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Don’t Stop Can’t Stop

In today’s installment of her regular column, Shaenon Garrity takes a look at how the major comics awards have handled webcomics.

In the 2000s, webcartoonists struggled to be treated with the level of respect and critical recognition given to print cartoonists, which is the saddest sentence I’ve ever written. For many creators and fans, this involved a push to include webcomics in comics industry awards. There were also efforts to create an awards system specifically for webcomics, most notably the Web Cartoonists’ Choice Awards, which ran from 2001 to 2008.

Nowadays, of course, the struggle is over and webcomics are respected by all. Although they still lack their own industry awards, most or all major comics awards now include a webcomics or digital comics category. Some have been recognizing webcomics for well over a decade. That can mean only one thing: it’s time to start nitpicking and judging them. How successful have webcomics awards been at singling out the best in webcomics?

And then, Brandon Soderberg reviews the new collection of Bobby London’s remarkably weird take on Segar’s most famous creation, Popeye:

About halfway through Popeye, The Classic Newspaper Comics — Volume One: 1986-1989, underground comix boundary pusher turned syndicated strip jobber Bobby London’s aggressively contemporary take on our beloved sailorman, we find the Sea Hag (frequent nemesis to Popeye since 1929) turning Popeye’s rickety hometown of Sweet Haven into a bougie tourist trap. The whole thing probably goes on a little too long (at about the point where an orphanage is closed and replaced with an arcade, the message is loud and clear), but then you recalibrate, lower the stakes, and think what in the hell, you’re reading a fairly sprawling Popeye narrative that appeared in mainstream newspapers in the mid-’80s that’s about gentrification, and well, how did this even come to be?


Elsewhere:

—News. The South Carolina/Fun Home controversy has a new dumb compromise. Laura Hudson reports on Patreon, the latest crowdfunding craze. Our boss Gary Groth has been nominated for Seattle’s Genius Award. (He got a cake.)

—Misc. Derf says his goodbyes to his long-running strip The City. Deb Aoki wonders how to make manga more appealing to new readers. Colson Whitehead recommends a comic to Barack Obama. The New Yorker has images from Lynda Barry’s show at the Adam Baumgold gallery. This year’s Eisner judges talk about the nomination process. These may be collectors’ items some day.

—Interviews & Profiles. The Washington Post talks to Roz Chast. The L.A. Weekly profiles Jaime Hernandez. The Village Voice talks to Mimi Pond. Alex Dueben interviews Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman on the 35th anniversary of their political anthology, World War 3 Illustrated. Chris Mautner talks to Noah Van Sciver. A Melbourne-based podcast interviews Simon Hanselmann. Make It Then Tell Everybody interviews Sam Alden. The Inkstuds road tour interviews begin with Mike Allred talking about eternity.

—Reviews & Criticism.
Rich Barrett reviews a bunch of comics. Jared Gardner ponders three semi-recent comics about food. Rob Clough looks at the first books of new publisher Ray Ray. Domingos Isabelinho catches Hector German Oesterheld borrowing from John Ford. John Adcock reviews the new Gasoline Alley Sundays collection.

Paste has chosen the 100 “best” comic book characters, which revealed to me that this way of interacting with comics is completely foreign to the way I do. I like Batman as much or more than the next person, but is he a good character? If I think about him as a person for more than ten seconds, I get a headache. His most basic motivation — that his parents being killed by a mugger and a bat flying through his window inspired him to dress like an animal and beat up criminals on the street at night — is opaque and unconvincing. I suppose this is simply a leap of faith the reader is forced to make in order to enjoy Batman stories, but it is a leap which simultaneously makes Batman unintelligible as a human being. Which doesn’t mean he hasn’t been involved in a lot of very fun comic-book stories; I just am not sure he’s a very good “character.” Daniel Clowes’s Wilson, on the other hand, much decried as a “jerk” on his eponymous book’s release, still lives in my head years later as a three-dimensional, multi-faceted person. Ask me how he’d respond in any given situation —including the murder of his parents or a rodent infestation—and I’d have a pretty good idea. I haven’t read that comic since it came out. Time to rectify that.

—TCAF. I hate most convention reports, but I don’t hate this Secret Acres report of TCAF. Maybe because they made a bunch of it up reads like it’s too funny to be true. And I don’t hate anything Joe Ollmann writes.

—Video. Here’s the annual “roast” video from this year’s Doug Wright Awards:

And oh man, do I want to see this show:

—Finally. Dan made a big deal about what he called the dumbest press release ever a while back, in which he inadvertently revealed that he deletes most of the press releases he gets in his e-mail book every day without reading them. Because take a look at this. I won’t bore you by copying & pasting the whole thing, just know that it involves the audio-only version of a Princess Diana comic book.


