The following is a reprint of my post on the BEAT regarding those ole debbils elitism and exceptionalism. I may further develop these thoughts on the status of comics criticism later on.
Larry Vossler said:
"As a recent “writer” for comics, the biggest problem is not the message (that is a problem no doubt) but who is reading the message and how it can be seen. While TCJ, CB, Factual, and HU have and continue to put out some great criticism, they’re mostly being viewed by the people who know about it. Instead of reaching to a bigger crowd in the States, the big two crowd, the message is mostly being spoken to the choir. And that choir is somewhat small compared to the mainstream comic crowd. And it’s that crowd that criticism should be aiming to get their attention. So it can A. expand their horizon B. Introduce new great works from other countries and from here C. To make them think differently when reading comic and apply that to their superhero comics and maybe in the process enhance the superhero genre."
I would agree but IMO the only way one can do so is with a synoptic approach; one that sincerely sees positive things in the superhero genre that are not "different in kind" from the positive things in the indie corpus of works. In other words, it would have to be an attitude 180 degrees from the one expressed by Gary Groth when he recently explained that Fantagraphics did not publish its X-MEN COMPANION book because the publishers had a deep abiding love for the X-Men. This bottom-line insincerity-- "we'll bring 'em in with appeals to the mainstream in order to introduce them to the good stuff"-- has had at best a checkered record, and not only with Fantagraphics.
How might a synoptic approach be synthesized? Well, first it would help to know something about a few of academic criticism's efforts in that respect. Of course I can quote Frye and Fiedler all the livelong day and it won't mean anything: critics have to make their own discoveries to form their own syntheses. But the WILL to make such connections has to be there.
Noah said in response to Larry:
"Larry, I don’t really see HU’s mission as trying to get people to stop reading mainstream comics, or to tell them those comics are bad. We just had a long appreciation of Dan Slott’s run on She-Hulk, actually."
I can see how this would seem an adequate answer to the problem Larry raises but it really is not sufficient, any more than when TCJ's editors used to answer accusations of anti-mainstream sentiments by citing lots of positive mainstream reviews. As long as the dominant attitude is one of elitism and exceptionalism-- that a given reviewer pays attention only to SHE-HULK or WONDER WOMAN when they reach some exceptional heights-- then that reviewer and his cronies will continue to project the aura of the aforementioned "self-jerk circle."
My argument should not interpreted as some sort of anti-exceptionalism: an apologia for bad work. There is however a middle ground for which critics like Fiedler might be instructive-- and I'll leave it at that, as the vision of Tumblr afficianados trying to pore over LOVE AND DEATH IN THE AMERICAN NOVEL seems improbable even to me. That sentiment about covers my pessimism about the possibility of the current indie creators-- or the mainstream ones, for that matter-- mustering enough chutzpah to write organized criticism.
Adding in a second observation I made as the discussion, as always, tailed off into nothing much:
“All this mainstream vs. “indie elitism ” talk seems so strange to me, if only because, until my recent interest in online criticism most of my critical reading on the topic of comics was in a variety of academic journals, surveys and anthologies, which seem to be just as likely to talk about The Falcon as Fun Home as Superman as Maus as Scrooge McDuck – though that is anecdotal experience and not based on any kind of rigorous examination of what’s been printed and the attitudes expressed.”
Correct, Osvaldo. It’s not that there are no elitists in academia, but the line between the popular and the literary/would-be-literary is not as firm as it used to be. It’s amazing to me that so many comics-critics have chosen to act as if they lived back in the 1930s, and ignore all the meritorious work that’s been done analyzing pop culture, from Robert Warshow to Gaylyn Studlar.