precision and authority. Logocentrism is bound to class structures and it seems Thor-speak claims the authority of the noble class and that its writer represents a conduit to this class with its values of duty and honor. Remember as Longinus says: “The great speech maker speaks great thoughts.”

So--

Does this mean that when Jack Kirby himself chose to use "noble diction and dignified word-arrangement" when he wrote his own dialogue for THE NEW GODS, that Kirby "abased" his own artwork by having Orion say grandiloquent things like, "I have heard the word-- and the word is battle!"

What a horrible man you were, Writer Jack Kirby, for abasing the work of Artist Jack Kirby!!!

Van Cook does address Jack Kirby, writer, but significantly, she does not choose to explore NEW GODS, the Fourth World title closest in tone and content to Marvel's THOR, but a sequence from MISTER MIRACLE, in which Kirby spoofed Stan Lee as the flamboyant agent Funky Flashman.  But to hear Van Cook tell it, even this japery remains within the sphere of false consciousness:

But his mockery does not release either from the cycle of production. Althusser states that free will is essential for this continual state of self-delusion (false consciousness) to persist. The subject must feel that he is free to act as he chooses, but his self recognition within the social structure ensures that he will continue to be productive and remain within an ideology that he believes he has created and sanctioned.
Because Kirby's character Mister Miracle-- who is more or less coeval with "labor" even as Flashman symbolized "management"-- shows amused tolerance of Flashman's absurdity, Van Cook tells us :

Scott Free promotes a silent acceptance of the workingman’s role, while the entitled Flashman proclaims about the difficulties of creative work.



Van Cook's interpretation-- that Flashman represents the reinforcement of the "stratifications of class and labor"-- does not hold under close scrutiny.  There is a shadow of truth in the fact that Scott Free is an actual producer of a commodity, in the form of a performance (which Eagleton might or might not find "valuable") while Flashman is merely one who claims he can facillitate the commodity's dispersal to audiences.  In Steve Ditko's Randian terminology he might be called a "looter."  But Flashman, unlike Stan Lee in Kirby's actual life, never becomes a permanent influence on Scott Free; indeed, he never appears in any Jack Kirby work following MISTER MIRACLE #6.  That's not much of a "reinforcement," Van Cook!

Finally, "Sublime Capital" veers off from its original topic of the ideologies of Lee and Kirby, and chooses to go after the generalized ideologies of the American military, touched on briefly (and irrelevantly) with respect to the service records of Lee and Kirby.  After detailing how a U.S. Congressman expressed his regard in a Congressional session for a particularly affecting TERRY AND THE PIRATES sequence by Milt Caniff, Van Cook tells the reader how this was her original context for her discussion of the Longinian sublime:

Originally, before the Kirby /Marvel result, I had intended to offer this passage about “Terry and the Pirates” as evidence of  the power of the sublime as a political tool and to discuss the slippery parameters of cultural institutions and government bodies.  I wanted to interrogate how diction in comics elevates or otherwise shapes response and meaning.  In the end, the colonization of the Colonel Corkin speech by a government representative suggests that elevated diction is recouped by the ruling class, even in the ambigous guise of applause.

In other words, if there exists even circumstantial evidence that sublimity, in the form of "elevated diction," is something that a "ruling class" might use against the disenfranchised, then one must look askance at rhetoric-- "especially sublime rhetoric"-- as being yet another commodity. 

Yet once again, the one-sided duality persists. If "rhetoric" is determined by Eagleton's implicit concept of "sales-value," then real "cultural value" must be somehow outside the sphere of commodification; must be the opposite of "noble diction."

Well, the most logical opposite of "noble diction" would be "plain speech."

Therefore, I submit to my readers the true face of a Cultural Value Beyond Commodification.





(Yeah, I gotcher Logocentrism Rat Cheer, ya hippie.)












Monday, August 29, 2011

SON OF QUICKIE GROTH POST

I'm aware whenever I look at Google stats for THE ARCHIVE, those stats may not represent how many actual human eyes have perused my posts. The all-time champion, QUICK TAKE ON 'THE BEAT' BIN-LADIN POST, almost certainly received some boost simply because it had the hot topic "Bin Ladin" in the title. I imagine its stat-status has simply been the result of automatic 'net programs that pick up on anything that mentions such high-profile topics.

The second-place winner, though, is more puzzling: QUICKIE GROTH POST. I don't see why the 'net programs would pay any special attention to Gary Groth's name, much less the opinion expressed in the essay: that the COMICS JOURNAL's coverage of the mainstream probably stemmed less from duty than from expedience. I've certainly written opinions on both Groth and the JOURNAL that are more substantive. Could the high numbers have something to do with both essays being short?

In any case, by way of follow-up I want to amend some of my statements in the essay and its comments-section. I originally wrote:

I’d certainly admit that by the late 80s the JOURNAL had started to avoid emphasizing the mainstream, even though the mainstream/indie scene had not fragmented as much as it has today. That’s the period when covers started featuring people like Ralph Steadman rather than Wolfman and Perez.


Richard Bensam stated that he remembered the shift in the JOURNAL's mainstream coverage as earlier, around 1981, when the company Fantagraphics began publishing AMAZING HEROES:

Doesn't that shift in the Journal also coincide with the launch of Amazing Heroes?


I reiterated my recollection that the true shift into what I termed "full-tilt elitism" was more toward the late 1980s:

One could certainly see AH's 1981 debut as a harbinger of things to come, but my memory is that if nothing else TCJ was still heavily cover-featuring mainstream guys.


However, though it's true that in the late 1980s the JOURNAL became a bit more adventurous about featuring cartoonists utterly outside the domain of any comics-fandom, such as Ralph Steadman, I was wrong, and--

(cue Kermit the Frog yelling "Yaayyyy--")

RICHARD BENSAM WAS RIGHT!!!!!!

Today I did a systematic examination of what images or concepts had been featured on JOURNAL covers since the magazine was formed from the ashes of its previous incarnation, THE NOSTALGIA JOURNAL. Almost without exception, up till 1983 JOURNAL covers focused on characters or imagery with a strong fantasy content (one such exception being a Kurtzman cover featuring a military battle). The flashpoint for "the Big Change" is signalled on the cover of COMICS JOURNAL #80 (March 1983), in that the main focus featured a critic's polemic rather than a character or concept.





The feature article for #80 was Carter Scholz's "Seduction of the Ignorant." It was not the first lugubrious, teeth-gnashing screed ever to appear in the JOURNAL, but if I'm not mistaken (I do have one or two gaps in my collection) it was the first to have the cover's central image built around it. Two other oddities:




(1) Though it may not have been the first time a JOURNAL-essay tossed out that witless Marxist concept "commodification," it's surely the first time the concept was featured on a cover.

(2) Oddly, given my remark above about how the early 1980s still featured interviews with mainstreamers like Wolfman and Perez, TCJ #80 contains the second part of an interview-diptych with those two stalwarts.


Why did Scholz's essay get the cover? Was it just that the JOURNAL didn't have any art relating to the mainstreamers or their titles? Or did the editors deem that Scholz's essay was of greater moment than a couple of superhero raconteurs?


Whatever the behind-the-scenes drama, 1983 supplies the ideal flashpoint, not least because immediately thereafter the magazine's covers strayed ever farther from the earlier business-model of heavy mainstream representation. Over the next ten issues, covers featured the following:

#81-- William Gaines
#82-83-- Dave and Deni Sim
#84-- Michael T. Gilbert
#85-- Robert Kanigher
#86-- Tintin
#87-- Heidi McDonald's anti-"fight-scenes" essay
#88-- "rating comics" essay
#89-- Eisner
#90-- Al Williamson

The only trend not shown in this breakdown is that over time the JOURNAL did feature mainstream talents on their covers *if* they were deemed either especially talented, especially popular, or both. Such figures included Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, Mike Baron, Bill Sienkiewicz and the never-repressible Gil Kane. However, the die was cut, so to speak. From then on, the JOURNAL's covers emphasized current mainstream figures only if they possessed some particular stature in the eyes of the editors. Failing that, covers featured either the talents that one might call variously "artcomics" or "altcomics," or talents who had belonged to the mainstream of long ago, such as issue #95, with a Captain Marvel cover heralding a C.C. Beck interview.

I probably didn't note the flashpoint at the time because it seemed to me that the pages inside did feature a good amount of dialogue about the Importance of Being Genre (which unfortunately usually devolved to discussions about superheroes alone). The JOURNAL still printed a healthy number of mainstream reviews in the early to middle 1980s. The late 1980s would draw back from that practice, however, and as distant as I was from the Halls of Power, I got distinct impressions that Gary regarded even negative reviews of mainstream comics as giving too much attention to The Enemy. TCJ never completely stopped reviewing mainstream titles, but by 1989-- which was the last year in which I submitted anything-- it was evident that the editors had no sustained interest in the genre-analysis that fascinated me. Following my departure, I did notice one critic, name of Leon Hunt, who made some insightful comments in the early 1990s. Not surprisingly Hunt was attacked in the lettercol by one of the magazine's foremost "know-nothing" elitists, Harvey Pekar. I don't imagine Hunt quit contributing to the JOURNAL purely because of Pekar's needling but I assume the guy simply found better things to do with his time. Why bother talking to a brick wall?

