Reading Tom Spurgeon’s interview with Abhay Khosla confirmed why I don’t read Khosla: I don’t know 90% of the comics he covers. But I do like the tension in these two quotes:

[#1] With art comics, the conversations that I tend to see, it’s not as much about actually caring about what happens to the characters who live in the four-corners of the page. … I’ve never seen anyone go nuts on the internet over what happened to Crying Asian Man from some Adrian Tomine comic. “I’m going to predict what happens to Crying Asian Man in the next issue of Optic Nerve.” Never seen that. I’ve never seen a Crying Asian Man fan-site, or anyone dressed as Crying Asian Man at a comic convention, or Crying Asian Man slash-fic.

(Now, since “Crying Asian Man” sounds like “Crying Freeman,” from now on I’ll see Adrian Tomine’s deathly still hipsters threatened by a yakuza assassin’s speedlines.)

And:

[#2] Comics, animation, both seems to dis-empower the artists even though they’re art-driven media.

(He’s drawing a distinction here between writer-as-creator and artist-as-creator, but I think the former point informs the latter in a slanted way.)

Think of Nancy. There’s Bushmiller’s Nancy, the Gilchrists’, and John Stanley’s comic-book Nancy. Bushmiller’s defines the character, but didn’t create her. She’s almost Platonic:

She doesn’t need the artists who drew her, or the writers who wrote her: model sheet immortality.

That’s seemed to me like a condition of cartooning. The characters tend not to change, and actively resist it. So they transubstantiate into models, toys, and character goods, and any one artist’s intentions are just a footnote. (Cartooning as iconography, as opposed to drawing as record-of-seeing).

But prose fiction, Optic Nerve‘s model, can be read as a record of a character’s change. The payoff’s often enough the character realizing the change, epiphany at the end. In comics, as in genre fiction, I think the stability of the characters works against this– Optic Nerve and many of the 90s wave of literary graphic novels have paralysis as a theme, full of characters frozen in ice.

This could be a fundamental difference in the media. The comics that deal in time have done so over decades: Cerebus, Gasoline Alley. Even the Palomar stories seem to return to state whenever Gilbert does one of those episodes where all the characters show up for a big party.

(Nitpick: Edmund Gosse was a hack just as a scholar! Father & Son lives on.)

Tags: