“The product of art — temple, painting, statue, poem — is not the work of art. The work takes place when a human being cooperates with the product so that the outcome is an experience that is enjoyed because of its liberating and ordered properties.”

-John Dewey

There’s a post by Frankius over at comicscomics referencing something Evan Dorkin had written about the relatively minimal impact in the comics community of books like Wilson or Genesis.  Santoro’s talking about how the readership of comics is more diffuse than it used to be in the eighties and nineties where everyone was pretty much on board w/r/t what the important releases were.  What I remember of my own experience working at a comic shop at that time differs, though we were all probably following tcj religiously back then and felt like we were in it together, maybe.  But it was a good post.  The landscape of comics has changed to the point where fandom has become a smaller subset of overall readership and, therefore, less necessary.  The younger readers grew up with manga, anime, alternative/indy comics, sophisticated video games, and their frames of reference are different from those of the old guard.  And there’s a fresh crop of readers who aren’t so young, who have much more catholic tastes but, nonetheless, have no idea what formula Johnny Quick recited to gain super speed or what happened during the “Secret Wars.”

Lots of commenters offered their two cents on the post.  My attention was caught specifically by something Andrew White had written:

“I guess I just think people have to challenge themselves more in the types of works they see as important. Like, I think it would be the greatest thing ever if Jeet or Dan or someone tried to critically engage, say, Franquin’s Spirou or even (God forbid!) Dragon Ball or something in the same way that they do stuff like Gasoline Alley and Kirby’s Fourth World.”

It brings up a good point about how arbitrary “comics history” is.  It’s easy to see that positive associations, as opposed to some more objective system of value, are what impel bloggers (critics?) to write about Kirby or King more than Toriyama or Baldessari.  And It all gets confused because, though these canons are very personal, there’s a great deal of overlap, and it’s hard not to want to moralize and ascribe solid good/bad pronouncements to the various creations.  I don’t know whether I’d call most of it “Art,” but it is all, of course,  art.

art is not about making meaning, it seems to me.  It is the way we relate aesthetically to the world.  “Art,” on the other hand, is worried about the concerns of art, which is a form of meaning.  I was recently thinking about how art ideally escapes the manichean system of valuation that is all but unavoidable in literature, which seems to be concerned with the accuracy of sign/signified relationships.  But this is another typically binary way to view culture –  aesthetic vs. conceptual – beauty vs. meaning.  It’s a map, but it can be restrictive.

I made this post as a way of coming to terms with the fact that I can’t escape my own goofy influences.  I grew up immersed in a certain subset of the larger visual culture, and it’s useless for me to completely reject the way I, Jason Overby, respond to Spiderman’s costume, Batman’s utility belt, Toth’s page layouts, Bushmiller’s economy, Gould’s weirdness, Beto’s brushstrokes, etc.  My aesthetics were formed by this random soup, but that doesn’t mean that I want “Comics” as a medium to embrace its own heritage.

I get frustrated with people wanting the “Art” establishment to take “comic art” (meaning the actual inked comics pages as objects) seriously.  I look at Dan DeCarlo originals and they’re magically beautiful to me, but that’s ignoring the fact that they’re illustrating dopey stories about teenagers.  There are some thorny questions about taste and objective criteria that have historically elided the concerns of “Comics” but which are part of the concerns of “Art.”

But the concerns of “Comics” are changing.  The protective insularity of the eighties and nineties has given way, with the success of manga, critical acclaim, newer formats, etc. to the wide open, less-detached-from-the-cultural-zeitgeist aughts.

The most exciting thing to me about comics in the nineties, something that was on everyone’s minds, was the idea that comics, as a mode of expression, could be divorced from comics, as a cultural history.  I guess we’re beginning to reap what we’ve sown.

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