I used to feel that the JOURNAL missed a chance to be a great uniter of fandom; a forum through which one might understand all forms of comics art. But over time I realized that was a naive projection. Groth wanted division, not unification: his aesthetic stance depended on the absolute separability of good art and bad trash.
Love it or hate it, the JOURNAL's turning toward greater elitism in the 1980s was far more representative of its true nature than the early genre-friendly years.

But the memory of the "brief shining moment" abides with me nonetheless...




MYTHCOMICS #26: ZATANNA #1-4



PLOT-SUMMARY (script: Morrison; art: Sook): During a visit to her superhero support-group Zatanna confesses that despite her vaunted Justice League status, she’s a “spellaholic” with severe self-esteem issues, and that she may have helped bring about a new apocalypse. Prior to making a journey with some fellow mystics into a magical dimension, searching for the magical books of her late father Zatara, Zatanna casts a spell to conjure forth her ideal man. Zatanna’s allies die because of her recklessness, but she gains a new ally, runaway teenage girl Misty Kilgore, who wants to become Zatanna’s apprentice. Zatanna, seeking to control the conjured entity (aka “Gwydion”), seeks advice from occult expert Cassanadra Craft. Cassandra reveals that she was visited by a strange male magician who left behind a top hat for Zatanna and makes a mysterious reference to Zatara’s books: his image suggests that Zatara himself may have returned from death. After Zatanna uses her powers (as well as the top hat) to subdue Gwydion, she and Misty go on the road to train Misty. They encounter the ghost of Ali-ka-Zoom, a magician who in life was a member of a gang of heroic kids, the Newsboy Army. Ali-ka-Zoom persuades Zatanna and Misty to transport him to the estate of the magician’s old team-mate Kid Scarface, but by the time they all arrive, the “Kid” has been killed by the faery-folk known as the Sheeda. The magician conducts the spirit of his old friend to the afterlife while Zatanna grapples with two revelations: (1) that the Sheeda are one of the forces threatening to doom Earth, and (2) that Misty is destined to be the Sheeda’s new queen if the current ruler Gloriana is ever deposed. Zatanna then goes looking for more answers, and learns that the mysterious top-hatted man was not her father, but a lookalike magician: Zor, a renegade member of the “Time Tailors” who decided to change the cosmic design by helping the Sheeda. Zor tries to conquer Zatanna by transforming her into “Zorina,” an image of what she would’ve been like as his daughter, but she throws off his influence and uses the shapechanger Gwydion to fight Zor’s magic. Zatanna manages to subdue Zor long enough to break into the mystic dimension of the Time Tailors, who take Zor prisoner. Zatanna meets the spirit of Zatara, who reveals to her that she herself is the incarnation of his so-called “magical books.” Back in the real world Zatanna puzzles over the encounter until she is summoned to the final battle with the forces of Gloriana.



MYTH-ANALYSIS: Zatanna’s four-issue series isn’t a stand-alone narrative, but a narrative arc that participates with other arcs to make up Grant Morrison’s “Seven Soldies of Victory” mega-event. Therefore some of the myth-motifs referenced in the ZATANNA arc are more fully developed elsewhere: Ali-ka-Zoom and the Newsboy Army, who recapitulate the fantasies of heroic kid gangs of the Golden Age, are given greater attention in the arc of MANHATTAN GUARDIAN, while the Arthurian mythology of the Sheeda is glossed by the SHINING KNIGHT arc. Here I’ll concentrate on the mythos of the title character Zatanna, though I will confess some curiosity as to how Morrison happened to name his newsboy magician after a catchphrase used in Hanna-Barbera's FRANKENSTEIN JUNIOR cartoon.


Like many heroes who originated during DC Comics’ Silver Age, Zatanna continues the “legacy” of a Golden Age character: the aforementioned Zatara the Magician. Zatara was one of many Golden Age figures who were practicing stage magicians who fought crime as a “side-act.” Most if not all followed the example of the comic-strip magician-hero Mandrake, though in comic books the magicians often wielded powers more extraordinary than Mandrake’s hypnotic skills. Zatanna, introduced in the 1960s as the fullgrown daughter of Zatara, continued in that tradition to some extent, though by the 1980s she had been given a quasi-tragic dimension by the death of her father and her sexual dalliances with less than admirable lovers like John Constantine. Morrison’s version of Zatanna builds upon these realistic tropes but does so to provide a grounding for a hyper-real world of magic, where “every thought leaves a chalk-trace on the walls of the imaginal world.”


“I have a fatal flaw,” Zatanna tells her support group, “that makes me fall for losers.” In orthodox Freudianism, this would be seen as a deferral of an incestuous cathexis toward her super-capable father, while her attempt to summon an ideal man—whom she thinks will be “a great wizard or an ace crime-fighting dude”—are both confirmations of that hidden desire. The villain Zor seems to pursue the same Freudian logic. First he tantalizes Zatanna with the possibility of her father’s return. Then, when he has her in his power, he transforms the heroine into “Zorina,” a villain’s version of a “legacy continuation,” a perverse B&D temptress, to show Zatanna what she would have been “under my sadistic tutelage.” Morrison’s use of the word “sadistic” is not incidental, for in designing “Zorina” Morrison seems to draw upon the pattern established by such Sadean heroines as Juliette and Eugenie, who become master sadists under some quasi-paternal instruction.



However, many facets of Morrison’s story suggest that, just as Carl Jung’s theory attempted to encompass and supersede Freud’s insights, Zatanna’s mental cosmos can supersede any reductive forces. Zatanna only remains in the form of “Zorina” for two panels, for she quickly overrides Zor’s transformation by following it to its logical conclusion: since she’s a perverse daddy’s girl, she restores her own personality as a gambit to “annoy” her “daddy.”




Jung asserted that Freud’s idea of a purely sexual human libido was far too reductive. Similarly, Morrison seems to bring forth sexual demons largely to show the ability of the human will to transcend them. When the real Zatara reveals that Zatanna herself incarnates all the wisdom of his “magic books,” he describes her in terms of two abstract aspects (“mind” and “spirit”), a concrete one (“body”), and a concrete image given metaphorical meaning (“heart”). Conversely, whereas many comics-writers deal with magicians purely in terms of highflown thaumaturgies, Morrison continually makes references to the mundanities of stage magic, which seem to inform Zatanna’s consciousness as much as “imaginal worlds” and “brane universes.” Morrison’s own “imaginal world,” then, combines the concrete and abstract in a rare artful balance, a *coincidentia oppositorum” of which Jung himself might approve.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

INVADERS FROM MARX PT. 2

The first Marx-munchkin quote in the Van Cook essay comes from Louis Althusser:

Ideologies are perceived-accepted–suffered cultural objects, which work fundamentally on men through a process they do not understand. What men express in their ideologies is not their true relation to their conditions of existence, but how they react to their conditions of existence; which presupposes a real relationship and an imaginary relationship.


Buried in this jargon-heavy twaddle is the standard Marxist take on the notion of *ideology.* Coined during the French Revolution, the word originally connoted any system of ideas regardless as to whether it was philosophically elaborated or not. Marx and his followers appropriated the word and applied it purely to the ideations of the bourgeoise, who by virtue of their exploitative culture are defined as incapable of any "true relation to their conditions of existence." Bourgeoise productions, whether they address themselves to "high" or "low" segments of the culture, are necessarily informed by "ideology," which is another way of saying "false consciousness." Said falsehood stands in contrast to the ideations of Marxism, which are alleged to be non-ideological because they are Really Really Real.

Thus Althusser is clearly within the tradition I have termed "ratiocentric," in that no matter whether one is writing of Balzac or Jack Kirby, the ratiocentric analyst assumes that there is nothing "true" within the work of the bourgeois artist, only patterns that prove the validity of Marxist thought. Van Cook is entirely in this tradition as well when she characterizes both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as pawns of a capitalistic puppet master:





















I wish to affirm that both Kirby and Lee were proud to work within the ideology of American capitalism. In the legal case, neither side stands or challenges American capitalism on ideological grounds overtly, despite a strong undertow of class and labor issues that largely go unspoken. And while I have framed many of the issues within the sphere of artistic production, certainly both Kirby and Lee saw themselves in the business of selling comics. Elsewhere, Althusser helpfully casts light how problems might arise undetected by two men who had not only served in the military as a system of American ideology, but had become a part of the means of production for that ideology.


I'm not surprised that Van Cook rushes to mention the irrelevant fact that both Lee and Kirby served in the U.S. military. In the fundamentally-elitist view of a ratiocentrist, this is more proof that the subjects named have been hornswoggled by a repressive cultural hierarchy. However, the reference actually weakens her case, for one must then ask whether or not those producers of bourgeois art who DON'T serve in the military are somehow less enslaved by the system. Thus, since Julie Schwartz didn't (so far as I can tell) serve in the repressive U.S. military system, it would be logical if he were the first comics-editor to, say, go against his culture's ideology by including a black character as the regular member of a heroic team.

Except of course-- it wasn't Schwartz, but Stan Lee.





