Most of said frenzy focused on my misidentification of the artist for the cover below:
I originally said it was done by Eduardo Risso, the interior artist; instead, apparently, it was done by a fellow of the name of Dave Johnson.
Anyway, many commenters (and Heidi) felt strongly that if I couldn’t tell Eduardo Risso from Dave Johnson, I didn’t deserve to call myself a comics critic. Very different artists, both long time greats of the industry, etc. etc. Heidi said my opinion was “uninformed”, and who has time for uninformed opinions?
But is my opinion really uninformed? By what standards? Why do I need to know who these guys are in order to judge one (1) trade paperback and talk in more depth about one (1) cover? Indeed, besides the misattribution, what did I say, specifically, about that one cover that was incorrect? Here’s the passage:
What is wrong with that woman’s neck? Is this supposed to be a Parmigianino tribute or something? And the proportions are all completely off; her legs are lengthened to make her look sexier, I guess, but it ends up looking like she’s been assembled from mis-matched doll parts. And the ugly red insets segmented up almost at random…what the hell? That’s not dramatic: it just looks dumb.
Between my blog and Heidi’s, there were about sixty commenters; maybe more. Several people objected to the word “dumb” on the ground that…well, Dave Johnson’s great. Mark Waid weighed in to say he was friends with Dave, and the plural of medium is not “mediums” and that culture is coming to an end because some schmuck on the internet disagrees with him. But nobody — not one person — argued that the cover was good. Nobody said, “you know, her neck really is in exactly the right proportion.” Nobody said, “those floating red panels — that’s great layout!” So apparently, the cover is indefensible — or, at the very least, nobody tried to defend it.
Instead, everyone preferred to talk about connoiseurship. Connoiseurship is, of course, the process of showing that you’re an elite by dropping trou and pulling out the uber-knowledge. It’s the James Bond approach to criticism — “yes, this is a ’69 chablis,” or whatever. It’s basically about having a huge reservoir of trivia which you can use to demonstrate that you’re part of an in-group.
A lot of criticism, in any media (or mediums, I guess), is not about whether or not you’re actually entertained, or what you think about a piece. In one way or another, it’s about connoiseurship — or, as they say:
How many artists does it take to put together a trade of 100 Bullets?
Come on, Noah…don’t you know?
The simple fact is, I don’t know. And I don’t know because, quite frankly, contemporary mainstream comic art bores me to tears. Show me twelve different middle-drawer contemporary mainstream comic artists, and I’ll show you an indifferent, clumsy, poorly designed wasteland. I don’t know the difference between Risso and Johnson because I. Don’t. Care.
But, if I don’t care, doesn’t that disqualify me? How dare I express and opinion? Why did I read the book? Horror of horrors, and etc.
Here’s the thing. If you insist that only people who care criticize books, you tend to end up with only positive reviews — because people who don’t care (like me) don’t usually spend all their waking hours reading and researching the stuff they dislike. If you insist that only people who care criticize books, you rapidly get into a self-reinforcing, insular feedback loop, where in order to talk about the medium, you have to be invested in a particular way which ensures that you’ll only talk about the medium in a particular way. If you go down this path far enough, you turn into contemporary poetry, where the only people who want to read it are the poets themselves. And maybe their mothers. Oh, yeah, and grant committees.
The comics we’re talking about here aren’t arcane. They’re not difficult to follow. This is basic pulp noir. It’s a popular medium. I don’t need to be “informed” about who Dave Johnson is to understand pulp noir. I don’t need to know what awards Eduardo Risso has won to evaluate pulp noir. It’s fucking pulp noir. And you know what? Both of these artists do lousy pulp noir in similar ways because they’re both mainstream comics artists. And, late-breaking bulletin — their work isn’t incredibly different. Unless, of course, all you do all day everyday is look at boring contemporary mainstream comics art. In which case — hallelujah! — you too can be a comics critic.
Update: Well, Heidi at the Beat closed down the comments thread over there this morning because of my rudeness. I was a little startled; I hadn’t actually flamed anyone but Mark Waid, who seemed to be raring for a fight; otherwise everything seemed quite civil: I quite enjoyed the posts towards the end even. But maybe my time on the TCJ message board has just ruined my sense of appropriate behavior. Or perhaps Heidi was just sick of me — and who can blame her?
Anyway, I hope folks are scrolling down through the comments here. Tucker and Matthew Brady do both mount defenses of the cover in question, Derik admits he doesn’t know who Mark Waid is, various people try to make me sneer at non-horror buffs…it’s pretty entertaining. And if you want to post, you can be just about as rude to me as you’d like. I won’t shut you down…though I might flame you back.
Update: And Chris Mautner weighs in at Newsarama
I’ve got to say, if I’d know that vast Internet fame awaited me as soon as I misidentified a mainstream artist, I would have done it much sooner.
Also, summary of my related flame war with Mark Waid here