Thursday, November 14, 2019

thanks, tom

Today I’ve been thinking about Tom Spurgeon. To many industry folks he was a dear friend, but to even more of us he was the closest thing that comics had to a local weatherman – a small but familiar daily presence who provided context, predictions, and perspective. He was a guy whose opinion you always wanted to know, even if there were days when you knew in your bones that history would prove him to be incorrect. 

I think that Tom was the only person in comics who I’ve butted heads with who I’d count as a helpful acquaintance. (I’ve been fascinated to see so many people say something similar.) He was a valuable resource to me when I was working on an investigative piece that I never quite saw my way to publishing. I admired the way he conducted CXC, the annual comics festival he directed. It was plainly apparent, though I never attended the event, that he handled unpleasant incidents quietly, competently, and with great care. It says it all that Olivia Jaimes – a cartoonist who receives a lot of unwanted attention from a very dark and creepy corner of the internet – made her first and only public appearance there. (And from the way that panel was handled on the day, it was plain that Tom and other people at the festival put Jaimes’s safety and well being above all else.) Another time, after a cartoonist who was harassed at CXC wrote about her experience for the Comics Journal, I told Tom how well I thought he’d handled it and what an impact I thought that would have as an industry model. He told me how grateful he was that the cartoonist who had been harassed had written the piece. (How many organizers would have felt the same in his shoes?) He also mentioned, just in passing, that a zero-tolerance policy for harassers had been among the conditions of his employment – a quiet but remarkable act of allyship.

There were a few times over the years that I noticed stuff like this, and over the last 24 hours I’ve heard about similar things I never knew about. My impression is that Tom wasn’t one to take credit for the things he did well, though he was quick to own his failures. More than once he publicly apologized for never following through on the comics journalism project he promised in his Patreon. I remember thinking that most of his patrons were probably funding the work he was already doing, as well as the work he had done. He went about that work in such a principled way. And he never engaged in provocation for provocation’s sake, something that I think set him apart from many of his peers. 

As many others have mentioned, I was struck by Tom’s frequent directive to thank people for work that you admire. It’s advice I’ve tried to follow, if not as often as I should. I know that it’s advice he lived by, as I received one of those emails. Other times he absorbed my criticism with the manners of a bygone age. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: When you’re young, there’s this bright dividing line between the grayness of history and the vibrant present. A distressing part of growing up is watching the color drain from the world as pieces of it recede across that line into the dusty past. I don’t know that we’ll ever have another weatherman here in comics. I’m very sorry to see him go. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

select writings on chris ware

My Twitter reading group for Marc Singer's Breaking the Frames convenes tomorrow night (April 22, 7p central) to discuss Chapter 4. It's about Chris Ware, so I have some opinions! I've written about Ware quite a lot over the years, so I collected a few things that seem most relevant to the discussion.

For your consideration, a few points:

1. Chris Ware has a lot of trouble writing about himself.
Much of Singer's chapter is about Ware's cheerleading for autobio (in his capacity as an editor for McSweeney's and Best American Comics) and his commitment to narrative realism in his own comics. In discussing Ware's relationship to his protagonists in Jimmy Corrigan and Building Stories, as well as Ware's "cameos" in comics like Rusty Brown, Singer gestures to Ware's complicated relationship with autobio. But I don't think Singer quite conveys how tortured that relationship palpably uncomfortable Ware is in writing about himself and even discussing himself in public. I talk about Ware's fraught relationship with self-expression in my review of his quasi-memoir, Monograph (2017), a short section in a much longer article about the State of Comics. Here's an excerpt:
Some critics have characterised Ware’s aesthetic as emotionally cold. But Monograph, with its preponderance of mechanical drawings and photographs of painstakingly handmade wooden automata, makes for a revealing psychological portrait. There is clearly something about these objects with which Ware identifies; there’s something moving, too, in the concept of an autobiography told mostly in picture captions. The way in which Ware narrates his life story is often more revealing than the writing itself. 
One of the best features of the book is its pasted-in booklets, many of which replicate Ware’s original mini-comics. The most interesting of these, which is not much larger than a postage stamp, describes the last few months in the life of the artist’s grandmother. Ware’s caption admits that although the booklet, which bears no resemblance to his distinctive style, is “of no aesthetic value,” it “allowed for something to come out on the page which [he] otherwise would not have permitted.”
(Read "The New Age of Comics" at Prospect magazine.)

One of my central opinions on Chris Ware is that his comics would be a lot better if he either committed to writing about himself or committed to writing truly fictional characters.