Next essay: why the bourgeoise productions of Lee and Kirby do indeed contain "a true relation to the conditions of their existence," albeit not one of which Althusser would approve.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

INVADERS FROM MARX PT. 1

"...none other than Kapital-Hatin' Karl Marx, whose ideology has propounded more subintellectual drivel in literary studies than any other one-note-singer can claim."-- THE POOREST JOHNNY ONE-NOTE, June 2010.


I haven't had the occasion to attack any maundering Marxist diatribes lately, but thanks to this HOODED UTILITARIAN post by Marguerite Van Cook, I've finally some new grist for this particular mill.

There are, to be sure, points where I agree with Van Cook. Here's one:

Even the most ardent Kirby fan acknowledges that for a while the two men, Kirby and Lee, collaborated comfortably to produce seminal comics in the American canon and all but a few claim that to make Kirby the sole creator across the board is not defensible. The Kirby lawyers overstepped the mark in the attempt to regain control of early copyright and collect remuneration for the proceeds from early works that were subsequently developed. For those of us on the sidelines, perhaps more painfully the result legally diminishes Kirby’s place in history.


As others before me have commented, there was from the start precious little evidence that Kirby created the majority of his Marvel Comics projects independently of Stan Lee. I've seen Kirby-fans on the 'net desperate to believe that, say, the Fantastic Four *must* have been created as a original "pitch-page"-- one altered, perhaps, to include the company-owned character of the Human Torch. But while this remains an interesting speculation, it didn't constitute evidence that any court would validate.

The "legal diminshment" to which Van Cook refers means the court's embracing of the theory that "the idea is the only criteria for original creation." Such has been the position assumed-- perhaps with some degree of sincerity-- by Stan Lee, who has stated time and again that any time he had the basic idea for any character, he Lee was *the* sole creator. And since he was on staff for Marvel, the creative "primacy" thus belonged to the corporation that took over the original Marvel company. I agree with Van Cook's well-phrased defense of even those creators who *might* be secondary in terms of conception:

Even if hypothetically Lee originated characters, I would argue that where there is no previous model then the artist creates the image and reifies a concept. If there is no model to work from, then one must create the original figure, which henceforth will become that model.


I don't know by what methods a lawyer might have argued for this concept of "reified" creation, though I would think that Neil Gaiman's successful suit against Todd McFarlane might constitute some sort of precedent. Be that as it may, long before Monday morning I "quarterbacked" the Toberoff maneuver as a ego-driven grandstand play.

And those will probably be the last points on which I agree with Van Cook, for after that she starts quoting Marx-munchkins like Louis Althusser and Terry Eagleton while misappropriating my old favorite Longinus for purposes of (gah!) logocentrism.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Monday, August 22, 2011

MYTHCOMICS #25: YUMMY FUR #1-18 (1986-89)


PLOT-SUMMARY: Ed the Clown lives in a city overrun with cannibalistic pygmies. He has the misfortune to receive an interdimensional transplant from an alternate-Earth dimension, in that the head of his normal penis is replaced by the miniature head of President Ronald Reagan. While the inhabitants of the other dimension strive to retrieve the head of their president-- which remains able to talk even while it’s a part of Ed’s anatomy-- Ed is pursued by police and pygmies. He’s succored from time to time by a few allies: Christian, a ghoul-like alien, and Josie, a young woman who becomes a vampire after she’s murdered by a serial killer. Josie kills her murderer but a ghost tells her that her killer’s spirit will go to heaven because he repented his act, while Josie’s spirit will go to hell because she didn’t have time to repent of evil. Eventually, after Ed’s story has hosted a menagerie of bizarre characters-- cow-stealing aliens, Jack’s beanstalk, vampire hunters and the Frankenstein Monster-- Ed regains a normal penis. However, Josie is killed by the disembodied hand of her killer, which causes her vampiric form to be exposed to sunlight.



MYTH-SUMMARY: I haven’t attempted to trace in great detail this YUMMY FUR continuity-- later collected under the title “Ed the Happy Clown”-- in the same detail that I have in other “1001 comics” posts. Here a full plot-summation would be gilding the lily, in that plot is not really very important in Chester Brown’s surrealistic opus. In this story characters come and go with no more causality than one sees in “Waiting for Godot,” thus rendering the idea of plot-mechanics nugatory. At a convention I asked Chester Brown if he had any particular reason for using the Frankenstein Monster in issue #16, whose cover shows the creature skydiving. As I remember, he said he just happened to want to draw Frankenstein at the time, so he worked that desire into the narrative.







“Life sure can be ironic sometimes” states a minor character in YUMMY FUR #2 (albeit in a side-story not connected to the “Ed” continuity). Ed the Clown is one of the most perfect examples of a protagonist that works within the literary mythos Northrop Frye calls an “irony,” for ironies concern characters stuck in a world where human action can have no meaningful effect. Ed’s first six-page story in YUMMY FUR #1 depicts him on his way to a hospital to entertain sick kids, only to learn from a doctor that “the hospital burned down and everyone died except us doctors.” One page later Ed breaks his leg in two places purely from the action of walking down the street, suggesting that his pipestem limbs are always in danger of shattering. He’s almost eaten by a horde of rats, and he’s only saved because city authorities turn loose a tribe of pygmies to fight the rats. However, the authorities blunder by air-dropping the pygmies, who go splat on the city-concrete and are apparently eaten by the rats. Ed is simply “saved” because the rats overlook him for their new prey.



Ed’s penis is victimized in the course of a very involved storyline. The scientists of another dimension invent a device with which they can use our world as a “dump” for all of their “dumps”-- i.e., a place to deposit unwanted tons of fecal matter. Initially the fecal matter comes through one man’s anus, but he dies and the “hole” to the other dimension is blocked when President Reagan (who looks nothing like the real article) falls into the machine. Somehow this causes his head to be plucked from his body and exchanged with the head of Ed’s penis. Presumably Brown enjoyed the prospect of debasing President Reagan, turning a figurative dick into a literal one, but to say the least it “unmans” Ed as well. In issue #8 he breaks down weeping, telling his talking penis, “My life is always like this. Everything’s always awful. Even my own penis hates me.” The Reagan-penis, after raging at Ed a little more, tries to calm him by telling him that it’s not his fault that “awful things happen to you,” which is quite true: Ed is the victim of both his author and his literary mythos. He does get a normal penis again, but Ed only survives all of his ordeals by dumb luck.


Josie, thanks to having become a vampire, seems at first glance the obverse of her friend Ed. She’s killed by her crazed lover, and becomes a vampire because she was “actively engaged in a grievous sin.” As a vampire Josie is immensely strong and cannot be killed by conventional weapons, and she conceives a sisterly protectiveness toward the helpless clown. But in Brown’s chaotic world none of her heroic actions can save her, for she’s condemned to hell as her killer apparently is not. In addition to being fated to go to hell once her undead life ends, some quirk of fate allows her killer’s disembodied hand to prematurely end that life.



In the novel MANHATTAN TRANSFER, author John Dos Passos shows fires continually breaking out all over New York, a leitmotif that suggests that the city is falling into apocalyptic disorder. Brown’s use of fire isn’t quite a leitmotif, but it’s certainly significant that the ED story starts with a hospital burning down (except for the savvy professional men) and ends with the conflagration of an apartment building, in which only Josie the Vampire dies. Fire is irregularly seen throughout the storyline-- Ed dreams of a fiery void, aliens speak out in space amid flaming bodies-- and the last panel of YUMMY FUR #18 is just one big panel of flames, suggesting the fires of hell to which Josie stands condemned. But surely it’s not just Josie that stands condemned. Her sacrifice saves Ed for a little while, as the sacrifice of Pirithous saves Theseus from death. But Ed and his world remain well and truly doomed.








Sunday, August 21, 2011

WITCH SLAP PT. 2

OK, on to my reaction to Curt Purcell's reaction to the TRUE BLOOD mini-controversy.

Curt advised me to be cautious as to how I represented his views here, which is certainly his prerogative. I can't think of any better way to do that then to do a line-by-line refutation.

From this 8-18-11 post:

Is there anything more stupid than "Wiccans" getting all pissy and offended at fictional depictions of witches?


Actually I can think of several thousand things. The first thousand all belong to the American Republic Party.

In WITCH SLAP PT. 1 I stated that there were sound and unsound ways to protest fictional depictions of any group, religious or otherwise. The particular complaint that started this-- a modern Wiccan/witch's complaint that TRUE BLOOD misrepresented the way witches do magic-- was one about which I have reservations, though it rated a little higher with me that the guy who got torqued at Charlie Sheen's use of the word "warlock."

Nevertheless, I also asserted that there were some fictional depictions whose negativity deserved sanction. Except under the cover of satire, no contemporary television show could get away with asserting that the old medieval canard that Jews eat Christian children. In essence society regards this sort of misrepresentation as the equivalent of "hate speech," in large part because the representation may incite violence against the minority.

Now, no one is going to go on a literal witch-hunt because of a warlock who curses Charlie Sheen. However, not a few Christians still abide by the fallacy (also medieval in origin) that witches are Satanists, a common motif found in fiction. I certainly don't think Wiccans are incorrect, much less stupid, to protest such depictions, because they have just as potential to incite violence against a minority.


