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Conflict of Interest Reservoir Tour Diary 2

Conflict of interest reservoir state of the union.

Back from tour. Cleaning out the basement. Now I'm on House Tour. Sorting comics. Stapling zines. Getting ready for another road trip. This time to New York for CAB.

Happy Halloween!



On the road I was thinking about how I need to review some comics. I still have a box of stuff to review from SPX. And a box of stuff from this west coast tour. In a week I'll have another box of stuff from CAB. I wonder if I'll have the time to do even bullet reviews of my reading pile. Should I just try and review everything or just pick and choose a few things to highlight? I wonder if anyone will review such and such or so and so if I don't.

That's a weird feeling. There is much more work out there on the convention circuit than ever before. Yet there seems to be a lack of new outlets for comics reviews. I feel like I see things linked to all the time. So maybe I'm just not reading them? Or maybe it's just that books come out and then they sort of just disappear. And unless something gets a good word of mouth (like Chuck Forsman's TEOTFW) then it just sort of dies (like Patrick Mceown's Hair Shirt). It's a weird feeling — this embarrassment of riches. I feel like I pay close attention to new art comics from all over the world, and I can't even keep up. How's the casual reader supposed to keep up? Or better yet, how's the newbie maker trying to find any sliver of an audience going to keep up? There seem to be more makers than readers these days. The number one market for art comics is art comics makers.

I loved it when Matt Seneca started writing about comics, and I'm happy that he is making comics more than he is writing about them. But the downside is that there is one less engaged reader filtering what is out there for the rest of us.

I loved it when Sean T. Collins would post a review a day on his blog. Nowadays he's getting paid real money to write about Game of Thrones and David Bowie. There's no real money in being a writer about comics.

So the people that do it hardcore - like Rob Clough - do it out of love for the medium. Which is awesome. However the small subculture of engaged comics reviewers is getting older, myself included. I really hope that members of the younger generation will start writing about each other. I'm seeing some hints of it here and there, but not many organized voices. So much of comics culture is death-dealing to makers in their early twenties. The "pap pap" demographic of comics is so insular - which is fine - but out on the circuit younger makers are telling me that they never read this site, or any websites related to comics at all. There's really not much for them in most comics sites that reflects their tastes or their concerns.

I was thinking it would be interesting to "interview" another art-comic critic about all this so I emailed some questions to the league-leading Sean T. Collins. Sean's probably racked up more reviews in the last ten years than anybody. And in lots of different places and on many different subjects. He seemed like a good person to talk to about this. It's all inside baseball comic book talk, so be warned.


Frank: As someone who has written tons of reviews for many many years, do you think there are more comics reviewers nowadays - or less?

Sean: Less. Certainly less as far as alternative/art/literary/underground comics go. It seems as though there's as much of a profusion of reviews of superhero comics as ever. Perhaps that's because the sites that host them are drafting off of superhero movies and the wider "geek culture" ascendancy, and regular interaction with monthly supercomics provides them both with the requisite flow of constant new content necessary for eyeballs and ad dollars, and with the opportunity to be relatively big fish in the relatively small pond of superhero comics instead of fighting for survival exclusively as guppies in the Hollywood shark tank. But reviews, full-fledged reviews, of stuff you'd pick up at SPX or CAB are an endangered species. I think even the larger altcomix and boutique publishers are hurting for the kind of coverage they used to get.

Frank: And what about major news outlets like the New York Times or somewhere like that?

Sean: Shrug? I'm not really sure. Michael Cavna's out there, and Douglas Wolk, but those slots are limited, and written for a generalist audience that can't support the sort of ongoing dialogue about the cutting edge that best benefits the work we're talking about. It's not where I'm looking, at any rate, since usually we'd be talking about a bunch of capsule reviews that will include stuff I'm interested in and then some middlebrow stuff put out by the big New York publishers.

Frank: It might be hard to phrase this question - but about 2008-09 it seemed like that's when 1000-word reviews were common. And there was a "healthy" comment section in places like Comics Comics, the TCJ board, Study Group, etc. Then I noticed no one commenting anymore. Then I noticed that I wasn't taking the time to read long reviews or blog posts. I'm sure that's partly due to Facebook and Twitter and the conversation getting dispersed around, but it seems to me that there are less "longish" reviews and blog posts about new comics.

Sean: Yeah, I think the rise of social media leveled not just interactions of comparable length in "traditional" outlets like comment threads and message boards, but also larger reviews. It's exceedingly easy to type up your strongest single impression of a new work and post it to Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, and receive feedback almost immediately. And since your strongest single impression could be nothing more complex than "This is SO GOOD, you guys," and the feedback can just be a like or a fav or a reblog or a retweet or a share, it's tough to build up a thoroughgoing interrogation of a comic. The energy is diffused.

And to the extent that longer pieces or exchanges are generated, they tend to be about comics culture, about "the conversation," more than about individual works. This privileges controversy over content and arguers over reviewers, more often than not, and can lead you further and further away from the actual work. That was always part of my goal in the way I wrote about comics, writing three reviews a week for years -- to keep the focus on comics, lowercase, rather than Comics, uppercase.

Most of the time I'm tempted to argue that "healthy comment section" is oxymoronic, but that's beside the point, I realize.

The funny thing is that I haven't seen this social-media effect hit other critical communities nearly as hard. TV criticism is booming, thanks in large part to a New Golden Age comparable to what's happened with comics since the turn of the century, and if anything the advent of Tumblr and Twitter have made the music-writer community stronger. Then again, there's still money in those rackets, relatively speaking. "Full-time comics critic" is inconceivable.

Frank: To follow up on that - the stuff that might inspire longer posts are generally for an older readership that seems to like that kind of thing. I call it the "pap pap" demographic :)

Sean: Oh, sure. Always a huge audience for Jack Kirby. But I've seen a lot of younger cartoonists -- younger, for the sake of conversations with me about this sort of thing, literally meaning younger than me, i.e. under 35 -- complain about that, even ones who like Kirby (or Steranko, or Chaykin, or Moebius, or Crumb, or Spiegelman, or whoever we're talking about). Of course, where do I see them doing this? On Tumblr, on Twitter. And I've never seen any women alternative cartoonists evince any interest in discussing the canonical superhero artists at all. Have you?

Frank: I went through the last two months weeks of this site's comment section and there wasn't a single comment by a woman. That's a whole other round table international summit - so don't get me started. Please. Anyways - beyond us all getting older there are only a handful of folks seriously reviewing new work. Would you agree?

Sean: Yes. And one thing that falling away from frequent reviewing myself made me realize is that perhaps the pool was always a lot shallower than it looked. The loss of individual critics can take a real toll on what's getting reviewed. Tom Spurgeon gets sick, Matt Seneca transitions to cartooning, Chris Mautner takes on a more demanding gig with his paper, the Panelists split up, Nicole Rudick disappears, Comics Comics takes over The Comics Journal and Dan Nadel and Tim Hodler transition to primarily editorial rather than critical duties, I get consumed with IRL chaos or irritation with my peers or more rewarding work writing about television... when those losses happen, you feel them.

