Friday, December 30, 2016

precious things

I came to comics via Tori Amos fandom, which probably says it all. Sandman was the synthesis of all the things in life I cared about during a certain stretch of being a teenager—reading, listening to the Cure, and sleeping—and I think, had the Internet been more of a thing back then, I would’ve gotten into comics way sooner. I don’t have some big story about what put me off at first. There were two shops in my little town, and the first one, the crummy one, was run by a guy who was really friendly; I remember talking with him about Charles Vess, who was a regular there. But his shop was just these tables full of dusty old boxes that I didn’t really want to touch, much less rummage through. (And for what? Where do you even start in a place like that?) The other shop was staffed by a handful of condescending deviants and the two most sullen boys from my high school, and that place was Classic Comics: big dark room with cardboard boobs everywhere. The vague sense that someone was masturbating in the back.

"The Cipher"
tfw your entire backstory could be printed
on your vagina thong (All images in this post
are from All-Time Comics, coming in 2017.)

Years later, my college boyfriend gave me some graphic novels (the Dark Phoenix Saga, Watchmen, stuff like that) and I liked them. I liked them a lot, actually, Watchmen especially. But at the same time there was something sort of off-putting about that situation that’s hard to articulate—this sense in which they were offered as a project for my betterment. That’s a feeling that has persisted through the years, and so over time I’ve compiled this large, diffuse category of boring things that men have tried to talk me into caring about--Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, jazz music, all of history, sports. Marvel Comics.

At some point I moved to Chicago and started reading Chris Ware. Man, I really loved Jimmy Corrigan. I still do. By then of course there was the blessed Internet, but for whatever reason moving past Ware didn't happen for a while. Eventually I gravitated towards indie for a lot of reasons, one being the toxic culture stuff that I had first sensed in that dimly lit circle-jerk shop of my youth. As it turns out there’s some of that in indie too, but with superhero stuff there’s also this thing where a lot of the talk surrounding those comics in particular is boring to me. I rarely know what anyone is talking about, and nothing I ever hear makes me want to learn more. So much trivia, so many people who seem a little too caught up in the historicity of comics. Knowledge often used in service of scoring points by people with something to prove. That's not everyone, of course, but first impressions are hard to shake.

"The 'Urban' One"
where to start...I like that his alias is pretty much "the 
black one." I like that he's a disgruntled criminal vs the 
white Captain America guy's Mr. Perfect. (V transgressive.) 
Finally I really really like that his origin story is being 
"overwhelmed by pervasive despair of his urban surroundings" 
where everyone's in jail or using heroin. Is one of the All-Time 
Comics villains the Mexican Rapist, because this straight-up 
sounds like Trump to me.

I think that COPRA has changed my mind. I came to it late, in spring 2016, but my timing was good. Just a few weeks after I read Round One this thing by Abhay Khosla came out. That piece talked about the merits of the comic in a way I’d found lacking in a lot of the stuff I’d just read through online, but more than that, it was speaking my language—talking about movies in a way that I used to think about poetry and painting. Around that same time (it might have been the same week, even) I heard some of the story of Bergen Street Comics. Comics being Comics, I think there’s a good chance you knew that place, if you’re reading this. I did not, but I liked hearing about it. There was a way in which that shop—its wares, its philosophy, its look and feel, the whole deal—sounded like the antithesis of that circle-jerk shop in my hometown. I could hear in the story of that place the same democratic type of vibe I perceived in reading COPRA…a form of inclusion that isn’t about Inclusion, with the capital letter, as a promotions tactic or an end in itself, but as an implicit assumption that this is just the way that things should be. I don't need to read a press release about how they're for everyone; I can sense for myself that there's no one masturbating in the back, if you will. Consider the title of this interview that Chris Mautner did with Michel Fiffe, “My Aim Is to Be as Appealing as Possible,” and in a nutshell that describes an attitude I find to be sorely lacking in comics. (In fact it sometimes seems to me that comics tries to be as unappealing as possible.) To be clear, being as appealing as possible isn’t about pitching to the lowest common denominator or crafting an effective elevator pitch. It’s about creating a world—whether it’s on the page or on the Internet or IRL—that different kinds of people want to spend time in. That’s what Fiffe does. That’s what my favorite comics writers do. That’s what comics shops should strive for, and often don’t. Or so I’m told. I don't exactly seek them out.

So anyway these three things—Fiffe’s comic, that Savage Critic essay, the Bergen St milieu—kind of came together like pieces of a puzzle for me to form this expression of superhero fandom that was not repulsive or arrogant or pathological or boring. Here it was actually about sharing the love of a thing. Which is a little sad, because that's what fandom should always be about, right? But that's not a type of fandom that I perceive in comics very often, anyway (even on the indie side). Instead a lot of times fandom is about the ownership of a thing, or the worship of a thing, or mounting a defense for a thing, or explaining a thing. The eminence of some fucking thing. For the first time this whole swath of comics that had just seemed gross to me was suddenly…appealing? I didn’t just want to read that stuff—I felt excited to read that stuff in a way I hadn’t felt excited about reading in a while. Those people showed me what they love about those comics without litigating their importance or perfection, and I could see for myself why they're worth reading. Though of course it’s still hard to know where to start.

"The Perfect One"
Just super impressed by this perfect white man. 
Legit lol @ one of his superpowers being "to absorb 
tremendous trauma." 

Around the same time as all of the above I was watching Jessica Jones, thinking about it in terms of Marvel’s own attempt to be “as appealing as possible”—what that entailed, and why, and who it seemed to be appealing to. All sorts of people liked Jessica Jones, I’m sure, but the many, many takes I was reading at the time were almost exclusively written by men. There’s a certain indignity in sitting down to write about your messed-up feelings about some dumb show to see that Arthur Fucking Chu has deemed it “a huge feminist achievement,” or that Vulture's resident fanboy used the occasion of its saddest sex scene to write about his horny level. (Spoiler alert: horny level = high.) I was keeping this long list of idiotic quotes about Jessica Jones from these men who seemed to me distinctly unqualified to talk about feminism, or maybe anything. I hated the discussion around that show. I hated the show itself. I hated the writing, the acting, just all of it.

In lieu of unpacking all that, I’ll just tell you about a scene in Episode 6 where Luke Cage—upon learning that Jessica was raped, tortured, and forced to murder his wife—says, and I quote, “You let me be inside of you.” You know, referring to the fact that they had fucked. That isn't an appropriate thing to say to anyone you’re fucking, particularly if you just found out that they were raped and forced to murder someone. And yeah, okay, that someone was Luke’s wife, but he knew even as he said "You let me be inside you" that Jessica didn’t really kill her; Kilgrave did. Why that was portrayed as a trauma that Jessica inflicted on Luke, rather than a trauma that had been inflicted on Jessica, is one of many questions I have about that show.

“You let me be inside of you.” Yeah, no, I cannot. But I’ll tell you who can: men, who universally sympathized with Luke in that scene in their reviews. Just as a sampling, let’s take a look at what some of the boys of comics had to say:
“He had a right to be furious, especially because Jessica doesn’t have any defense.” –Oliver Sava, at AV Club
(Oh, I don’t know, maybe Jessica’s defense was that she was raped and forced to murder someone and now she’s all fucked up. Just spitballin’ here, Oliver.)
“Declaring her a piece of shit, with ample justification, he walks off.” –Sean T. Collins, at Decider
(Feels like I should acknowledge that the parts I read of Collins’ take on that show seemed better than a lot of what's out there? But...)