If I understand correctly, the term and concept have traditionally been employed as attempts to explain misfortunes like disease, infertility, crops not growing, etc., by blaming/scapegoating someone, and as pretexts for persecution.


This is a partial truth. Many tribal societies, even those outside the mainstream of Judeo-Christian-Islamic influence, fear witches for this reason. However, most of the proselytizing religions persecute witches purely because they don't adhere to the outlooks of said religions. In Exodus 22, we encounter at verse 18 the famous:

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live"

And two verses down, we have:

“Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed."

So depictions of someone using magical powers malignantly would be correct usage, since that's how this mythical figure was imagined.


First of all, the TRUE BLOOD complaint is not about the depiction of witchcraft as so much "malignant" as "irresponsible," a point one can only validate if one subscribes to the complainant's beliefs about magic. Second, it's debatable as to whether ALL archaic depictions of witches come down to pure malignancy, and even if they were, most if not all of these depictions would be informed by the animus of a dominant, opposed ethos. Therefore, there's no viable rationale for saying that modern witches should be defined by this negative archetype, any more than saying that real Jews must be baby-eaters.

It's not like there was, historically, some actual oppressed religious minority corresponding to the term.


Also debatable. In 1921 Margaret Murray's THE WITCH-CULT IN WESTERN EUROPE posited that the "Satanist witches" persecuted during the medieval era were actually the underground remnants of the European paganism displaced by organized Christianity. And although Murray's evidence was widely criticized, some researchers have found support for Murray's basic thesis through more rigorous investigation, notably Carlo Ginzburg in his 1989 book ECSTACIES.

Now, as I stated on GROOVY HORROR, one may posit that all or most of this authentic pagan tradition was gone by the 20th century, and that no modern witches have any *literal/historical* connection to that "oppressed religious minority." However, even if one agrees to this view, I still have problems with Curt's final summation:

So it's not like this silly New Age "spirituality" that got made up within the last half-century is actually carrying on any such tradition. The fact that these people decided to call themselves that doesn't give them any real standing to dictate how witches should be portrayed in fiction, nor to be offended by portrayals that don't meet their approval.


Do silly witches and New Agers exist? I've affirmed as much above. However, one can find fools in any belief-system, including the sort of intransigent materialism I've criticized in PSYCHIC, FAIRLY. It's quite possible that every modern witch today is entirely the result of a faux Romantic-style revival, on a par with William Morris' attempt to revive medievalism.

But that in itself does not invalidate the religion. I said that there might be no literal/historical connection, but that does not mean that there can be no spiritual connection. Curt suggests that it may be considered "correct usage" for fiction to subscribe to the negative "mythical figure" of the witch. I don't deny the existence of this negative archetype but I think that even had there never been a single recorded positive archetype of the figure, modern witches would still be justified to come up with their own take on the figure, to make a positive archetype of their own.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

WITCH SLAP PT. 1

Curt Purcell recently did a blogpost reacting to this news-item,
"Wiccans are Displeased with TRUE BLOOD." I'll probably react to his reaction in another post, but for now I'll confine myself to the substance of this complaint, in which one practicing Wiccan is quoted as disliking the HBO show's depiction of a fictional witch, Marnie Stonebrook:

I'm absolutely disappointed with the portrayal of Marnie. When Marnie gives up her 'power within,' which is a witch's ability to practice the craft without harming others, it allows possession by Antonia who becomes the controlling entity. Marnie lets it happen. It's unconscionable a witch would act this way.


And also:

Since the new season of 'True Blood' began, I've seen an increase in new members who are in their teens and may be easily impressed by Marnie's display of power. It's dangerous when viewers think witchcraft, as Marnie does it, is so easy. For this reason she's a bad example.


Before analyzing the substance of this complaint, I'll state that I'm not acquainted with how this particular fictional witch is or isn't portrayed. I've watched the first season of TRUE BLOOD on disc and was so under-impressed that I thought of writing a blogpost entitled "True Blah." I don't think there was a witch in the episodes I watched, unless she was so unmemorable that I forgot her.

It goes without saying that there exist both sound and unsound ways to critique fiction's depiction of factions, whether of race, creed or religion-- though I'll confine myself to religion here.

The most reputable complaint is the argument from consensual fact. If a TV show depicts a Buddhist ritual in which the high priest pounds on a tom-tom, and a verifiable Buddhist high priest calls in to say, "We don't do that," then the TV show is at fault for sloppy research. In this particular example the fallacious portrait probably doesn't cause any literal harm, especially given that the viewers of the TV show probably don't take the program as a depiction of reality in the first place.

It is certainly possible to imagine, though, to imagine more offensive representations that would earn the program a lot more censure-- say, showing a synagogue holding a barbecue whose featured delicacy is "Christian baby-back ribs." The producer who allowed this level of distortion probably wouldn't work in that town again (one hopes).

The complainant here (who seems to have taken her witch-name from the HEAVY METAL movie, incidentally) doesn't quite have this level of consensual fact on which to draw. She claims that TRUE BLOOD's Marnie Stonebrook is practicing her magic in a way that is dangerous for young up-and-coming adepts. The immediate objection-- necessarily assuming that the complainant is absolutely sincere in her protest-- is that witch-cults in the U.S. are something less than centrally organized. Even if one had the utmost sympathy for the stereotyping and/or victimization of witches in modern American culture, it strains all credulity that any single witch could speak for all witches, or even all American witches.

I like to think I can understand why a modern witch would be no less aggrieved than the imagined Buddhist high priest to see a religious ritual misrepresented. Nevertheless, despite the complainant's declaration of serious consequences, she might have considered that to the vast majority of TRUE BLOOD's audience, the inaccuracy doesn't even register, or affect anyone's beliefs for or against Wiccans.

Similarly, the fear that The Kids Might Get the Wrong Ideas from any fictional production is a reactionary notion dating back to Plato's REPUBLIC. It remains wrong in most if not all applications-- see the "baby-back ribs" scenario for a counter-example-- whether the subject addressed is magical rituals or interracial dating.

The complainant may be utterly sincere in believing that somewhere, some young ritualist is going to fuck up his life by doing Bad Mojo. But regardless as to the reality of magic per se-- anyone who patterns any aspect of his or her life after a television show is looking to get kicked in the teeth by SOME aspect of reality.





PSYCHIC, FAIRLY

I'm about to launch into a series of posts prompted by a blogpiece on Curt Purcell's GROOVY AGE, but I'll start by referencing something I said out of that context.

I don't know that I believe in magic as such, but I have seen some evidence for psychic abilities.


In some quarters this would be a fairly innocuous statement. On one forum of my acquaintance, however, I've seen even the most cautious engagement with the idea of psychism excoriated by skeptics who worship at the feet of James Randi. I've seen one comic-book writer equate any degree of psychic-concept acceptance with backsliding into the horrors of organized religion.

It seems obvious to me that the two are not logically related, as there is no necessary association between psychic concepts and concepts of deities. A world in which some psychic talents exist does not automatically imply the existence of gods, ghosts, fairies, selkies, leprechauns, or vampires. Such a world doesn't even imply the existence of Kant's categorical imperative. There are, to be sure, people who believe in both telepathy and fairies. But in contrast to these believers, parapsychologists generally argue that what they study is an aspect of the material world, albeit an aspect subtler than most. It is quite possible that parapsychology will never be validated; that it will never be able to demonstrate the desired repeatability prized by the "hard sciences." But if the discipline does over time fail that test, it won't fail because of some illogical misassociation between telepathy and miracle-making deities.

In lieu of quantifiable evidence, those who claim psychic experiences have only anecdotes. Without question, anecdotes are useless within the sphere of science. I don't decry this exclusionary perspective in the least; there's absolutely nothing science can investigate in an anecdote. However, anecdotes, psychic or otherwise, are not irrelevant to the totality of human experience. The false notion that science *alone* can analyze that totality is nothing more than the posturing of pseudo-intellectuals who have deluded themselves into believing that they are being rigorously "tough-minded" (in the Jamesian sense) to regard telepathy and fairies as co-equal considerations.

And so we come at last to the matter of My Psychic Anecdote (which title I should maybe copyright in case "Scrubs" ever gets revived).

Four years ago, I'm driving home on a street I've driven on a hundred or so times. I'm coming back from my book club, which I've attended more or less monthly since 1993. Never had anything remotely psychic happen to me there before or since.

I pull up to a red light in the middle lane of the three-lane street. There's one car on my left. I remember nothing about the car itself; I don't think I exchanged glances with the driver or anything of the kind. It's early evening, but not dark yet.

As I'm sitting waiting for the light to change, it suddenly occurs to me that even though it's not dark, the two lanes might seem to merge into one into one if one isn't looking carefully. No fairies, no heavenly hosannahs. Just the sense that the guy next to me might *think* that my lane is his lane.

The light changes. I hang back.

Car number two barrels right into my lane, and would've hit me if I'd continued on my merry way.

I've looked at the same intersection many times since. The two lanes never again appeared to be blending into one lane.