Moreover, when not a lot of writing is being done overall, the idiosyncracies of individual critics start mattering a ton. Rob obviously performs an invaluable service, but he reviews literally everything people send him, so it's difficult to ascertain his point of view as a critic based on what he chooses to talk about, particularly because he rarely pans anything. Matt basically never wrote about women cartoonists. Comics Comics' mission of broadening the discussion to genre-indebted work led to a dropoff in discussion of canonical '90s alt comics and the rise of a lot of criticism by people intelligent and well-read enough to handle that kind of work but who now had the cover to talk about nothing but Heavy Metal and Akira. I'll never begrudge a critic as great as Joe McCulloch for following his bliss, but I'd love to read more from him on current alt/art comics as opposed to older/obscurantist/untranslated manga, just from a purely selfish perspective. He's great on the podcast he does with Matt, Chris, and Tucker Stone, but it's not the same. (Super, super excited to see his review of Fran, on that note.) With me you've got a much tougher row to hoe if your work isn't at least bleak if not overtly horrific; I've got a bias toward hard-R work that's undoubtedly limiting. Nick Gazin is Nick Gazin. The loudest, most argumentative, most in-it-for-the-insults voices -- who are invariably the most thin-skinned when criticized, oddly enough, perhaps because they take everything as personally as they make it with the comics they go after -- dominate, and that can be a huge turnoff to artists whose personalities don't mesh with that mode of discourse. That's always been my problem with Tucker, for example, who has phenomenal taste and is a top-drawer critic outside of his superhero-insult-comedy mode -- he's tough to have a conversation with if you disagree. So is David Brothers, whom in my experience approaches disagreement -- over Kickstarter, say -- like a debater looking to win. An exception here among the big arguers might be Darryl Ayo; you can feel like you're banging your head against the wall with him, but he's never going to block you on Twitter. But he loves argument for argument's sake, which undermines him; it made him invaluable when decrying faux-edgy racebaiting, because you need someone with the fire to fire back at trolling, but often he'll hit things he doesn't like with any weapon to hand, no matter how inapt -- he once told me Dan Clowes's earlier work was less cynical, for example. And so on. We're a weird group overall, and having more of us would mitigate the weirdness in a necessary way.

The "where are the women critics" question's an excellent one too, of course. Zainab Akhtar? Sarah Horrocks, to the extent that she writes reviews?

There are a couple of areas where I think you feel the impact of the lack of reviews the most. The first is with work of obvious quality that's nonetheless flawed. Social media allows praise of that work to be passed along and amplified with very little pushback in terms of drawing distinctions between good work and great, or noting where it could have been stronger. Reblogs vs. reviews.

Two examples that come to mind recently: You can feel Sam Alden's Household place all its narrative weight on treating the sister character as a menace, an abuser, but as best I can tell her only crimes are partying, enjoying sex, and failing to intuit without being told that her brother is unhappy with the sexual relationship they've established. That this relationship is incestuous and therefore taboo is insufficient in terms of setting up the moral argument Alden appears to want to make, one that privileges the brother's suffering over the sister's despite them both emerging from the same circumstances. And because of that, and like many of his comics, it concludes with a big emotional image that's unearned, which given that he considers concluding stories his strong suit is doubly unfortunate.

And Chuck Forsman is a major talent in a variety of ways -- Oily Comics is, I think, a straight-up visionary publishing model, and his cartooning is a worthy heir of the King/Brown/Harkham lineage; it's amazing to me how much it reminds me of Harkham without actually looking anything like a ripoff. He's really internalized that work, clearly, to the point where I've never seen the Schulz comparisons people make all the time at all. And his writing is really specific, really restrained, really atmospheric -- those last few Snake Oil issues are incredibly strong. But that's why The End of the Fucking World threw me for such a loop, when all was said and done. That Satan-worshipping human-sacrifice cop who follows them all around the country murdering people for information -- that's like something out of a late-'80s Sylvester Stallone cop movie. It's so over the top, so at odds with the tone and the strengths of the rest of the book up until that point, and so far removed from the naturalism with which he portrays those two heshery main characters, that it knocks the whole thing down. And it makes you look back on elements that you gave a pass to because you assumed they stemmed from those specific observational talents rather than sensationalism or insensitivity -- the boy sticking his hand in the garbage disposal, say, or the way the girl's obliviousness to his real nature is sort of played for laughs, even just in terms of their sexual relationship -- and wonder if they were similar misfires all along.

My point, ultimately, is that without a sufficient volume of reviews being written, you're not going to see needed critiques -- particularly since most people are writing for little or no money, and most humans like enjoying themselves if they're not getting paid, and it's generally easier to enjoy yourself if you're thinking about something you like instead of something you don't.

The other big problem, maybe the biggest, and certainly the one that's worried me the most and I think inspired my whole end of this discussion with you, is that there's an entire generation of young artcomix makers whose work just isn't being reviewed at all. Out of the 70-plus artists who've appeared in Leah Wishnia's Happiness anthologies, for example, nearly all of whom are constantly posting new work to Tumblr, have more than six of them, tops, everbeen reviewed by the pro or semi-pro comics press? An entire generation, an entire movement, of altcomix creators who are doing vital, defiant, personal work is badly underserved by criticism, and that will have a huge effect on both comics and comics criticism moving forward.

That said, literally while I was working on these responses I discovered something really exciting: Wishnia has herself begun writing reviews. Now, they're written with the express intention of giving shine to work she likes and feels is underexposed, so it's advocacy at least in part. And moreover, she's such a lynchpin figure in this scene that it's bound to affect her judgment, as it does all of us to one extent or another, though I suppose it's ultimately no different than Dan, or Gary Groth, both publishing and reviewing work. Honestly, though, both those problems are more on everyone else than they are on her. If more people were writing reviews, those idiosyncracies, again, wouldn't matter.


Thanks, Sean!


Bonus blogging round:

Neil the Horse - the classic early '80s comic - is having a fund drive!



Santoro Correspondence Course dept:

Bob Clark from the internet asked about how dynamic symmetry can be applied to newspaper comic strip formats. So I asked Santoro Correspondence Course graduate Allen Spetnagel to diagram a newspaper comic strip and to answer the question:

bushmiller diagram 2

Allen: Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik’s seminal essay “How to Read Nancy” revealed the subtle compositional genius driving Ernie Bushmiller’s classic comic strip. While Bushmiller was likely unaware of the theories of dynamic composition that Frank espouses, he probably did have an awareness of classical composition and the rule of thirds. Even though a comic strip is not always presented in the form of a multi-tiered “golden rectangle,” it can still be diagrammed with circles, squares, and diagonals that show potential points of interest within the work of art. My “Nancy” diagram simply divides the strip into two separate rectangles, then proceeds with the method I learned in Frank’s course.



Thanks, Allen. And thank you Mr. Clark for writing in.


Next up! CONTEST!

Blobby Boys Fan Art contest!

Over at Comics Workbook! Check it out here!


I tried to get Alex Schubert to have a Blobby Boys T-shirt contest so we could make fun of the Battling Boy T-shirt contest, but then Alex responded by saying "What's Battling Boy?"  So we are doing a "Fan Art" contest in celebration of the awesome Blobby Boys collection just released by Koyama Press.

Email links to your fan art to santoroschoolATgmailDOTcom

Deadline is November 8th! 11:59pm EST



CAB news: I will be set up downstairs at CAB. Table D8 - which is along the left wall downstairs - towards the back. I will be set up with my back issues but more importantly it will be the Comics Workbook table. Andrew White and Zach Mason (A to Z) will be there. And I think I can arrange a Simon Hanselmann appearance at some point during the day. Also, Dash Shaw will be signing copies New School. And Katie Brawl will have her new comic for sale there as well. Please stop on by and say hello.



I was featured in a Bloomberg Businessweek article about worthless comics collections. Check it out here.

Also my comic, Pompeii, has gotten some solid reviews. Here's one by Mike Balderama at Boom Tube. And here's one by Geoffrey Lapid at Comics Bulletin. And a fun interview with James Romberger over at Publishers Weekly.

And I have been invited to speak to the Classics department at Ohio State University. Professor Richard Fletcher wrote about Pompeii at his Minus Pluto blog.


Thanks! Over and out!

98 Responses to Conflict of Interest Reservoir Tour Diary 2

  1. Rob Clough says:

    I thought the interview with Sean was interesting, especially the part where he talks about how each critic’s individual quirks have an enormous effect on the overall critical landscape. I also bemoan the lack of new critical voices, which is why I recruited Kim O’Connor and Rob Kirby for the site. I’m really pleased to see how prolific Rob has become here, because his point of view is that of a comics veteran who is a cartoonist, an editor, a publisher and someone who’s been part of both alt-comics culture as well as queer comics culture.

    There are certainly plenty of female critics out there. Most of them just don’t write about alternative comics, unfortunately.

