Dirk at Journalista linked to this comment, where a semi-anonymous user bitches about TCJ writers:

“People who write for the comics journal dismiss the far side with a snarky wave of the hand yet write 30 page articles on the ‘postmodern genius’ of fucking nancy”- “afsfadsgs”

It is rather postmodern to attempt intercourse with a cartoon character. But anyway, I actually love the Far Side. Gary Larson is obviously somewhat limited as an artist, but I think he manages to work really well with what he’s got — all those bloated farm animals, lumpy people, and bizarre squashed rectilinear compositions. It’s distinctive and charmingly without being half-assed, like, say Dilbert. His humor isn’t exactly original, but he’s very good at it, and, like his art, the writing has a doddering quality which really does it for me.. I still think regularly about that one cartoon where the guy in the alley whispers, “Hey, buddy! You want an ungulate!”, and concealed in the alley with him are a bunch of hoofed mammals. Monty Python would stretch this out into a manic skit, but, fo course, with Larson, this is it — a single, perfect surreal pratfall with no build up, no explanation, and no elaboration. They’re like little schlubby koans.

On the other hand, I’ve never really gotten the appeal of Nancy. After some effort, I can sort of see why folks are so into it. It’s very clean and very clear, and the readability of the visuals is impressive — the art is, in some objective sense, more competent than Larson’s. But the sameness and simplicity gets incredibly tiresome— like eating bowl after bowl of shredded wheat without milk. I mean, it has no pretentions, so it’s hard to get really mad at it, but that doesn’t mean I want to read it.

So there; yet another hurtful stereotype directed at Comics Journal contributors debunked. Maybe in our next episode we’ll explain why Bloom County is better than Krazy Kat.

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It just occurred to me that this post kind of syncs up with this massive discussion about low art vs. high art over on the Comicon board. They originally started off talking about me, but quickly got bored with that and have been meandering far and wide. I think, for me, some of the problems they’re talking about can be resolved by thinking of high-art as simply a different kind of genre — that is, Joyce isn’t necessarily any more individual or writerly than Stan Lee; he’s just writing in a different tradition with different genre conventions and for a different (smaller) audience. The Lee/Joyce division is actually an interesting one, because both were very original, and so could be said to have been creating a new audience, stitched together from portions of older traditions. And my appreciation for both is probably about the same; I admire and enjoy many things about their writing, but neither are really my favorites, for reasons which have a lot to do with their investment in the tiresome tropes of male self-pity.

I also have a lot of trouble with the idea of talking about low-art or comics as myth. I think it’s an overused idea, and maybe takes myth too seriously or not seriously enough. To the extent that myths actually have religious content, I think that content is really important, and probably not to be lightly tossed aside however much we like to make secular analogies. To the extent that myths are just stories in an oral tradition — well, then they’re just stories, which can be told better or worse in various context. It’s not clear to me how they validate or elevate something like the Elongated Man or the Matrix, which are also just stories. (In other words, the part of myth which is supposed to give low-art its power is the religious part, which is, I think, exactly the bit which, in a secular work of art, is not relevant.)

Why we like a work of art is tied up with lots of stuff — who the intended audience is, what the work seems to be saying to that audience, whether it manipulates its various genre tropes and ideas in a way that is meaningful to us, etc. So I guess I’m saying that whether something is low-art or high-art definitely goes into determining whether I like it, but it’s not a one to one correlation — I don’t like something because it’s low art, but I might like it because there is something about the way it uses or is low-art that I like, and the same with high-art.

So, yeah, Kafka and Philip K. Dick better than Joyce or Stan Lee better than Clowes or John Grisham. Now you know.

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