2. Chris Ware expresses some stunningly sexist attitudes in his work and his comments.
Singer discusses Ware's sexist attitudes in his capacity as an editor (an argument that was first laid out by Bart Beaty in Comics Versus Art). But this attitude isn't just limited to Ware's work on two anthologies (which I think Singer places way too much weight on anyway); it's also a frequent theme in Ware's own work and his interviews. I think a lot of it comes down to Ware's inability to write about himself, coupled with his tendency to impose his own point of view on other people instead of truly empathizing with them. I wrote about a truly incredible video where Ware talks about his ambivalence on writing female characters:
Ware’s fundamentally incapable of imagining a convincing character or even another actual human who isn’t, on some level, Chris Ware. That isn’t because he’s white, or because he’s a man, but because he mistakes all human experience as interchangeable in a way that would only ever occur to white men. In his hands, exploring difference is the project of locating other people’s inner Chris Ware.
You can read the full post right here on the blog.

Ware's #MeToo cover for the New Yorker
A misogynistic comic he did for the New Yorker
Another one 
Ware on makeup
Ware on his wife

3. The whiteness of Ware World
Given that Singer delves into Ware's sexist attitudes, I'm VERY surprised he doesn't go down a similar line with race. (I'd just about bet those anthologies that Singer talks about are as white as they are male.) A few years ago Ware wrote a real humdinger of an essay on George Herriman, whose work Ware has edited for Fantagraphics' infinite Krazy Kat series. I thought it had some problems:
Pegged to a new biography on kartoonist George Herriman (1880-1944), a black man who passed as white, Ware writes about the merits of the comic and how they deepen and multiply when considered through the lens of black identity. He has a Maya Angelou epigraph and everything. Which is all fine and good till, inevitably, Ware comes around to the universality of Herriman's (really rather particular) predicament. You know, because " its finest form" isn't just about articulating black identity--it's about transcending it.
You can read my full post on Ware's Herriman essay here.

Ware and Spiegelman get real racist in conversation
Ware's unfortunate blurb (on the Tisserand book)

4. Why are people so reluctant to criticize Ware?
People seriously get SO MAD when you criticize Chris Ware. It's a whole thing, and I took it to be the subtext of this chapter given that, as someone who has written about Chris Ware on the Internet, Singer has surely experienced this phenomenon firsthand. Behind people's anger there's a real reluctance to criticize Ware in his capacity as an artist, an editor, or a historian. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Ware's absolutely terrible work as a cover artist for the New Yorker. (My complaint on this was actually the first post on this blog.) While I think the New Yorker covers are probably outside of Singer's scope, they represent the true convergence of all Ware's bad takes on sex and race, which I consider central to his "real" work:
Chris Ware’s comics are about white misery, which people (including him, including me) tend to talk about in terms of universality. I don’t even mean this as a judgment of his work. The comics of his that I know at least--Jimmy Corrigan, Building Stories--are about miserable white protagonists who live in miserable, mostly white, worlds. That’s not my opinion; that’s the text. (And isn’t it also the text of Rusty Brown? I’m not a completest, but I’m pretty sure this is Ware’s thing?) You can say Ware’s comics are about human misery, and that’s not wrong exactly, but it’s not the whole truth. To tell the whole truth, you’d have to acknowledge that the worlds Ware builds, and particularly Ware’s Chicago, are pretty dang white.

You can read the full text here.

Monday, December 31, 2018

my favorite comic of 2018

Someone new comes to town. Someone goes away. There are only two plots in all of literature, a late mentor once told me, and it’s only now I realize he was paraphrasing another dead novelist. I think in comics there’s undue focus on innovation—on who came first, and what comes next—when most of the time it doesn’t matter. If there are only so many ideas, what’s important is the articulation. It isn't about who has an idea so much as who conveys it in a manner, in a time, in a place, so that the idea feels like it's speaking to you.

My favorite comic this year is an eloquent exploration of not one, but both, of the classic storylines in just 14 pages and a few hundred words. Four months after her daughter was born, the cartoonist Geneviève Castrée was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was dead before the girl turned two. In between, Castrée made A Bubble, a children’s board book about their time together that was published posthumously. It is a story that could’ve easily been weighed down by sentimentality, conveyed with a lightness of touch as effervescent as the book’s central metaphor. 

