In a classic example of authors responding to their critics circa 1988, Terry Beatty and his girlfriend Wendi Lee refute a negative review of the Wild Dog miniseries (written by Max Allan Collins) in this series of letters from Blood and Thunder. An “I am not Terry Beatty's Girlfriend” letter-writing contest ensues.
Editors’ Note published in The Comics Journal #129 (May 1989):
In Journal #118, Peter Cashwell reviewed Wild Dog (“Moonshine, Grits, Guns and Crackers”), a four-issue mini-series from DC Comics by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty, in which Cashwell basically ridiculed the book as a particularly dopey, hairbrained comic. The review prompted two letters — and only two letters — defending the book: from Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee, Beatty’s girlfriend.
MISSING THE JOKE
Y’know, I almost really enjoyed the latest Comics Journal (#118). Its beautiful Moebius cover, informative overview of the French comics scene, enlightening interview with Moebius/Giraud and Charles Burns’ sketch-book excerpts all add up to one fine publication — but you shoot yourself in the foot when you include such self-righteous, ill-headed reviews as Peter Cashwell’s two-page anti-Wild Dog rant. Of course I’m extra annoyed because Cashwell is attacking my work... but this review would disgust me even if I’d had nothing to do with the comic in question. Damn, Gary—do you want The Journal to be a serious publication devoted to the remarkable art of the comic strip and comic book, or a supermarket tabloid full of cheap shots and snide personal attacks?
Does Cashwell truly need to tell us so much about himself before engaging in his diatribe against Wild Dog? Who cares if he eats Moon Pies and bagels? This is “new journalism” at its most inane.
Wild Dog #1 being subjected to this extensive (yet short-sighted) sort of review is a lot like doing a doctoral thesis on a single issue of The Flintstone Kids — there’s just not that much to say.
Wild Dog is a straightforward, traditional costumed hero comic book—up-dated for the ’80s and packaged for the G.I. Joe crowd. It’s the kind of comic Max Collins and I would’ve liked as kids—a comic we had fun creating and a comic a lot of folks have enjoyed.
I won’t go into a detailed rebuttal of Cashwell’s complaints, Wendi Lee has already done that in a separate letter, but I do want to comment on Cashwell’s inability to pick up on the irony and black humor in the comic in question. Cashwell complains that by having Wild Dog take Susan King hostage after rescuing her from the terrorists, we’ve “muddied the ethical waters into a veritable bog.” Jeez, Peter, don’t you recognize a joke when you see one? Are you so used to overly serious “adult” super-hero comics (a contradiction in terms: Super-heroes are inherently a juvenile concept) full of ponderous purple prose pooling up in pompously pretentious captions droningly spelling out everything for you, that you can’t take just a second to figure out that we were doing a very obvious ironic gag?
Anyone with even a nodding acquaintance of our work on Ms. Tree would know that Collins and Beatty are old hands at irony and black humor. But Cashwell has obviously never read anything by Collins other than his Batman (the published versions of which did not, with the notable exceptions of Cowan’s and Breyfogle’s issues, live up to the considerable promise of their scripts).
And we were making a point about vigilantism, or rather, asking a question: Is a costumed crime-fighter who takes the law into his own hands better than the villains he tackles — or is he, like Mike Hammer, “the evil that opposes other evil?” Give us some credit!
But again, because we allow the subtext of our work to remain the subtext rather than spelling it out in captions full of angst and inner turmoil, Cashwell bone-headedly misses the incredibly obvious point. He also doesn’t understand that our villains, the Committee for Social Change, were a joke as well—a very dark joke—the point of which is that all terrorism is senseless—but a joke nonetheless. Cashwell, for all his superior thesaurus-flexing, simply succeeds in proving that he has no sense of humor.
Cashwell complains that I’m “one of the poorest artists imaginable for the series...” Gee, I only co-created the feature, designed the characters — and it does happen to be set in the Quad Cities, twenty minutes from where I live. I think I’m pretty well-suited to draw the thing.
And Cashwell’s attack on our editor and friend Mike Gold, is utterly out-of-line. As far as I’m concerned, Cashwell can keep his smug attitude, his XTC records, Moon Pies and jug of white lightnin’. I’m not interested.
And Gary — when are you going to wise up enough to allow the Journal to become the important forum on comic art that it could be (and sometimes is) instead of using it for petty attacks on people who refuse to kneel in your presence? Yes, you’ve published some great material, both in the Journal and with your Fantagraphics Books division. You deserve a great big thank you from comic fandom as a whole for printing the Complete Crumb, Foster’s Prince Valiant, Gray’s Little Orphan Annie, and for giving cartoonists of the caliber of the Hernandez Brothers a place to do their work. But you reinforce the general public’s attitude that all comics are for immature fanboys when you allow the Journal to degenerate into the kind of self-aggrandizing arrogance typified by Cashwell’s review.