When Zainab asked me to do Critical Chips, I told her I was going to write about Jessica Jones or COPRA, and ended up writing about both. Sometimes you just have to go with your own weird shit. I found it interesting, hating this show that was clearly meant to appeal to me, and being really into this comic that seemed mostly to appeal to people who aren’t like me at all. (I mean, I'm sure plenty of different people read COPRA. But mostly men write about it, and their comics backgrounds are more or less the opposite of my own.) My essay ended up being about a lot of things. Too many things. And the problem with trying to say a lot is that you don’t really have enough time to say any of it especially well, so it was arguably a mistake to spend so much space making a point that the Savage Critic piece had already made quite ably: that for all the things COPRA has to say about fandom, it’s wrongheaded to think of it as a work of glorified fan fiction. But it’s just crazy to me how much emphasis that gets. Because for all its referents and nods to its forebears, COPRA’s most salient feature is that it’s fiercely special.

Ah yes, another article praising Fantagraphics for its irony...
that old chestnut. But seriously I find All-Time Comics writer 
Josh Bayer's assertion that he wants to "diversify superhero
fandom with his vagina thong comic...fascinating?

That piece indirectly discussed another place where a lot of considerations of COPRA go wrong, which is in talking about the story as a weakness or an afterthought. The consensus seems to be that Fiffe is more of a visual artist than a writer, right? The TCJ review of Round One (which epitomizes everything under discussion here) says, “Perhaps it does not matter that the storytelling falters, because there is no real story being told, no point to get across”--a sentiment I've read in a lot of different places. To me the story seems quite consciously postmodern: meta, skeptical, and probing. Postmodern stuff has a tendency to skew cold and technical, which is why the story works so well with the warmth and enthusiasm conveyed by the art. (It's a work of checks and balances in other ways, too, where Fiffe's palpably insane work ethic is tempered by his forward momentum, heavy violence is cut with aesthetic distance, etc.) Fiffe wisely skirts irony, though I think he pokes fun at himself a little. (There’s something about the way in which the details are so super specific, yet don’t matter at all. Also I'd point to the way in which the super recognizable, hyper-masculine tone of the text doesn't drip with derision like the hardboiled cliches of, say, Alan Moore's Rorschach.) Anyway it’s curious to me that so many people who plainly love superhero comics fail to see the story’s cleverness and humor. Maybe that’s even more of a testament to the stereotypes of genre than whatever derision superhero comics still receive from more literary types. Comics in general seems to lag behind every other area of culture in its insistence on harping about "high" and "low," and the inability to let go of these outdated binaries is the reason we have this absurd situation wherein Fantagraphics, an art comics publisher, is about to put out an "ironic" superhero comic that will almost certainly wind up perpetuating the same old shit it purports to rail against. Lord, even Marvel seems to have figured out that vacant ladies with big titties and vagina thongs being "mysterious" around some white hero who's overcome so...very...much is not a storyline that plays to a diverse audience in what will soon be the year of our lord 2017. Literally the last thing I want or need from a comic is for a man to explain to me why vagina thongs are "art." That is not appealing to me--or, I will wager, people like me--at all. Had Fantagraphics thought to include a single woman on the large team of people collaborating to produce All-Time Comics, they might have learned this lesson the easy way. Contrast the high-concept inclusion projects of Fanta (like its Pepe bs and All-Time Comics) and, to a lesser degree, the PR tactics of Drawn & Quarterly with the output of a smaller publisher like 2dCloud, and there is a whole separate essay to be written about the landscape of art comics publishing today.

I guess the thought I’d like to leave you with here at the end of the year is how there’s this way in which a whole is sometimes greater than the sum of its parts. That's such a platitude, but for me it holds true across a lot of things. Especially comics. Especially COPRA. I think about all those reviews that center Suicide Squad, and I don't doubt that decrypting those references would deepen my understanding of Fiffe's series. Reading any artist who's coming to grips with their influences or is remotely interested in interrogating their own preoccupations, that is going to be the case. As an analogy, I mentioned T.S. Eliot's footnotes for The Waste Land in that Critical Chips thing, and it's true that reading those helped me understand that poem. But in another way I found that process limiting and limited—limiting because of the way in which that homework distracts from the poem’s greatness as its own thing. Limited because an explanation can only say so much. That’s a thing people often don’t get about T.S. Eliot, which is partly his own fault; like so many men, he was very fond of explanation. But he also knew its limits. In Eliot’s final footnote on the last words of The Waste Land:

Shantih, shantih, shantih

he explains, in that wry, poignant tone of his, how the line is untranslatable:
Shantih. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an Upanishad. ‘The Peace which passeth understanding’ is a feeble translation of the content of this word.
I think about that a lot, because commenting on art, whether you love it or hate it or something in between, the challenge becomes saying something that transcends "feeble translation." People love to talk about the ~Magic of Comics~ in technical terms, breaking down the anatomy of a page or panel to demonstrate its ability to shoulder so many different meanings at once. Such explanations have their place, but mostly I find them to be the ShamWow! commercials of comics writing. Real magic--that feeling you get reading the stuff that's the best of the best, in comics and in all art--is not a thing you can dissect. That is not to say it's inscrutable. Whichever parts won't fit in the footnotes...those are the ones I really want to talk about.

This was a companion post to my essay on COPRA and Jessica Jones, which was printed in Critical Chips, a zine of comics criticism put together by Zainab Akthar. That piece has been posted here because there was a production snafu with mine, in print and digital. I’m sure you will be shocked to learn that I’m a fussy nightmare person—not in some evolved way that means I’m organized or anything useful like that, but in a pathological way that makes very small things that no one else will ever notice matter to me. Do me a solid and read it as it was written...unless you’ve read it already, in which case I'll live. Somehow. Some way.

It’s a strange coincidence, but a good one I think, to close out 2016 with three posts that talked about one comic I really like, even if two of them were a dumb link and an anal reprintI wonder if this is a just a website about COPRA now? I should almost certainly write at least 10 more posts on it before I finish that draft about how much I hated Fun Home the musical. Still, the beat goes on, and there's little doubt I'll go back to hating everything in 2017. I'm nearly faint with anticipation for how hard I'm gonna hate All-Time Comics this Spring...unless it's good, which it won't be. Because seriously, that comic looks like shit.

A real fun fact about me that maybe doesn't always come across is that I’m intensely cynical and absurdly emo at the same time. (“The worst of both worlds”--this is the O’Connor promise. I don't think we have a crest or anything but my ancestors carved it into all their potatoes.) As someone who has, for reasons I can neither defend nor explain, taken an interest in some of the more dispiriting facets of comics culture, I rarely do emo these days, but I’ll tell you what: it’s a pleasure to find something nice to say once in a while. I should do it more often. 

Happy holidays? xx

how we take

In 1953, the artist Robert Rauschenberg convinced Willem de Kooning, one of his personal heroes, to give him a drawing. It was a big ask. De Kooning was one of the most famous artists in the world, and then there were Rauschenberg’s plans for the piece. He wanted to erase it, as in literally remove every mark.