    Sean’s right in noting that I tend to rarely write out-and-out pans. For one thing, my tastes are more catholic in nature than most. I like a variety of genres and styles (though in my heart I’m a gag comics man). Most of my reviews, as Mike Dawson once pointed out, tend to address the flaws of the work in addition to its strengths. I attribute this kind of quirk to my status as a former editor and my general philosophical structure with regard to how I approach art, trying to do so on its own terms as much as possible. At the same time, the work sent to me to review tends to be from people who know what kind of comics I like. And when certain publishers keep sending me books that I have consistently panned (like the Amulet series), well, I guess they consider any review good publicity.

    As far as what I choose to review, when and where, there is method in my madness. I try to alternate between obscure and familiar, foreign and domestic, big releases and minicomics.

    Finally, I disagree strongly with Sean regarding both Household and TEOTFW. My review of the latter is here. But I’d love to talk to him more about it, and wish he did more reviews here in general. Your voice is missed here, sir.

  2. HU has a number of younger folks writing for us, including Jacob Canfield, Kailyn Kent, Owen Alldritt, and subdee, among regular writers. Our comments section is active, too. And we have women writing and reviewing. Sooo…come on by?

  3. Andrew White says:

    Great conversation. Lots of thoughts on this, but here are some initial ones:

    I’m saying this in part just to be contrarian, but I’m not convinced that the relative lack of criticism (which I agree exists) can be blamed on Twitter/Tumblr. The idea that social media encourages shorter and less considered reactions to work makes intuitive sense and there’s certainly some truth to it, but I can’t think of anyone in our little world who used to write criticism and now tweets it. Maybe someone is slipping my mind. That’s of course excluding people like Matt or Sean who have stepped away from writing criticism regularly for reasons other than the magnetic pull of social media. Plus there’s no reason you can’t write longer criticism on Tumblr; just ask Joe McCulloch’s new manga/anime blog or Abhay Khosla! Much more convincing to me is the simple fact that a few people in a very small talent pool have moved away from comics criticism. Maybe we just happen to be a bit in a fallow period right now, and things will start to pick back up soon. I don’t think that’s not going to happen automatically, however, so it’s great that Frank and Rob and many others are working to encourage new people to write about comics and provide outlets for this writing.

    Also I miss the Comics Comics comments section. I learned a lot from reading/posting there.

  4. BTW, HU just had a long roundtable on indie comics

    Seems relevant to this conversation.

  5. AJ says:

    The state of offline art comics criticism is even worse. I’m surprised there aren’t any zines about comics. There has been a resurgence of zines in other subcultures that I think coincides with a resurgence in minicomics, but there were 1000 people selling stuff at SPX and almost no one had a zine *about* comics. (exceptions: oily comics interview with Michel Fiffe and a piece of that “Dog City” box sex from some CSS students).

    I’m looking forward to Comics Workbook ish #1 at CAB.

  6. Ayo says:

    I don’t love argument for argument sake, I’m just really good at arguing.

  7. Leah says:

    Thank you, this was a very much needed discussion, and you hit a lot of points straight on the head (although I’ll argue that I’m a usually in favor of Darryl Ayo’s criticisms, although I don’t really follow the twitter arguments). I would also say that I’m currently focusing on what I like in my reviews because I realized I was doing too much of the opposite — calling people out for their BS, and felt that I needed to balance out that negativity, as someone who does greatly respect the passion and commitment of many (and yes, often quite unrecognized) alt-cartoonists.

    Anyway, here’s to the future of alt-comix discourse!

  8. Rob Kirby says:

    I always get nervous before reading articles or conversations like this because I just started doing reviews in earnest for tcj this past spring and I’m still groping around, trying to figure out what I’m doing. I worry that people may see me as overly positive but basically thus far I’ve picked books that I pretty much knew I would like based on past work by the creators, etc. Writing reviews is really very hard. I remember penning a piece on Ulli Lust’s Tomorrow is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life and trying hard not to gush about how great it is, and ended up feeling that I maybe didn’t transmit my admiration for it nearly as strongly as I would have liked. I’m still learning. There was a strain of criticism in the 90’s that I really hated (exemplified by several reviews in a Canadian magazine called Crash) that read to me as insufferably pompous and dismissive –just plain above it all. Thankfully that attitude seems to have fallen out of vogue. BTW, I think Rob C is an excellent reviewer, and I do not sense him holding back when he doesn’t like something – a friend of mine was actually quite stung by a negative assessment by Rob of his book a couple of years ago. The difference is that Rob C writes from a core place of respect for the work, whether he feels it has succeeded or failed. I feel he knows as well as I and other creators do how arduous drawing (good) comics is, even though as far as I know he doesn’t create them. Anyway, this is fine discussion with some real food for thought. It makes me want to keep at it and get better at this comics writing jazz. Thanks.

  9. Joe McCulloch says:

    Studygroup Magazine had two issues floating around too… Milo George!

  10. Jacob C. says:

    You beat me to it, Noah!

  11. AD says:

    I don’t know if twitter or social media should bear the blame for lack of comix criticism. They are not designed to be the places for thoughtful longform meditation on art. I don’t even understand what twitter is for, but I like it, because it feels like yelling out of a window at no one and everyone.
    I’ve stopped reading reviews of comics in general. Because what I dislike, and this seems to be a media-wide phenomenon in this cultural moment, is that there is very little talk about the content of any work. A lot of talk about context, comparison, and for lack-of-a-better-word “brand”.
    Seemingly talk about everything except the work itself. On this site, everywhere.
    Not to open that can of bullshit again, but the thing that irked me about the comments section/article about Jason Karns was that no one, not the reviewer, the artist himself, etc. could talk about the work itself. And the whole thing devolved into shout match. Not that any artist or writer is beholden to or responsible to answer to any random faceless asshole attacking them on the internet. But it seems we are treating comics, or art, or whatever, as inert quantities of things that we don’t think about. Benjamin Marra whether you love him or hate him makes work that talks about, or at least heavily features race. Weird to see people awkwardly dodge that conversation as well.
    What I’m getting at is that I want to see more reviews of things that talk about the work itself instead of whatever the reviewer imagines and defines as the context/milieu of comics. Because this is a pretty exciting time full of a lot of amazing artists with very different styles and approaches to comics, from very different backgrounds. Would like to hear a reviewer’s aesthetic experience with the work instead of comparing it to r.crumb or carmine infantino.
    Also Leah (above) has been writing some good reviews of things.

  12. Robert Steibel says:

    Re: pap pap demographic

    I guess I must be a member of the “pap pap demographic” since I write about Jack Kirby. I’m definitely a member of the dumb demographic because it took me few seconds to figure out what “pap pap” meant. At first I thought it might be “pap pap” — a gunshot sound like rat-tat-tat-tat. :-)

    Re: comics criticism

    Obviously the economy, the death of print media, and the popularity of social media has changed the overall media landscape so everything (including comics and comics criticism) has been impacted in a – sorta’ like when the meteor crashed into the earth 65.5 million years ago, resulting in the sudden extinction of the dinosaur. That’s how big the change has been.

    Everybody with a smart phone is now a media critic tweeting their opinions, so the cliché “everybody is a critic” is literally true. That’s why you don’t see as many major film critics, book critics, or comics critics with large followings. There are 2 billion critics online giving book reviews. That’s a lot of competition.

    Right now our global culture is going through an unprecedented transformative phase where in the next 20 years (or less) we’re going to be looking at a radical change in how we exchange information… forever. We may move towards a heavily-censored media or a wide-open media. That will have a huge impact on all forms of expression, especially journalism (or criticism).

    I won’t get into what the world will be like if the media is heavily censored, but if it is wide-open and the middle class in the USA (and around the world) thrives you’ll probably see a renaissance in independent comic-making and comics journalism. It might be difficult to make a living doing either of those things unless more media gatekeepers emerge that can profit off of comics and comics scholarship (and comics fandom is always going to be tiny compared to the billions of people who watch movies) but there’s no question there are going to be 1000s and 1000s of new people learning about the comics medium every year and using comics as a means of expression, so there will be many, many more voices entering the dialogue as time goes by.

    Comics is still the cheapest, most direct, and most democratic method to put forth a concept using visuals and images. You can tell the whole history of the universe for the price of a pencil and a stack of paper. People are going to take advantage of that and there will always be a steady flow of important and relevant new comics and comics criticism, it just might be hard for the next generation to reach a large audience because it’s hard for anything other than YouTube videos of cute kittens to reach a wide audience.