I'm familiar with the skeptic's counter-arguments. The apparent "blending" could have been a trick of light that affected both me and Driver Two purely on the visual level, causing the other guy to cross into the wrong lane. If so, then it was a rare trick indeed, not duplicated in the dozens of times I've driven the same route at roughly the same time.

I would hope no sedulous skeptic would try the old "subvocalization" theory to explain away apparent psychic insight. When two drivers are idling in their cars, I think one would have to be Daredevil to pick up on another person's subvocal intentions-- not that the other fellow would be thinking to himself, "I'm going to drive into the wrong lane now."

After that, the skeptic's last defense is always: you're misremembering or lying.

As I said above, my anecdote won't-- and probably shouldn't-- convince anyone but me. I can't make anyone else see as through my eyes, can't communicate to anyone that the impression of blending simply was not a light-distortion, but was rather the other driver's mental image of what he saw ahead of him.

But my anecdote, like many aspects of life, aren't irrelevant to life simply because they can't be reduced to "patients etherized upon a table."

I wouldn't deride who chose not to believe the above anecdote, especially if that person had (or remembers) nothing remotely psychic occur in his own life.

But if that person had a comparable experience, and refused to believe he'd had it because it flew in the face of established science--

That person would be, like the unnamed comics-writer mentioned above, an unmitigated idiot.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

ADVENTURE-COMEDY VS. COMEDY-ADVENTURE PT. 3

This time my targets for myth-radical comparison will be Jack Cole’s PLASTIC MAN-- and by extension, all versions of Plastic Man thereafter-- and the Golden Age JOHNNY THUNDER, a feature that didn’t survive the Golden Age, though the title character continued to make semi-regular appearances in various DC titles.

PLASTIC MAN fits my criterion for a series in which the adventure elements dominate and the comic elements, though extremely important, should be considered subordinate. Indeed, a better word than “subordinate” might be one I coined in an earlier essay, “subdominant,” in that the comic elements in PLASTIC MAN predominate far more than they do in a “straighter” feature like BATMAN, where comic elements are more sporadic. “Subdominant” indicates that a given narrative makes extensive use of the elements of one mythos even though the narrative as a whole fits another mythos better.

Though some critics have chosen to find Cole’s PLASTIC MAN “subversive” of the normative heroic-adventure mythos, close study reveals that it’s nothing of the kind. The earliest stories in the series, twenty of which are collected in volume 1 of DC’s PLASTIC MAN ARCHIVES, follow a consistent pattern. The hero’s opponents take any number of forms—racketeers, freaky mad scientists, Nazi agents—but at no point does Cole ironize his chosen mythos by sympathizing with society’s malcontents. Issue #16 is particularly noteworthy in that Plastic Man goes out of his way to break up a small group of American Indians advocating revolt against the United States. To accomplish this, the hero masquerades as their totem-spirit. The leader of the proposed insurrection then kills himself and comes back as a real spirit. He mesmerizes Plastic Man and incites the hero to wreck the city, and all that saves Plastic Man from prosecution is that the Indian leader’s son beseeches the spirit to lay off. Odd though the story is, nothing in it invalidates Plastic Man’s actions at the outset, or the hero’s general quest for justice.

























JOHNNY THUNDER, on the other hand, frequently shows the titular hero falling afoul of hoods and gunmen, whom he usually vanquishes with the help of his magical powers. However, in his first adventure he’s unaware of the power, which is conferred on him for an hour’s time when he pronounces the holy word “Cei-U” (which Johnny only does when he accidentally uses the words “say” and “you” consecutively). The same “origin story” establishes that Johnny, though moderately skilled as a fighter, is “just an ordinary guy trying to lead an ordinary life,” which aligns him less with heroic magicians like Mandrake than with the comic protagonists of Thorne Smith.





I would grant that within the comic mythos, Johnny Thunder is, like the Inferior Five analyzed earlier, a hero who gets into a fair number of fights. But these agonic elements are subdominant to the comic elements, such as the scene where Johnny, unaware of his power, tells a man to “go jump at a duck,” which of course the fellow does. In later stories, Johnny’s power becomes embodied in a separate character, a genie called “Thunderbolt,” but the presence of this super-being never takes the focus away from Johnny’s status as a good-hearted bumbler. Even as a member of the heroic Justice Society, Johnny plays the funny sidekick to the “serious” superheroes. Thus even in this adventure-oriented feature Johnny Thunder remained a visitor from a strangely comical domain.










Monday, August 15, 2011

MYTHCOMICS #24: XENOZOIC TALES #8 (1989)



















PLOT-SUMMARY of "In the Dreamtime" (written/drawn Mark Schultz) : In a post-cataclysmic world, mankind's numbers have been drastically reduced by continental upheaveals. In addition, dinosaurs have been reborn, apparently from pre-cataclysmic experimentation. In one of the cities rebuilt from the chaos, Jack Tenrec, a mechanic with a knack for making pre-cataclysm automobiles run, offers driving lessons to Hannah Dundee, attractive ambassador from another city. Once the two are out in the wilderness they approach an area where the government of Jack's city has ordered a new road project. Jack voices his disapproval of the project, as he feels that his people are making the same expansionist mistakes that the older humans did, and that nature may have ways of wreaking vengeance. Hannah is skeptical but both of them are shocked to come across the bodies of the road crew, as well as several forest animals, inexplicably dead. The two flee the site in the car but must make camp as night falls. Before they bed down Jack notes that Earth's two moons (another acquisition of the upheaval) are in alignment ("kissing"), and Jack wonders if the road crew's incursions "offended the spirits." Jack and Hannah fall asleep and experience parallel dreams in which they descend separately into the ocean and have encounters with reptillian humanoids known as "the Grith." Each dreamer experiences a sense of rising as the dream ends, and both awaken to realize that they're breathing poisonous exhumations from a volcanic fumarole. They barely escape in their car and are taken in by searchers from the city. Jack interprets the incident as validation of his beliefs while Hannah takes a more scientific view, asserting that the poison gases were coincidentally released by the increased gravitation from the aligned moons.

MYTH-ANALYSIS: Jack and Hannah clearly represent, respectively, romantic and realistic viewpoints common to human culture. Hannah's skeptical outlook doesn't receive a lot of attention in this particular tale, but despite their implied attraction to one another she makes no bones about finding his outlook overly conservative and superstitious. Jack, despite being handy with cars, is no reductivist, viewing man's culture as inextricably conjoined with nature, railing that "We humans just can't seem to accept things are they are, can we? If it's inconvenient, we can always remake it to our liking. Ha!" Jack has also had a few more encounters than Hannah with the Grith reptile-men, who seem to possess a high degree of psychic skills. Though the dream-visions of the Grith seen by Jack and Hannah don't appear to have been directly sent from the psychic reptiles, Schultz may have meant to use the dreams to prefigure some future dealings Jack and Hannah might have with the Grith. However, no such dealings took place within the six remaining issues of XENOZOIC's run.

Each of the dreams lasts three full pages.

Jack's dream begins as he imagines that he's become a fish in the ocean, after which he encounters, not the Grith as he knows them in reality, but what might called an archetypal version of them. Jack-the-fish behelds three gigantic bipedal reptiles, some with more human than reptillian characteristics, and he thinks that "they are the ancestors of all men, of all Grith, and all fish." He also notes that they seem "soft" and "formless," which might support the notion that these figments are more like patterns for living things rather than actual entities. Jack-fish is caught in a net, at which point he becomes human again. He's hauled out of the water by a gigantic version of Hannah. She looks him over for a moment before the three giant ancestors appear and tell her to fling Jack back into the ocean. She does so, but the ocean has become a boiling cauldron. Jack struggles to escape, and then feels himself drawn upward by "something powerful... more powerful than all the ancestors."

Hannah's dream begins with her walking on a beach hand-in-hand with Jack. He leads her into the sea, but "Jack" transforms into a Grith: one who looks exactly like the real creatures Hannah has seen before. The Grith chains Hannah to the sea-bed in order to prepare her for a "great journey." He disappears and Hannah feels the tectonic plates beneath the ocean-floor shifting. The earth opens up and her body merges with the "flowing strata." She encounters magma, which doesn't harm her until it mixes with water and gives off poisonous vapors. The vapors help Hannah rise upward, so that in the real world she awakens just as Jack does.

Schultz allows for both romantic and realistic interpretations of their visions, but given the paucity of personal baggage in both visions, the more romantic interpretation seems to hold together better. Despite the mutual attraction of the characters, there's very little sexual subtext to their dreams about one another, as one might expect if these were just dreams brought on by their exposure to life-threatening toxins. One might argue that both of them, being fiercely independent, fear being betrayed by the other, given that Hannah is led into the sea by a version of Jack and Jack is hurled into the ocean by a version of Hannah. But the dreams are dominated by what Jungians call "transpersonal" images.

Jack's greater connection to nature apparently makes it possible for him to behold the distant ancestors of all life. But though the ancestors tell Giant-Hannah to return Jack to the sea because "There is something he must learn," Jack doesn't come away from the experience with any token or insight. One might interpret that the "something powerful" that helps Jack escape the boiling water is nothing more than his own will-to-survive, but that hardly seems any sort of life-lesson, mystical or otherwise.

