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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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

Friday, May 31, 2013

THE LITTLE NEOPURITANS

Though I've said as much as I need to for the time being on the function of "beautiful people" in narrative, I find that this line of thought returns me to the discussion of "adult pulp," last discussed in detail here.

As I noted here, I was fairly bullish on the concept of "adult pulp" in 2012.  Even though critics as politically diverse as Bill Willingham and Dirk Deppey sneered at "superhero decadence" for very different reasons, I felt that the continued success of decadent superhero comics-- regardless of whether I liked them all or not-- validated my interpretation as to the necessity of the sensational in art, be it of the canonical or popular variety:

...art is built upon a sensational foundation, though with the caveat that everything in art is a "gesture" in the Langerian sense-- an attempt to capture experience which is necessarily less immediate than experience.

I was aware, of course, that there were people who still took opposing positions-- again, for politically diverse reasons.  In Chicken Colin's attack-essay on Sequart, CC took issue with my calling them "anti-pulpsters."  His objection was of course thick-witted, since he had made up his mind from the start not to represent my conceptions accurately.  His sole tactic was to read "sensationalism" as a cover for the "sexism" to which his ultraliberal sentiments were welded, and his strategy was your basic "get thee from me, Sexist Satan" admonition, which seems to have worked pretty well on the majority of Sequart readers.

I will admit, though, that "anti-pulpster" was a clumsy term for those opposing the validity of sensationalism.  It required far too much explanation to be useful.

Now I prefer to call them "Neopuritans," though they still divide up along lines similar to those that separate Willingham and Deppey.

On one hand, we have Elitist Neopuritans like Gary Groth and Dirk Deppey.  Their base conviction is that superhero comics should not include adult levels of sensational material because superhero comics are for kids.  Extreme usages of sex and violence should be for the sort of reading material aimed at actual adults, though to be sure the usage of such sensationalisms in "trash fiction" aimed at adults, such as Mickey Spillane, will usually reap the same contempt shown to the "kiddie" superhero stories.

On the other, we have the Populist Neopuritans.  I haven't read enough of Willingham to describe him in this fashion, but Kelly Thompson is probably an adequate substitute in this respect.  The Populists are on the whole still emotionally engaged with superheroes, as opposed to the elitists' conviction that the superhero genre ideally should be set aside in favor of "better things."  However, the Populists follow the Elitists in subscribing to the idea that extreme sensationalism is no more than pandering, and so many of them would prefer to return comics to the status of "all ages" entertainment.

Though I've said before that I think the days of "comics as juvenile pulp" are a thing of the past, I won't rule out the possibility that someone might conceive of a new marketing approach that could lure back a lot of younger buyers.  That market would probably never again reach the heights of sales in the Golden Age of Comics, but some paradigm shift is still possble.

However, I feel revolted by the base Werthamism that crops on some comics-fan boards when those fans choose to rail against any and all use of pulpish sensationalism.  It doesn't matter if it's as well done as Frank Miller's DARK KNIGHT or as badly done as Mark Millar's WANTED; anything that keeps funnybooks out of the hands of kids is part of the vast evil conspiracy of nasty pandering comics-companies, usually though not invariably "the Big Two."

I remarked on one of these threads that I had little confidence in the kid-market:

Getting kids to buy Batman coloring books and Wonder Woman underoos doesn't mean that the kids will go out and try to buy Batman and Wonder Woman comic books. That's the point: historically a lot of kids wandered away from pamphlet comic books long before the effects of the DM had fully manifested. You say that the Eisners include a lot of children's comics; are any of them in pamphlet form? I suspect most of them are in book-form, which means that those works have successfully moved in on the market of prose-oriented children's books.

In response to a poster who claimed that other countries' comics didn't pander to "the male gaze:"

 Japan for one country has exactly the same kind of attitude I've endorsed here: sexy comics for men and sexy comics for women, as well as other types. The point is, if you're endorsing Japan as a superior example of a comics-producing country, then you can't claim that all the US has to do is clean up its act. To be more like Japan, the US needs equal opportunity dirt.

One idea I repeatedly encountered was that superhero stories weren't "meant to be" sexy in nature, and that all of the recent "adult pulp" endeavors were, in the same fashion Dirk Deppey claimed, perversions of kid's entertainment.  To this I replied (and got no answer):

 But I've also said that superhero comics in their earliest days often had sexual aspects to them that one doesn't find so readily in comics for younger kids, so in that respect they did have their wankery-aspects. They weren't ONLY that, but they were never as squeaky-clean as some people like to think. Thus to have "adulterated" versions is no different than reading a Tijuana Bible where Betty Boop gets it on with Popeye.

 So far I have yet to encounter any rejection of my "bedrock of sensationalism" theme that does not draw upon a Puritanical tendency to cast out anything that smacks of sensual appeal.  I suppose that those who do so have managed the sort of mental separation I argued for in this essay, in which I stated (among other things) that not all violence had a sexual component, as George Bataille had argued.  However, the Neopuritans have taken that separation much farther than I ever would have, claiming that there's a vast divide between "non-erotic violence" and "erotic violence" when in truth the separation between the two is more like a membrane.

As I commented in PRIDE OF PREJUDICE, the affect informing these elementary mistakes is that of pride: the desire to feel that the medium with which you have associated yourself is something in which you can take pride. But what sort of pride is it, that requires validation from those parts of the community who would never consider picking up a comic book at all?  Especially since those readers have their own avenues of sensationalism, ranging from PLAYBOY magazine to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY.






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