From The Comics Journal #120 (March 1988)
TALKIN ’BOUT MY GUY
WENDI LEE (Beatty’s Girlfriend)
Perhaps some people may think that I am too close to the situation to be objective, but I feel that I must respond to Peter Cashwell’s reprehensible review of Wild Dog in The Comics Journal #118. I like to think that I might do this even if I weren’t acquainted with Collins and Beatty (having just purchased a house with the latter), but I can’t stand by and say nothing about a review as disgraceful as this one. As a former editor for the now defunct Telegraph Wire, I would never have allowed such a poorly written and obviously biased review to be printed. But then, The Comics Journal has had it in for the Collins/Beatty team since day one and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Peter Cashwell’s review was printed solely because it so thoroughly took Collins and Beatty to task. In fact, I’m even a little suspicious of the fact that the favorable review of Wild Dog that was supposed to appear in a recent Amazing Heroes was lost — it probably was “conveniently” lost on purpose. It’s just too much of a coincidence, and I don’t believe in coincidences of this kind. But as I was saying, I found the review to be poorly written and biased in the worst way possible. In fact, Cashwell’s opinion seemed to be set before he even picked up a copy of Wild Dog. He might even have had his little grievances in mind, then just read into Wild Dog what he wanted to read and plugged it into the review.
One of the first things I’d like to point out is that he only read the first issue in a four issue mini-series. I seem to recall a similar situation with a Telegraph Wire reviewer a few years ago. Matt Denn reviewed Dalgoda without having read more than the first few pages of the first issue. Denn admitted this and was severely chastised for it by his readers. So much so that he retired from reviewing and we haven’t heard from him since. But I genuinely feel that Denn didn’t give Dalgoda a bad review out of maliciousness, only out of naivete. However, I felt that Cashwell’s review was written with an eagerness to appear superior, yet the review has the same tiresome fanboy approach that pervades too many reviews these days. I have always felt that a comic book should be given a more thorough read before the first review appears. While some titles are on-going and you can’t wait until it ends to review it, a mini-series has a beginning, a middle and an end. It should be reviewed by comic book reviewers as a book is reviewed by book reviewers. And an on-going title should not be judged by just the first issue, but by several issues in sequence. A good book reviewer doesn’t read the first chapter of a book and judge it just on that one chapter, he reads the entire book. By the time The Comics Journal #118 was ready to be printed, Cashwell could have read and reviewed dam near the entire four issues!
On the same track, a good book reviewer who has a bias about a particular author will state so upfront and try to keep an open mind while reading and reviewing the book. I felt that Cashwell had already made up his mind about Wild Dog; he stated that he wasn’t impressed with Collins as a writer before he picked up Wild Dog and he wasn’t impressed with the ad campaign “but the book ended up in my weekly batch of DCs.” Well, shut my mouth! If that wasn’t an open-and-shut review before it was written—sort of like being guilty before proven innocent.
I also found that Peter Cashwell makes a most unforgivable error when attacking Collins as a writer: he assumes that a writer must condone every action and point of view of the characters in the story. He criticizes the villain’s proclamation: “We are neither right-wing nor left-wing … we simply … are” as not making a point. Cashwell must have a more idealized view of terrorists than either Collins or myself (by the way, I have had contact with terrorists, albeit innocent contact, in the past). Terrorism is nihilism, anarchy, chaos, disorder; it has no law except to kill and maim and cause misery. It has no belief except what I have stated above and that is the point. If Mr. Cashwell will stop thinking of himself as smarter than the writer of the comic intended for review (not dumber, either — just of equal intelligence), he wouldn’t make such stupid assumptions.
But, to the task at hand — an in-depth review of Peter Cashwell’s review: let me address his misconceptions one at a time.
1) Cashwell’s belief that he lives in the Heartland. I hate to disillusion him, but North Carolina comes nowhere near the Heartland. I think most people who remember their grade school geography will agree that the Heartland denotes the Midwest. Any schoolchild could tell you that. I even went so far as to look up a definition of the Heartland on the jacket flap of a book in the library: “The Heartland is that region of the Midwest that is just west of the Mississippi and just east of the Rockies.” And while I would go so far as to include Illinois and Wisconsin, perhaps Michigan also, we’re still not even close to North Carolina. In fact, if Mr. Cashwell would consult a map of the United States, he would find that North Carolina is located in the southern region of the East Coast. Let me be a tad more specific regarding the depth and origin of this definition of the Heartland. It denotes that region of America that is farmland (or it was, in simpler times). While other parts of the country also have farmland, the Midwest enjoys the reputation of being the “heart” of America by supplying a majority of the grains, vegetables, pork, beef and poultry. Enough with the lesson, O.K.?
