Tuesday, March 21, 2017

comics links are back

It's been a while since I've put together some comics links, huh. Not sure what's up with that. I guess subjects like my contempt for All Time Comics and Chester Brown & Dave Sim's feud on prostitution were just so inspiring that they demanded their own longform posts. 

This crop is not quite so entertaining, sadly. And that's because today's secret word is: racism.

Man, today's secret word sucks. Definitely preferred "whoredom." Oh well, let's do these links.

The Island cover art fiasco
The cover for the final issue of Island magazine has been floating around my Twitter feed for a while now.

I only recently learned that it wasn't drawn by a black woman. In fact the artist is Dilraj Mann, some dude who is not black--a fact that people have found objectionable for reasons that are obvious to pretty much everyone, with the possible exceptions of the artist and the guy who hired him.

I'm going to link Darryl Ayo's take first cause it's the most comprehensive and coherent thread I could find among the many different fragmented conversations that have been unfolding across Twitter. It's really worth reading all the way through. Among other things, Ayo talks about the cover, his own work, and other comics artists--black and non-black--who dabble in similar imagery. Lots of personal observations as well as stuff about the line between outsiders drawing caricature vs. creators' prerogative to reclaim a stereotype. I quite like the way that Carta Monir phrased what I took to be a similar thought here:

There's also some good stuff in this roundtable on the cover at Women Write About Comics, which includes analysis and personal reactions from critics like Ardo Omer and J. A. Micheline, who are both black. (Claire Napier's stuff in there is also very astute.) Oh, and this thread from Zainab Akhtar, who manages to pick a side despite being (I think?) friends with pretty much everyone involved. It seems to me that this level of honesty is very rare in comics, where people naturally gravitate towards criticizing the people they don't really care for and fail to step up to the plate when the person under the hot lights is someone they know and/or like. Hey, that's human nature, but I think friendly fire is hugely important in--and almost totally absent from--a lot of comics conversations, so I really respect her willingness to go there.

Let's round things off with some smart thoughts from Ronald Wimberly:

Meanwhile, Island editor Brandon Graham hasn't been handling these critiques so well. Here's a sampling of what he had to say to some of the gang at Women Write About Comics. In the first tweet he's referring to the artist:

Some of the stuff he said to J.A. Micheline was especially uncool:

I mean jeez. Hey Brandon, now that you've had some time to think about it, do you think you should offer JAM an apology?

Okay, then! Great talk.

Here's my take, for what it's worth: if you're going to publish racially charged imagery, the bare minimum of your responsibilities as an editor is to have your ducks in a row in terms of what's being said (or at least what you *think* is being said) and who's saying it (which is more objective). It is not some grave encroachment on artistic freedom to interrogate something that's plainly provocative and potentially hurtful, particularly when it concerns a demographic to which neither you nor the artist belong. 

All that stuff Graham says about not wanting to question the artist's (non)blackness...my guess is that has as much (or more) to do with him feeling uncomfortable talking about race, particularly with an artist of color, than his ideas about artistic freedom. It's a curious, but very common, comics phenomenon, this disingenuous pose of neutrality:

...belied by a nasty defensive streak that the defender himself doesn't quite recognize as his own:

There's other declarations like this in Graham's feed about appreciating feedback and respecting other people's opinions, but I see very little of those high-minded sentiments in his exchanges with the people who were actually trying to talk to him about the cover. To be OK with being wrong you have to first allow for the possibility of it--a lot of people in comics forget that part. In this case, that begins with Graham accepting some measure of ownership in his own editorial decisions, including his lack of due diligence. If you think it's your duty to publish work that "provokes conversation" or whatever, you should demonstrate some willingness to give the topic your own consideration first. Otherwise you're just asking people to argue for your amusement, edification, and/or profit. (This is the same problem I have with Gary Groth, btw. Have you ever noticed how reticent the champions of "provocative" work are to participate in these conversations they seem to think are so essential to art?) I'd go so far as to say that editors, publishers, etc. have much more of an obligation to discuss this stuff with their audience than the artists making actual the work.

Phoebe Gloeckner's intimate interview with Julia Gfrörer (at TCJ)
In the spirit of the stuff I was saying about Zainab's comments above, I'm including this link, which I had planned to bury in a non-comics post. I'm not friends with Phoebe Gloeckner (though I've interviewed her), but I feel uneasy about bringing this up for a couple of different reasons. My respect for her is one of them.

I mean...you ever come upon something that no one else seems to notice or care about and wonder if it's just you? When I'm in a room of smart people, I tend to assume I'm the dumbest one, and while that almost certainly springs from a deep, unfortunate well of intense self-loathing, I think it often serves me well in life. It's good to second-guess yourself sometimes. But then again what if the real source of the second-guessing in this particular case isn't self-doubt? What if, instead, it's just the idle hope that I'm the one person on earth whose fave isn't problematic? And anyway is every little off-color moment on the Comics Journal's website really worth a second glance? Can't a gal just casually drop the n-word apropos of nearly nothing without it being a whole thing on some busybody's scold blog?