The artist’s conceit of suspending herself in a soap bubble was of course a reference to the isolating nature of Castrée’s illness, which had its own demands. (“That’s what the bubble book was about,” her husband told Pitchfork. “She knew that she was shut off from us and the people that she loved.”) And yet it seems to me the bubble also conveys a certain intimacy, a nod to the almost otherworldly relationship between mother and child in those first years of life. A bubble’s surface is semipermeable, and Castrée’s daughter appears inside and outside its barrier, or sometimes both.  

Every page, with the marked exception of the book’s only spread, is a portrait of mother and daughter on an unadorned background, as though they live in a world where nothing else exists. The story takes place during that liminal time when a child begins to grasp the concept of the autonomous self, and a mother learns how to let go. To build a bridge, Castrée wrote the book from her child’s point of view, and drew herself into places where she never was, and never will be. A Bubble is, on one level anyway, a mother’s lament. Many readers will relate to Castrée’s ambivalence about working too hard, I think. 

But as much as this is a folk tale, it is also one woman’s story. It must have been a strange and heavy task for Castrée to compose what she surely knew to be her final work of art, and stranger still to balance the personal, painful nature of the story with its public consumption (which she planned). What we are privy to, as this late woman’s readership, is her effort to preserve a time that her small daughter will not likely remember. This is heirloom-quality drawing, down to the lovingly rendered textiles that comprised the Elverum family’s real clothes. The book’s most magical imagery, from the single spread I mentioned before, reminds me of the work of Frida Kahlo, with fauna and wildlife serving as emblems of the family’s home in the Pacific Northwest. Like Castrée, Kahlo knew pain and suffering, and there’s a powerful melancholy magic in how both women imagined life beyond the confines of their beds and bodies. 

Eternity no longer appears as such, but only as refracted through the most ephemeral of things. I think Castrée’s strength as a cartoonist was in her ability to locate truth in contradiction. The great irony of A Bubble is that the artist died before she ever drew a single bubble on the page, leaving the work incomplete. I suppose there’s some technical reason that she saved the bubble for last (a task that was ultimately carried out by her friend Anders Nilsen, per his remarkable essay for The Comics Journal), but I find myself wondering about the significance of that membrane—and its absence—in this story about life and death. It is there, and it also isn’t there, a marvel in all its porousness and integrity. In art, in memory, in progeny, there is a sense in which we persist when we’re gone. On the back cover of the book, the artist walks off the page. She doesn’t saunter into the abyss, to the right, but exits left, as if she’s returning to the story inside. Castrée’s daughter trails behind, blowing bubbles. 

A dumb quirk of human existence is how our most fundamental experiences, birth and death, transcend understanding. Too often mistaken for child’s play, the purpose and privilege of imagination is to answer these failures of intellect. Our stories are simple, but rarely easy. Someone comes to town, he told me. Someone goes away. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"celebrating" steve ditko

I don't know much about Steve Ditko, but I've always found him relatable. To feel compelled to participate in comics, yet want to keep its culture at arm's length...well, I guess you're either the kind of person who finds that incomprehensible, or someone who thinks that sounds relatively normal and sane.

There's always been an unsettling degree of fan entitlement surrounding Ditko, but I didn't understand its extent until the last few days. Since his death was announced on Friday there's been an outpouring of intensely sociopathic stories from the people men who stalked him, pestered him, or asked him for favors, presented as though they're some sort of celebration of his life and work. It's incredible to me how often Ditko is the person in these stories who's regarded as cranky or crazy or rude. A common misconception these guys seem to have is that they were offering Ditko some sort of favor. What I see anyway is that they wanted something from him, and felt aggrieved when they didn't get it. Maybe they wanted to talk to him, like the time my nemesis harassed Ditko under the auspices of a mainstream magazine. Maybe they wanted to offer their work up for Ditko's consideration. (What a treat, for him!) Maybe they wanted to offer Ditko the exciting opportunity to collaborate with a stranger, or to pay their respects by turning up at his workplace to stare at him like he was an animal in the zoo.

I was astonished to read this account from Eric Reynolds, associate publisher of Fantagraphics, about the time he and Gary Groth visited Ditko's studio:
"Soon after the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie came out in 2002, Gary Groth and I were on business in NYC one day and had a few hours to kill. Gary said, "Wanna meet Steve Ditko?" It sounded good to me. We showed up at Ditko's 5th Ave. studio and knocked on the door. Ditko answered in a dirty white t-shirt and pants that looked like they also needed a good wash. [Cool detail, Eric!] Although he knew Gary and didn't seem unhappy to see him, we were not exactly greeted hospitably [What is the correct amount of hospitality with which to greet two people--one of whom is a stranger--who turn up unannounced?]
Ditko somewhat carefully slid through the door without opening it widely, into the hallway, conspicuously not inviting us in. [Perhaps this was a hint?] I did my best to peek through the door and get a sense of his working space but couldn't see much. [This is gawking, and most people consider it rude.]
That said, Ditko was actually relatively friendly and despite not inviting us in, he proceeded to talk to us in the hallway for 90 minutes or more. [hmmmm] At some point, conversation turned to the Spider-Man film, which was raking in money at that time. Ditko seemed disinterested in the money - he was much more concerned with receiving credit for his (co-)creation, and clearly resented the victory laps that Stan Lee was taking in the media at the time. If I had one takeaway from the conversation, it's that he palpably hated Stan Lee. Much more than he liked money, despite clearly living very modestly.
I remember Gary pressing Ditko on the nuances of his philosophy about this (insisting that Ditko should be making money off the film and not be content with a simple credit in the film.) [Is there perhaps a distinction to be made between a "philosophy" to be argued and a personal choice?] Groth and Ditko went back and forth about this for awhile, and at times Ditko seemed to genuinely enjoy having someone to spar with on an intellectual level, but eventually he became a bit agitated and asked us to leave as semi-politely as he could. [...after 90 minutes of what sort of sounds like a condescending lecture to a 74-year-old man about his choices.
It was a great conversation that I wish had been recorded, despite being one that I mostly tried to stay out of the way of and just soak in. Sadly, 16 years later, it's already fading from memory. RIP, Steve Ditko! You deserved to outlive Stan Lee."
For Eric Reynolds, this encounter was a once-in-a-lifetime meeting that he imagines should have been recorded for posterity. For Ditko, by every indication, it was an annoyance that happened all the timeHere's the thing: there's a fundamental difference between having respect for someone's work and being respectful towards them as a person. I don't want to single out Reynolds in that he's one of many, many people who seems incapable of making this distinction. They aren't necessarily bad people, but fandom is a form of blindness. It inspires a form of pathological self-involvement that can be dehumanizing to the people we wish to honor most. Take Brian Michael Bendis, who seems to think that Ditko should have found his own exploitation touching. Seriously, this is crazed:

A more enjoyable genre of Ditko anecdote (for me, anyway) is the people sharing their "hate mail"--i.e., feedback they requested and received. (I would pay 50 US dollars for a coffee table book of these letters.) This one from Fred Van Lente isn't a pure example, since the hate mail was actually solicited by Dave Sim for some reason (lol), but anyway Van Lente offered it as an example of Ditko's "legendary prickliness." To wit:
"Sim had written me to say he enjoyed me and Ryan Dunlavey's Comic Book History of Comics. He had been corresponding with Ditko on an unrelated matter and somewhat puckishly said he had forwarded the Marvel origin issue on to him to see what he thought. Sim (and I) were both surprised when Ditko wrote him back write away, and Sim forwarded the reply along to me. This is it."

"The assertion that it was a "personal fantasy" was a little puzzling since the part of the story was comprised of entirely of cited quotations by him in his later writings and anti-Marvel/Lee political cartoons. I mean, if it was a "personal fantasy," *he* was the person, you know what I'm saying?"
Yeah, actually, I know exactly what Van Lente is saying. He's saying that his appropriation of Ditko's words, used for his own purposes, somehow made more sense than Ditko's understanding of his own life, presented on his own terms. I guess I disagree.

Here's Chris Ryall with another "perplexing response" from Ditko that is in fact stunning in its simplicity:

Chris, allow me to translate this gnomic text: Ditko thought your comic fucking sucked. You know, he could have been nicer about it. But when you consider how much time Ditko put into reading and responding to piles of comics he ~inspired~, it seems more than fair. I don't find it outrageous that Ditko took no satisfaction in having inadvertently spawned a stack of comics he didn't care for. I have a harder time understanding the pride with which so many people have been sharing stories like this. My own feeling is that anyone who truly respected Ditko would have left him alone or, at the very least, shown some humility when he didn't respond to their overture.

I don't mean to glorify Ditko's personality (which I find, in turns, sad and endearing), his reclusive ways, or his Randian beliefs. But I do want to float an idea I've been thinking about with regard to a different comics story: The "comics community" as it's championed in the broadest sense has never really been about the people. It celebrates the work. All too often it celebrates the work at the artist's expense. Ditko was exploited by Stan Lee and Marvel Comics, and as a reward he got to spend the rest of his life vetting thousands of tiny (often well meaning) acts of exploitation from the people who admired him. I don't wish to present this as a tragedy. Understand it was a failing.