2) Mr. Cashwell, by intention or not, misunderstood Mike Gold’s editorial in the first issue of Wild Dog. When Gold used the word ”boonies” (only twice, and all in one paragraph), he was being facetious. If Cashwell had thoroughly read the editorial instead of taking words out of context, he would have read the first paragraph which states that New Yorkers, Californians and, for that matter Chicagoans have the notion that outside of their cities resides the great unknown, a factor known only as “smalltown America." It’s as plain as day, as long as you want to see it and as long as you aren’t reading anything more into it. I don’t understand why Mr. Cashwell was so insulted. Perhaps he conveniently skipped that first paragraph so as to facilitate the context in which he wrote his scathing remarks. My advice to Mr. Cashwell is to stop reading hidden meanings into editorials and comic books. That’s for psyche majors, not comic book reviewers.
In fact, I found that Mike Gold’s editorial, while a bit flowery, shows a much deeper respect for small-town America than Mr. Cashwell’s snide and insulting attitude. Maybe Cashwell was being sarcastic, but I guess I can read his review two ways and both ways reek of ignorance toward small-town people.
I have one more comment on Mr. Cashwell’s attitude toward Mike Gold. Cashwell takes a superior attitude with Gold by labeling him “just a city kid who didn’t know what kind of trouble he could get from a Tar Heel...” This shows a lack of tolerance, and perhaps character, on Cashwell’s part that is as bad as a New Yorker dressing down someone from a small town because the latter never lived in a big city. He sounds pompous and self-righteous. I took more offense to Cashwell’s egotistical and self-serving appraisal of Mike Gold’s than almost anything else in his review. After all, everything else in the review is just plain silly with its deliberate errors, but a personal attack on someone he probably has never met is just plain distasteful. But then, Mr. Cashwell lets us know at the end of his review that he does indeed feel superior to everyone associated with the comic. How … amusing.
3) Apparently Mr. Cashwell doesn’t like the setting of Wild Dog. He goes to great lengths to convince us that he’s just a hick from the Heartland (see #1 for a definition of Heartland). Let me take a moment to explain to Mr. Cashwell why Wild Dog is not set in Afton, Virginia or Ingold, North Carolina or even Phoenix, Oregon: Collins and Beatty don’t live in any of these places. They live in Iowa land. They chose to write about their own backyard. If Cashwell finds his own backyard so interesting and chooses to set a super-hero comic there, I suggest that he stop writing asinine critical reviews of other comics and begin using his typewriter in a more productive way.
4) Perhaps the most telling problem with this review, and any review in the Journal that talks about super-heroes, is that this was reviewed as if the action were realistic and the reviewer’s eager expectations of the story were that Wild Dog should be profound and intricate. He’s just a guy in a costume with a grudge. Collins and Beatty designed Wild Dog for 13-year-olds, not pseudo-intellectual reviewers for The Comics Journal. I don’t know if The Comics Journal reviews other comics for the adolescent and pre-adolescent set, but I’ll bet that they get the same pretentious treatment. This is totally inappropriate. Again, my example is a book reviewer—this time reviewing a children’s book. If the reviewer is at all sensitive to the genre, the review is geared toward why a child would like or dislike the book. The reviewer might even go so far as to read it to a child for an honest reaction. Let’s face it, with few exceptions, there aren’t many 30-year-olds—or even 20-year-olds—who can put themselves in the shoes of the modern-day adolescent. Even those adults who read super-hero comics read them with a different perspective than that of an adolescent. Kids don’t analyze a comic, they just buy it if it looks neat and keep buying it if it presses all the right buttons. I’m not defending all kids’ comics as good, I’m just pointing out that there is a difference between a kid’s comic and an adult comic and they should be reviewed with that in mind.
I found one more problem with this review that I don’t even want to enumerate: Mr. Cashwell is driven to tell us more than we care to know about him. He feels it necessary to delve into his likes and dislikes, proudly dragging out his intimate knowledge of the boondocks as well as his enlightened preference for the eclectic “yuppie” things in life. In other words, Peter Cashwell, for whatever reason, wants us to know that he is a hip hick. Aside from being self-serving, what other purpose does it serve? Aside from being unprofessional, why does this make him so all-fired qualified to review Wild Dog? I really don’t see the connection.
For Cashwell’s information, the Quad Cities is a clump of five or six small towns that make up a larger town. Just because it might have a Burger King or two (forget the All Night Sushi Palaces) doesn’t mean that it’s not a small town. It’s just not Chapel Hill.
By the way, I’d be willing to bet that Chapel Hill is a lot hipper than Peter Cashwell leads us to believe. Not only does the town have a university there, but it has one of the finest teaching universities for students of medical research and medicine. It’s very well-thought-of in the medical and bio-statistical fields and is known throughout the world. I used to work on a research project in Boston (at an Ivy League school of medicine) and Chapel Hill was one of our study centers. I called Chapel Hill frequently and found that most of the people I spoke to were not displaced Northerners. There was a doctor from Puerto Rico and several nurses from in and around the Chapel Hill area. Not to say that there aren’t any displaced Northerners, just to say that Chapel Hill is a lot more cosmopolitan than Cashwell would like us to believe. In fact, I’ll bet that if Peter Cashwell tries really hard, he could find an All Night Sushi Palace in Chapel Hill.