Hannah's vision seems at once more directly participatory (her body merges with the earth) and yet pragmatic as well (her visions recapitulate the processes that are producing the real-life poison gases, and even her own Grith speaks of an "immediate danger" as well as the unexplained "great journey"). Indeed, though Hannah scoffs at Jack's superstition about the aligned lunar bodies ("Two moons kissing; always bad medicine"), his vision doesn't reference the lunar bodies at all but hers ends with such a reference ("I feel the moons tearing at my brain.") One can't help but consider the traditional associations between womanhood and the moon, though the narrative doesn't make any overt references to these.

Not surprisingly, both dreams are visions of a perilous immersion, with Jack being cast into the sea twice while Hannah merges with the earth beneath the waves. Some details are meant to have realistic parallels: presumably both dreamers experience heat in some form because the real-life poisons are raising their respective body temperatures. But in Jack's world-- and XENOZOIC is certainly more Jack's world than Hannah's, whatever her virtues-- objects like moons or earth or poison gases are never just objects, but always possess the power to absorb man (and woman) into themselves. "In the Dreamtime," then, is a cautionary fable against the perils of that absorption, as well as an acknowledgement that it remains a fundamental and ultimately inescapeable reality.

RATIOCENTRIC REBELLION

After my dream I lost command of words. All the chief words, anyway, the most necessary ones. But never mind, I shall go and I shall keep talking, I won't leave off, for anyway I have seen it with my own eyes, though I cannot describe what I saw. But the scoffers do not understand that. It was a dream, they say, delirium, hallucination. Oh! As though that meant so much! And they are so proud! A dream! What is a dream? And is not our life a dream? I will say more. Suppose that this paradise will never come to pass (that I understand), yet I shall go on preaching it. And yet how simple it is: in one day, in one hour everything could be arranged at once! The chief thing is to love others like yourself, that's the chief thing, and that's everything; nothing else is wanted—you will find out at once how to arrange it all. And yet it's an old truth which has been told and retold a billion times—but it has not formed part of our lives! The consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness—that is what one must contend against. And I shall. If only everyone wants it, it can be arranged at once.
-- Dostoyevsky, DREAM OF A RIDICULOUS MAN, 1877 (tr. Constance Garnett)

Once or twice I've tossed out the neologism "ratiocentrism," loosely defined as a reaction against what I deemed false impositions of rational/reductive interpretations-- especially of literature, though the same principle could apply to any human activity. Ratiocentrism is my reaction against the post-structuralist concept of logocentrism, best defined as the "small-r" rationalist's extreme wariness of any system's evocation of a "Logos" in the form of an organizing principle or principles.

The last lines of the Dostoyevsky quote apply particularly well to those individuals goverened purely by reductive rational principles. For them "the consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness." One hears echoes of this attitude in every elitist critic who insists that a given reader is intrinsically better off to read that which gives him a deep sense of that which is "grave and constant in life" rather than that which makes him happy.

Of course this attitude is far from exclusively modern, as Eccelesiastes tells us:

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.


The rise of Derrida's form of logocentrism and of its literary response in post-structuralism was enchanced by a society that has enshrined the rationalization of life's processes over life itself. As a pluralist I would argue that one may learn as much, if not more, about the nature of life in the House of Mirth, whereas the House of Mourning may be a place where a given body may be subjected to dissection and/or embalming before it's properly dead.

That said, I don't agree with the vision of Dostoyevksy's narrator in his thinking that living by the Golden Rule alone could so transform society. And yet practitioners of literary pluralism should, after a fashion, value loving others as one does oneself, and, by extension, cultivating some degree of love for genres or literary modes even if one doesn't like every manifestation.

For example, I'm not fond of autobiographical comic books. Sometimes this has been a specific reaction against a particular creator, as with Harvey Pekar. Years ago, having read only one odd issue of AMERICAN SPLENDOR, I praised one of the sequences in a long essay written for COMICS JOURNAL (though it was unceremoniously re-routed to AMAZING HEROES, presumably because the essay said nice things about certain superhero books as well). Later, after I got to know Pekar's works more fully, I considered him a less than admirable practitioner of that genre. Nevertheless, I still esteem that one experimental sequence that I liked, even if I can't see much value in most of Pekar's work.

OTOH, I started buying YUMMY FUR early in its Drawn & Quarterly phase as a B&W independent. With the conclusion of the "Ed the Happy Clown" sequence, Chester Brown veered for the most part away from surrealist fantasy and concentrated far more on autobiography. And yet Brown's work retained a fascination for me despite his more mundane subject matter.

I might even characterize the two of them in terms Dostoyeskian: Brown gives the reader his life, while Pekar merely gives the reader his particular intellectual (or, in my judgment, pseudo-intellectual) take upon his life.

Therefore, thanks to Brown and occasional other toilers in this genre, I can stop worrying and learn to love autobio, at least as much as is humanly possible. I suppose there may be elitists out there who make some comparable on behalf of the occasional "good superhero," even if they disdain the genre as a whole.

Chilling thought, that there may such a thing as a conscientious elitist.

Not that I've run into many on the 'net lately. But hope springs, eternally ridiculous.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

QUICKIE KIRBYSUIT POST

Over on the blog EVERY DAY IS WEDNESDAY J. Caleb Mozzocco said regarding the Kirby suit:
The thing that depresses me the most is that, as Spurgeon has said repeatedly, it’s an injustice that is just so easy for Marvel to right, or at least address. That doesn’t mean they have to just give back all the copyrights, but, at the very least, they could give Kirby’s heirs a token, good-will amount of financial reward, and go out of their way to make sure Kirby gets the credit he deserves for his contribution to—well, to their existence. I say token, but considering how much money is being made off of Kirby creations and co-creations right now, something that would be painless and hardly noticed by the Disney/Marvel juggernaut would likely be perceived as extremely generous. Stan Lee gets something like a million dollars a year just for being Stan Lee (although I believe he had to fight in court for that as well)…how hard would it be to give Kirby’s heirs something similar?

Not hard at all.


While I would find it appropriate if Marvel had granted Jack and Roz Kirby an ongoing pension at least by the 1980s-- perhaps after the conclusion of the "artwork return" negotiation-- I'm not sure I see the validity of a pension for the Kirby heirs, if that is what may be signified by "a token, good-will amount of financial reward."

However, if Mozzocco is talking about a one-time token--

Isn't that what the Kirby heirs essentially turned down when they refused to settle with Marvel out of court?

As others have pointed out, probably no one will ever know for certain what Marvel put on the table. Nevertheless, it had to be better than nothing, which is what the Kirby heirs ended up with by taking the case all the way to summary judgment.

I further assume that they did so because they and their representation hoped they'd be able to appeal a negative verdict.

In all likelihood this potential appeal will keep Marvel from sending the Kirby estate any gift-bags in near future.

Don't let it be thought that I am defending Marvel here, simply by pointing out that they don't like to be sued. Marvel has a history of initiating ill-considered, groundless, bullying suits against a lot of people, ranging from Dave Stevens to a restaurant that dared use the name SPIDER-WOMAN. (Memories of the latter suit are fuzzy as I read about it in CEREBUS many years ago.)

Nevertheless, the only way the Kirby heirs will get money out of Marvel as a token of appreciation is if they are perceived to be harmless to the corporation. That's
just the way things are, and wishing they were otherwise won't change the matter.


Monday, August 8, 2011

QUICKIE BEATEN ROBOT POST

I have no knowledge as to the accuracy of Blogger's statcounters, but for some reason the "Quickie Groth Post" seems to have got a lot of hits. Let's see if this one garners the same reaction.

I don't post often at Robot 6, but a few weeks ago this opinion by Grant Morrison appeared there:

You look at the people who created those characters [i.e. Superman et al], and they’re all dead. But the characters will still be around in 50 years probably – at least the best of them will. So I try not to concern myself with that. These are deals made in times before I was even born. I can say from experience that young creative people tend to sell rights to things because they want to get noticed. They want to sell their work and to be commercial. Then when they grow up and get a bit smarter, they suddenly realize it maybe wasn’t so good and that the adults have it real nice. [Laughs] But still, it’s kind of the world. I wouldn’t want to comment on that because it was something I wasn’t around for. I can’t tell why they decided to do what they did. Obviously Bob Kane came in at the same age and got a very different deal and profited hugely from Batman’s success. So who knows? They were boys of the same age, but maybe some of them were more keen to sell the rights than others. It all just takes a different business head.


There weren't a lot of responses to this thread, but most of them condemned Morrison's comment as-- let's see here-- "a weak cop-out."

I replied to both the Morrison attack and some questions about Bob Kane as well as Siegel and Shuster:

Re: Bob Kane– well, even before the incident where Kane claimed he’d been a minor, it’s my understanding (going on mainly the Gerard Jones book) that Kane brought in a lawyer to hash out his contract with National/DC. Jones represents that Siegel and Shuster did not do so, which if true has to go down in history as one of the biggest mistakes ever. And it’s all the more puzzling because at the time DC bought Superman, S&S weren’t two poor Cleveland kids any more. They’d been selling their work regularly to DC for 2-3 years up to that point and should have been relatively solvent, even before the Superman deal.