A white page with traces of the original crayon, grease pencil, and ink, “Erased de Kooning Drawing” was a lot of things. Most obviously: a dick move. Blatant provocation. A work that walks the line between a gimmick and a deep thought. Art historians like to call it symbolic patricide, and it’s true that Rauschenberg was unimpressed with the Abstract Expressionist idea that you use paint to vomit up your deepest inner hero. But the thing that makes the piece interesting—the reason it’s an enduring work of art instead of just a footnote in an Urban Outfitters book about Banksy—was that it was more than just a critique. It was also a reverent act.

“There wasn’t any resistance to abstract expressionists,” Rauschenberg said. “I think that only Jasper Johns and myself gave them enough respect not to copy them.”

It’s said that art is borne of passion, but I think that’s only half right. Art is borne of deep ambivalence.


To my knowledge, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has the best Rauschenberg collection in the world, around 90 works. “Erased de Kooning,” which looks like a dirty sheet of paper, is requested for exhibition and reproduction not just more than all its cooler-looking brethren, but more than every other piece in the museum. I submit that this is because people never feel more self-satisfied than when they recognize what one thing takes from something else.

It’s a dumb thrill, isn’t it? For me one of life’s purest pleasures is spotting some piece of Chicago in the movies. I clapped like a seal when I recognized a street in that one car chase scene in The Dark Knight. I think a similar sentiment must fuel a certain mode of comics writing, where the author cross-references a comic with the index in his mind palace and a transcript of some message board exchange circa 2003 and thinks he’s had a thought. I like how Abhay Khosla described this phenomenon in an essay about Michel Fiffe’s COPRA for The Savage Critic: “Categorize. Classify. Regiment. Bag. Board. Bleh.” Clapping like a seal is all fine and good when you’re sitting home alone, but if you look at something like COPRA and your first thought is copyright law, there’s plainly something wrong with your life.

Have you ever read an interview with Fiffe? It’s like two men reading names from the Vietnam Memorial to each other, but comics. When writers focus so much on the granular comics history that COPRA so consciously transcends, it’s not just that it’s boring (to me); I think they’re sort of missing the point.


In graduate school I spent a lot of time thinking about a poem called The Waste Land. I don’t know, maybe you’ve heard of it. One thing I found interesting was the tension between the poem’s reputation as inscrutable and the many rows of books in the library that were written by people who wished to explain it. Often scholars focus on the way that T.S. Eliot referenced other literary works. Like an asshole, Eliot himself published footnotes with later editions of the poem that explained his every allusion to Dante, Shakespeare, etc. It was an ambivalent gesture—sort of a joke but also not a joke—that Eliot himself would later observe generated “the wrong kind of interest.”

Some 65 years later, Michael Palmer, an earnest poet with a great deal of chest hair, published a poem called Sun. Inspired by “Erased de Kooning Drawing,” Palmer conceived of it as an erasure of Eliot’s poem. Walking the line between parody and tribute, Sun critiqued the notion of what Palmer called the “perfectly enclosed” poem—the idea that The Waste Land, or any poem, can be dissected and explained. “I felt it as a typing over the text,” he said. “At the same time, it was obviously an echo and homage…. It enacts a kind of ambivalence. Certainly my own ambivalence toward the culture of modernism and toward those figures that, to some degree, we arise out of.” Sun had the same number of lines as The Waste Land and many of the same literary references, plus allusions to “low” sources. The title and the image that opens the poem, a headless man, were taken from a supermarket tabloid.

Palmer never published any footnotes, but he discussed all of this, at length, in interviews.

As someone who finds the idea of decoding a work of art to be off-putting, I enjoyed the many levels of irony at work there: the ways in which Sun undermines, yet inadvertently upholds, some dim idea of literary seriousness; how it foregrounds, and at the same time destabilizes, poetic conventions; how it appropriates images and emotional textures from the best-known poem of the 20th century even as it concedes that doing so is sort of bullshit. Most of all I liked the idea that there’s some critical space where you can attend to a work that’s not just a take—that criticism is capable, perhaps, of transcending whatever it’s about.

Sun is a beautiful poem, truly. I like the passage at the end where the decapitated tabloid man finds his head.

Tie something to something else
Hold your head

as a lantern
a light for this impossible season


Robert Rauschenberg didn’t believe in the sanctity of the self, which he conceptualized as incoherent and always in flux, or of art, which could be anything. “Painting relates to both art and life,” he said. “Neither can be made. (I try to act in that gap between the two.)”

I think that’s also where a critic works. What you’re reading now isn’t a piece of criticism about COPRA, but if it were I’d try to render my own experience of that liminal space: the nostalgia that COPRA’s fanciful character design makes me feel, not as a comics reader, but as someone who spent a lot of time paging through boys’ sketchbooks as a teen; COPRA as an education in comics craft and some of the people who practiced it; the COPRA trades as beautiful objects I can hold in my hands, a cool thing I admire a pal for his role in; my love for the excellent hand-lettered fonts of COPRA, and the regretful lack thereof in indie comics; my appreciation for Fiffe’s desire to entertain; and finally, of particular interest to me, COPRA as a work that seems more interested in opening up possibilities (for stories, for style, for meaning, for audience) than pinning them down.

But this is, after all, an essay about taking, and what it means to do so well or badly. Thank Christ.


You don’t have to be aware of COPRA’s relationship to Suicide Squad to recognize it a comic that engages—and estranges—certain markers of medium and genre. It’s a comic about comics, not just in the world of the story, but also as an object in the world; COPRA exists in a sort of conversation with the exploited creators it honors in the way that it’s made (by an auteur) and sold (by him, on Etsy). Storywise part of its thing is engaging and estranging the way that violence has been depicted and understood and enjoyed in comics.

Curiously, while COPRA is an incredibly violent comic, its violence isn’t really sexual or sexualized. The comics project that’s lauded for interrogating the way that’s been depicted and understood and enjoyed is TV’s Jessica Jones.

Feminist noir, with a (more) rapey Time Lord! Listen closely, and you can hear an Internet’s worth of cultural critics seal-clapping themselves into the sea.

In Episode 6, Jessica’s pal Malcolm tries to convince her to go to a support group.

JESSICA:         Look, I’m not going to talk about my shitty story, Malcolm, because there’s always  someone who’s had it worse. Someone’s life who was ruined worse.

MALCOLM:      It’s not a competition.

Which: of course it’s a competition. On television (as in corporate comics), it always has been. That’s why Jessica Jones is about a girl named (1) Hope who (2) is held captive and raped repeatedly, (3) forced to murder her parents before (4) going to jail for her rapist’s crime and (5) finding out she’s pregnant with his baby. Of course she (6) aborts it and (7) mortally stabs herself in the throat. As one does, with such a heavy hand.

I’m interested in people’s shitty, but not quite shitty enough, stories. I think a lot of people struggle with that bar. In the absence of your own grisly murder, does your own shitty story even register next to the ones that we all know (and love)? What if no one’s even murdered in your vicinity?

Jessica Jones may not cater to the male gaze or whatever it is that people like about it, but it’s intensely sensational. You can gender-flip your gumshoe, throw in some lesbians kissing and call it Marvel’s feminist triumph, but what I see there is the same old shit.  

