Jeet Heer over at Comics Comics explains what he hopes will happen with the revamped comics journal:
In terms of the print magazine, my strong sense is that the Comics Journal has always been strongest when Gary Groth has been most involved with it: his interviews with cartoonists have always set the gold standard in terms of being informed by the deepest research and asking the most searching questions. I’m thinking here of the classic and memorable conversations Groth has had with Chaykin, Crumb, Gil Kane, Jules Feiffer and many other creators. Now Groth is of course a very busy many with many broths to attend to, so the amount of time he gives to the Journal has wavered. But with two issues a year to put out, he should be able to reshape the magazine into something more closely resembling his own sensibility.
The Journal has often been accused of being just a mouthpiece for Groth’s opinions. To my mind, it’s regrettable that the Journal hasn’t often enough been Grothian enough.
In general, it’s a good rule of thumb that I’m going to violently disagree with everything that comes out of Jeet Heer’s keyboard. And, yep, that’s the case with this as well. The big things Heer pulls out as great moments in the past few years of TCJ are Gary’s massive interviews with the Deitch family, the roundtable on the controversial Schulz biography, and Gary’s long, long, long essay on Hunter S. Thompson . Basically, Heer likes to see Gary (and the Journal) indulging at length in his interest/passion for stuff most associated with the 60s.
I don’t have any problem with Gary doing that sort of thing; it’s his magazine, it’s what he loves, good on him. But…to look at the Journal, and say the best thing that could happen to it is for it to be more focused on that particular era, and more tied into Gary’s particular obsessions — I mean, basically you’re saying you want it to be more stodgy, more reverent, and more predictable. (And yes, despite his very entertaining and combative prose style, Gary can be both reverent and predictable in a number of ways.)
I think Heer wants a Journal that focuses on things that look like high art, treats them seriously (if not solemnly), and generally carries on the banner of “comics are art — no really” ad infinitum. The thing is, that battle has been won, more or less… and honestly, unless you’ve got some very particular axes to grind, it was never all that interesting a battle to begin with. For me, I’ve been happiest with the Journal when it pursued other visions — Tom Crippen working out why super-heroes matter and why they don’t, for example, or Dirk’s marvelous shojo issue. The larger, bi-annual approach seems like an opportunity to go further down that road…I’d love, for example, to see what Kristy Valenti or Bill Randall would do if given carte blanche with an issue. Gary will always be the Journal, in some sense, but one of the things he’s done right over the years, in my view, is to have the courage and the generosity to let other folks pursue their own idiosyncratic ideas and interests with his ink and his press.
Update: Heer continues to say things I disagree with. In comments he suggests
“it’s harder to write an appreciative essay than a negative one. “
People love to say this. I guess it may be true for Heer. It’s not the case for me. The review that I struggled with the most for the Journal was probably Lost Girls, which was negative. On the other hand, my positive review of Schulz’s Youth was pretty easy. It just depends on the book…and maybe the phase of the moon, I don’t know.
I think what Heer actually means is that positive reviews are more virtuous. I don’t agree with that either, but it’s a viewpoint, I guess.