Given the way that Ditko was treated by Marvel and, later, other industry players, it seems to me an extraordinary act of generosity that he continued to make comics at all, much less until the end of his long life. It's a shame that it was never widely regarded as enough. The salient question is: What would have been?

Friday, June 15, 2018

unpopular opinions

Occasionally on social media there will be a thing where people confess their "unpopular opinions." A true coward's meme, the UOs is where people unload takes that they've privately long believed to be clever, but are too boring for normal people to talk about. As it happens I have one of the last opinions on earth that is truly out of step with every corner of society: I hate Mr. Rogers.

I hate Mr. Rogers now, I hated him when he was alive, and I hated him most of all when I was an actual child. Fucking haaaaate. Not just him, but also his hateful slippers, his nightmare cast of puppets (especially that ruddy faced one, not to be too unhinged but that puppet was seriously a cunt), hate his slow way of talking, his whole condescending way of being.

I always secretly took this to be one of the most fundamental things about my personality, and possibly the key to everything that's wrong with me, but recently my mom revealed that it was a simple case of modeling. "Oh, I think you got that from me," she said. "That simpering tone of his, I honestly couldn't stand it." My childhood role model was the Cookie Monster, which was maybe a more pure antecedent. I'm still living his values to this day.

I've been waiting my entire life to confess this unpopular opinion, but after this year, which seems to be the Mr. Rogers centennial or something (?), I figured I'd have to take it to the grave. Well anyway I guess tonight's my night because I'm deeply, unreasonably, characteristically irritated by the take that Rob Rogers being fired from the Pittsburgh Whatever is some grave affront to democracy. Oh, you're talking about the guy who drew this?

I honestly can't believe I have to say this: This is a terrible cartoon. TERRIBLE. Terrible on every conceivable level on which a piece of "art" can be bad. Terrible even for the (almost uniformly) shitty genre of political cartooning, which is itself inconceivably terrible. I'm not even cherrypicking! Literally every spiked cartoon of this guy's I've seen is this degree of bad. Of course they're running them all at the Nib, lol. Let freedom ring.

It's honestly amazing to me that people care about this? Rob Rogers and Ted Rall? American heroes, the first line of the First Amendment in the good old U.S.A.?

*holds up that one cunt-faced puppet* These people are idiots, and they are actively making us all dumber. *flaps her horrifying toothless mouth for emphasis* GET A GRIP

Saturday, June 9, 2018

tonight I'm thinking about anthony bourdain

Heavy week's going out heavy. I don't know if you read this. My nephew's fourth birthday is next week, so a year younger than the boy in the story. I've been making him this little book about his life. Going through pictures. Kids are unhinged narcissists like everyone else but they don't have to hide it yet, so I know he's going to love it. His father's been out of town these last two weeks; just knowing the magnitude of this (very real) anxiety and sadness his father's absence for a *business trip* has introduced into his life gives me some perspective on what that article is talking about. My brother-in-law has sent him a postcard every day he's been gone. My sister put the first one in his carseat for him to find, texted me about how solemn he became when she told him what it was. "It looks very special," he said, and clutched it to his fucking chest. He's not quite as maudlin as me yet but he's getting there. I have full faith I'll have him listening to one of those Whole Foods muzak kids' version of the Cure's oeuvre by age five at the absolute latest. Anyway reading the NYT thing I feel connected to the little boy in the story in this distant muted distinctly American way. Reading it I feel things that are bigger than me, things I can't understand but sort of make me want to die, and there are times I don't know where to put it or a constructive outlet to channel it into or know what number to call and ask for the manager because that's how my kind handle these things.

I was reading Ronan Farrow's new book these last few days, about the death of diplomacy in American government. I guess I knew a lot of it already but he's a writer, like a writer-writer, and seeing it all laid out in this way that was so stark was also something. I recommend it. At the center of it were these two old-school diplomats, including a woman I'd never heard of who was the last American with a human heart in Pakistan. She was prosecuted by the government for espionage for stuff like having dinner with Pakistanis, because we're in a time and place and point in the War on Terror where there's no longer a framework to recognize that as a thing that someone who works for the Foreign Service might wish to do. Richard Holbrooke worked so hard to get Obama's administration to turn away from literal warlords committing unspeakable atrocities in the name of fighting the Taliban to maybe get some money to some fucking farmers that his actual heart burst in his chest. That's how hard he cared about Afghanistan. You know, he died and that was that.