[Exhales through teeth] I guess what I'm trying to say is that I find this fucking weird:

I think this is the panel from Flesh and Bone they're talking about? I don't know that comic.

This doesn't read like an allusion to O'Connor to me. Certainly it's not a quote. I mean, if you want to make a case for religion being an opiate of the masses, I can hardly think of a worse text to cite than Wise Blood, a story written by a devout Catholic about an atheist who finds Jesus despite himself.

Much like the stuff I was talking about with the Island cover, my feeling is that if you're going to trot out the n-word in a published interview, you best have your ducks in a row in terms of what it's saying and who's saying it. Bare minimum, it should be germane to your discussion. You're also, at that point, pretty much obliged to talk about race, even if that wasn't what you were talking about in the first place. (But also, you know, probably it should have been what you were talking about in the first place.) You can't just quote someone saying the n-word in service of "atheism is for smart [white] people like me who aren't deluding themselves." I'm sorry, those are just the rules.

I don't use this phrase so often because it doesn't quite feel like my place, but one thing that's going on here is White Feminism. Another thing that's going on is just a total lack of care around a word that demands thoughtful consideration when it's invoked. And a third thing is editorial at TCJ not having the wherewithal to say, oh hey ladies, why don't we consider editing out this bit where you use this word for (a) for no discernible reason (b) in a quote that you're sort of misrepresenting to (c) pat yourselves on the back for not being sheeple. Think about how many pairs of eyes (at least three, probably more) we're talking about from interview to transcription, editing, and finally publication. No one thought to question this?

Of course they didn't. Because this is what you get when you're operating in indie comics, a mostly white space that works under an ethos where "transgression" is always valued and "art" makes anything permissible: two white women having a nice philosophical chat about god and how much more self-actualized they are than n*ggers. (Now that sounds more like a Flannery O'Connor story.) Every time I start to type some uneasy disclaimer about how I honestly don't think that's what's in their hearts (I mean, I really don't), or how I have empathy for Gfrörer, who was thrown a bit of a humdinger there, I just keep looking at that excerpt. Like...that's the text. And it really didn't have to be.

TCJ: more levels of racism than Southern Gothic literature.

Matt Furie wants to save some fucking frogs
Just wanted to take a moment to note that Matt Furie is continuing his brave fight against racism by donating the proceeds of his Pepe gear to help save endangered frogs or some shit.

Never quite saw myself objecting to someone donating money to save an endangered animal, but here we are. Then again, whoever thought I'd want a white power Pepe? (I mean, apart from me. Cause I'm still pretty sure I don't want that.)

If this whole thing doesn't strike you as absurd, I don't know what to tell you. Think harder.

Alan Moore karaokes his own terrible rap music
After I wrote about Alan Moore's Brexit rap a while back, someone on Twitter linked me to this live performance. It is...well, it's incredible.

It sort of reminds me of British cringe comedy in that I feel almost physically uncomfortable watching it, yet it has a certain charm?? V. confusing.


  1. Hello,

    Nice fearless blog you have here (i check it out fairly regularly but never yet felt inclined to comment).That Gloeckner/Grförer interview passage leapt out at me too when i first read it & i was kind of expecting some discussion of it in the comments section. I had begun to think it was just me. Glad to see it's not.

    & if i may comment upon the Mann/ Island drawing: it occurs to me that a lot of what's problematic here is inherent in the drawing style. Most criticism of it you linked to starts by praising the drawing from a design perspective before coming to grips with authorial intent & such, but i'm thinking that with such an abstracted style, the lure of oversimplification (on the part of the artist) gets very strong very soon? Not to excuse or absolve anything here, but the thing with this really basic drawing style (just like Ware's) is that it is biased against observation. Of course being able to draw traditionally representational is no guarantee: both Crumb and Ware can do this but often opt for caricature instead. So what am i even trying to say? I guess i sometimes fear that before we can even begin to discuss authorial intent divorced from technique & draughtsmanship, we could examine the way current visual culture, through the 'de-skilling' of art, favours lazy and superficial observation, i.e. lack of genuine curiousity and interest in our fellow humans, of any race.

