Tuesday, January 29, 2013

E.C.? P.C.!-- PART 3




This essay-series began in reaction to Gary Groth's statements on behalf of Fantagraphics' republication of certain stories from the EC Comics oeuvre.  I've already addressed Groth's peculiar remarks on William Gaines' "generosity" in Part 1.  But before I can address Groth's more recent 1-23-13 essay on the Comics Journal site, I have to address the review that sparked them; Chris Mautner's 10-20-12 review of the first two Fantagraphics EC-reprints.

In keeping with my title, I find Mautner's reaction informed by a certain degree of political correctness.  It's fairly minor in comparison with the idiocies one can find in the essays of Chicken Colin, critiqued here and here.  Unlike Chicken Colin, Mautner never stoops to producing a Barthesian reversal of the work's textual meaning. 

What I would critique in Mautner's review is the conflation of contemporary political priorities with what Mautner calls "aesthetic value." 

The first substantial critique appears following a plaudit for Kurtzman's "Corpse on the Imjim":

...Air Raid!, Kill! and Big If! all hold up rather well, despite being invested with more than a bit of overwrought melodrama.
 
The sentence is unclear to me.  Are the cited stories being faulted because they contain melodrama? Or is it OK with Mautner if they're melodramatic, as long as the melodrama isn't "overwrought?"  The two are certainly not synonymous.

Gary Groth's essay takes extensive issue with Mautner's next assault, where he finds "jingoism" in certain stories.  Loathe though I am to agree with Groth, I feel that he disposes of these objections so well that I need not cover them.  Apparently the faults of some stories in the "Imjim" volume come down to these two offenses, "melodrama" and "jingoism."

However, Mautner finds the majority of the stories in the companion volume, "Came the Dawn," to be "banal and overwrought."

Mautner's pronouncments on the "Shock Suspenstories" material suggests to me that he's not thrilled with melodrama in general.  He writes:

These reveals would usually be of the stupefying kind one could see coming a mile away that added little to the story . To wit: the anti-Semite accidentally discovers that he was adopted and his biological parents were Jewish! The bigot turns his back on a neighbor of mixed race … only to discover that an African-American had given him a life-saving blood transfusion as a child!
 
I can't make sense of Mautner's criticism about these reveals "adding little to the story." In melodrama such broad effects ARE the essence of any given story.  Wikipedia defines melodrama as "a dramatic work that exaggerates plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions."  In my book that means that a melodrama is all about jazzing up the audience with hyper-emotional effects, not about making an appeal via the relative subtlety of so-called "serious drama."

I'll simply note in passing my disagreement with the politically correct statement that "saintly, martyr-like" ethnic characters are precisely "the flip side of Sambo."  But Mautner's yearnings toward literary probity shine forth most strongly here:

There’s also a sexism and misogyny that runs through Dawn that’s more than a little creepy. The title story deals with a man who stumbles into at first what seems to be a Penthouse Forum fantasy only to become convinced his dream girl is not to be trusted, with — ho hum — deadly consequences. The Assault is even more disconcerting, as it features mob violence (a favorite reoccurring motif for Feldstein) in the service of a seemingly abused teen girl who (of course) turns out to be a conniving slut and seductress. That’s not even mentioning the scenes of women being tied up and whipped by Klu Klux Klan figures not once but twice in Under Cover! and The Whipping. Clearly, these guys have some issues they needed to work out.
 
Again, Mautner doesn't take into account that this alleged misogyny, like that of the exaggerated melodramatic endings, was first and foremost an effect meant to entertain the audience, rather than a revelation of the authors' own personal leanings.  That isn't to say that there's no connection between the two, but Mautner has not taken the care to evaluate the audience EC's creators aspired to captivate, nor the prevalence of those effects in other mainstream entertainment of the period.

In Part 4, we will see that Groth, even in defending the EC raconteurs, will prove if anything even more politically upright (or is that uptight?)



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