So anyway that's been the week in my brain leading up to today, to Bourdain. One of our last Great Diplomats. I say that with absolutely no exaggeration. Bourdain was also someone who meant something to me on more of a personal level, not because I knew him but because I could see myself in him. He was someone else who lived more than one life and it's wild when you see someone else who got away with it, who's walking around and talking about it all in the right way, a piece of your story expressed through this person who has--who had--a much, much better personality. Bourdain didn't have that repulsive self-glorifying tendency of every writer I ever admired growing up. I always thought that was because before he was ever a Writer, he had an actual job. He had this attitude of humility (not as a celebrity, but as a person in the world) that I found relatable. I hope I have it too.

In my twenties I was in New York for a month; it rained the whole fucking time but a highlight was a visit from my friend Kevin and the night we went to Les Halles. I think Bourdain had already moved on by that point, but it was just this emotionally charged thing of visiting this place that had been so important in the life of someone we both idolized. Kevin and I grew up in this dumb town, both people who were super interested in humor and food in a place where there wasn't a lot of interest in those things. Bourdain was an international phenomenon from the beginning I guess, but these were still the early days of internet, where you felt like you were really finding something, like it was yours.

By total fluke I came across an incredible story about Bourdain yesterday, not even 24 hours before he died. This is Ben Rhodes, the big Obama guy who has a new memoir that I was skimming for work.

I feel just as self-conscious as everyone else who's been talking about this today...but I'm grateful to have come across it. I have a feeling, knowing Bourdain got to hear that. It's a lesson too, that you can mean something like that in someone else's life and not even know it. I'm adding it to my list of things to think about when I feel these things that are bigger than me. Pulling down his books from my shelves and maybe cook myself a steak. It's a hard world, and Bourdain's gift was never letting us lose sight of that, even as he offered it all up like a jewel.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

disgruntled comics links

Who doesn't love some serious ass after-school special comics links? Literally everyone, including me, you say? Sounds like we're in my wheelhouse. Let's jump right in.

1. Brandon Graham has been accused of misconduct
If you're reading this, I have to imagine you're aware that cartoonist/critic Carta Monir recently tweeted a warning to women, and especially trans women, about her fellow comics maker Brandon Graham. I'm going to (try to) set aside my own take in the service of some more general observations and questions. Is that the right choice? is one question, and though I've thought on it the answer remains an immutable I don't know.

I think people tend to stop at I don't know, when maybe that's the place you have to begin.

An indisputable fact is that Carta's tweet made some information that had been in a whisper network more explicit. In this the truth or falsity of the whispers' content is beside the point; this is only to say the content existed. (I know because I heard it from people who aren't Carta long before this ever happened.) In this, Brandon Graham is not especially unusual; I've heard whispers about plenty of other people, too, and obviously the ones I've heard represent only a small fraction of all the whispers there are. It's just this thick undercurrent of shit that most people, most of the time, prefer to imagine isn't there. I think a lesson the Aziz Ansari scandal imparted was that, to some degree, a lot of people regard sexual misconduct that's not straight-up nightmare rape as distasteful--a matter that polite society has no place discussing. Like it's something that should be worked out behind closed doors. If Me Too is a reckoning, it's only the tip of the iceberg in that most of these discussions remain underground. Personally? I feel nothing but gratitude any time some piece of information makes its way to me, even if I'm unlikely to need it, but it comes with a heaviness - a sense of responsibility that is neither logical nor actionable, beyond a point. So there's both horror and relief in understanding I'll never hear most of it.

What does it mean, just in general, to make a whisper network public (or at least less private)? That's a whole fraught thing, as the Media Men List made clear. We have imperfect tools in this imperfect world, and there are drawbacks. (Did you see the Comics Men List? It was...not good.) Again, zooming out from the specific content of Carta's tweet, and any consideration of its veracity - that tweet was objectively more responsible than an accusation couched in an anonymous list. It was, explicitly, a warning, even if it was a vague one. Now, you can also choose to view the content of her tweet as some sort of Brandon Graham takedown, but there is a larger sense in which publicizing a whisper network (to whatever degree that's even possible) takes the onus off women to keep each other safe by transfering these difficult and clandestine and sometimes personal conversations that usually happen amongst ourselves as opportunity allows into a more public forum. It is a sad and futile thing, a whisper network--a patch that attempts to address a problem that's on our minds, but largely out of our hands. Going public with a piece of information helps normalize discussions about violated boundaries, about harassment, assault. Rape. These things are happening all the time, yet are very hard to talk about under the best of circumstances. It's that much more difficult when they brush up against your livelihood.