    Unfortunately, I think we’re already moving toward a heavily-censored media and a heavily-censored internet, so the megacorporations are going to crush all individuality and creativity online unless they can make money off of it — but you’ll always have a small tribe of independent, passionate, ground-breaking comics creators and critics using comics for self-expression: they’ll probably just have to use print media if they want to make a few bucks.

    The way things are going now, they may even have to go back to the old hand-operated printing press if they want to own the rights to their work and if they want to get their work out there without google stamping their logo all over it.

  13. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I’m better now.

  14. Ian Harker says:

    What I want is more casual conversation.

  15. I think the split between the work itself and the context is largely incoherent. Again, we talk a lot about this in the roundtable I link above. See Kailyn’s article about how the artist is a work or really “comics itself” is a context, or my piece on Gwyneth Jones and how even defining something as a work of art requires a context.

    Close formal readings can be great (which is what I take it you’re asking for), but I don’t see that as a more valuable form of criticism than the other options.

    Charles Reece at the roundtable has a long, close (mostly positive) look at Karns in the roundtable.

  16. Argh; strike that “is a work” after “artist”. Talk about incoherent….

  17. Wow great to hear so much from Sean on this subject. I disagree on his take on the endings of TEOFTW and Sam Alden’s comics, but in the pleasant way, the “that work continues to prod my brain into considering it from different angles,” which for me is the best purpose for criticism anyway, whether or not you agree with the critic.

    I just finished reading the long– LONNNNGGGG — section of the new TCJ where Art Spiegelman and Seth and Jeet Heer and forty other people ruminate over what to include in the Toon Treasury book. At first it seemed really offputtingly obtuse, watching a bunch of mostly 50+ men shuffle through their memories of what comics they liked as kids, and using that pretty rarified dataset to predict what today’s kids might like… in a book filled with comics from the 50s and 60s. But the longer I read the more pleasant it became to just absorb all these super-educated guys’ opinions about these old comics, without needing to agree or disagree with each little bit. I still find myself thinking about it days later.

    Anyway yes, more comics criticism please, from more voices, more kinds of voices. More Sean on TCJ. More artists writing reviews on TCJ too. Less argument for argument’s sake–that’s never not boring, and always not constructive.

  18. Joe McCulloch says:

    The Conflict of Interest Reservoir was never this busy under my watch… :(

  19. I feel like the Joker now.

  20. the interns have done a really terrific job with CR in your absence, tom

  21. Chris Duffy says:

    Dustin, I am currently under 50.

  22. Ayo says:

    I don’t argue for argument’s sake. I argue because I care about things. It’s never for nothing.

  23. That’s not what I read on the Comics Journal website (just now). Also I’m still angry that you guys panned all the Harveys.

  24. Chris Duffy says:

    Dustin, your anger is PALPABLE. But, just so youse know, it wasn’t so much that we were knocking Harvey comics (well some of us probably were) or the Archie “teen” material (of which I’m a fan and argued for a lot) or anything else that Art eventually passed over–it was more about creating a particular kind of book. (I came to this realization slowly, as the excerpts from our conversations show.) In the end, I think it helped the book to have a point of view. But certainly there is a great kids comics anthology to be made stemming from a different point of view, and with different material.

    I don’t want to speak for Art, but my eventual understanding was that, roughly speaking, what he was striving for was a book that showed cartoonists bringing the best of pre-1950s kids book sensibilities and tropes to comics–and doing it extremely well. (In some cases doing it so well they created a wholly original sensibility.) Arguably the teen Archie stuff and the most iconic polished Harvey stuff is more “of the moment” of the era it was created in. Blech, I’m saying it terrible, but there’s my take on it. Others may have a different one. I AM 46 YEARS OLD.

  25. Maddy B says:

    I really don’t get you saying that David Brothers saying he goes in arguments just to “win”. I think he does his best to be incisive and direct, which I suppose can be off-putting to some, but I’d say it’s pretty admirable.

    [Darryl Ayo] once told me Dan Clowes’s earlier work was less cynical

    So…because he has a different opinion than you on Dan Clowes work, you think he’ll “hit things he doesn’t like with any weapon”? I don’t get what you’re saying at all. A willingness to engage a wide variety of people in discussion or debate does not equal loving argument for argument’s sake. I’ve seen people who love arguing for argument’s sake (I’ve been that person), but Darryl always seems willing to move on from pointless argument, and to shut down a debate if it gets too toxic.

    As for this “where are the women” issue, it drives me nuts when I see guys, who get paid to write, saying this kind of thing on a platform where they were paid to write it. I feel like I can’t go anywhere online without tripping over smart, insightful young women with passion for media and comics, and communicate very, very well. They’re commenting and discussing and dissecting comics, but I’d say because people with the power to hire don’t usually hang out where they do (or they devalue their views and or chosen platforms), they’re not seen or offered reviewing gigs.

    And I realize that you’re not solely talking about people who get paid to review comics (be they superhero or indie or art or alt whatever), but I find that a lot of the people you say are missing from the review scene are more likely to integrate their reviews or commentary into their day-to-day social media. It sounds like maybe what you’re looking for is the traditional one-topic stand-alone blog dedicated to reviewing one kind of thing, authored by young women? I don’t see that there’s much incentive for people to use that kind of platform anymore, when you can actually engage with other people and get a response when it’s integrated into platforms like Tumblr and Twitter.

  26. Oh I agree–I hope it doesn’t seem too much like I’m slagging the book. Initially, reading that piece in bed, I was really put off by what an awkward project it seemed, bouncing back and forth between time periods. Think about it: those 50s comics were made by adult men (mostly) aimed at kids, read by some kids who grew up to be adult men (mostly), became cartoonists, then tried to figure out which of those old 50s comics would be best in a book aimed at modern kids. There was a line where someone–maybe Frank Young?–suggested that certain work would be “too cynical for today’s kids”, which seemed by itself to demonstrate a lack of understanding of how much commonality there is between the John Stanley Little Lulu reader of the mid-50s and the guessed-at young reader of today.

    As I say, that was my initial reaction. There’s only so long that I can read Seth talking about anything before I eventually agree with him though–I found myself coming back to the whole piece and enjoying it much more when I started reading it because it’s fascinating to read a bunch of guys talking about what’s good and bad about those works, as opposed to being prissy about whether I agree with the book’s conception or not. And to be honest, I’m projecting as much as you guys were–I haven’t read the book or even seen it, so all this is just as much a construct of my brain as it is a coherent criticism of the actual book. I’m about to give my 7-year-old nephew a bunch of Popeye and Charlie Brown and Mickey Mouse comics–maybe I’ll slip a copy of the book in there and see. Hopefully it’s priced appropriately for a kids’ WAIT A MINUTE

  27. Chris Duffy says:

    I don’t think most of us grew up with the comics we were sifting through, though Dennis and Uncle Scrooge were still holding on in the newsstand market when I was very young.

  28. BVS says:

    I think Frank’s a bit off on this. a lot of people in “alt comics” aren’t looking at the big picture when it comes to distribution and promotion. it’s a little like asking why USA today didn’t run a review of the awesome basement show I was at last week.
    I get frustrated with this short attention span attitude that if a book debuted at Brooklyn fest, or TCAF, then it’s out! it’s done! here’s a picture I took on my phone of the book on the table at the fest, heres the inkstuds interview link,thats that! lets move on! if no one is going to be able to see the book outside of desert island, the beguiling, and a few fests why should anyone outside comics makers who had tables at the show care? let alone care enough to create awareness vie reviews?

  29. Mardou says:

    Great Job.
    a Woman

  30. Tom Spurgeon says:

    it’s great exposure for what’s his face and what’s her face, and i wish them well

  31. Leah says:

    “Comics is still the cheapest, most direct, and most democratic method to put forth a concept using visuals and images. You can tell the whole history of the universe for the price of a pencil and a stack of paper.”
    Yes, yes, and yes.

