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Back to School

So, a quiet weekend on this site, huh? Gee. I’ve learned so much. I learned that I miss Matt Seneca very much. Wait, what else did I learn? Oh yeah: Nothing. RJ’s piece remains dead-on. But, I want to note a few things, which no doubt will be misconstrued, read in bad faith or otherwise distorted:

First, as a point of whatever shred of pride I have left: The idea that TCJ is a house organ of Fantagraphics is ludicrous. Tim and I live on the east coast and haven’t met officially with anyone from Fanta in maybe three or four years, or even heard from anyone aside from the usual PR stuff, image requests, and the odd bit of “hi, how ya doing?” Not on purpose, but because everyone is busy and work is work. Maybe one phone conversation in between? Maybe? We are freelancers. It is equally ludicrous if not insanely naive to think that Fantagraphics is trying to “hit” a competitor. TCJ just published a far more damning review of a brand new Fantagraphics book, one written by a TCJ contributor. I have written in praise of IDW books many times. We don’t care!

Then again, there’s never any point defending TCJ or Fantagraphics because people who imagine TCJ to be a “house organ” or Fantagraphics to be some elitist cabal are obviously not looking at either with any seriousness. It shows an astonishing level of willful ignorance and bad faith—every single page of the site has this text written on the bottom-right: “PUBLISHED BY FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS”—and there’s no point engaging with that kind of thing since there’s nothing substantive to engage with. Life is too short.

Yes, RJ works for Fantagraphics. Comics is a tiny community — he is a human with opinions first. Institutionally, comics and every other art form is a nest of conflicts-of-interest. Be thankful you’re not in the poetry world! In a comment on RJ’s piece, Carol Tilley, without an ounce of irony, writes, “I am friends with Craig, was a member of the Eisner judging committee during 2016 when Yoe Books was nominated for and won an Eisner, wrote an introduction for one of the Weird Love collections, and provided advice on a couple of other titles.” Hilarious!  

Anyhow, RJ’s piece isn’t going to dissuade anyone from buying those books. Gimme a break. Both here and at Comics Comics we’ve run negative reviews of Yoe books that, in retrospect, are probably (and wow, what a low standard) the best things he’s done. Most humans don’t buy books according to who published them. They buy according to subject. All the more reason for those subjects to be handled with care! RJ articulated exactly what every sophisticated reader and historian (especially the latter) knows about the problem of making considered and informed publishing decisions. Finally, it’s an understatement to note that it’s important to advocate for a more considered approach to comics history. 

Anyhow, that’s it. Today Matthias Wivel writes about Jack Kirby’s late foray into autobiographical comics, Street Code.

Late in life, Jack Kirby returned to his youth. After a long, distinguished career he drew his first unequivocally autobiographical story, “Street Code”, in 1983 (published 1990). In it, he remembers the dreary tenements on the Lower East Side of New York that he called home during the Depression, the unspoken love between he and his immigrant mother, the way his American identity was defined along ethnic fault lines, and the gang violence that became a constant, socializing factor for him.

It is an intensely sensed story, as always more or less improvised on the page. It ends abruptly with a sharply brooding self-portrait of the artist as a young man. He stares directly at the viewer with the glare of someone beyond his years, disgusted by the way of life he and his peers are forced to adopt. Kirby thus offers us a key to the art that led him out of this misery and with which he here brings that former reality to life. He aspires toward the arch-American narrative of social transcendence, ubiquitous not least in popular culture – and at the time he drew this story expressed most potently in New York’s still youthfully burgeoning hip hop culture.

Speaking of good books on comics, here’s the story of how Jerry Lewis wrote a foreword to Karask and Newgarden’s 150 years (give or take) in the making How to Read Nancy.

I love well-researched obscure comics history, naturally. Just like some of you. Here’s some raw data on the great H.G. Peters.

 


7 Responses to Back to School

  1. Jon Lutz says:

    I like this. Good point.

    One thing: in the past 3 years I feel I’ve gotten a good sense of the indie comics world and I am amazed at how insular it is. I go to SPX, I listen to Inkstuds, I’ve shopped at Copacetic, blah blah blah, just proving to you I’m not completely out of the loop. But I don’t fool myself into thinking I have bona-fides.

    Still…

    My impression is that indie comics is such a small world, it’s inevitable that people (publishers, reviewers, artists, writers) step on each others’ toes. More troubling, though, is everybody’s seeming unwillingness to take criticism, or to let it go and not dignify the bullshit with a response.

    Simply put, a healthy medium doesn’t need to defend itself and shouldn’t be this self-conscious.

    I certainly don’t recall indie music and indie film going through such torturous, public bickering. Everyone did what they did, took their licks, and let history prove who were the posers and who was legit.

    So, stop it! As a friend, I tell you, it’s making you look bad!

  2. Rick Stevens says:

    In a comment on RJ’s piece, Carol Tilley, without an ounce of irony, writes, “I am friends with Craig, was a member of the Eisner judging committee during 2016 when Yoe Books was nominated for and won an Eisner, wrote an introduction for one of the Weird Love collections, and provided advice on a couple of other titles.” Hilarious!

    —-

    I don’t know why this would be hilarious. She called you to disclose your relationships and then she practiced what she preached. That’s what integrity looks like. And I wouldn’t say it’s hilarious, it’s admirable.

  3. Frank says:

    I’ll disagree on your assessment that the RJ article is well-written. Not because I disagree with the criticism (although I do), but rather that it was not up to standards of journalism or well constructed. Specifically, the premise of the headline is that the Yoe Books do a “Disservice” to comics history. Yet the article then makes qualitative, personal judgments on the printing and design process – with a very short note that they have somehow “blocked” or “prevented” other historians from their own publishing efforts.