Comics as a "community" is never even going to begin talking about accountability for predators if we can't find some way to broach these conversations. "What is okay, and what is not okay?" is (at least at this point) a more useful question than "What, exactly, did Brandon Graham do?" Comics outlets that gleefully opined on 2dcloud's issues earlier this year aren't going to touch this story with a 10-ft pole, dismissing it as gossip or in-fighting, but of course that's not quite what whisper networks are. At what point would a comics site deign to acknowledge that this semi-public whisper exists, much less take a side? Probably only if Brandon ends up thoroughly disgraced, and maybe not even then. But listen: it shouldn't wait. These conversations are difficult and uncertain and risky, and women have been shouldering all of that, forever. For any man who's been accused, specific consequences--whether they're taken by an employer, a conference, a publisher, a website, whatever--are one thing, but I'm not sure that we'll ever get around to talking about the circumstances under which those consequences are even on the table if we can't first find a space, however uncertain, where we stop regarding this as holding a referendum on one man and start making room for women (for anyone, actually) to air grievances without being treated like pariahs. Discussing consequences doesn't always have to be the end goal, because frankly that's not always appropriate. And even when it is, it is in some ways secondary. Punitive measures can only go so far as a deterrent; a much more effective deterrent, to my mind, is to create a cultural climate in which it's more difficult for predators to quietly do their thing. It's like putting a bell on a cat.

Meanwhile, people will whisper, whether it's about Brandon or someone else, because that's what they've got. Also, they will watch. Carta's tweet is a canary in the coal mine for whisperers of all stripes. Whisperers are watching Brandon Graham, who at one point said he would invite more specific accusations. That's certainly possible, though it might be easier said than done; he has reacted with some hostility to light criticism of his work in the past, which was a far less personal matter. The whisperers are watching Brandon's circle--the people he knows and the fans who are speaking up for him--who, thus far, have been more outspoken and defensive and, in some cases, aggressive than he himself has been. (That's how comics works, as a rule; cf. Chris Sims.) And maybe most of all they're watching Carta, who (so far as I can tell) has received way more blowback and harassment with regard to this than Brandon has, or will. These are real individuals in a specific situation, and I don't want to minimize that - but they are also emblematic. You could sub in other actors for Brandon or for Carta and I think events would unfold in a similar (if not precisely the same) manner.

All to say that I'll wager that, in watching all this, the whisperers are feeling somewhat discouraged. Reader...consider the possibility they're watching you.

2. A digression
This isn't a link, but indulge me for a minute:

It was my birthday last week, one of the weird ones. One of my oldest friends had their own weird bday exactly one week prior, so we decided to go somewhere to commiserate. Much of our time involved sitting or floating in warm water and not looking at phones, which was predictably good. (This level of activity is about all I'm capable of now, as an Old.) There was a pool, I guess it had a lot of salt in it or something, so it gave you this uncanny buoyancy. I honestly can't think of anything I'd rather do than float around like a corpse all day. That's the sort of mood I've been in this year.

Anyway my friend and I would corpse-float for these long periods of time, and when we'd reconvene, they'd always been thinking these really deep thoughts about the future, reflecting on this milestone, whereas I was just like...I really thought that by this age I'd be better at putting on eyeshadow. Frankly I just pictured myself as being better at makeup by now; that had seemed to me a thing that would come with time. I have a natural shallowness that I try not to worry about too much, or maybe I just don't always care about the same things that other people tend to care about. I don't know. But anyway what with the world being the way it is lately, this shitty birthday, and just a difficult year, personally, even I have had to give some level of thought to the limited time we have in this life, and whether or not the things I'm doing make me happy. Which is a very roundabout way of saying that I'm increasingly unsure that comics is one of those things. This isn't my 'fuck it, I quit' moment. Just like...I don't feel too good about it lately.

Part of that's discussing things like in item #1 (bit of a downer), but some of it's more personal. I like reading about comics, I like talking about comics, writing about comics, all of it. But a part I don't enjoy so much is some of the baggage that comes with it, some of the people we keep around, and how bad we are at sticking up for each other. Sometimes I hesitate to talk about small things anywhere near a conversation about bigger things because that's not a shift in gears that people seem to understand, but to me these problems have always felt to some degree related. I think some folks have trouble trusting that anyone has a sense of proportionality, and so they conclude we can't discuss anything or anyone without sending them to comics jail or throwing books on the comics bonfire. They worry these discussions can't have nuance, which might be because they themselves are incapable of nuance. This is a working theory.