I don’t see anything despicable in what Morrison has said. The ethics of the deal DC negotiated can make fertile ground for discussion, but none of that discussion will show DC putting a gun to the creators’ heads to make them surrender Superman. I think it’s quite possible that S&S were just a little too hungry for a hit, and didn’t think about all the consequences.

We venerate EC today. But was William Gaines any more of an angel than Jack Liebowitz? (Well, probably more of one than Mort Weisinger, because everyone sounds nicer compared to MW!)

There are any number of horror stories about creators who did nasty crap to their friends and relatives, but ended up producing great artworks. Should we dismiss the works because we don’t like the workers?


I was hoping for a frank discussion of these matters. A day later I posted:

What happened to all the people badmouthing Morrison? Hello?

Bueller?


Morrison's comment about the necessity of having a good "business head" applies not only to the case of the SUPERMAN creators, but to the recent resolution of the Kirby Family's suit against Marvel. In brief, the judge ruled that the Kirbys' lawyer had not demonstrated that Kirby's contributions qualified as anything but "work for hire," thus invalidating the Family's claim for copyright renewal rights.

Steve Bissette in particular was incensed by the verdict, and has called for a boycott of Marvel Comics. But if the Kirbys were unable to supply to their lawyer sufficient proof of Kirby's having independently created the Marvel Universe, whose fault is that?

Some fans would say it's Stan Lee's fault, for not having nobly broken ranks with Marvel orthodoxy in order to declare Kirby's creative status (though it's questionable how much such a declaration would have mitigated against the definitions of work-for-hire). I would not expect Stan to say everything the Kirby Kultists take as gospel, but I will certainly admit that he has probably muddied the historical waters for his own benefit.

But the first person at fault in my book has got to be the guy who didn't keep adequate records of what he pitched to Marvel and under what conditions. I need not mention any names, but he was around, as many people besides me have pointed out, to see what happened to Siegel and Shuster when they lost SUPERMAN.

I couldn't re-locate the BEAT post where someone mentioned the "settlement conferences" between the Kirbys and Marvel's lawyers. I don't imagine Marvel offered very much, for the Kirbys didn't have a strong case. But it's not quite right to say, as some fans have, that Marvel didn't make any offer of compensation, even if they were just trying to make the case go away. I assume the Kirbys declined the offer because they're still bullish on a future appeal, but I can't see what information they can put together that will mitigate the work-for-hire verdict.

Finally, on both ROBOT 6 and THE BEAT, I noticed that a lot of fans were attacked if they didn't support the Kirby Kase; Tom Spurgeon in particular accused many of them of finding the fictional characters more important than the people who created them. This is a familiar brickbat indeed, and bears no small resemblance to the "cop out" accusation made against Morrison. My position is that though I've no problem with creators from the Bad Old Days trying to gain compensation, I don't automatically think that everyone who disagrees with me is valuing Superman over Jerry Siegel. This fan-slagging canard smells a lot like a distraction from the elephant in the room: that even given the inequities of the period, guys like Siegel and Kirby did make some really bad deals.

And the reasons why they may have done so will never come down to issues as black and white as Superman's latest battle against Luthor.





MYTHCOMICS #23: WONDER WOMAN #1 (1942)




PLOT-SUMMARY: Captain Steve Trevor’s plane goes missing. Weeks later, the captain is brought to a hospital by a mysterious costumed female whom Trevor calls “my Wonder Woman.” Then, for most of the story’s thirteen pages, the narration recounts “the history of the unconquerable Amazons” in an extended flashback. The narration asserts that Earth has been ruled since antiquity by two rival deities: Ares/Mars, who incarnates the masculine principle of conquest through warfare, and Aphrodite, who embodies the feminine principle of conquest through love. Because men become dominant in the real world, the goddess creates from clay a race of “super women” who will reign supreme as long as their queen Hippolyte wears her magic girdle. Hercules, emissary of Mars, seeks to take away the girdle but fails to best Hippolyte in battle. Hercules then uses “woman’s own weapon” to flatter Hippolyte into letting him hold the girdle. Hercules and his men then enslave and bind all the Amazons. Aphrodite gives her children the power to break their chains, but only if they agree to wear the manacles ever after to symbolize “the folly of submitting to men’s domination.” After breaking free, the Amazons found a new city upon secluded Paradise Island. On the island the all-female community enjoys youthful immortality but cannot bring forth new Amazons except by molding them from magic clay, as Queen Hippolyte does to give birth to Princess Diana. Diana has grown to womanhood by the time Trevor’s plane crashes near Paradise Island. She rescues him, heals his worst injuries with Amazon technology, and falls in love with him. Aphrodite, provoked by Mars’ success at plunging the Earth into World War II, decrees that one of the Amazons must go forth to battle for democracy. Hippolyte holds a tournament to select the strongest Amazon but forbids Diana to enter. A disguised Diana does so anyway and wins the right to be the champion; this includes gaining mastery of the magic lasso, whose links are taken “from the magic girdle.” Before taking Trevor back to America, she helps him capture one of the spies responsible for Trevor’s crash. Back in the present, Trevor receives more nursing from the bespectacled Diana Prince, whom he fails to recognize as “his Wonder Woman.”



MYTH-ANALYSIS: This story is the third iteration of Wonder Woman’s origin, and the fullest in terms of its myth-symbolism. The first 6-page origin from ALL-STAR COMICS #8 offered a shorter version of the same basic story seen in WONDER WOMAN #1, while SENSATION COMICS #1 deals only with the heroine’s first adventure in WWII America, including her masquerade as nurse Diana Prince, which this story treats as a given.


ALL-STAR #8 does situate the WWII conflict as one of male and female principles, with the Amazon goddesses championing America specifically because it’s “the last citadel of democracy, and of equal rights for women.” The story in WONDER WOMAN #1 (referred to henceforth as “Origin” since the tale sports no title) enlarges the conflict to more literally mythic proportions. Just as Empedocles used the abstract principles of Love and War (aka "Strife") to philosophically analyze the nature of the real universe, author Marston makes these principles the underpinnings of his fictional universe. It’s significant that although Love is the superior force in Marston’s world, it is only superior by virtue of absorbing the forcefulness of War in order to transform it.


The best-known element of the Marstonverse-- that of bondage-- also receives far more emphasis in “Origin” than in the earlier stories. The Amazons can remain supreme only as long as Hippolyte’s waist is bound by the magic girdle, which is best interpreted as a displaced vaginal symbol. Marston rewrites the Classical mythological story of Hercules’ theft of the Amazonian magic girdle so as to undercut its masculine theme of conquest through pure strength, in that Marston’s Amazons possess greater strength than any man as long as they remain true to Aphrodite’s commandments. Ironically, Hercules wins the girdle only through resorting to stereotypically feminine strategy. Though there is no literal sex in “Origin” the loss of the girdle logically signifies defloration. When the Amazons escape bondage they regain their strength through the goddess’ grace, but thereafter they wear manacles that may signify the deflowered vagina even as the girdle signified virgin wholeness. On a side-note, Marston doesn’t remain consistent about tracing the heroine’s magic lasso from the girdle, but “Origin” offers an interesting parallel in that the girdle allows the Amazons to enforce their will in battle while the lasso allows its wielder to assert his or her will over the person bound.


Diana’s rescue of Trevor, “dude in distress,” is obviously another rewriting of traditional masculine prerogatives. Still, though the rescue in “Origin” is tempered with a feminine symbolism as well, in that Diana is also Trevor’s nurse, both on Paradise Island and back in Trevor’s world. “Origin” also emphasizes Diana’s status as a bestower of life, in that Paradise Island’s royal physician actually pronounces Trevor dead before Diana brings him back to life. One could even say that her bringing him back from the dead allows her to achieve the goal of motherhood sans intercourse, just as Diana herself is conceived through virgin birth.



However, despite his helplessness Trevor’s presence on Paradise Island constitutes just as much of a trespass on feminine prerogatives as did the depredations of Hercules. ALL-STAR #8 explicitly claims that Trevor’s crash near Paradise Island was the result of a decree by the gods. This notion is not stated at all in “Origin,” but the effect is the same: Trevor’s male presence breaks down feminine reserve, and Diana’s loss of her immortality because of “men’s warring world” roughly parallels the Amazon’s loss of their original Greek city because of Hercules and his raiders. Still, Aprhodite’s strategy, delcaring a need for a champion is essentially feminine. As Aphrodite's champion, Wonder Woman will show the ability to equal men in terms of dispensing violence yet to temper that violence with a feminine eye toward what Marston calls elsewhere “lovingkindness.”