  32. Leah says:


    Ok, by “big picture” and “distribution/promotion” are you talking about not participating in diamond distribution? Also I hope you realize that most underground artists sell the bulk of their books online, for those who can’t make it to such fests or comic book shops. I personally enjoy the direct interaction I get with my audience for selling comics online , knowing who is picking up my work, sending personalized notes, even if it gets a bit overwhelming at times.

    Perhaps you don’t care enough to read the work artists slave over, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of people out there (who aren’t cartoonists themselves) who don’t care. I can say with confidence that many do.

    Feel free to expand on your argument in case I’ve misunderstood, thanks.

  33. LJ says:

    Hm. Strange coincidence, but we recently started a blog whose purpose is exactly that: reviewing indie/alternative comics. And yes, we do mainly talk about content. It’s nowhere near as professional as TCJ, though.

    Incidentally, the first review was of a book called Pompeii by a certain Mr Santoro.

  34. BVS says:

    uhhhhhhhh, ok.

    if you’re selling books I think you need to make some effort to bring books to readers. selling your work on line is a good idea but it’s really not enough to sell it at a few conventions and just put it in an on line shop. I worked many years at a comics shop known for a wide selection of alt comics. every summer and fall people would come in asking about stuff they read about on some one’s SPX/brooklyn round up, or the old comics comics or wherever. if we could do a special order we did, but eventually more and more people were asking for things just couldn’t get and had to tell them to order it on line. I don’t know how often they actually did bother to order it themselves. but I do know a lot of these smaller publishers that can’t work with diamond could have still done a better a job of working with retailers to get their work in shops. that’s where the much larger casual browsing audience might get a chance to actually see it.
    the other thing is the “alt comics” world on line seems to always be a buzz about the next big thing. I’ll see people working up enthusiasm for a year about some book on-line then when the book actually is out, there’s maybe a short review the week it comes out. then just silence as everyone moves on to the next book that isn’t out yet. it makes it feel like comics still have the shortest shelf life of all printed material.

    full disclosure: I do not practice what I preach. I’m a cartoonist myself. between my day job and actually getting pages drawn and books made I’m too busy/lazy/broke to do more than print my books, bring my books to the local shops and attend the local shows. with this method I don’t expect to be known or be reviewed.

  35. Bob Ralph says:

    My fucking god, dude, I was kidding about “diagramming” a strip. I think the whole notion you put forth with that stuff is complete nonsense. You put enough lines on top of other pictures and yes it will eventually organize itself into… something. Big fucking whoop. I guaran-godamn-tee Kirby and all these other guys didn’t draw with these ridculous ideas in mind, nor did they utilize this sort of method if they were ever “stuck” (which Kirby never was, obviously). I have heard that Infantino might’ve drawn abstract shapes and then organized the finished work on top of that, but it’s still not the same as what you’re implying. Many of these artists might have a learned or intuitive understanding of all this “golden rectangle” “eternal spiral” horseshit, or maybe they didn’t. Who fucking cares?

    What you need to be analyzing is why so many comics have such incredibly stupid stories (in addition to being poorly crafted) that it makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a butter knife, but I guess that’s too difficult and challenging to deal with.

    But hey, Free Jazz, right on daddio.

  36. Ian Harker says:

    As far as art made exclusively for other artists goes, that’s never bothered me. Bop started with musicians playing for each other after hours with no audience. You get a lot of rad comics that nobody really knows about outside of the circuit but then you get someone like DeForge who comes along and synthesizes it with 10 other schools of thought and maybe reaches a broader audience. In other words, it’s ok to be a drop of water in the great river of comics.

  37. dennis says:

    I don’t know why this seems to be a concern in comics. if you’re tabling at a convention and you sell a comic to someone wearing an exhibitors badge does it somehow doesn’t count less? when you’re watching a band do you think that they’re up on stage concerned about how many of the audience might be members of other bands?

  38. Ryan Cecil says:

    I think this is a pretty important point. I know that it takes a moderate amount of work for me to push my books to reviewers, stores, distros, etc. in addition to directly advertising on my site, Twitter, and Tumblr (which can make me worry about seeming like an overextending douche about it). And then yeah, I feel like I should move onto the next thing, and it’s hard to strike the balance between creating new work and advertising/promoting/distributing completed work.

    I think I do an okay job at this stuff but am always aware that I should be doing more. My assumption is that all great cartoonists have had to work hard to get their stuff out there, especially when it’s weird and doesn’t easily conform into standard boundaries. However… it’s easy to forget about this. So thanks to BVS for reminding an artist or two about it.

    I’m framing this personally as a matter that I contend with, but I’m sure that others see my point that it’s a challenge many other cartoonists need to tackle if they are hoping to find an audience.

  39. Thirded. The motion carries.

  40. Ryan Cecil says:

    “And I realize that you’re not solely talking about people who get paid to review comics (be they superhero or indie or art or alt whatever), but I find that a lot of the people you say are missing from the review scene are more likely to integrate their reviews or commentary into their day-to-day social media. It sounds like maybe what you’re looking for is the traditional one-topic stand-alone blog dedicated to reviewing one kind of thing, authored by young women? I don’t see that there’s much incentive for people to use that kind of platform anymore, when you can actually engage with other people and get a response when it’s integrated into platforms like Tumblr and Twitter.”

    Totally. Good point. Hmmm… Kinda similar point to a tweet from Joe McCullough today: “I guess my critical impulse doesn’t stem from any sense of duty or service to the artistic community…?”

    Yeah see that’s cool with me. What am I going to say? “Hey all you hip kids on Tumblr, I want you to actually respond to my comics as cite-able reviews on a new website devoted to hip comic reviews, because that would really look better when I link to it on my homepage?”

  41. Bob Ralph says:

    Yeah, speaking of Nancy, what the hell is up with FBI’s reprint series? Been like 18 months since Vol. 2

  42. Martin Wisse says:

    I went through the last two months of the this site’s comment section and there wasn’t a single comment by a woman.

    Christ. That’s a pretty bad indictment of the journal.

  43. I thought I’d chip in with a few thoughts, from over here in the UK…

    I think broadly speaking both indie comics and indie comics criticism are not nearly as healthy, well developed or mature as in US and Canada, or at least that’s my impression from a distance. However, there are some vitally important critical voices here in Richard Bruton (Forbidden Planet blog) and Andy Oliver (Broken Frontier’s Small Pressganged, which is incidentally two years old this weekend). Vital in that I believe they’re both solid critics who are unafraid to, well, criticise, but also offer a huge support and significant exposure to the UK small press in general including the very small-name creators. There’s a few others in Zainab Akhtar and a guy called Steve Morris, though at this stage I’m not that familiar with their writing, and probably a few others I don’t know.

    I don’t suppose that’s relevant here, but I thought I’d offer a view on what’s going on in another country. I think that there’s also an increasing glut of comics sites that just have very mainstream and unadventurous taste and who, on small press stuff, offer not especially thoughtful or robust criticism in the interests of fostering and promoting local talent. A worthwhile aim and good intention, but I think it leads to promotion of comics that aren’t necessarily that good or haven’t been carefully appraised.

    Additionally – I wonder, is another reason for a lack of younger reviewers simply that it’s just much easier to make comics nowadays? (Note: not any easier to make a good comic). But compared to 10-15 years ago easier to produce a comic – better home-printing, better commercial printing or at least easier to access a wider range of providers, possibly both of which are cheaper nowadays. I may be a bit off on this… but also with webcomics, it’s significantly easier to get your work out there than it once was.

    I know we all know this. What I’m getting at is that perhaps a comic writer/artist who may also review (or a reviewer who may also make comics) would perhaps nowadays weigh up the time and energy they have, and the extent to which their work and effort will find an audience and be appreciated or find satisfaction in having done that work, and find that the numbers stack up on the side of making comics. I’d be interested to hear some thoughts on that from people who have, or have had, a foot in both.


  44. Well said Craig. Forbidden Planet’s blog have almost singlehandedly raised the profile of my work through their enthusiastic endorsement. There’s a nice, nurturing atmosphere in the UK small press, or at least that’s my experience if it.