By the way, we don’t even have a Burger King in Muscatine.
Kim Thompson notes:
During my editorship of Amazing Heroes in ’87, I published at least two very favorable reviews of Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty’s Ms. Tree. I also initiated, conducted, edited and published a very long interview with Collins, and commissioned a matching cover from Beatty which served to promote Wild Dog.
In accusing me of being part of some nefarious anti-Collins/Beatty Fantagraphics conspiracy (of which there is, I hasten to add, none) Wendi Lee has moved from her previous engaging loopiness to the kind of ferocious accept-no-facts dementia the female of the species often develops in defense of her mate. (Call it sexist, but there are at least two men whose work I’ve criticized or published criticism of, who remain perfectly amiable to me but whose wives have put me near the top of their shitlists.) Loyalty is admirable, but so are reason and a sense of proportion.
If Wendi wants to know what happened to the notorious SUPPRESSED WILD DOG REVIEW, she can call me up and ask me like a normal human being. I refuse to be drawn into a discussion of editorial matters by as flamboyantly flaky an accusation as the above.
Peter Cashwell replies:
First, I wrote my review of Wild Dog; it was neither preplanned on my part nor solicited by The Journal. I read what I thought was a poorly-done comic and wrote a critique of it. In the interest of fairness, I waited until I’d read the second issue before I mailed the review; since all my opinions were confirmed, off it went. No vendetta Criticism. I in no way criticized Beatty’s person, nor did I comment on his co-creatorship, familiarity with the setting, or design work, which makes his use of them as a defense puzzling. I stand by my comments on the figures and storytelling in Wild Dog, but not out of bias toward him. Indeed, if I hadn't lost my sense of humor in the Tar Heel Motor Lodge at age 14, I’d mention his highly enjoyable Phony Pages, which whumped Wild Dog eight ways to Sunday, as proof my lack of prejudice against Beatty.
Second, Ms. Lee and I agree that terrorism is lawless and wrong. I contend, however, that unlike Wild Dog’s foes, terrorists are motivated; to say otherwise trivializes the deaths terrorism causes. It isn't just some kind of accidental phenomenon that occurs randomly, without attachment to human desires and hatreds; if it were, we could no more condemn it than we can tornadoes. So laugh at terrorists if you can, criticize them, take away their funding, or better yet remove their reasons for bloodletting, but don’t consider them capricious. When the KKK mowed down five people in Greensboro, NC, a few years back, it wasn’t just for shits and grins.
Third, I fail to see the virtue in packaging a book aimed at unanalytical 13-year-olds chock full of presumed black humor, irony, and subtextual material. If it’s gonna include literary elements, it ought to be fair game for literary criticism; if it’s just a kiddie book, why is the “hero” shooting to kill, taking hostages, and running from the law?
More seriously, if my sarcastic comments on Mike Gold’s piece were taken as a personal attack on Mr. Gold himself, I can only offer him a humble apology. I don’t think he’s a bigot, I just don’t think he knows how defensive a man can get when he’s constantly being judged against a standard like Jesse Helms. If only I hadn’t lost my capacity for black humor to that puma when I was ten, this might have been clearer…
Finally, I am aghast at Ms. Lee’s revelation that Chapel Hill may be more than simply the Nematode Capital of the South, but I’m afraid she’s right. Despite my inability to fathom sarcasm, due to a gardening accident at age six I must have been blind to think that our main industry was, as my family assured me, spittoons. When I think that my wife, my brother, my ma and pa, everyone I know may secretly be going to this university, or even working there...I’m just speechless. My god, next time it’ll be a Burger King…maybe even two!
Attention All Journal Readers:
A CALL TO ACTION
Announcing a New Journal Contest
We received two letters rebutting Peter Cashwell’s vicious and uncalled-for review of DCs brilliant Wild Dog comic — from the comic’s artist and his girlfriend. Why aren’t Journal readers properly outraged at this irresponsible criticism directed toward a comic that’s just trying to entertain the masses?
In an effort to increase activism among Journal readers, we’ll offer a free subscription to The Journal to the best letter defending Wild Dog. (Best being defined as whatever amuses The Journal staff the most.) In order to qualify you:
a) cannot be professionally affiliated with the Wild Dog comic; and
b) cannot be Terry Beatty’s girlfriend.
That’s all. Send those cards and letters expressing outrage and indignation at The Journal’s high-handed and arrogant criticism of a fine comic book!
The I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend Journal Contest
1800 Bridgegate Street, Suite 101
Westlake Village, CA 91361
From The Comics Journal #122 (June 1988)
A BREACH OF DECENCY
MAX ALLAN COLLINS (writer of Wild Dog)
[Addressed to Kim Thompson] I’ve just read the current Journal, which includes the letters from Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee in response to Peter Cashwell’s Wild Dog review, as well as your reply, and Cashwell’s. And, of course, I also read your “Call to Action” announcing a contest seeking pro-Wild Dog defenses from someone other than Terry’s girlfriend.