Anyway I don't have some explosive story, or any one anecdote that encapsulates this feeling. Just a vague wish that I could put whatever I'm going to put out into the world without getting back something weird and upsetting, such as (for ex) a long public "debate" on my thoughts on Crumb fuckability run by an industry professional who looks like this:

Whatever. I got a lot of shit for implying that Jeffrey Dahmer was ugly that one time so I should really shut my cruel bitch bullying mouth. But I don't need to solicit anyone else's feedback to conclude from this man's facial hair alone that he's a loser, a nitwit, and a probable virgin who at some point in his life has studied the art of magic. I guess my rule is sort of like that thing they say about jobs, relationships, and apartments in New York--pick two, but you're not getting three. I ain't even counting that shirt.

I'm trying out a new policy: if you see something, say something. I'm done with these pieces of shit. If an industry person treats you in this manner, however petty it may be, I urge you to call them out on it, meanly. And if you can't - I'm your Huckleberry.

3. Juliet Kahn on Cathy comics 
I'm behind on my comics reading lately, but someone linked to Juliet's piece at the Comics Journal(!) and it's awfully good. Juliet's so sharp. While I was reading I kept thinking about this quote from Lynda Barry, who is not a fan of Cathy comics:

Sort of a throwaway comment but there's a lot going on. So many levels of "bad feminism" (on both sides, Lynda and Cathy), plus some stuff about sincerity and autobio and how we relate to comics, as readers. You know, does real-Cathy have the right to draw zaftig-Cathy is a boring topic. But there's something that rang true to me about Lynda implying that comic is hollow and even opportunistic.

I don't remember having any strong feelings about Cathy growing up. To me it didn't feel relatable at all, just sort of more what the world was selling? Even as a child I understood that Cathy wasn't a person you wanted to be, and that wasn't just what the world was telling me; it was what Cathy was telling me. I feel like the argument that people hate Cathy because sexism speaks to me more than, like, the idea that Cathy is somehow a feminist comic. But here's a thing I know: nothing ever seems sadder and more repulsive than a brand of feminism that isn't close enough to your own. probably is a feminist comic? Ack!

4. The NYT has hired some comics critics 
Some personal news: the New York Times doesn't seem to be hiring people who write "suck my dick" in their comic book reviews, so I didn't make the cut for America's Top Comics Critic. I just assume I was being considered? Odds are at least one of the 20 people who read my hobby blog was part of the Gray Lady's hiring team, but of course you never know. In any case the people who've been hired are Hillary Chute, who is mostly an academic, and Ed Park, whose work I don't know at all.

Is Hillary Chute a critic? I don't know. She's a first-class academic--truly interesting and innovative. My knowledge of her work for lay people is mostly her interviews with cartoonists (a different skill) and a couple pages of that new book of hers (which honestly looked sort of bad to me). I think whether or not she'll be good at this kind of writing could go either way, and I sort of don't care. I'm not really the person that kind of review is written for. What I *do* care about is how much say that Chute has in what's becoming comics canon. This is a thing I talked to her about, oh, maybe five years ago when I interviewed her about her work for a mainstream outlet. (She dodged the question, if you're wondering.) I think...I think no one should have that much say in the comics that people are reading now, and also 100 years from now. I think that's a responsibility she doesn't take very seriously, or at least didn't when I talked to her about it. I think her tastes are too narrow - but that is to some degree an academic thing more than a Hillary Chute thing.

Ed Park...from his bio he sounds to me like more of an actual critic. I know he's been associated with The Believer, so I assume (perhaps incorrectly) (...but I really don't think so) that his sensibility will be very similar to Hillary's. I saw someone praising the NYT for hiring a woman and a person of color, and you know, that's swell, but diversity of perspectives isn't only about the identity of the people who have them. I think it's also about what they're looking at.

5. COPRA Round 5 is here
Ending on a high: COPRA Round 5. I spent some time yesterday flipping through the collections just to appreciate some of the things that comic does best, an activity I'd recommend. I've fallen down on the job for my Chris Ware roundtables, which I organized and then promptly got too busy to actually run. (If you were one of the participants, please know how sorry I am about this!) I think at this point I'll just do the Ware posts myself, but maybe a COPRA roundtable someday? Dare to dream.