  45. Tim Hodler says:

    For the record, Frank’s count wasn’t actually accurate. Before yesterday’s column, two weeks had gone by since a woman commented on the site (assuming that all gender-neutral pseudonyms were used by men). Which is bad enough.

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  47. mateor says:

    Whatever concerns anyone might have for the state of criticism, you can probably stop worrying. If there are reams of great work being created, the kids making it will figure out a distribution/discussion method.

    For us old people (over 30?) it can seem worrying that the diversions of our youth (group comic blogs?) have gone away. The kids are alright, they will have something better. They probably already have it, and we are all just too square to see it for what it is.

  48. Great point.

  49. Whoops, I meant to comment on Ryan’s comment above. THAT was the great point. This point is merely “good.”

  50. Steibel says:

    Re: Comics Criticism

    Craig Collins says: “I wonder, is another reason for a lack of younger reviewers simply that it’s just much easier to make comics nowadays? But compared to 10-15 years ago easier to produce a comic – better home-printing, better commercial printing or at least easier to access a wider range of providers, possibly both of which are cheaper nowadays. I may be a bit off on this… but also with webcomics, it’s significantly easier to get your work out there than it once was.”

    Great point.

    In addition to new technologies (that give people a million other things to do), fragmentation (there are actually 1000s and 1000s of people writing about comics every day in differet forums), a poor economy (if a comic was a nickel instead of $5.99, more kids would buy them and review them), a change in culture (many kids don’t read books at all), and 100 other reasons I can think of (like people work 50 hours a week so don’t have time to buy read, or criticize comic books), I think 1000s of people every year are deciding to make their own comics instead of writing about other people making comics — the global audience has become less passive and more active. New illustration technologies and online and POD printing technologies are a big reason for this shift.

    For people who aren’t cartoonists who want to write about comics, as far as I know there are a mountain of people out there doing that all over the web. I enjoy reading everything from a review full of typos (if it’s sincere) to a scholarly analysis of a work (if the thesis is solid). I assume most of you all know about sites like UFs ImageText? They have lots of young people (and non-traditional students) writing about comics.

    Lots of great comics criticism here and all over the web. Modern comics criticism is just not in one place like it used to be in the 80s when The Comics Journal was one of the only places you could read comics journalism.

    So I think if somebody wants to say comics criticism has “changed,” okay, got it (everything has changed), but to suggest comics criticism is somehow worse or not as good as it was 20 or 30 years ago? To me that’s sorta’ like listening to the geezers in the 50s who said Elvis shakin’ his hips destroyed music. People are always yearning for the past as a new generation thunders by…

  51. AJ says:

    Lots of great comics criticism here and all over the web. Modern comics criticism is just not in one place like it used to be in the 80s when The Comics Journal was one of the only places you could read comics journalism.

    I think the argument presented is online art comics crit is smaller today compared to five years ago, not 30 years ago. 5 years ago you couldn’t read everything journalista linked to while eating breakfast, and if you did there was still the tcj message board, comics comics comments, etc.

  52. Leah says:

    Ok, I get more what you’re saying now, thanks for expanding on that (And apologies for the condescending first line, but I was rather insulted as an immediate reaction).

    It’s true that as an independent creator, one has to more aggressively market oneself if they want their work to be seen by a greater audience than just their immediate family/friends.. I’ve personally been able to sell around 800-1,000 comics online in the last year, but not all artists are natural businesspeople. This is why the existence of those who are in a sense, Cheerleaders, for such small-press, self-distributing artists is quite helpful to artists who may end up, well, feeling bitter and unappreciated.

    Ideally, there needs to be more distributors like and competitors to Diamond, that deliver thousands of comics to stores every week. There are a few – Spit and a Half, for instance, does a great job at delivering small-press comics to a couple dozen venues. Still, I think it’s still a one-man operation, and doesn’t match the scale of Diamond’s exclusive-contract empire.

    Many artists may avoid working with Diamond (or publishers that work exclusively with Diamond), not necessarily because they’re work isn’t marketable to a large enough audience, but because, they don’t want to be a part of the corporate system (And plus, Diamond takes a huge cut, as do most corporate publishers).

    It seems that what used to be referred to as “Underground Comix” are more frequently described as “Art” comics. If we consider art as something meant to most directly and effectively interact with its audience with the intent of inspiring, this term makes sense, as comics are a great form of communication via art. And as we all know, true art comes from the soul, and not from a desire to excert power & influence or strictly for money. Thus, “Art” Comix, are partly so because they are made in social defiance of the mainstream-often-screwing-over-the-artist-standard that the artists/writers want no part of.

    I went on a tangent there, but I hope this all can shed a bit of light on why this conversation is important, and why having articulate, open-to-the-public critiques of small-press comics can be beneficial. Good luck with everything.

  53. Leah says:

    *Edit: I realized I didn’t finish a couple thoughts:

    It seems that what used to be referred to as “Underground Comix” are more frequently described as “Art” comics. If we consider art as something meant to most directly and effectively interact with its audience with the intent of inspiring, this term makes sense, as comics are a great form of communication via art. Since true art should come from the soul and not from a desire to exert power & influence over others or be made strictly for money. Thus, “Art” Comix, are partly called so because they are made in social defiance of the mainstream-often-screwing-over-the-artist-standard that the artists/writers want no part of, and are instead, facilitating creative, independent thought.

    I went on a tangent there, but I hope this all can shed a bit of light on why this conversation is important, and why having articulate, open-to-the-public critiques of small-press comics can be beneficial.

    Also, wished you good luck as a fellow cartoonist, not to sound like an awful conceited jerk.

  54. There’s an overlap between those two things that you don’t see… I’m almost always on board with the point you’re making, but you often go blood simple in a way that makes me unable to support you. I’ve seen you refer to people you’re attempting to have a productive discussion with as fools while bragging about how you smacked them down and your own intellectual prowess. While all those things might be true, it’s an ugly thing to see. The last person talking didn’t win the discussion by default, so don’t be afraid to make your point and then make an exit if no worthy response is presented.

  55. Ian Harker says:

    I sorta roll my eyes at this point when I hear complaints about the lack of distro for art comics. If you really want this to happen do it yourself. Nobody is ever going to believe in you more than yourself. Stop waiting for the knight in shining armor! Everyone knows which shops buy art comics, it’s not a mystery.

    Crowd funding is a legit financial tool for comics now. There’s really not that much standing in the way of a good idea. The problem is distro is legwork, it’s not sexy. Creative people are busy people, distro for art comics probably isn’t something that’s coming very soon. It’s a lot of legwork for a small margin.

  56. Bob Ralph says:

    Down the Pogo Hole, that’s where it went

  57. eriknebel says:

    i agree with that comment about “lots of great comics criticism here and all over the web… just not in one place”.

    a note to those of you who do take the time to write about comics, especially the underground/art comix: THANK YOU.

  58. Ayo says:


  59. Ayo says:

    Like really this is through the eyes of a person who shuts his eyes and ears if it gets heated. I argue passionately among hostile people about things like “are Muslims people” (they are)

    You’re offended because I don’t show enough deference? I’m glad you don’t “support” me.

  60. Ales Kot says:

    Kindness is not deference.

  61. To the extent that this is worth a reply, it’s pretty gross that 1) the two black men in your list got dismissed because they were “too combative”, and that you could only think of two women who write about comics critically. And that the only reason you included either of us in your breakdown was because of our gender, not because of any distinction of merit. Sorry but that’s really weak on both counts.

  62. The thing with art-comix distro, as Ian mentions, is that there are very very few shops in this country who can or are willing to sell these kind of comics. A distro would have to sell a huge volume of comics in order to make the business viable enough for it to be more than a one-person endeavor. And a one-person endeavor is by default going to be limited.

    Art-comix are in a state of growing pains now I think. Hopefully some of these problems will continue to shake themselves out over the next few years.

  63. I’m an asshole for posting my previous comment. It’s clear we strongly disagree about how to have discussions with people we disagree with and where we both stand on that, but it’s not my place to say something like that to or about you in a public forum. I’m sorry.

