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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...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

MAKING A CLEAN BREAST

Since sex evokes strong feelings in human beings generally, I suppose it's not surprising that whenever the subject gets raised in comic-book circles, strong feelings and opinions are the norm. What I can't quite figure out is the extreme priggish righteousness that so frequently appears in both the "mainstream" and "artcomics" portions of the comics-audience. The artcomics crowd seems to me the worse offender, which is odd since these fans are claiming greater maturity on behalf of their reading-interests, and thus, by implication, for themselves. The artcomics fan apparently thinks himself deep because he can look upon the frank depiction of homosexual acts in, say, LOVE AND ROCKETS, but mention DC's Power Girl and she's immediately proof of the slobbering mentality of the mainstream fan.








Yet artcomics certainly sport their share of big-busted women, ranging from Crumb's "female Bigfoot" to Kurtzman's Little Annie Fanny to Gilbert Hernandez's Tonantzin Villasenor. Why then isn't Little Annie Fanny a "proof" of the slobbering mentality of the artcomics fan?








Thee answer, of course, is what it always is whenver "art" uses narrative elements common to what the canon considers "non-art": where non-art is giving the reader no more than gross flesh, art gives the readers subtle ideas, grafted atop the spectacle of alluring women like so many conceptual silicone implants. But this is a dodge. Demi-intellectuals like Kurtzman and Crumb may indeed have had ideas they wanted to convey, but by evoking the spectacle of alluring women-- particularly those of pneumatic proportions-- it's arguable that they're just using a showman's trick that was old in the days of traveling carnies, and that by so doing they've compromised whatever ideas they may have meant to convey.

However, were one to expouse a less elitist and more pluralist view of literature's purpose-- one in which the expousing of Brilliant Ideas designed to dazzle the brain is not literature's main purpose-- then one might contend that there's nothing inherently wrong with evoking the kinetic appeal of a sexual stimulus in a work of fiction, whether the author stops with that appeal (which was often if not always the case with Power Girl's creator Wally Wood) or goes on to supplement his work with other elements related to thematic, dramatic or mythopoeic aspects of literature. I've addressed this train of logic before in this piece and so refer the reader to that essay for more critical detail if needed.

So, though I don't think the "idea implants" theory of literature has any validity, I do not in fact criticize a work like Crumb's "White Man Meets Bigfoot" because it combines thematic and kinetic/sensual concerns. It's simply a different mode of work than a POWER GIRL series, or for that matter a literal work of pornography. All three belong to modes that can be done well or badly, and invidious comparisons between them are merely statements of particular tastes, not true critical analyses.

There's nothing wrong with making jokes about fictional characters with huge cleavage: since big breasts symbolize excess, and comedy is meant to take advantage of any excess, humor is inevitable. But there's a big difference between the "joi de vivre" of Frank Tashlin's THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT and the priggish condemnations of psuedo-intellectuals who politicize a difference in taste with the underlying message: "Don't support what you like; support what *we* like."

Just to give equal time I'll talk about some of the priggishness on the part of mainstream fans sooner or later.

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