I promise this will be the last post for a while where I troll my proprietors. Unless they keep pissing me off, I guess.
In case you missed it, Gary Groth, the editor of the Comics Journal, has a Welcome to TCj.com post on the main page.
The essay is basically an unctuous exercise in self-hagiography. Gary reminisces about the good old days, slaps his knees, and bellows, “Eh! I just don’t get this new-fangled blogging! Why, I’m going to show those young whippersnappers how to criticize if I can only get my darned ear-trumpet out of my…eh, what part of me is that, anyway?”
I joke, but really, it’s a depressing spectacle in a number of ways. Most obviously — well, Gary really is somebody I admire, as I noted in my last post. He wasn’t a formative influence or anything, but he’s a good writer and a smart guy. His magazine took a chance on me when I didn’t have much of a name for myself, and while that was mostly Dirk, it was Gary who gave him the rope to do it, and I’m grateful to both of them. They took another chance bringing this blog here, for that matter, and I appreciate that as well.
Moreover, between the bouts of self-congratulation and maudlin reminiscing, Gary actually has a point. He and TCJ really do have a good deal to offer to folks who write and/or read about comics. There’s a roster of critics, like R. Fiore and Gary himself who haven’t had much of an online presence, and they’ll certainly be welcome. Having the Journal content free and online will be a boon to both casual readers and researchers. The long-term perspective on criticism and the comics industry which Gary has is not unique certainly (Tom Spurgeon and Johanna Draper Carlson have both been critics for a while, to name just two examples) but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.
So yeah, Gary and the Journal bring a lot to the table. But they will both offer less — and possibly a lot less — if Gary spends all his time online preening over his past accomplishments and sneering at everyone who doesn’t have the good luck to be him.
I doubt Gary noticed the irony, but at one point in his article he quotes this aspirational paen to comics, penned back in those days when Nobody But Gary And A Few Other Like Minded Visionaries Took Them Seriously. The quote’s by Richard Kyle.
The commonplace world is built of iron fantasies, a place where yesterday was always better.
In the commonplace world, all new arts are trash. In Elizabethan times, it was commonplace to say that Shakespeare’s theatre was trash. And then it was the novel’s turn: the novel, they said, was trash. And then the film came along. First it was the silent film, and the commonplace was that it was trash — until the sound film emerged. Then the silent film suddenly became an art, as the theatre and the novel had, and it was the sound movie that was trash. Today, all film is becoming art. What’s trash today, then? Comics, of course. But now that the newspaper strip is ailing, the commonplace is that it may be art. Those comic book stories, though, they’re surely trash…
As Gary says, it’s a nice quote. Though, you know, if Gary had actually read it, he might have been reluctant to write this a few paragraphs later.
Very little writing on the Web is of any real critical worth — or even pretends to be— and there is no journalism to speak of. I have never assiduously followed comics blogging, but so much of what I’ve read feels dashed off — amateurish, shallow, frivolous.
That web writing — that’s surely trash.
Not to go out on a limb to defend writing on the web or anything. There’s a lot that’s not very good. On the other hand…you know, virtually everyone who’s written for the sainted Journal in the past ten years is on the goddamn web. Not just Robert Stanley Martin and Bill Randall, but Jog, and Shaenon and Alan David Doane, and Sean Collins and Chris Mautner and Steven Grant and on and on. If you don’t know how to use google, that’s not the blogosphere’s fault.
On the other hand, if you’re talking amateurish, how about posting sixteen lines of tag-spam, completely filling the top of your new website’s screen with a list of boring crap, presumably because you simply don’t know what the fuck you’re doing? If you’re talking shallow, how about admitting that you don’t really read blogs, and then broadly condemning them on the basis of that? If you’re talking frivolous, how about an entire two-page post devoted to discussing how awesome you and your friends were back in the day?
Let me put it to you simply, Gary. If you’re in the room, you’re not cooler than the room. The Internet isn’t going to fall on its knees and worship your tag-spam just because you’ve been doing the comics criticism thing for a while and now you’ve blessed it with your presence. Which isn’t to say that you don’t have a lot of goodwill; you absolutely do. I don’t know tons of people in the blogosphere, but everyone I do know, even folks who are more or less your competitors, wants you to succeed. And, yeah, being a curmudgeon is part of your charm — don’t stop with that. But, for a moment or two, you might think about whether you, in fact, know it all, or whether it’s possible that, in this new venture you’re undertaking, you could, just maybe, have something to learn. With love, with respect, with hope even, I ask you, stop being a horse’s ass. We need you to do better.