Let me get a couple of things straight, immediately. Terry and Wendi, in their letters, were speaking for themselves, just as I am speaking for myself in this one. I agree with some of what they express, but not all. I did not advise them to send their letters, nor did I advise them not to—although I did say to both of them I, having already played the game of writing the Journal in my own defense, would not care to go down that road again. Obviously, the Journal has the last word in such a case; playing on the Fantagraphics home court makes winning damn near impossible.
Second, I do not think there is an anti-Collins/Beatty conspiracy at Fantagraphics (at least, I didn’t). I don’t think the Journal— specifically Gary Groth—is exactly predisposed toward liking my work; but I’ve never been so paranoid as to think that Groth, Thompson and company went out of their way to commission negative pieces, or to reject positive ones.
Gary knows what my specific gripe about him was (he dismissed me in print as a pulp-churning hack while characterizing a series of novels by me in a manner so inaccurate as to reveal his lack of actual familiarity with my work, or at least that series). I also know that Gary—with whom I enjoyed a brief, engaging personal correspondence on various subjects including but not limited to Russ Meyer movies—resented my cooperation with Alan Light’s lawyer in a certain once-upon-a-time lawsuit (said cooperation being limited to my stating for the record that I had purchased the Journal and other Fantagraphics publications in the states of Illinois and Iowa).
But I never translated this into a Groth vendetta against me or my work. I do think, obviously, that my standing up to him in print, and catching him in a clumsy piece of sophistry if not a lie (I refer to his sweeping condemnation of my work without ever reading any of it), might tend to make him less than friendly, less than objective, toward my writing.
Both Terry and myself have stubbornly clung to the sort of artistic ideals that Groth (in his overkill reply to Steven Grant, also in the current Journal) professes to admire. Specifically, we have for years rejected the advances of the "major" publishers and have clung to our independent, not-terribly-profitable comic book Ms. Tree. Whether you like Ms. Tree or not (and you claim not to, Kim), we have clearly broken some new ground and have, if nothing else, “hung in there” for 50 issues, producing personal, quirky work that does not cater (or pander) to the super-hero crowd, or, for that matter, the intellectually upscale readers who trendily follow the likes of Cerebus and Love & Rockets (both of which are admirable books, by the way).
Wild Dog was a partial capitulation to bring in enough money to keep Ms. Tree afloat and help the Collins/Beatty team reach a wider readership for future projects.
I think any Fantagraphics “vendetta” toward Ms. Tree and her creators is pretty much limited to our being denied some of the coverage and credit we might have received had we not incurred the wrath of Groth. But Kim Thompson, if not Gary Groth himself, has always had the integrity and the journalistic responsibility to see that we got at least some coverage, and occasionally first-rate coverage. I felt the interview you did with me for Amazing Heroes was excellent.
I also think some of what you say to Wendi and Terry in response to their letters is fair. Obviously, the blatantly sexist remark about “the female of the species” defending her “mate” is as unkind as it is ill-advised, but it’s in character for the Journal and fits in with your no-holds-barred critical approach.
And some of Cashwell’s response strikes me as right on the money. I don’t agree with Terry (and Wendi) that our book is aimed at 13-year-olds and should be criticized only from the standpoint of children’s literature. I think Cashwell is right when he says that if we engage in black humor, irony and “subtextual criticism,” we are “fair game for literary criticism.” I think we are. I designed the scripts to be accessible to a younger teenage readership, but to raise certain questions even in those young minds, and to be hip enough, if you will, to engage the older reader who enjoys indulging in the inherently adolescent fantasies of super-hero comic books. The point is, Cashwell did not read enough of the Wild Dog four-issue mini-series to notice, or at least perceive those elements. Anyone familiar with Ms. Tree (as you are, Kim) knows that it is my approach to explore the dark side of the traditional heroic protagonist; Ms. Tree, the vigilante private eye, has gone to jail and the insane asylum, and suffered drug dependency and the deaths of loved ones, as a result of her actions. We are, obviously, going somewhat the same route in Wild Dog.
Of course Cashwell’s major problem is that he doesn’t write very well. Consider his lame attempts to sarcastically display that despite Terry’s Beatty’s claims to the contrary he does, indeed, have a sense of humor (“despite my inability to perceive sarcasm, due to a gardening accident at age six...”). I was not surprised to read a negative review of Wild Dog in the Journal (the good things Fantagraphics has had to say about us have been published exclusively within the pages of Amazing Heroes, I believe). But I was surprised to read so poorly written and bonehead a review—hell, Cashwell doesn’t even know where he lives (see Wendi Lee’s definition of “heartland”). Terry is correct on one point, without a doubt: that review was air example of “‘new Journalism’ at its most inane.”