There was a time in television history when the victimization of women was used in the service of exploring male characters, a phenomenon we know in comics as “women in refrigerators.” At some point television writers (more so than their counterparts in comics) pivoted so that sex crimes deepened women’s own characterizations (like Dr. Melfi on The Sopranos). Most recently, “feminist” investigations of sex crimes themselves became the subjects of entire shows (Veronica Mars, The Fall, Top of the Lake). This is progress, or so I’m told.

Feminist or not, procedurals from Law & Order: SVU to Jessica Jones are built around the central task of making sense of an act of sexual violence and bringing the perpetrator to justice—a premise I find patently absurd.

The only show I know that really gets that is Twin Peaks.


Superhero stories, as I understand them, are revenge fantasies that mythologize the experiences of victims and losers and underdogs. Peter Parker got bitten by a radioactive spider. Superman survived the death of his planet. Mutants are oppressed by humans. Those comics are allegories about emotional struggles—loneliness, grief, feeling ugly, whatever. They may be thinly disguised, but they’re rarely literal. Superheroes’ problems are generally way cooler.

In a world where one in five women have been raped and almost half have been sexually assaulted, Jessica Jones, a rape story about rape, doesn’t mythologize anything. Instead it sensationalizes abuse and caricaturizes abusers, potentially estranging victims from lived experience. I guess Jessica has super strength? Is that the allegory—that even strong ladies get raped and feel bad? Probably you thought it was just weaklings and crybabies but now you get it. Marvel Television received a Peabody Award for this important social message. The showrunner took home a Hugo for crafting such a nuanced fantasy.
In the stories it tells, and the stories it chooses not to tell, COPRA questions the most basic assumptions on which superheroes’ fictional worlds (and, by extension, ours) are built. Must violence, revenge, and betrayal have meaning or make sense? Is identity really forged in the crucible of conflict? Do our backstories make us who we are any more than whatever’s happening now? Is justice real? Is evil absolute? Should fiction have an easy or coherent message? And it asks these questions in a way that doesn’t preach, or scold, or lose sight of what I believe to be an urgent, deeply misunderstood truth: that entertainment is the highest form of art.

If you really want to interrogate how we tell stories about sexual violence, those are the levers. And—this is critical—you have to explore the trappings of genre with more than just cleverness and derision. Veronica Mars on noir, Twin Peaks on soaps, Misfits on sci-fi and superheroes—those shows were interesting even when they went off the rails because they had warm human feelings about the genre tropes they played with, even in subverting them. Jessica Jones isn’t homage; it’s a joyless genre exercise. The noir elements feel flat. The superhero stuff is an afterthought. But most of all? It’s no fun whatsoever. It’s just a message.

Theodor Adorno had a phrase I’ve always liked: rattle the cage of meaning.

Someone needs to rattle the cage.


People talk about “Erased de Kooning Drawing” as a work that’s about the past. But Rauschenberg was an artist with a particular interest in forward movement.

The work bears the marks of a struggle that remains, to some degree, unresolved.

You can’t erase the past, girl, I can hear him say. You can only try to tell it better.

This essay originally appeared in Critical Chips, a zine of comics criticism, and has been republished here due to a snafu in production. You can buy Critical Chips for around $5 usd.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

comics links!

I'd like to thank art comics for being as ridiculous as possible lately so I have this outlet for all my weird holiday/US dystopia shit. Let's do some links...

1. Fantagraphics launches COPRA for Dummies
Holy hell, can you even believe it? Gary Groth is doing superheroes?!?

Well, yeah, actually, I totally believe that, because COPRA has been literally the best thing going for years and Gary Groth is nothing if not the Ghost of Christmas Past, except 1000% more white and sexist.

I'd like to share with you my fantasy: Gary Groth is on the phone in the Fantagraphics basement, gripping a big old-fashioned handset. It is made of red plastic, and it is not connected to a phone line, nor even the base of a phone. NO MATTER: This is the conference call that will decide which white dudes will be on the Fanta All Time Comics team.
GARY: Listen, fella. Gotta put the Fantagraphics stamp on this. Who's our biggest piece of shit satire guy? 
GARY (in a different pair of sunglasses): Well, we already got the clown who does the rap comics. But listen, we gotta get Johnny, Gar.  
GARY: Who? Keep in mind this guy should be somewhat shitty at drawing.  
GARY (in a third pair of sunglasses): I'm telling you Johnny Ryan's our guy. 
GARY: Does he hate women tho? The idea is that this should be as status quo as possible, yet "punk"
GARY: No one knows, Gar Bear. Johnny's our finest Post-Dumb. 
GARY: Perfect. Hey, is Comics Sufjan available? This thing is going to need some sort of credibility.

(NB: Noah VS...wat? why?)

Look...COPRA is a comic that borrows, so I'm not going to go in on All Time Comics too hard for being a ripoff. Ripping off COPRA is fair, and anyway this project has been in the works for a while, so who knows what happened when. Also? I actually want it to be good. (I won't be good. But if it is, I'll be the first to admit it. I'm certainly going to read it with interest.) I think the cover has some good stuff going on, though I will note that even the color palette strongly echoes COPRA #1.


Bottom line, I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. I will say this: I read an interview with All Time Comics creator/head writer Josh Bayer over at CBR, and I felt pretty confused reading all that without ever once seeing the words "Michel Fiffe."

Me being me, you can just about guess how much I laughed about the one-dimensional the Fanta*stic lady superhero, Bullwhip, who appears on the cover in one of those S&M leotards from American Apparel, is. Says Bayer:
Bullwhip is really interesting because she’s like Cher or Madonna. She doesn’t have a backstory or a secret identity, she just is Bullwhip. This lack of history actually makes her more exciting to write about because her personality as Bullwhip just seems to glow brighter, knowing she’s not concealing one personality behind another.
FYI, Bullwhip's nemesis is called "The Misogynist."
GARY (urgently, to GARY): The Misogynist is calling from inside the house. 
2. God bless Colin Spacetwinks for explaining the direct market to me
I'm really very fond of twitter user Colin Spacetwinks, the author of what may well be my second favorite tweet of all time:

Until yesterday, it probably would've been my favorite tweet of all time, but then this happened:

I should quit twitter now, and maybe the internet altogether, because i will never see anything funnier than Kurt Eichenwald bragging about his large sons. My god, one of them does kung fu. It's definitely all downhill from here.

Anyway, Colin's epic explainer was quite helpful to me personally, as a comics ignoramus. I've always assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that all Big Comics fans carry this level of knowledge in their hearts, so I'm not 100% sure who the intended audience is here. That said: this is good. I fell asleep in the middle where the numbers got real granular, but at least 75% of comics people love that type of shit, right?

I was born to love a novella-length rant titled "The Problem with Comics," but also I learned some stuff. I recommend it.

3. J.A. Micheline on bias
Based on the totally unscientific sample of the few times a day I scroll through Twitter, I've been surprised to see (polite) pushback on this piece on bias by J.A. Micheline. 100% cosigned, J.A. Micheline. IMO "bias" in comics is usually gendered or racist or both. Mostly a useless construct.