  64. Hi Sarah–I addressed this on twitter some but it’s worth putting it here too. First, with regards to David and Darryl, I don’t blame people for getting…suspicious about why I said what I said about them. I would be too. That said, I included Tucker in that list as well, and those three were part of a list of a whole bunch of critics and what I perceive their faults to be, myself included. That may not mitigate the point all that much, but all I can say is that these characterizations were accurate to my experience of interacting with these critics.

    As to your point regarding you and Zainab (and Leah), I’m not sure how you’re getting that you’re only listed because you’re women. You’re women and good critics. Also, I could come up with a very, very long list of women comics critics in general, anyone worth their salt could, but way way fewer about the types of comics Frank was asking me about, which is the point. For some reason there are way more who focus on superhero, action-adventure, or general-interest comics than alt/art work, despite the vast number of women making and reading alt/art work. And the whole point was that something’s wrong with the male-dominated discourse on this material if this is the state of things.

  65. There is something wrong with the male dominated discourse, but this article is an example of that, yeah? You spend multiple words breaking down each male critic and what you like or don’t like about their style–within your article not only are they mentioned first, but they are discussed the most fully and given complete precedence within the construction of your piece.

    Then you get to me and Zainab, and we basically share the only thing you have to say about actual real female critics that exist. Zainab just gets a question mark. And I get a “to the extent that she writes reviews”.

    So not only have you only named two female critics in this piece, but the two you mentioned are lumped together in the same sentence for “where are the women?” and then both are undermined by how you discuss them vs. how you’ve discussed everyone else in the article. And then you have the temerity to wonder aloud why there aren’t seemingly more of us in the discussion?

    I’m sure you meant well, but how you’ve written this is itself the answer to its own question.

    I dunno. I’m definitely overstating my offense, because I’m more just rolling my eyes, kind of deal. But surely you can understand that that reaction is a valid one. I mean maybe, consider how you’re even talking about this issue, and whether that is in and of itself linked to the perpetuation of your point.

  66. Bob Ralph says:

    “I happen to like big girls.”

    -Jack Kirby

  67. For whatever it’s worth, I also mention Nicole and Leah, and talk about Leah at some length to close the interview.

  68. Tom Spurgeon says:

    There should be less time spent attacking each other on this thread and more time posting links to people I’m too lazy to know about so I can start linking to their reviews.

  69. A part of the problem here is that we have different perspectives. My perspective is that I really value your thoughts on issues of race, gender, and sexuality, and when I see you attacking people with general insults instead of the facts, I think “Oh man, they’re not going to listen to him now” and it breaks my heart. But forcing my perspective on you is rude because it totally dismisses yours, from which treating the people who say those things the way you do is the right thing to do. Not to mention the myriad of reasons it’s totally not okay for a white person to tell a black person to not get so worked up over issues of race. For not seeing those two things I was an asshole, and am deeply sorry.

  70. Ian Harker says:

    To me the question is reforming the market vs. reinventing it. Do we need the existing stores to become more alt-friendly or do we need more stores like Floating World & Desert Island that can make art comics the core of their business? The problem is, not every place is Portland or Brooklyn. It takes a thriving community to keep enough fresh energy in the local market to allow these kinds of stores to survive.

    In Philly we’ve done a lot to foster this kind of community but i’m still not convinced an art comics shop could survive in the city. Even Locust Moon, which opened beautiful new location in the heart of the college section and hosts an alt-comics festival of their own still relies on at least 50% mainstream.

    You need a lot of events to keep something like that alive. Festivals, book releases, art shows, community publications, etc. This requires a deep local talent roster. You need to make people feel included. The mainstream geek culture doesn’t want to include you unless you conform to a pretty narrow view of comics. The main institution of the direct market, Diamond, has pretty much already told us “thanks but no thanks”.

    We’re on our own people! That’s OK though.

  71. Melinda Beasi, Brigid Alverson, Katherine Deacy–

    Kaitlyn Kent–

    Deb Aoki–

    Just off the top of my head here…

    I found the assumptions present in the above interview and subsequent comments pretty depressing… is there any wonder that people are reluctant to participate in such a insular, buddy-buddy scene as NA indie comics?

  72. Lightning Lord says:

    Attacking people is what the comics internet is all about, though.

  73. Peggy Burns says:

    Tom (Devlin, my husband) told me about this thread this morning. I came to take a look and almost did a double plop that anyone thinks that Nicole Rudick “disappeared.” Nicole is the managing editor of the Paris Review and even if we leave it at that, is hardly disappearing. It is where, most recently that I know of, she assigned a culture diary for Rutu Modan this past Spring. Most important though, from my perspective, she wrote a letter to the Comics Reporter this past March, calling both Tom Spurgeon and Gary Groth out on glossing over the lack of women in the latest book-form TCJ. At a scant 175 words, this letter called out two of the most powerful tastemakers in independent comics on a very important topic–has there been a more defiant, less sycophantic, totally reasonable letter-to-the-editor from a person of note to a person of note in 2013? To break it down, the managing editor of the Paris Review called out the Editor In Chief of Fantagraphics and TCJ on the lack of women in his signature scholarly anthology. How is this not the news story of 2013?

    I know we’re all on the same page here, –more women in all areas of comics is a good thing–and that Sean and Frank are fighting the good fighting and asking and discussing the important questions. As a publicist, however, I would say that my list of VERY influential journalists who regularly write or assign (assign being just as key) comics reviews that happen to be women is pretty solid. I could clearly state as fact that my #1 journalist right now who regularly writes full-length reviews with more frequency than any of the men mentioned in Sean and Frankie’s conversation, is Hillary Hughes of PASTE. In fact, she may be my only journalist who regularly writes single-title reviews with any frequency, second to, you know, Rachel Cooke of the Guardian of the UK, perhaps one of the top three newspapers in the world; or two of my most important Canadian journalists – Laura Kane of the Toronto Star and Nathalie Atkinson of the National Post; or Heidi MacDonald in her role at PW, or Francisca Goldsmith in numerous library journals, and these are just the few I can think of while cooking dinner for my family on a Sunday evening.

    Dudes, (and i mean dudes) i love you, but open your eyes. My list of male reviewers who only want to write about Heavy Metal and 80s superhero more than they do a new literary comics is much, much longer than my list of frequent and awesome female journos who actually write about new literary comics. Maybe that’s the problem?

    See you at CAB!

  74. Thank you so much, Peggy. With these recommendations you’ve actually answered two of the big unanswered or semi-answered questions above with one response, regarding both women critics of alternative comics and mainstream-media critics of same. (And not remembering where Nicole ended up when she stopped writing for Comics Comics/TCJ is on me, of course. Jeepers creepers.)

    “My list of male reviewers who only want to write about Heavy Metal and 80s superhero more than they do a new literary comics is much, much longer than my list of frequent and awesome female journos who actually write about new literary comics. Maybe that’s the problem?”

    That’s my point exactly.

  75. Sean, with the exception of Kaitlyn, those are manga critics — and ones I know and enjoy, for what it’s worth; Brigid is a hero of mine going back to when we worked together at Robot 6 — and not what the interview was about. I could name plenty of sharp women writers on superhero comics, too. But despite the tons and tons of women who make and read alternative comics, relatively few write about them (at least in the traditional spheres; as Peggy points out below, there are influential critics in other posts) and it’s perplexing.

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  77. Scott Grammel says:

    Peggy Burns: “I could clearly state as fact that my #1 journalist right now who regularly writes full-length reviews with more frequency than any of the men mentioned in Sean and Frankie’s conversation, is Hillary Hughes of PASTE.”

    I think she means Hillary Brown.

  78. Bob Ralph says:

    What, that you and the gang of friends that run this site are guilty of just that? Genre revisionism and fannish indulgence?

  79. Peggy Burns says:

    You’re right Scott, I do. Tom told me to wait until Monday to post!

  80. I don’t write about Heavy Metal or ’80s superhero comics.

  81. Well, maybe it’s a tangential point then, but I think when the vast majority of new readers are coming in from a certain segment of the field, excluding that portion of the field from the discussion is not a great idea.