Poor writing in the Journal is nothing new. But if Gary Groth’s writing style brings to mind a nerdy grad student thumbing through the fattest Webster’s on the planet, at least his thinking, his logic, can’t be faulted. You can fault his conclusions, and certainly his smugness and his mean-spiritedness. You can smirk knowingly when Groth pompously tears down Will Eisner, after years of contributing to Eisner’s sainthood (along the way misrepresenting words of mine, incidentally, as having come from a review when in fact they came from an unabashedly gushing “Christmas Wish List” that appeared in the Comics Buyer’s Guide.) You can chuckle over the redundancies in his writing (“grave seriousness,” “dream wistfully,” “high-sounding platitudes,” “pander shamelessly” and “struggled mightily” crop up in the Grant response, for example) and you can reach for a road map when sorting through one of his tortuous sentence constructions, which frequently will include the phrase “to wit.” But he never seems stupid, a distinction that Cashwell earns and then some.
Where you cross the line, of course, is with your “I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girl Friend” contest. Here you confirm all of Terry’s suspicions by taking meanness and smugness to new heights of lowness. Here you make tools of yourselves and, sadly, of your interesting, often valuable Journal. The cruelty, the “fanboy” misogyny, the distrust of any human relationship that is built on loyalty and emotional commitment, particularly between a man and woman, confirms many suspicions indeed.
Kim, we’ve always had fun being friendly acquaintances in the midst of the Fantagraphics/Ms. Tree flap, over the years. I intend to be civil, even friendly, to you, in the future. But understand that any personal regard I have—had—for you has vanished. For it to reappear would require an acknowledgment in print that the ridicule of your “contest” went beyond the boundaries of not only good taste but human decency.
Gary Groth replies:
Ah, Max, I see that I have not given you enough credit. This letter is a masterful performance; it proves that you are the rhetorical tactician I never knew you were. The letter is chummy and familiar, but not intimate, the better to express hurt and disappointment at the Journal’s lapses; it is reasonable; it is tolerant; it is balanced; it is forgiving of the Journal’s excesses—until we crossed the line between decency and indecency. Max will take a lot, but he won’t take that. And who can blame him?
His letter is, as I said, a masterful performance.
It’s also a crock of horseshit. Here’s a lesson in rhetorical maneuvering:
Max claims not to believe there’s a Journal vendetta against him and Terry Beatty—or does he? The rhetorical weaseling begins with this sentence: “I do not think there is an anti-Collins/Beatty conspiracy at Fantagraphics (at least, I didn’t).” This is brilliant. Notice that the sentence is written in the present tense—except for the parenthetical remark which may or may not supersede the declarative statement it immediately follows. Then, after saying that he knew I resented him cooperating with Alan Light’s attorney involving the insignificant matter of a $2 million lawsuit, Max generously (and confusingly) says that he ‘”never translated this into a Groth vendetta against me or my work.” Notice the use of the past participle; it is unclear as to whether he currently believes this involved a vendetta, but somehow the astute reader can tell that we are inching our way toward confirming the vendetta theory without quite admitting it exists. (These accusations are so hazy, you know; direct accusations require such inconvenient desiderata as proof.) Later, Max lowers the boom: “I think any Fantagraphics ‘vendetta’ toward Ms. Tree and her creators is pretty much limited to our being denied some of the coverage and credit we might have received had we not incurred the wrath of Groth.” The vendetta, which he had previously discounted, has evolved into a “vendetta,” the quotation marks apparently providing a distinction that I don’t quite grasp. Is a vendetta better or worse than, or different from, a “vendetta”? It’s a little like reading Joyce. One is never quite certain.
The vendetta/“vendetta” has, to our credit, been limited to denying Collins and Beatty coverage and credit. What coverage? What credit? Our news coverage is as ruthlessly objective as we can write it; the rest of the magazine is by and large composed of opinions, and a damned wide variety of opinions to say the least. One example of the diversity of opinion expressed in the Journal is the interview with Max Collins that we published, which Max conveniently neglects to mention. Publishing an interview with him is an odd way of denying him coverage.
Max mentions, as if in passing, that I resented his cooperative involvement with Alan Light’s attorneys in Light’s $2 million litigation. This isn't the half of it. Max knows very well that I more than resented him helping Alan Light to sue me because I wrote him a letter dated November 17, 1984, telling him in no uncertain terms that I considered his aiding and abetting Light’s litigation a betrayal and that I wanted nothing more to do with him personally. Up until this time, we had quarreled on aesthetic grounds; we were cordial to one another; we agreed to disagree. Helping Alan Light pursue his lawsuit against me changed the nature of this relationship.
Max grossly mischaracterizes the extent of his help to Light’s lawsuit. Max states that his cooperation was “limited to my stating for the record that I had purchased The Comics Journal and other Fantagraphics publications in the states of Illinois and Iowa.” This sounds pretty innocuous until you learn how hurtful this was to the Journal.
