As seems to happen every week or so, there’s some wailing and gnashing of teeth going on about the state of comics criticism. Tucker Stone has this to say in a very entertaining interview on Newsarama:
I just wish people had thicker skin. That’s main thing with comics. There’s all this stuff recently about critics versus creators. Come on. Pauline Kael and the people from Cahiers du Cinema, they brought their art forward. They made films better, just by existing and pushing people to ask for more, to expect more. Or even the people who work on the Onion’s AV club, they make movies a better experience. They introduce you to stuff you’d never find on your own. But in comics it’s “Well how dare he say Alex Ross is a bad painter! I like Alex Ross!” Look, if you’re love of Alex Ross gets all fucked up because some dude you don’t know, who doesn’t share your taste, because that guy said Alex Ross sucks ass and should have his fingers broken, that’s your problem. Tons of people hate the shit I like, especially music, even my wife. Big deal. Doesn’t mean anything. If somebody else’s opinion on culture messes with yours so much it makes you want to cry, then you probably had started wondering whether you liked it that much to begin with.
Tom Spurgeon gets at the same point, more or less, saying if he ruled the comics world he would decree that “We criticize and receive criticism without reactionary defensiveness and accept others’ ability to do the same with respect for their doing so rather than as an opportunity to press our agenda that much further.”
And Dick Hyacinth joins in here making more or less the same point — as he says, “I’ve seen too many creators freaking out in public over honest (if not always thoughtful) criticism.”
So, basically, artists need thicker skins and then critics will save comics.
I’m sorry, but — much as I admire Tucker, Tom S, and Dick — that’s just ridiculous. In the first place, virtually nobody, in any medium, likes to have their work criticized. Artists have whined about criticism all through the ages. It’s what artists do. And furthermore, critics do it as well. In fact, when critics say things like “artists should have thicker skins”, what they tend to mean is, “artists should appreciate me more and not say that I suck when I criticize their work.” Not to say I’m exempt or anything; it really irritates me when people don’t like my stuff as much as they should, goldarnit. It’s natural. When you’re attacked, you get defensive. And, yes, attacking someone’s aesthetics is an attack on them — on their cultural position, their taste, their identity. Certainly there’s a line between attacking someone personally and attacking what they read…but it’s a line, not a wall. If you write harsh criticism, people are very likely going to get upset. In fact, getting people upset is kind of the point, right? I know it is for me; when I write, I’m writing in part out of anger (at sloppiness, at thoughtlessness, at ugliness, at moral turpitude (though I blush to admit the last)), and the intention is at least in part to irritate the people I’m angry at. Given that, it seems silly to turn around and complain if those people are in fact angry. (Though I do thoroughly admire people like Kim Deitch, with rhino hides and hearts of gold.)
And as for saving comics or improving comics or moving comics forward…I’ve really gotta say, my response is, fuck comics. I’m not writing to help comics. I’m writing for the same reason artists create art — which is either because (if you’re a romantic) I want to create something beautiful or (if you’re a realist) because I like to hear myself talk. I’m certainly more than happy to help particular comics artists whom I admire by giving them what publicity I can, but the medium as a whole — like all mediums, or like art itself, or like any other soulless cultural agglomeration — is worthy of neither love nor respect.
Not that there aren’t things wrong with comics in particular. There are, and I talk about them frequently. But I don’t know that the point is really to improve anything. It’s more about me thinking through what I like about art, and how that relates to other things (politics, morality, toilet humor, whatever.) It’s for me and my (admittedly limited) audience, not for a utopian future of better comics.