    How much of this discussion is really just a matter of labeling then? Is it possible that there are lots of women writing about various genres of manga and not a whole lot about North American indie comics because women are reading one and not the other?

    The lines just aren’t clear-cut between these categories, nor do I think they should be.

    A related anecdote. I’m teaching a cartooning class in San Diego, where I just relocated. On Saturday one of the youngest cartoonists (15? 16?) in the class told me that she’s taking the class because she wants to be a “manga artist” when she’s older.

    I’m pretty sure she doesn’t mean she literally wants to move to Japan and work for a mass-media company and have a dozen assistants working with her.

  82. Ideally of course there would be more great art-comix focused stores like Desert Island et al, but for the reasons you mentioned above, that’s not likely, or certainly isn’t going to happen quickly. In my view, opening up the existing retail network to alt-comix is the best shot, and would be helpful for the longterm health of comics retailing in general. But I also understand that this is (sadly) highly unlikely. Convincing the average Superhero-shop to become open to alt- and art-comix is almost impossible (although I keep trying!). So where’s the infrastructure for art-comix retailing? I guess for now (aside from those few shops we all know about) it’s on the internet, and at shows. Not the most user-friendly scenario, but all things considered we’re doing okay, and making progress.

  83. Ng Suat Tong posted a response to this piece over at HU which folks might be interested in:

  84. patrick ford says:

    I strongly agree with John. The problem is not a lack of reviews. The problem is availability.
    If I could go down the street to Walgreen’s and they had a bunch of “alternative comics” on their magazine rack up by the register I be bound to flip through the new releases every week and sample things which appealed to me.
    In my opinion the untapped market for something like KING CAT or lots of other comics labeled “alternative” is almost certainly larger than the market for what are anachronistically called “mainstream comics.”
    As things are I’ve never been in a comic book store which stocked “alternative comics.” When there was a store within my usual rounds I had to order every single thing I wanted. No additional copies of the stuff I was ordering were ever ordered or racked. No one entering the store would ever see those individual copies. I used to urge the dealer to try an extra copy in hopes it might attract new readers. He wouldn’t go for the idea. I asked him to rack my copies in view until I came in to pick them up, so that at least someone might notice and possibly be curious. He said he didn’t have room.

  85. Robert Boyd says:

    Relevant to this discussion is Domy, which was an alternative bookstore that carried a lot of comics in Houston and Austin. The Austin store was shut down because it wasn’t making money (partly because the excellent Austin Books & Comics has a good selection of alternative comics). Then the Houston Domy closed, not because it was losing money, but because the owner wanted to try a potentially higher margin business in that space. (He put in an art gallery, which seems just as risky as a small press/alternative bookstore, but what do I know?)

    I mention these because for alternative distro to really work, the number of venues needs to be growing, not shrinking. (I also mention it so that if anyone in Houston is thinking about starting a small business, there is room for a Desert Island style comics store–and you have at least one guaranteed customer!)

  86. Mike Baehr says:

    Peggy’s reply illustrates a demarcation between “writers about culture and literature who include comics in their purview” and “comics critics” and a general degree of ignorance (willful or otherwise) of the former by the latter. D&Q’s enviable focus on the former in their publicity efforts calls this blind spot into high relief and I think might lead to some sour-grapes resentment of their strategies among some in the industry. How gender issues play into this I couldn’t even begin to speculate, although certain theories do suggest themselves.

  87. I didn’t care for the initiating post, but it’s led to a productive discussion in the comments, from Suat himself and others, that I recommend people here check out.

  88. “Is it possible that there are lots of women writing about various genres of manga and not a whole lot about North American indie comics because women are reading one and not the other?”

    Judging from the volume of women who make them and attend small-press shows? No.

  89. Bob Ralph says:

    “I was just following orders”

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  92. george says:

    Sean said: “The loudest, most argumentative, most in-it-for-the-insults voices — who are invariably the most thin-skinned when criticized, oddly enough, perhaps because they take everything as personally as they make it with the comics they go after — dominate, and that can be a huge turnoff to artists whose personalities don’t mesh with that mode of discourse.”

    Yes, and that’s why I stopped posting at several comics-related sites. You can’t debate these people because they regard any disagreement as a personal insult, and they go ballistic.

  93. voss says:

    Yes, it’s a bizarre combination of aggressive trolling with an outsize sense of wounded grievance, and discussions just spiral from there. If we’re all here to orbit the egos of self-appointed internet critics, then mission accomplished.

  94. Meg Lemke says:


    I appreciate that you already acknowledged Peggy’s spot-on comment regarding Nicole Rudick’s move to the Paris Review–a move that in fact broadens the reach of her comics criticism and influence to the crossover literary readership that appreciates independent comics often wholly divorced from the superhero/alternative (boring) debates. I still have to point out that the absurdity of the statement of her “disappearing” as a critic highlighted by the fact that she reviewed Frank Santoro’s own most recently published POMPEII (in TCJ). Her readers from the Paris Review who might recognize her name prominently in advertisements for his book are the type of readers who will come to it as a work of literature first, rather than first because it is a drawn book. (Why Frank didn’t clarify this point is confusing to me, but I am going to assume it’s because all the questions were emailed and answered as a set?).

    I published what I believe is Nicole’s most recent piece of writing, though not on comics criticism it’s relevant context: It’s about her struggle to balance her career as a critic and editor and motherhood. Lauren Weinstein’s comic also takes on the topic:

    So I’m pretty sure (I hope!) that you didn’t mean to call her “disappeared” because of maternity leave. With that benefit of the doubt, I want to respond still to the unintentional offense. The idea that a woman writer “disappears” via motherhood–or the leave that one takes, of whatever time, to invest in one’s family before returning to creative work–is infuriating and saddening. In the USA we have some of the worst maternity leave policies and attitudes about work/life balance for mothers (and fathers) in the developed world. Writers and artists often don’t have any paid leave, obviously–so many of us are doing this work unpaid in the first place. But worse, as this interview proves, is the pervasive threat and fear-mongering towards mothers-to-be–and actual slap-in-the-face truth–of being perceived as invisible.

    The leave an artist or critic might choose to take–proudly and justly–to spend with a child can (I think *will*) deepen the critical thinking and perspective that a writer returns in their work published next. To say nothing of the mothers writing–often more and with heightened creativity–in the midst of it all.

    I am a mother and I stay home with my toddler daughter and among other things put on the Brooklyn Book Festival’s comics programming, donating hours and hours of free time to develop programs that I hope advance the critical dialogue around comics. We featured Frank this year (and Francoise Mouly, Rutu Modan, Ulli Lust, Lisa Hanawalt, etc. etc. etc.) and he said it did (thanks, Frank). Peggy Burns’ drive to advance the cause of comics criticism by her tireless and amazing promotion of D&Q’s list is awe-inspiring. Btw she’s a mother too. Artists like Esther Pearl Watson, Leela Corman, Carla Speed McNeil, Lauren Weinstein, Julia Gfrorer, Rutu Modan, Ulli Lust, Jessica Abel…. and so many others publish literary work that advances the field while also creating and taking care of small humans. (To say nothing, of course, of the dads: Tom Hart, Matt Madden, Guy DeLisle, Nick Bertozzi, Josh Neufield…). We don’t disappear.

    See you guys at CAB.


    Meg Lemke
    Chair, Comics and Graphic Novel Committee
    The Brooklyn Book Festival

    Contributing Editor
    MUTHA Magazine

  95. Hi Meg–Thanks for writing. To answer your question, I don’t know anything about Nicole beyond her work as a critic and had no idea she had been pregnant or had a kid until reading your comment just now. Beyond that I agree with everything you say, particularly regarding the US’s appalling policies on maternity leave.

  96. ADD says:

    I was just thinking about how passionate and excited this discussion would have made me ten years ago. Man, those were the days. Good times, good times.

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  98. For Eurocentric comics, there’s my weekly column Crossing Borders where I spotlight various European comics ranging from alt to mainstream. It’s been running for over 3 years and I was f.e. one of the first to bring Brecht Evens or Judith Vanistendael to the attention of the English speaking audience.


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