There is no such thing as objective criticism. People who act like they're neutral scientists of comics? Those are the ones you have to watch.

4. Roman Muradov Alert
NEW ROMAN MURADOV!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Roman Muradov is too good and pure for this nightmare world, so there's no way in hell he's going to tell you that his new book is out early on Amazon dot com. Luckily ya girl is a dirtbag whose copy is scheduled to arrive on Sunday--fucking Sunday, because I'm not going to read this comic unless it's delivered by an orphan piloting an Uber drone that drops this book in my actual bed.

If I were a better person I'd pre-order it from Uncivilized, though. Uncivilized is great.

Monday, December 5, 2016

mostly comics links, such as they are

1. Art comix elite respond to world crisis: "Yes, let's curate another 'uncensored' trash blog"
Whenever the world is in trouble, it's good to know we can count on the pioneers of art comics to cobble together another half-assed trash blog to "fight censorship." This particular trash blog--Resist!which will also be printed as a newspaper--is brought to you by a Comics Family unrivaled in its sheer quantity of trash opinions over the last year or so: the Mouly-Spiegelmans.

 If you like this, you'll LOVE artist Jim Agpalza's portfolio of terrible genitalia art.

Yes, mother-daughter team Françoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman evidently read a University of Phoenix-grade women's studies syllabus somewhere and now they have some opinions on which they hope to incite a not paying mostly female cartoonists to draw bad political cartoons for their shitty tumblr? Cool. Good luck with that, ladies. I see that Roz Chast has already contributed a totally uninteresting drawing of Trump rendered on a scrap piece of computer paper. V. exciting. No doubt art comix fans everywhere are praying that Art Spiegelman will draw a trash cover for the New Yorker and complete this circle. Then with all the money he makes off it Mouly can continue not funding like a million more trash blogs to fight the power. Vive la resistance.

Let me be perfectly clear: the Resist! tumblr is trash (mostly just straight-up bad more than offensive, but whatever), the artwork in that particular post is trash, Francoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman's joint response to the people who called it trash is TRASH, their fake fucking "feminism" as expressed therein is trash, and anyone who is promoting this blog is trash by association. Mouly and Spiegelman's egregious misunderstanding of their curatorial function as editors in this trash world has absolutely nothing to do with "censorship." Best we get these terms straight here on the brink of what's to come.

Pull yourselves together, Spiegelmans. I continue to believe you're smart people, but this is getting ridiculous.

2. Political spew: special comics edition
With full knowledge that this tidbit is destined to be misconstrued as "lol, this liberal wants a white power Pepe": I've been thinking a lot about satire lately, particularly the parallels between the anti-PC conversations we've seen in alt comix over the last few years and the alt-right's "ironic" Heil Hitlers, etc.

Did you read that insane profile of Steve Bannon last week? It's bananas--possibly the craziest thing I've ever read in my entire life, even now that everything's crazy. Here's the part I keep thinking about:'s bad enough that Bannon believes in the genetic superiority of white people (I already knew that, though) and that only white property owners should vote (knew that too, more or less), but since when does that constitute an "irreverent streak"??

Irreverent streak. Irreverent. Streak. Mr. Bannon and Mr. Brietbart share "a common irreverent streak." An irreverent streak that consists of an unhinged belief in white supremacy and the notion that only property owners should vote--aka "populism" in the parlance of our times, now that words have no meaning.

Predictably (because I've been blathering on about this stupid thing, which is my personal Zapruder film, for more than two years now...I'm basically a half-step away from joining the Jesus guy with the megaphone outside of Old Navy to better preach my message about how Gary Groth came to earth to be a fucking asshole) I was reminded of Fantagraphics' folksy press release on Fukitor. Here is your weekly reminder of how that cutesy press release, which is titled "FU, Buddy!" reads in part:
What about work that doesn't quite fit into our standard business model? Work by relatively unknown cartoonists that's innovative, quirky, idiosyncratic, oddball, experimental, or downright crazy, work by established cartoonists that's simply off-kilter or too obscure to sustain a mass market release?
Why, you might even call Jason Karnes irreverent. I mean, what else would you call a guy who draws a bunch of ritualized gang rape and crazed Muslims being murdered? Or for that matter, the guy who publishes it?

Reality and especially language right now are slipping on a broad scale, and they're slipping in a way that they slipped in comics quite a long time ago. That's not unique to comics, exactly; you'll also see a similar sort of resonance in discussions about comedy, about pop culture, and from what I have come to think of as the Fake Left (people like deBoer and Chait who pin the ills of society on political correctness). But the alt-right's particular take on irony--eg, Richard Spencer saying that "Heil trump" was just a goof...well, that's some Groth-grade "satire" right there. At some point along the way, irony became plausible deniability. That's been happening for a while across the political spectrum--and it's now being exploited with real skill by these opportunistic shitlords.

In related news, I've been compiling my favorite descriptions of Bannon in a special file (Bannon burns.doc). It is literally the only good thing to have come out of this election. My favorites so far are "Robert Redford dredged from a river" and "sozzled nazi werewolf." Please submit your favorite Bannon burn in the comments. Originals are also welcome. This is all I have. Thank you.

3. Pepe the frog update: I was so right about that
So long as I'm complaining about Fantagraphics, I just want to take a quick moment to revel in how deeply right I was about that whole Pepe the Frog thing. (Claim victories in this life where you can.) I recently noticed a very good comment on an old post here that I missed till now due to what I will euphemistically call my email situation, which basically consists of me randomly choosing about half my emails to not read or respond to for a really long time, if ever. Email is my new voicemail, basically. My inbox is irreverent af.

Philippe Leblanc wrote:
In addition to your comment about Matt Furie and Pepe, I came across this interview on CBC’s As it happens between Carol Off and Matt Furie. I think one of the most surprising thing was how he was framing the Anti-Defamation League as his oppressor, not the alt-right. It was weird to hear him say that he feels he’s much more a victim of the ADL than the alt-right reappropriation of his cartoons. “They put on their lists and now I’m associated to racist cartoons” seems like a weird take on the situation.  
Thank you so much, Phillipe. I found this clip extremely affirming. Reader, if you're into me being right about something even a fraction as much as I am, I recommend you listen to that clip, which validates everything I had ever thought or felt about Matt Furie and his stupid piss frog. Sometimes when I have an opinion that's different from everyone else's I worry I'm just being uncharitable or something, but no--I was just super right about that. Oh hey btw Fanta, how's that #takebackpepe campaign going, anyway? jk, I don't have to look that up to know I predicted that right.

I'm sorry I'm so disgruntled now. It's hard for me too. :(

4. Your girl had a long talk with Nick Hanover about the comics writing landscape.
Speaking of disgruntled! Have you always wanted to read thousands and thousands of words about why I think fanboys did 9/11? Great news, all your dreams are coming true. Inspired by an Epic Bummer Post by Abhay Khosla, Nick wanted to do a back-and-forth about some of the stuff that we find frustrating in comics reading and writing and shit-talking. Spoiler alert: it's absolutely everything. Click on over to Loser City. ----->

5. 2dCloud Kickstarter
2dCloud is very good and their seasonal Kickstarter is also good. It's good to have good things. Let's not fuck this up.