“Origin” could also serve as a satirical commentary on Laura Mulvey’s oversimple concept of “the male gaze.” Though Trevor is an intrusive presence, he sees nothing of the Amazon world for most of the story, and indeed his eyes seem to have been injured from his experience, since on page 12 he comments that “my eyes must be bad again” as he sees Diana in all her costumed finery, rather than as “the scientist who saved my life.” Rather than seeing, he is the one seen as Diana and her friend Mala rescue him from the waters. Yet only Diana, the one explicitly born on Paradise Island, falls in love with him and brings him back to life. Toward the tale’s end, when Hippolyte prepares to send Trevor back to his world in the company of Diana, the physician relates that she has removed Trevor’s “eye bandages.” Hippolyte orders that Trevor “must see nothing on Paradise Island,” and Diana retorts, “Nothing except me! I’ll bind him again--myself!” While Hippolyte protects Paradise Island from the rapacious gaze of men, Diana accepts Trevor’s gaze and his desire, though the binding of Trevor’s eyes may prefigure her intent to convert him, and every other man, to the bondage of Aphrodite’s law.




To be sure, Wonder Woman's mission to save democracy causes both of them to put off gratification of their desires. Marston certainly channeled this motif from previous superhero comics, especially SUPERMAN. This postponement may remind one of Max Weber's "deferred gratification," though clearly in this context the deferral doesn't serve a capitalist ethic. Rather, postponement of desire serves the very different economy of storytelling: distancing the problems of mature adults within a juvenile fiction-matrix as well as keeping the sexual tension at a predictable status quo. “Origin” ends on such a note of unresolved tension, in that Trevor does not recognize in his plain-Jane nurse “the glamorous beauty of the Amazon princess.” Diana’s last words re: her alter ego--“I’m sure she’ll always come quickly when you need her”-- offer the reader the promise that the thrill of the heroine’s rescues will remain constant. On a deeper symbolic level, Marston as author certainly knows that Wonder Woman’s conversion of “man’s world” to the law of Aphrodite is his personal fantasy, but as long as his creation Wonder Woman keeps saving fictional victims, that law is continuously validated.











Saturday, August 6, 2011

THE INTERSUBJECTIVITY SOLUTION PART 2

So we have one critic-- let's call him "Psuedo-Tom"-- who states without demur that on the whole the output of EC Comics was better than that of DC's Vertigo imprint.

Then we have another critic, "Pseudo-Gene," who takes the opposite position.

Obviously nothing can be proven with such generalities. The two Pseudos must choose one representative work from each corpus and produce a critique that proves one work superior to the other. This doesn't actually prove that one output is superior to another but each critic can claim that he can duplicate this operation over and over, and that it will, usually if not always, show one corpus in the ascendant.

What to choose? This Wiki quote suggests a link between the two:

Moore's Swamp Thing had a profound effect on mainstream comic books, being the first horror comic to approach the genre from a literary point of view since the EC horror comics of the 1950s


So perhaps Pseudo-Tom chooses a classic EC horror story, like "Foul Play," recapitulated here, and chooses to prove its superority to the Alan Moore SWAMP THING story "The Anatomy Lesson."

Psuedo-Gene accepts the challenge to prove, to the contrary, that "Anatomy" can school anything that EC's horror-hosts might dole out.

Aside from the fact that both stories feature horror-motifs, though, they have little in common. Thus it's likely that whenever either of the Pseudos attempts to champion one company's narrative orientation above the other, he will claim that one has more relevance to a greater number of people: that is, that the subjective elements of the story go beyond the average and approach the level of the intersubjective: of a significance beyond personal taste.

The specific arguments don't matter here. Perhaps Pseudo-Tom conceives that since "Foul Play" deals with a nasty baseball player's attempt to get ahead at the cost of anyone in his way, the villain's fate has sociological significance in that it critiques the "anything-for-money" ideal of American capitalism. Perhaps Pseudo-Gene considers that "Lesson" is superior in that it establishes a new concept for the Swamp Thing character: not only defining the muck-encrusted hero as a vegetable entity (rather than a transformed human) but also giving readers a chance to identify and empathize a being who is not, strictly speaking, a human.

Both interpretations would fit what I would call "the rule of intersubjective significance," which phrase I derive almost completely from Jonathan Culler in his 1975 STRUCTURALIST POETICS, except for my interpolation of "intersubjective." Both positions could be enjoyably argued although to little effect, for the comparison of the two stories, despite some similar features, would still hinge on each critic finding an intersubjective meaning that the other did not have-- which returns to the well-seasoned argument about "apples and oranges."

Nevertheless, the exercise remains worth the candle within a pluralist conception of literary hermeneutics. Each story resonates with some though not all readers precisely because each evokes a "significance" in those readers; a significance founded in the conventions of storytelling and in the expectations of readers looking to have those conventions both confirmed and denied.

Friday, August 5, 2011

THE INTERSUBJECTIVITY SOLUTION

From Wikipedia :

Thomas Scheff defines intersubjectivity as "the sharing of subjective states by two or more individuals."[1]

The term is used in three ways:

1.First, in its weakest sense intersubjectivity refers to agreement. There is intersubjectivity between people if they agree on a given set of meanings or a definition of the situation.
2.Second, and more subtly intersubjectivity refers to the "common-sense," shared meanings constructed by people in their interactions with each other and used as an everyday resource to interpret the meaning of elements of social and cultural life. If people share common sense, then they share a definition of the situation.[2]
3.Third, the term has been used to refer to shared (or partially shared) divergences of meaning. Self-presentation, lying, practical jokes, and social emotions, for example, all entail not a shared definition of the situation, but partially shared divergences of meaning. Someone who is telling a lie is engaged in an intersubjective act because they are working with two different definitions of the situation. Lying is thus genuinely inter-subjective (in the sense of operating between two subjective definitions of reality).


Recently I stumbled across a online discussion in which the participants seemed convinced that one could demonstrate the "objective reality" of critical opinion on art, as against a poster who claimed that all criticism was subjective. None of the challengers exerted themselves to define just what mental procedures one ought to use to test works of art for their artfulness, however.

Kant, as I've mentioned before, made it his project to formulate theories about how one might situate one's faculties of taste defined in terms of *a priori* principles, principles that existed independently of mankind's conditionally motivated *a posteriori* principles.

Kant also attempted to formulate ways in which taste would be considered to have universal applications to all men. I don't think that this condition of universality was necessary to Kant's argument, though it does lend weight to his assertion that art's ability to evoke beauty and the sublime is rooted in *a priori* principles rather than individual taste.

Clearly, the poster arguing pure subjectivity, interpreted through a Kantian lens, would be stating that every critical opinion was conditionally motivated through the individual critic's taste. Presumably any intellectual justifications would merely be reflections of that taste, and therefore they would be within the domain of affects that Kant calls (in CRITIQUE OF JUDGMENT) "the AGREEABLE"-- that is, the purely personal response by which one likes or dislikes an object.

Presumably the poster's opponents were arguing (however muddily) that the intellectual justifications of a good critic went beyond the bounds of personal taste; that those intellectualizations had a positive value that transcended personal taste. In what I've summarized of Kant's argument above, this would seem to parallel the transcendence of the *a priori* principles. However, Kant himself would not have recognized the intellectual justifications of art alone as constituting *a priori* principles. For Kant, such arguments would be relegated to the category of "the GOOD"-- by which he means all those things that a given critic thinks of as good for society or humankind. Kant regards all things in this category to be conditional as well, in that they reflect *a posteriori* societal values.

I've already written extensively about Kant's views of the beautiful and sublime in PART 1 of KANT STOPS THE MUSIC , and won't address that here. What I want to suggest, though, is that there is a potential unconditioned component to all critical response, but that it need not be universal, only shared in terms of an intersubjective phenomenology.

Take as example this quote from a BEAT post made in early 2011 by Tom Spurgeon, in response to an essay by Rich Johnson:

A lot of the rest of this seems like nonsense to me, too. To take one: Vertigo expanding what comics storytelling could do 40 years after EC comics did better comics in the same genres and 30 years into the underground/alternative comics revolution is pure boilerplate PR. I don’t begrudge DC being smart enough to put some of their hot comics of that time into a line and make more of them, and I quite enjoy many of their titles, and many of their creators are excellent and Karen Berger is a peach, but this view of Vertigo as a boundaries-pusher outside of anything but the most made-up, self-serving conception of comics is PR horseshit and needs to die.


In my NO FEUD LIKE AN OLD FEUD posts I traced the manner in which I attempted to get Spurgeon to put his cards on the table, as to why EC "did better comics" than Vertigo, which is the essence of Spurgeon's post if one can get past his attempt to paint Johnson as DC's bootlicker. Spurgeon absolutely refused to discuss the reasons for his opinion, so plainly I cannot address those reasons here.

However, even though the opinion "EC is better than Vertigo" was expressed in a contemptible manner, that in itself doesn't make it a wrong opinion. It is an opinion more than a few critically aware comics-fans, as well as actual critics, may well share. If so they would presumably share in them in the manner described by the number (3) definition of intersubjectivity above: as "shared divergences of meaning."

By this line of reasoning, if the opinion "EC is better than Vertigo" is shared in such a way to be a subjectivity than is more than merely subjective, more than the coincidence of assorted conditionally motivated reactions, then it would have, ipso facto, "objective reality."

Of course, so would the opinion "Vertigo is better than DC."

BUT THAT'S INSANE. THEY CAN'T BOTH BE RIGHT.

Stay tuned for Part 2.