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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...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Symbolic Catholics, that is, as contrasted with Protestants in Alan Sinfeld's book LITERATURE IN PROTESTANT ENGLAND:

"Polarisation of good and evil is characteristic of protestantism. Catholics and humanists posited a sequence of careful gradations between the extremes of good and evil, with mediatory agents and the continuous opportunity to repent. Protestants replaced this complicated structure with a dichotomy, all or nothing: a person either has grace or has not."

This inflexible attitude can be found in great abundance in the world of comics-criticism. I recall an early encounter with some Journalista writer in the 1980s who claimed that a writer "selling out" was all-or-nothing; that one could no more be partially an artist than a woman could be "a little bit pregnant." I asked him if he thought the ranks of artists included William Faulkner, who went to Hollywood to write things like LAND OF THE PHARAOHS. As I recall, said Journalista didn't get back to me on that.

And here's a more recent exemplar of exceptionalism, whose POV I trashed in the accompanying piece.

So I guess I must be a "Catholic" comics-theorist, inasmuch as I do believe that there are many fine gradations of quality in the continuum of literature and even "paraliterature," as I argued in the aforesaid "Exceptionalism" piece. I have no belief that something like the Archie Goodwin IRON MAN or (to take a more recent example) the Gail Simone BIRDS OF PREY will last the ages, or even signify all that much to future students of popular fiction, if any. But in the here and now, it ought to be important for any good (or at least "Catholic") theorist to be able to formulate a theory of "the good in art" that does not throw out items of fair quality to make more room for the works of supposed greatness.

Protestants, though, see only good and evil, great and not-great, which would make the dominant attitude of THE COMICS JOURNAL a "Protestant" one. That had me wondering whether or not Gary Groth should be regarded as a comic-book avatar of Henry VIII, but given that Groth never had quite the level of power that Old Henery did, I think a better fit would be...
This guy.

1 comment:

Curt Purcell said...

That "protestant" mindset seems to characterize fannishness in general. The phrase "jump the shark" seems to have an air of irreversible finality to it, though of course the right creators could rejuvenate an ailing series, at least in theory.