From Perfect Hair by Tommi Parish

6. Not Even Comics
For your consideration, in preparation for a movie post I hope to get around to writing soon:

The movie this is from is still playing in some cities, I think? For whatever reason it was here for just one night but maybe other places are showing it in a more normal convenient way? My parting advice to you is catch it if you can.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

turns out I know that craven nazi shitbag

One night not so long ago I was working late at my desk when one of its legs just dropped off. It fell to the floor with a clank and then, a beat later, an avalanche of papers, coffee, and overpriced electronics tipped towards the floor. I knelt down to investigate and found that the bolt that attaches the leg to the desktop was gone. It was nowhere in sight, which suggests that it detached itself long ago--maybe weeks before, maybe months. I sit there most days for hours and hours, and it's weird to think that all this time the whole setup has been so precarious. It's weird to think I didn't notice till stuff started crashing to the floor.

Lately I feel like I'm losing my grip on things. So when I first saw the picture of the bloated nazi from the Mother Jones "Dapper White Nationalist" profile and thought the guy looked familiar, my first thought was: nah. Surely not. But as it turns out, that bloated nazi was Richard Spencer, a guy I know from our days at University of Chicago. The day after that article went viral on twitter, I watched with the rest of the world as Richard stood behind a podium in a conference room in Washington, leading a room full of white men in the nazi salute. It wasn't long after that when I saw a chyron on CNN: "Alt-Right Founder Questions If Are Jews People." On Thanksgiving, I saw a video clip of Richard explaining to a black newscaster that actually, white people built the pyramids. Yes, I feel like I'm losing my grip.

At U of C, Richard wasn't out as a nazi, but there was plainly something wrong with him. I don't mean that in the spirit of, oh, looking back on it now, there was definitely something sinister going on. I mean that he seemed like the kind of guy who picks his nose and fucks his mother. He could have been a boy king in Game of Thrones. He was badly dressed, pretentious, and arrogant, though of course it was graduate school; there was plenty of that going around.

Some of my best friends in the world are people I met at University of Chicago. But also, Jesus, that school attracts a lot of people who are the absolute worst. Not nazi-grade boy kings, for the most part, but socially disabled jerks who are extremely vested in performing their intelligence. I can handle the socially disabled--they are my people--but people who try to seem smart are some of my least favorite humans. I see traces of such performance everywhere in Richard's media footprint, which is alarmingly large. Ironically, I believe the profile that captured him best was the one at Mother Jones, which has received a huge amount of blowback from people who thought it made him seem glamorous. It's all there: his desperate need to impress, the deep insecurity, the quasi-intellectual conversation. I didn't buy it back at U of C, and I certainly don't buy it now. It is of some comfort to know that the best and brightest cover boy the alt-right can come up with is the charmless likes of Richard Spencer, hunched over his lectern, squinting down at his notes to find the single word of the "original German" he used to impress his fellow boy kings. I do not speak German myself, but I recognize this as a textbook example of what my friend Tobias, who is from the Vaterland, calls "sucking shit out of your fingers."

On Facebook messenger, I read a long thread of my classmates' memories of Richard, which the condescending guy who looks like Moby has been collecting for a piece he's writing for the New Yorker. Some people's recollections echoed my own, painting a picture of a socially awkward guy with a strange affected accent (since dropped) who mocked people if they hadn't read the right things. Other responses reminded me of everything I dislike about University of Chicago. "Maybe if he had spent more time studying Shakespeare he would have questioned the veracity of his views," one woman wrote. "His arrogance likely inhibited any true self discovery." (Imagine having that opinion about anyone. Now imagine that being your opinion on a nazi.) There were pictures, including one from a Halloween party of Richard dressed in a toga. I think I have a similar one around here somewhere. He was dressed as Caesar, if memory serves--a group costume, with two other classmates dressed as bloodstained Caesar and the Ghost of Caesar. (What did I tell you? The worst.) In the Facebook thread, Moby was soliciting photographs. "If anyone has a photo of him with anyone of color, please send those especially," he wrote. You know, I think I may have mentioned this, but lately I feel like I'm losing my grip.

Nazi nip pic interlude

After I read the Mother Jones profile, I remembered that my program's office at U of C archives copies of everyone's thesis for students and alumni to read. The article mentioned that Richard's thesis was on Theodor Adorno, "who he argued was afraid to admit how much he loved the music of [the composer Richard] Wagner." I mean, does that sound like an academic thesis to you: Jewish intellectual #actually loved nazi music? Yeah, me neither. Your girl also wrote on Adorno, as it happens. I contacted the office to have a look. I thought that, in the face of Richard passing himself off as an intellectual--and much of mainstream media buying into it--that reading this really terrible sounding academic paper might be sort of soothing. But I was told that the program, in conjunction with the university's public relations and legal departments, is currently revisiting its policy of letting students and alumni read old theses.

I mention this last part not because I think the University of Chicago is sitting on some big story--I don't think that at all--but because something rubs me the wrong way about a university's reaction to fascism being to batten down the hatches and lock down the exchange of ideas, such as they are. Public relations' involvement is telling; it's hard to see how it would be a complicated a legal matter, given that we submitted those theses with the express purpose of making them available to students and alums. As you may have observed, Moby's forthcoming article bugs me too--something about him soliciting those particular pictures, you know? Something about packaging a portrait of the nazi as a young man for my supposed edification. I mean, maybe it will be great. Moby's absolutely incredible personal essay for xojane, "The Mindless Co-Opting of a Loaded Word: Am I Your N**ga?" suggests that this is extremely unlikely, but of course you never know.

I'm sure that Chris Ware will draw a beautiful cover.

Meanwhile, I still can't find the bolt I need to reattach the leg to my desk. I'm thinking about replacing it with one of those hydraulic contraptions. Maybe I should stand up more. Maybe that would clear my head. For now I've propped up the broken part with a giant garbage can. It's a little off-kilter; probably it could collapse at any time. This fucking desk is symbolizing so hard lately that sometimes I fantasize that Shonda Rhimes is writing my life. Maybe she got tired of dreaming up surgeries that represent Meredith Grey's emotional problems, and has moved on to a gripping series about a sad writer who sits at her tenuous garbage desk as she contemplates her acquaintance with the country's foremost nazi. Maybe she's about to write me a fantastic new storyline where I just go to sleep for the rest of the winter, or possibly for the rest of my life.