Sometime in late ’83, Alan Light sued me for $2 million for libel and defamation. He filed suit in Rock Island County, Illinois, which meant that many legal proceedings— depositions and an eventual trial—would take place in Rock Island, Illinois, garden spot of America, and some 1,500 or so miles from my home. A lovely thought. Sometime in 1984 my attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the suit based upon the grounds that Light did not have jurisdiction over me in Rock Island, Illinois. If this motion prevailed, it would have meant that Light would have had to sue me in California or drop the suit. But Max did his best to make sure we did not prevail. Light had to prove that the Journal did a certain amount of business in the state of Illinois in order to claim jurisdiction over me. He did this by securing affidavits from various comics shop owners, two distributors (thanks, guys), and a single creator. Guess who. Whereas the merchants’ affidavits were almost all two or three pages, Max’s affidavit was the longest and most exhaustive, numbering five pages. Whereas the other affidavits were roughly 11 paragraphs long, Max’s ran four subsections and 21 paragraphs. According to the affidavit, he was an ardent Journal enthusiast; he bought current as well as back issues of the Journal at two comics shops; he witnessed the Journal staff “actively engaged” in doing business at the 1983 and 1984 Chicago Comicons. In short, my good friend Max, innocent Max, victimized Max, did his very best to nail my hide to the wall.
And he succeeded. Our motion lost, and my lawyer and I were forced to fly to Rock Island, Illinois to take Alan Light’s deposition. Shortly thereafter, Light asked to drop the suit. Readers can assess the substance of Light’s lawsuit from that evidence. The point is that however insubstantial and frivolous Light’s lawsuit, he could have dragged it on for years. Max knew very well that Light’s lawsuit could either put the Journal out of business or make my life miserable for years by burying me in legal bills that I could ill afford (but that Light could). Only a moral imbecile voluntarily submits testimony supporting one party in a lawsuit over and against the other party without being fully aware of the service to which his testimony is being put, and the complex moral dimensions involved.
Call me sensitive, call me touchy, but when someone goes out of his way to help a third party with virtually unlimited economic resources try to annihilate me, well, I resent it.
From The Comics Journal #127 (March 1989)
SPITTING DOWN OUR MOUTHS
West Hampstead, NY
I was busy one day learning how to draw comics the Marvel way when a friend of mine read aloud a review of that new awesome comic called Wild Dog. I normally don’t read your magazine — it’s kinda boring especially with those two old farts on the cover of issue #120 [Walt Disney and Floyd Gottfredson] — and after hearing that this guy, Peter Cashwell, wrote that Wild Dog was not “well-written, well-drawn, or astoundingly original,” I now know why I wouldn’t even wrap your mag in my Wolverine teashirt [sic!]. Man, you guys wouldn’t know a great comic book unless it grabbed you by the lapels and spit down your mouths.
First of all, to say that Terry Beatty’s artwork sucks is blind; in fact, I’ve found it to be by far the easiest to trace. And just look at Wild Dog’s automatic weapon on page 11. It looks exactly like the one my ol’ man used to blow empty Coors cans around the yard (that is, until some dick-brained neighbor of ours complained). The guy clearly knows his stuff.
As for the story? It hit all its targets (hey, I like that). Some other brain-fried writer would have had some long and drawn-out way for Wild Dog to bust into the theater where the hostages were held. But my man Max Collins went deep—he simply had Wild Dog crash his pick-up through the front window. Now is that brilliant or what?
And how can Cashwell claim that Wild Dog’s character comes off as cruddy as the hooded scum he blew crater-sized holes into? So what if Wild Dog himself had to take a hostage in order to escape the police. Hey, you try explaining to the cops why you just wasted a dozen creeps while wearing a hockey mask and see where that gets ya. I for one am not going to shell out 75 cents of my hard-earned allowance money to read about the exploits of some guy behind bars.
My only real complaint is when Wild Dog dropped that girl reporter off in the middle of nowhere. If it were me, I would have at least took her back to my apartment for a real exclusive, if you catch my drift. Hey, what babe can resist an Uzi to the ribs? Heh! Heh!
As I am not Terry Beatty’s girlfriend (I couldn’t identify him without a name-tag) and as I have no affiliation with Wild Dog (professional or otherwise), I feel I am fully qualified to defend this fine comic from Peter Cashwell’s rabid review.
Wendi Lee is correct: Wild Dog was designed for 13-year-olds. After all, why should the average, television-weaned adolescent care about such trifles as moral consistency, graphic continuity, pacing, or perspective? All they really want is an escapist comic book about a masked vigilante in a neat T-shirt. If Max Collins and Terry Beatty have to resort to their own adolescent fantasies because they’re not kids anymore, well, you can’t blame them for trying.
Concerning the vendetta charge: it doesn’t surprise me in the least. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Just ask Bill Mantlo!
But I digress. Wendi is absolutely right when she says that “there is a difference between a kid’s comic and an adult comic and they should be reviewed with that in mind.” So wise up! Why don’t you find 13-year-olds to review all Marvel and DC newsprint comics and only adults to review adult comics? I’m sure you could find lots of kids who actually read comics in this day and time.