9 Responses to Don’t Stop Can’t Stop

  1. Chris Duffy says:

    I reread Wilson pretty often. He really does stay with you afterwards.

  2. Caleb Orecchio says:

    I think people are in love with Batman as a mythological figure. Criminals talking about “The Bat” made him seem so fucking cool and scary. Then you see him hanging out with a tween boy wearing a speedo. It ruins the mythology for me.

    I think Alan Moore did it right with V for Vendetta, where V is a symbol and force of nature more than a defined character.We don’t ever see V’s race, sexuality, or background and are kept in the dark to his true identity. We instead, learn about the people who wronged him and the people he fights for in great detail, and this helps the reader define V. So when Evey takes up his mantel, it’s believable. We know she isn’t the original man behind the mask, but she’s next in line to carry out the ideas of V.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I agree with Tim, and it urked me to see Batman as their number one character. I think that Jimmy Corrigan is one of the most well rounded and complete characterizations of any comic character, and I think it comes from him being a manifestation of an aspect Chris Ware’s own personality. He seems real because he is real to some degree. Whereas Batman is a pure figment of fantasy with few relatable character qualities. Although I hear that some pedophiles like little boys in speedos.

  3. Croton says:

    But does Wilson possess the resources and training to deal with the Joker, Two-Face, Calendar Man, etc?

  4. The great mystery involving the star of Detective Comics has long been ‘why are there so many great Batman Comics?’ Seriously, no one cares about Batman, but there are tons of comics with him and a staggeringly large number of them are really good. Feel free to add your list below.

  5. David Roel says:

    I’m giving my girlfriend, with no prior comics knowledge or reading history, a comics education. I gave her exactly three Batman comics: Dark Knight, Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum. That’s it. No further Batman needed.

  6. Mike Hunter says:

    ———————-
    Tim Hodler says:

    …I just am not sure [Batman is] a very good “character.” Daniel Clowes’s Wilson, on the other hand, much decried as a “jerk” on his eponymous book’s release, still lives in my head years later as a three-dimensional, multi-faceted person.
    ———————–

    ———————–
    Caleb Orecchio says:

    …I agree with Tim, and it urked me to see Batman as their number one character. I think that Jimmy Corrigan is one of the most well rounded and complete characterizations of any comic character, and I think it comes from him being a manifestation of an aspect Chris Ware’s own personality. He seems real because he is real to some degree. Whereas Batman is a pure figment of fantasy with few relatable character qualities.
    ————————-

    (Your thoughts on “V for Vendetta” are perceptive and on-target, Caleb…)

    Re Batman, to say he’s not “a very good ‘character’ ” because he’s literarily shallow, psychologically simplistic, not “well rounded and complete[ly] characteriz[ized],” utterly misses the point. It’s like attacking a John Deere tractor for not being a very good family vehicle: “Has lousy pickup, can’t keep up on the expressway, no room for carrying groceries or passengers, no provision for child seats…”

    Batman is simply a narrative tool for concocting crimefighting adventures, with a few touches to attempt to differentiate him from his antecedents and competitors. Others — like his great wealth — are simply there to avoid his having to work for a living (narratively boring for the intended audience), or scrounge for bucks to repair the Bat-plane.

    I’m reminded of Scott McCloud’s explanations of Manga and cartooning in “Understanding Comics”; how a more fully-rendered, realistically-drawn character actually works against audience identification.

    Some telling panels from McCloud’s book, and thoughts on the subject, at http://pencilpanelpage.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/what-are-the-secrets-of-identification-and-the-icon-we-call-the-cartoon/ .

    Could not making a character psychologically simplistic, “cartoony” in characterization, provide the inner equivalent of this visual phenomenon?

    Rather than simply encouraging reader identification, what less-detailed visual or psychological depictions of a character also encourage is what the splendid John D. MacDonald called “creative collaboration.” In a splendid article in a magazine for writers, he told of how giving a few vivid details, then letting the reader “fill in the blanks” of what was not described, made for a more involving experience.

    Why is it that, when we are given a flashback explaining why, say, a villainous character turned evil — something that, from a literary viewpoint, should be good: more psychological depth is given, the characterization becomes more dimensional — we are routinely disappointed?

    Shakespeare knew better than to explain Iago’s or Lady Macbeth’s malignity. (Nowadays, we’d get a flashback to Lady Macbeth’s impoverished childhood, with the de rigueur sexual abuse.)