Lately I feel like I'm losing my grip on things. Sometimes I feel like I'm losing my mind. Maybe it's that nazi nipple staring out at me like an evil eye, the ghost of bad Halloween costumes past. Maybe it's hypnotizing me. Mitt Romney is sounding pretty damn good as Secretary of State, right? Maybe Shonda's doing an episode where the Overton window is literally in this garbage can propping up my desk. It is the only explanation. I'm thinking about printing Moby's xojane article so I can keep it in my wallet. Feels like I'm gonna need it for whatever comes next.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

political spew II: spew harder

I’m going to do something self-indulgent and respond to a comment in a post, because I’m just not doing so well with the our new white nationalist overlords and I feel an urgent need to spew some more bullshit. The last time I spewed Election I felt marginally better afterward, and it’s important to seize such opportunities in this life. Get on my level.

oneofthejonesboys writes: 
You use the word "arrogant", and I've been thinking the exact same thing from the other side -- surely, SURELY, the lesson from the election is that everyone needs to take a huge dose of epistemic humility.
On the one hand, you've got the people who were wrong five days a week for the past year -- wrong that Trump finally had torpedoed himself now this time for sure, wrong that he'd never win the primary, wrong that he'd pivot to the "centre" (whatever that is) for the general, and then the biggest misprediction of all -- and those people have the chutzpah to turn around without missing a beat, or at most with a few paragraphs of handwringing, and explain to us what happened and what we need to do now. Like, Jon Chait wrote a post "Donald Trump Is Not Going to Win Michigan" and then six days later he's telling us "What should Democrats in Congress — and Barack Obama, and you — do now?". *Six* days later and we're supposed to take him seriously again already? How the hell do you go from being completely wrong about Donald Trump Will Never Ever Win the Election to deserving our trust about Here's Why Donald Trump Won the Election? You fucked the prediction up that badly and now you're going to postdict it? It'd be comical if the stakes weren't what they are. So those people are the worst. But you've also got folks on the other hand who maybe didn't spend the last year singing "la la la never going to happen", but still feel confident now to explain why it happened, and what to do next, and they should STFU too. They don't know why it happened either...I've been seeing this from the distance of Australia and reading either vaguely or less-vaguely left-ish takes on it in our media, and the CW has quickly coalesced into "oh, this was about economic uncertainty, losers of globalisation etc." But how do they know that? All they've got now is one more piece of evidence on top of what they already had; the reasons for the result are an empirical question and should be basically black-boxed until people have done a lot more work to investigate them. Yeah, those explanations sound intuitively plausible (as does your One True Take), but (again) SURELY the lesson of the election is that intuitive plausibility ain't worth shit when it comes to Trump? 
(Anyway, really pleased to see you blogging again, Kim)
I try to avoid reading Chait because he’s consistently the worst. I think it was around the time he wrote that horrible take on political correctness that I decided life’s just too short. I generally feel dumber and angrier after I read him. The response he tends to generate with his more high-profile pieces, too, is annoying to me. I don’t find outrage so useful when it’s basically just explaining how the world works to an infant. Sometimes it’s necessary--maybe it’s always necessary--but increasingly I find I’m losing patience for it.

But anyway, yeah, I find that guy to be intensely arrogant, so I can sort of imagine how that’s playing out these days. Chait is a prime example of someone who, when I survey the landscape on the left, makes me feel total despair. He’s part of that horrible phenomenon where the Left is creeping right while the Right is sprinting radical right. At the same time--and this is more unsettling to me--even the takes from the people whose politics resemble mine more closely have been getting on my last nerve. Like…I get that the “Bernie bros” thing was a myth, but the key to understanding myths is that they’re rooted in something true. (The true thing, in that case, being the alpha male culture you often see around the far left.) White supremacy by its very nature engenders team spirit and a sense of belonging. That just comes with the territory, on the right. Whereas I’m looking around at the people I’m in the room with just like…how is this ever gonna work? Half of them are idiots who think it’s not respectable to boo at Mike Pence or whatever, but then the ones who are smarter can be aggressive and too self-satisfied, which is repellent to me in a totally different way.

Just in the small pond that is comics, some time back, someone…I feel like it was Julia Gfrorer?...talked about how her feminist politics are so intensely personal that she’s given up on finding someone who shares her exact views. That really resonated with me. Certainly anyone who I find to be worth reading in comics, there are moments where I strongly disagree with them. There’s maybe something to a progressive point of view that invites fragmentation that's the inverse of how conservatism finds more unity. Am I making any sense? It’s the middle of the night and I feel like I might sound high. But, you know, I’m just thinking about how poor people in Louisiana love Donald Trump in his golden tower, and how no one truly likes Hillary Clinton, and it just seems to me that neither of those facts come down entirely to him or her, as individuals.

Anyway. With people who comment on politics for a living, I can see they’re in a bind. There’s a lot of conditions on the ground conspiring against the possibility of a nuanced humble take. I think part of it is the expectation that you have to have to come on STRONG, to seem sure, like that's some indicator of your prowess. (Often it's the opposite.) Also a lot of time those guys are working fast. Also, you know, the political ecosystem doesn’t exactly inculcate humility. On top of all that the world is just changing so rapidly. Sure, there’s the shift from truthiness to post truth, which is alarming and surreal. But it’s compounded by the fact that information literacy is very low, and that’s not just a Republican problem, by any means. I follow actual journalists who routinely RT Kurt Eichenwald, and that guy is plainly delusional (plus stupid).

Sorry, this is what you get for leaving a nice comment on my political vomit post. Too many idiots, too many dickheads. Everything’s wrong. I’m perhaps two steps removed from wearing a sandwich board. I read a statistic the other day that 41 percent of Americans--not American Christians, but Americans--think the Second Coming is happening sometime in the next 35 years, and I think that, even more than Trump winning, has made me realize I maybe don’t understand the world so well as I thought? And what's sad about that is I never really thought I understood the world that well.

Still…weirdly, maybe, I found this uplifting. It’s the truest take I’ve seen anyway, and the first thing I’ve encountered that made me feel a little better about the future. I can stomach his certainty, especially given that he predicted Trump a full five years ago.

Motivational Irony Twitter is sort of confusing, but I'll take it.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

here are some comics links

Update: Not doing good. Not. Doing. Good. Let's talk about some comics stuff.

1. Chris Ware’s latest comic in the New Yorker
I'd really like to hear some more people weigh in on "Snapchat," Chris Ware's latest comic for the New Yorker. I dunked on it some the other day to blow off steam, but in all seriousness: what a piece of fucking garbage.

A thing that comes up for me when I think about Ware lately is Joe McCulloch's smart thread (upon the occasion of Ware's last New Yorker cover) from a few months back. "I suspect that Ware is using these covers to explore different aspects of his art," he wrote. "Which is to say, things he otherwise doesn't get the chance to emphasize in comics, such as faces." This is a curious idea to me: that the New Yorker is like Ware's experimental sketchbook, whereas his own comics are the "real" finished work. I have no idea if this reflects Ware's actual mindset and practice (it certainly sounds plausible), but it does, as an observation, reflect what I perceive to be a thing, which is that Ware's New Yorker stuff doesn't quite count in people's consideration of him as an artist. Whether that's because the work is more commercial or because it's bad is one question. Another thing that occurs to me is that Ware's New Yorker audience is surely much larger than his own comics audience. (This may not in fact be true; I don't actually know the numbers.) Like, probably a lot more people read "Snapchat" than Building Stories, right? So there's a sense in which that work is arguably more real.


2. It's Actually About Ethics in Comics Journalism
I've been deeply confused and sort of fascinated by the amount of praise I've seen for this profile of Steve Ditko, which in my view blurs the line between harassment and journalism. (Props to Dan Nadel, who is the only person [that I've noticed, anyway--haven't looked too deeply into it] to explicitly, publicly comment on this.) Look...I'm reading this piece through a very particular pair of eyes--I'm biased, without a doubt--but I think the "reporting" it describes reads less like the work of a professional journalist and more like the behavior of an entitled, aggressive fan. I shouldn't be the one diving into this for any number of reasons, but you know what? Fuck it.