So lay off it, huh? If comic book creators such as Collins and Beatty desire to pander... er, appeal... to the masses, that’s their business. After all, it’s only a comic book.
RUBBISH BY ANY OTHER NAME...
Wallasey, Mersey side ENGLAND
RE: Terry Beatty’s and Wendi Lee’s letters published in The Comics Journal #120.
Ha Ha Ha! Maybe I missed the inherent humor of Wild Dog (or just “Dog,” as it is known locally), but Mr. Beatty’s and Ms. Lee’s letters really hit the funny bone, even going as far as pulling out the old line that is constantly bandied about by lovers of kitsch that it’s all right to create/patronize rubbish as long as you know it’s rubbish. This couple could be the Sonny and Cher, the Laverne and Shirley, the Ronnie and Nancy, of modern comicdom.
Pity about “Dog,” though. When asked, my 12-year-old cousin dismissed it as “crap.”
I AM NOT TERRY BEATTY’S GIRLFRIEND continued
Oh, the shame of it! How could you people make fun of Wild Dog? Wild Dog is a totally rad comic book, combining the best elements of The Punisher, Friday the 13th, and Raw Deal in a pleasant, easy-to-read, neato-keen format. I just reread my copies today to refresh my memory, and it was fantastic! More politically realistic than Dark Knight, more lifelike than Watchmen, with just as much necessary violence as The Longbow Hunters, and just as philosophical as Mr. A. With black humor, irony, and subtextual material to boot.
By the way, both Mr. Cashwell and Ms. Lee seem to think that young people, specifically 13-year-olds, have no taste beyond instant gratification, and that they can’t handle black humor, irony, and subtextual material. Guess I couldn’t understand Huckleberry Finn or The Chocolate War at that age. I thought I had, but I guess I was wrong—DAMN. Now I have to read them all over again, and that means I wasted a month of my life last summer reading Ulysses because I probably have to be 21 to appreciate it. If you can recommend any books my 18-year-old self can handle in the meantime, I’d sure appreciate it. Oh, Mr. Groth, et al, is it O.K. if I go see The Fox and the Hound next weekend? It’s not going to fly over my head or anything, will it?
I’m OUTRAGED at HIGH-HANDEDNESS!
I’m INDIGNANT due to ARROGANT CRITICISM!!
I’ve NEVER EVEN MET Terry Beatty, and I’m NOT A GIRL!!!
AND I DON’T WORK FOR DC COMICS, BUT THEY’RE STILL COOL!
So, frankly, guys, I think you should stop being so smug and shut up and read your damn freebies and enjoy it. You want to complain, then buy your comics like everybody else. Maybe then you won’t be so irresponsible, you silly gooses.
P.S. Sorry it’s in pen, but I couldn’t find the crayons.
P.P.S. Did I win?
Greg Baisden replies:
Naw—Damn close, though. The winner of the I Am Not Terry Beatty’s Girlfriend Contest announced in Journal #120 (resulting from Peter Cashwell’s review of Wild Dog, “Moonshine, Guns, Grits and Crackers,” in Journal #118) is Michael Clear of Glen Falls, NY, whose letter we printed in Journal #125, though no one congratulated him or, probably, started his free sub. But— Hey, Michael!—if you see this, send me your address so I can do you justice, O.K.? No no-prizes around this joint, children. "Gooses"?
Winning entry from The Comics Journal #125 (October 1988)
A FUNNY LETTER
Glens Falls, NY
Have you, by any chance, seen the new Wild Dog series in Action Comics Weekly? Boy, is it great. It’s so good that I can’t even read it anymore. It has ruined me not only for all other comic books but for all other forms of literature. Who needs Alan Moore and the Hernandez brothers when you have Max Allan Collins? Not this hombre, that’s for darn sure!
Normally, one would have to read, say, one of the current best-sellers by such literary notables as Judith Krantz or Sidney Sheldon to find the type of writing that exists in Wild Dog. Most people might think that a writer should tell fresh, innovative, and interesting stories. Thank God that Max Allan Collins has seen through this brain-dead philosophy. Collins gives us the same story every week over and over again. Some radical terrorist group invades a small town that no one has ever heard of and Wild Dog blows them away with complete disregard for innocent lives. I sure as hell don’t see Frank Miller doing that.
And let us not forget the Picasso-like artwork of Terry Beatty. Most modern pencillers try to make their work as realistic-looking as possible, but Beatty has sensibly rejected this approach by giving us drawings that look like drawings. To the artistically naive, this would appear to be brain-damaged swill. I, however, have discovered that Beatty uses this drawing style in order to symbolize man’s inhumanity to man. Or something like that.
The creators of this series are some of the best minds working in comics today. If there is any justice, they won’t be in comics much longer, though. I predict that television will snap these modern geniuses up and put them to work on some of our favorite shows such as Aaron’s Way and I Married Dora. And that’s just where they belong.