    While in comics, we get “Lex Luthor became Superman’s enemy because the ‘Big S’ accidentally made him bald” (I kid you not: http://blackcomicguy.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/superman-as-defined-by-lex-luthor/comment-page-1/ )

    …and Doctor Doom became evil because a lab explosion (for which he somehow blamed Reed Richards, who’d warned him his calculations were off) scarred his hitherto flawless features. ( http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2013/08/23/comic-book-legends-revealed-433/ ) Vanity, vanity, all is…

    As for “The 100 Best Comic Book Characters of All Time” (apparently,sticking that idiotic “of all time” onto anything is considered to boost the importance of the subject a zillion-fold), that list — http://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2014/05/the-100-best-comic-book-characters.html — bears all the signs of a committee creation: superb in spots, lousy in others.

    Here’s another argument against Batman; rather than “he’s not good because he’s psychologically shallow,” we get:

    —————————
    The Superman template didn’t really exist until it was introduced in a comic book. Spider-Man is a character that literally could not have been created in any other medium — he doesn’t just pull from key tenets from a variety of different comic genres; he was specifically created to embody the comic audience in a way that former heroes didn’t. Conversely, Batman is just a standard-issue masked vigilante pulled straight from any number of pulps and radio serials. He’s the Shadow and the Spider and the Green Hornet with pictures.
    —————————-
    http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2014/05/an-argument-against-batman.html

  7. Tim Hodler says:

    You have a point, and I absolutely agree that rounded characterization isn’t the only valid strategy for narratives as a whole; many of my favorite artists and writers don’t attempt psychological realism. I do however think that rounded characterization is an acceptable measure for judging characters. Charlie Brown is a better character than Batman. Even Superman is a better character than Batman, if anyone ever attempted to do anything with the really obvious interesting fact that he’s an alien. I mean, I know what you mean, and on some level agree, but when the list of comic-book characters also includes people like Maggie Chuscarillo, I feel like it’s hard to shift criteria like that. I’d hesitate before putting Tyrone Slothrop ahead of Ivan Karamazov on a list of great literary characters, for example. Or a better example: I don’t think Robin Hood is a better literary character than Ivan Karamazov, even if there have been plenty of great Robin Hood stories.

  8. Mike Hunter says:

    ————————
    Tim Hodler says:

    …I do however think that rounded characterization is an acceptable measure for judging characters.
    ————————-

    It certainly is!

    But, some of the most famed, vivid characters in the arts (and mythology, as Caleb helpfully brought up [“I think people are in love with Batman as a mythological figure”]), or religion, are far from fully rounded figures.

    I Google’d “most famous literary characters,” and this listing of the “100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900″* came up: http://www.npr.org/programs/totn/features/2002/mar/020319.characters.html .

    Heavens, the list jumps from Leopold Bloom to Sherlock Holmes; Kurtz to Winnie the Pooh, Holden Caulfield to The Cat in the Hat, Grendel to Tarzan.

    Which kind’a ties in with my premise that a great “character” need not be a fully human, richly characterized creation. In some works, those qualities would indeed be a great plus; in other works (particularly genre stuff, where the tropes rule paramount), it can even be detrimental.

    As an analogy to the latter, look at what happened with Moore and Gebbie’s “Lost Girls,” an attempt to absurdly bring complex characterization and literary aspirations to porn. The result — if ranked on “Hustler” magazine’s “Peter Meter” — would be “totally limp.”

    (At least when Lucas and Spielberg sought to bring the spirit of the Republic serials to a whole new level with “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” they knew not to violate the spirit of those serials.)

    “The 100 favourite fictional characters… as chosen by 100 literary luminaries” ( http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/the-100-favourite-fictional-characters-as-chosen-by-100-literary-luminaries-526971.html ) is pretty delightful. Philip Pullman, author of the utterly brilliant “His Dark Materials” trilogy, picks Tintin:

    “I like Tintin’s blandness, his blankness, his lack of depth; he is an empty page on which adventures can be drawn. He is clearly a friendly and honourable chap; his dog is loyal, his friends dependably amusing, his way of life both comfortable and interesting.”

    “An empty page on which adventures can be drawn…” Hmmm!

    (For all that, though, I heartily agree that Batman is as dull as a fence post. Only in comics would a guy who dresses up like a bat be the boring, uptight “straight man”…)

    Some pretty fascinating stuff on “character” in the arts at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Character_%28arts%29 , BTW…

    * Another site with that listing explains “Book Magazine, now defunct, compiled a panel of 55 authors, literary agents, editors, and actors in 2002″ to create the ranked listing.

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