    The article fails to expand upon or defend its premise. So – not well-written (in my opinion, of course – it obviously meets your editorial standards)

    I can easily disagree with the qualitative, personal opinions of a reviewer I haven’t heard of before, but the initial premise is an annoyance I must challenge – and did so in the comments of the original post.

    As for the need to disclose affiliations – well, that depends on whether you are a “journal” or just some website. It’s certainly not required here, but would have been an ethical courtesy. It wouldn’t have actually changed my opinion on the piece either way. It does speak to credibility and editorial oversight though.

    If you think the reaction to the article was based upon the affiliation issue – then you are missing the point by a very wide margin. The reaction is/was by-and-large based upon the fact that there is disagreement as to the value of Yoe Books in the market of comics.

    Whether you like Yoe Books is one thing. If you attack them as doing “disservice” then you best build a clearer, evidence-based case to support it. You also better be prepared to have your case challenged because there will be those that believe the opposite – that Yoe Books do a service to comics by reprinting long-forgotten or unavailable material – in the same reprints have in the past.

    The responses to the article using infantile profanity, accusations of ulterior motives, suggestions of e-mail campaigns, or anti-culturalism and anti-intellectualism are all juvenile and add nothing. I’d also argue that the argument of bias of affiliation holds little water, but could have been avoided altogether if it was disclosed.

    The bottom line for me – it was a poorly thought out attempt to suggest a “disservice” to comics history. (a term it also failed to define)

  4. Frank says:

    I’ll also add:

    “Wait, what else did I learn? Oh yeah: Nothing.”

    That is possibly the most disturbing line in the above post. As an Editor (notice the capital “E”) – you should have learnt a great deal.

  5. jared gardner says:

    Woah!

    I do think there is a fair amount to much fury over what is in the end a review. Of reprint comics. Did I also mention: comics?

    As someone who shares a good deal of the reviewers feelings about Yoe’s approach to reprint comics (without, however, feeling that comics themselves have been put in mortal danger by the fact of their existence), I could appreciate a lot of what was on offer in the histrionically titled review. But the minute I read the review I thought to myself (and tweeted to my 3 followers), that this is going to raise once again concerns about potential conflict—concerns that distract from the force of what the reviewer is arguing (claims that can be debated on their own merit, and I’ll let RC Harvey serve as the spokesperson for the opposition).

    Your insistence here, Dan, that there is no possible conflict doesn’t help. It won’t convince the skeptics and even an olde-timer like me starts to feel as if your response (which includes the bad form of calling out readers by name in your editorial column) protests a bit too furiously. The fact that you and Fanta have done such an admirable job maintaining a firewall over the years doesn’t make the concerns go away. And your rage at the skeptics if anything makes it worse. Just as Jon Lutz suggests that the object of a bad review should (and usually does) accept or ignore the criticism and move on, so too should TCJ accept that so long as TCJ is published by Fanta these concerns will remain a fact of life. All the good intentions and even admirable history won’t make people stop wondering—inevitably and forever—how independent employees of Fantagraphics can be in reviewing books by Fantagraphics OR rival publishers.

    I have worked with TCJ and Fanta enough over the years to have my own evidence that there really is meaningful autonomy, but the fact is until we have a critical institution of the weight and authority of TCJ that is NOT owned by a publisher these questions will remain inevitable and will return in predictable cycles. And they should be accepted as part of the conditions in which we find ourselves in comics. Still, I’d rather have a TCJ that is always going to be prone to suspicions of conflicts of interest than no TCJ at all. So, for better and worse, here we are.

  6. Artie D. says:

    Sorry, Dan. I’m not buying it.

    Your argument that The Comics Journal isn’t a house organ for Fantagraphics doesn’t hold water. If it doesn’t represent the Fantagraphics point of view then why publish a piece attacking a competing publisher?

    The way I see it, the anti-Yoe article could be one of three things:

    a.) An attack by a big publisher trying to bully a competing mom-and-pop (literally) operation out of business. It’s unseemly to pick on the little guy. Maybe Fantagraphics has gotten fat and lazy. Maybe your limousine lifestyle has made you forget what it’s like to be a small, struggling publisher. Maybe the company resents having a small outfit out-doing them. It smacks of greed and appears like an attempt to control the market.

    b.) A personal attack on Mr. Yoe. Does someone at Fantagraphics have a vendetta against him? It reads like RJ, or perhaps you yourself, has a beef with Craig for some reason. Settle your differences elsewhere. It’s unbecoming to use The Comics Journal as your forum to attack an individual.

    c.) Click bait, plain and simple. Nothing attracts an audience like controversy. So rather than actual journalism you concoct this make-believe issue to get people to engage and make comments. Is this the most attention your blog has received in a long while? I rest my case.

    I suppose there’s also d.) All of the above. This might be a combination of both personal and professional jealousy with the added clicks as a bonus.

    The idea that RJ just woke up with the idea to publish an “exposé” cafe on Yoe Books, with no ulterior motive, just isn’t convincing.

  7. Dan Nadel says:

    I can’t take these comments seriously, since in keeping with the entertaining, if overblown response to RJ’s piece, they, as I predicted, approach it all from a place I just don’t care about. It’s all just too simultaneously untrue, paranoid, naive and out of touch. I’m also not interested in another thread (as entertaining as that might be), I’m even less interested in convincing anyone of anything, and there’s no “right” play here, since, after all, this is TCJ, and even “friendly” contributors like to tweak it like it’s 1985.