    Kindest regards,


  2. Hi Ibrahim, thanks for reading and for your comment. I'm having a hard time tracking your argument because I take what Ware and Crumb do to be in totally different modes. Ware doesn't do caricature, at least that I've seen--and I think "minimalist" might be a better word that "abstract" or "oversimplified" when it comes to the way he draws people. I don't see Ware's work as oversimplified so much as recognize that his interest and emphasis lie in visual elements of the comic that aren't people--and I find the way he balances all those formal elements to be sort of off-the-charts sophisticated. I'm not a fan of when he draws more expressive faces, which I haven't seen that often. (Why does he use that one hideous Bobby Hill expression on everyone??) Anyway I see Crumb and Mann (at least on this cover) as trafficking in the opposite; what they do is exaggeration or caricature, as opposed to Ware's stripping away. My takeaway from your comment is that maybe, as a style, you prefer photorealism? That's a matter of taste, but it's a mistake to call other styles lazy or inept.

    The thing that grossed me out the most about Mann's cover--and this is a stiff competition, because I find the hyper sexualization and sambo stuff super fucking gross--is its empty politics. The fist of solidarity feels like a lie. It's a lie, first of all, b/c of the identity of the artist, which really does matter in a landscape where black women are still underrepresented. But it's also a lie in that it uses two sets of signifiers that are totally at odds with one another. On one hand we have these markers of individuality/unity. We see this woman with a very strong, quirky sense of style. We feel like she's this individual who really knows herself, you know? And with the fist symbolizes her connection to this movement that's bigger than just herself, all these other people who are different but the same. Then of course the clashing signifiers come in with all the Othering.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that, even if you didn't know the identity of the artist, you can draw out these thematic disparities. It's an incoherent image; her idea of herself doesn't match what we, as viewers, are seeing. In a black woman's hands, I think that could have been thematically rich. As things stand it just looks like a mistake.

  3. Thanks for your expansive response.

    But i think i may have been unclear, so let me try again:
    i do not prefer photorealism, by the way,photorealism is another way to make our observation dependent, mediated.
    Style, taste is not my point here.

    I guess originally you could say it was; in the old useless debate of 'cartooning' comics vs. 'representational'comics it's true i do gravitate towards the latter- indeed, as a matter of taste.
    And so i thought it was merely for reasons of taste that i deplore the neglect traditional drawing suffers in art schools the world over & regret that it's the various modes of 'cartoonish' drawing ( from Panter to Brunetti to Crumb to Harkham- fine though they may be in themselves) that are dominant in contemporary non-superhero comics. But your post made me consider the possibility that underlying the project of contemporary visual culture, in its desire for the quick glance, the click, the eyeballs- that beneath this, the erosion of the attention span needed to make a certain type of drawing is also affecting our sustained interest in one another; i.e. superficiality ( reducing individual character to stylized geometric shapes) breeds superficiality ( reducing someone to a 'representative' or caricature of a race).
    I don't think any style is lazy or inept- it takes hard work to develop any kind of style. But perhaps some styles lend themselves less to subtle statements than others?

    Tangential to this, is the thought that we (critical readers?) are quick to seperate the intentions and subtext from the draughtsmanship, and discuss these matters in the abstract, while another approach woulde be looking at it on a purely nuts & bolts level.
    (I do the occasional bit of drawing so perhaps my mind's just skewed that way.)

    thanks again &

    All best,


  4. oh thanks, I think I get it now. This sounds sort of like the "that's not racist, it's just cartoonish" thing I hear sometimes. Sometimes I find that to be true (the little I've seen of Peter Bagge's Zora Neale Hurston comic, for ex). Most of the time I don't (like when Ted Rall draws Obama). I disagree that indie cartoonists and readers are all about the quick hit. I think I also disagree that "superficiality breeds superficiality." In a sense you're right on in that most of the stuff that traffics in stereotypes comes from more of a lack of care/attention/education than anything. I just think that's rooted in ignorance more than anything technical. Artists inadvertently make these bad choices that are then reinforced and amplified by a system stocked with similarly oblivious (white) editors and publishers. This stuff comes up all the time but change is slow because people have a hard time owning stuff that they don't do on purpose. They can't see past the "injustice" of what they see as being personally maligned to see the bigger picture. That's my take.

  5. Thank you.
    Yes i pretty much mean it the way you've summarized it now, except i don't think it's "not racist just cartoonish." It's still racist & remains inexcusable. But to an extent, the racism stems from the technique. With comics though, context can make up for a lot (for example, in Sammy Harkham's style there are, i'd surmise, only so many ways to draw an African-american character, & all of them are to an extent simplified for maximum clarify, in contrast to the specificity of a representational style, but the subtleties of his pacing & characterisation can turn a visually non-specific character into a fully human being, so to speak.)
    By contrast, illustration has less elements to work with to qualify the image.
    Sorry if i seemed to imply that i think indie cartoonists and readers are about the quick hit. I think our visual culture as a whole is about the quick hit. & it would be disingenuous to think that one can escape from that influence.



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