David Heatley responds to my comixology takedown of him here by insinuating that I wrote it in bad faith and that the highlights of my career are bitter attacks on unassailable figures like Art Spiegelman, so who cares what I have to say anyway. (I’d prefer, personally, to see the highlight of my career, such as it is, as the Gay Utopia — but that isn’t about David or his friends, so I presume he hasn’t read it.) Beyond the defensive ad hominem (and as they say, right back atcha), he argues that in “Sexual History” he’s aware of, and commenting on, the unpleasantness of the sexual ethics portrayed, rather than promoting them.
Noah Berlatsky, an acquaintance of mine, and a talented, but bitter writer living in Chicago, wrote about my “Sex History” strip on a site called comiXology. The highlights of his career so far have included well-written, but scathing attacks on Chris Ware and Art Spiegelman with titles like “In the Shadow of No Talent”. For the record, back in 2002 I almost illustrated one of his poems as a comic strip, but had to abandon it because it seemed too similar to a Marc Bell strip at the time. He also contributed to an incoherent failure of an anthology I produced while living in Chicago called The New Graphics Revival. I stand behind the idea of that book, which was that given the time and materials, most anyone could produce an interesting comic strip. But I’m embarrassed by almost all of the work that was sent to us, mostly by a middling, call-for-entry gen-x set. I’m not saying that my failing to promote an anthology that contained work by him or my inability to finish a strip based on his writing could have led him to write this line: “Whether through pointlessly tangled continuity, repetitive autobio dreck, aggressively ugly art, or reflexively irrelevant literariness, [Heatley’s] comics seem determined to find some way, any way, to keep out all those readers and creators who might otherwise, and naturally, see comics as their own.” But anything’s possible!
More to the point, he claims that in the anecdotes about bad sex, longing and one night stands that make up “Sex History”, I’m depicting ciphers, not real women. “He occasionally wonders what is up with one of them — why is she behaving so oddly? Why didn’t she get me off? But he never really cares enough to find out — or, at least, not enough to waste one of his tiny panels telling the reader about it.” Unfortunately, he missed the fundamental idea behind the piece and took the work at face value. The “me” character is something of an unreliable narrator. I’m asking the reader to imagine an alternate universe where the details of falling in love and getting married deserve a single panel and where obsessive thinking about a meaningless crush or one-night stand deserve dozens. I’m certainly not defending the behavior or even the thinking shown, quite the opposite. Something I tried to expound on in the strip’s new epilogue.
I find this pretty unconvincing. There’s nothing in the strip itself that suggests this level of self-awareness or distance. I do believe that David was intending to have the reader believe that he’s self-aware, certainly…but I’m not sure that the evidence of the strip supports that reading. (I haven’t read the new epilogue, so perhaps that changes things radically — though I’m skeptical.)
I think my essay is pretty clear that I was disappointed with David’s repudiation of New Graphics Revival. His characterization of the work therein as “middling-gen-x” seems to me deeply unfair, and far more applicable at this point, and alas, to David’s own oeuvre than to the broad range of people who contributed to his book.
I didn’t mention my collaboration with David mostly because, when I put it in in an earlier draft, it sounded like boasting. But as long as he’s brought it up…. Yes, we did take a stab at collaborating, in part because David had at the time expressed admiration for my writing and for some of the zines I’d been working on. I could be mistaken, but I believe he even defended them to Chris Ware (and no, Ware’s (quite possibly apocraphyl) lack of enthusiasm for my efforts is not why I don’t, in general, like his recent stuff.)
Anyway, for collectors of Heatley ephemera, I believe the story David was thinking of illustrating was this one:
You might not know that but sometimes a triangle does wrong. Like one once had porcupine hair. So they took her to the triangle hospital so she would not keep sticking the scientists. Science is hard enough! They cut off her hair with a sponge because a sponge is the one opposite weapon that makes triangles vulnerable. She had wanted to be in a museum or a zoo but she wasn’t interesting anymore. That’s how it goes if you are a triangle.
I certainly was sad not to get to work with David, for both personal and career reasons. But that’s the way it goes, and I was, and remain, grateful for his past interest in and enthusiasm for my writing and art, as well as for the chance to participate in the anthology he edited, an experience I still treasure. So thank you, David. Best of luck to you.
Update: Well, my comments once again seem to have prompted a message board thread shut down; the comics comics guys killed the discussion right after I posted. I guess I have a gift. (Update 2: Tim Hodler wrote to assure me that my posts were not the reason for the thread getting shut down. So no super-thread-shutting-down-powers, apparently; just garden-variety paranoia on my part.)
I was going to add one thing there, but I guess I’ll put it here. Reading back over David’s post, the one thing that really kind of depresses me is his off-hand, and kind of cruel, dismissal of the contributions to the New Graphics Revival Anthology he edited. I guess if that’s the way he feels, that’s the way he feels…but I do love that book,and part of the reason is, as I say in my essay, it seemed like a real act of faith and love — reaching out to people who don’t usually participate in comics, and asking them to trust the medium, and (by extension) the editors. It feels like David just kind of shit on a bunch of people who trusted him. It depresses me in the way that reading the “Sexual History” depressed me. I don’t really have the heart to elaborate further, except to say that I wish he’d just stuck to insulting my work and my morals.