Let's take a quick look at how the author of the profile, Abraham Riesman, describes his attempt to interview Ditko, an 89-year-old man who hasn't granted an interview with a journalist in almost 50 years. Everything in purple is taken directly from the piece:

  • Riesman calls Ditko to request an interview, "even if our visit would be off the record." Ditko tells him to write a letter instead. Totally fine. Note the "off the record" bit. 
  • Riesman writes Ditko a letter of inquiry and calls to touch base when he doesn't receive a response. Ditko verbally refuses the interview. OK, cool. This all seems standard so far.
  • Despite being turned down for an interview, Riesman goes to Ditko's office to see if he's willing to talk in person. Given that he went to Ditko's office (not his residence), this strikes me as okay. But note that Ditko has tried to impose distance between himself and Riesman--by asking him to write instead of call--and then by flatly refusing to speak with him. Pursuing Ditko in person at this point is fairly aggressive reporting given (a) he doesn't give interviews in general, (b) he's already refused this interview in particular, and (c) the newsworthiness of this story is iffy at best. 
  • Riesman knocks on Ditko's office door--no answer. He presses his ear to the door and hears a TV blaring inside. He calls from his cell and hears the phone ring. He then plops down outside Ditko's office door and "buckled down for a stakeout" that lasted 45 minutes, reading one of Ditko's comics to pass the time. This is getting weird, right? Again, I'm biased. But this is weird.
  • Riesman comes back two days later, knocking and ringing the doorbell for so long, and so loudly, a neighbor comes outside to investigate. This is even weirder. I mean, what is he, a debt collector? Keep in mind that Ditko is actually in his office at this point, perhaps ignoring the knocking on purpose, perhaps not. Observe the way in which Riesman rationalizes his own behavior as the story progresses--"I felt duty bound to try my luck"...maybe it's better to ask for the interview in person...maybe he can't hear me knocking...maybe he's out to lunch... It grows increasingly strained, to my ear. I didn't even know who Steve Ditko was going into this profile and it seems 100% obvious that this interview isn't happening. 
  • Another neighbor comes upon Riesman and the first neighbor in the hall. Riesman grills the second neighbor, who shares a vague, but juicy, anecdote about Ditko that Riesman will run with no attribution. This is...not journalism. 
  • Riesman hunkers down outside Ditko's office for an hour--his second stakeout. This is plainly over the line. Ask yourself if a random reporter assigned to this story would be likely to do this, given all of the above. Ask yourself if YOU would feel comfortable doing this. 
  • Listening at the door, Riesman hears movement inside the office. He starts banging on the door again. This is just deeply uncool and unprofessional on every level.
  • "My heart skipped a beat. I gulped down air. Knock knock knock." These do not sound like the emotions of a reporter who's doing his "due diligence," as Riesman calls it. They sound like the emotions of a fan. It's fine to be both, but it's a breech of ethics for someone to abuse his privileges as a reporter in the service of his fandom.
  • Ditko slams the door in Riesman's face. Feeling "a little ashamed," Riesman finally takes his leave. Better late than never, I guess. Although he clearly wasn't ashamed enough to not write a lightly exploitative piece about the whole experience, casting Ditko as a disgruntled codger.
Here's what Riesman learned from harassing Ditko, per the piece:
The encounter encapsulated the fundamental paradox of Ditko, the one that makes him a source of both fascination and frustration: He despises people making claims about him without getting their information firsthand, but he only provides that information piecemeal and on his own terms, in the form of elliptical essays on scattered topics. He has often said he wants his work to speak for itself, but then he writes about how no one understands it — and when his screeds about the work confuse or contradict, there’s no way to have him clarify what he so passionately wants you to understand. It isn’t a dialogue. You can’t ask a follow-up question. (emphasis mine)
Question: Since when do artists owe their audience a dialogue? The argument I see here is incredibly condescending: Ditko is a bad communicator. Ditko is working against his own interests. Ditko is being unreasonable. Yeah, right, what a fucking jerk, wanting to present information on his own terms when he's been egregiously misrepresented his entire life. How dare he!!! 

Literally everything I know about Ditko I learned from this article (and man, do I have some affection for the old guy, with his "poison sandwich" and his Coke-bottle glasses), but it seems to me that Riesman has fundamentally misread who he is. I mean, is Ditko really a recluse? He's hardly Elena Ferrante. Ditko has an office; he's publishing work; and he talks to other industry figures, who know how to reach him. Riesman makes Ditko sound uptight and unhinged for breaking professional ties with Fantagraphics because Groth made fun of Ditko--a guy whose whole entire thing is feeling resentful about being disrespected as a professional--in a book of Ditko's own stories. Gosh, I wonder why doesn't Ditko want to talk to all these awesome comics journalists? Who will crack this case??

You know, while I could care less about the Lee/Ditko feud, on some level I get where Riesman is coming from. (Who among us doesn't wonder what really went down between Axl and Slash?) He clearly has real respect for this man's work. I sort of see how it all happened...making a blockbuster movie the peg for his curiosity about a decades-old feud that this artist never dished on to his satisfaction...the rationalizing he did to excuse his increasingly inappropriate behavior along the way...using a classic writearound technique for a profile that he himself devised. Do you imagine that his editor was pressing him to get this scoop on some comics feud from the 1960s? Baked into the narrative as a sort of preemptive defense there's all this talk about doing his job well--but does being a journalist automatically give you the right to pursue whatever it is you want to know? To grill a 90-year-old man about a painful episode that happened 50 years ago about which no one outside of a small group of enthusiasts really cares?

Here's the thing: Artists have a right to privacy. Whether or not a reporter chooses to override that right is a privilege. And at the risk of sounding sanctimonious--this is something I've been thinking about a lot lately, given the Ferrante thing--it's a privilege that should be exercised with discernment and great care. If you're going to use it, the justification needs to be something better than "I'm dying to settle my red-faced fanboy messageboard feud from the early aughts." It needs to be something more than "I need a gimmick for my article that creates more intrigue than 'I got turned down flat just as I knew in my heart I would be." I don't know, ethics in journalism isn't cut and dry, and some of the lines I've drawn here are arguable. But this is a conversation we ought to be having. We need to respect--and protect--artists' privacy.

3. Alex Degen previews his longform comics work.
Here's something nice for a change on twitter dot com: cartoonist Alex Degen previewed some incredible panels from...something?...due out in 2018. There's a LOT going on here spatially, conceptually, palette-wise, etc.--definitely check out the full thread--but anyway here are a few of my favorites. That last one reminds me of Diego Rivera??

4. Tahneer Oksman on Nadja Spiegelman 
I haven't yet had a chance to read Nadja Spiegelman's book about her mother, Françoise Mouly, but my friend Tahneer has. Her interesting review at Public Books places it in the tradition of Alison Bechdel's whole thing of trying to understand herself through her parents. Here's a tidbit that took me aback: Nadja's parents (her dad is Art Spiegelman) weren't too happy about her same-sex relationship. Yeesh. Anyway, I look forward to reading this.

5. Not Comics: Shrill on racism and politics 
Here's a (pre-election) take from Ezekiel Kweku that I missed when it was published: "Declaring who is and isn't racist is a parlor game we don't have time for." Much to think about here.