Today, Greg Hunter is here with a review of the latest issue of Ethan Rilly's Pope Hats, which sounds like a significant departure from earlier installments.

The new issue may initially disappoint readers who were expecting further adventures of Frances and Vickie; it’s centered not around a cast of characters but around a set of themes. (Although issues one through three also included some standalone vignettes, they read as peripheral to the Frances and Vicki pages.) Rilly maintains the neat classicism of his linework, but he’s a cartoonist with new preoccupations. His gentle looks at millennial malaise are absent. Instead, Rilly turns toward cases of outright alienation. Issue four is not as fun as previous installments—it’s a demanding work, by comparison—but the comic is also earnest and engrossing.

Although Rilly’s Frances character works on the margins of her profession, assisting a series of high-powered attorneys as an entry-level law clerk, the earlier issues of Pope Hats present her as a thoroughly relatable figure—someone who reminds you of, if not yourself, than a friend or a neighbor. But Pope Hats #4 belongs to some real outsiders. “The Hollow” is a science-fiction story featuring a mid-level space surveyor, a smartest-guy-in-the-room type who underperforms and clashes with his coworkers. Rilly manages to both follow this character and also create distance between the surveyor and the reader, employing a slightly queasy yellow palette and a series of claustrophobic grids (about sixteen panels per page, on average).

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Chris Ware wrote a short essay on the video game Minecraft, to go along with his latest New Yorker cover. This cover inspired a lot of very negative reactions on social media, which fascinates me, especially now that Ware has revealed more of the thinking behind the image. Ware's work almost always attracts a larger-than-average number of detractors (as well as unusual amounts of praise, of course), much of which is either obvious kill-your-daddy stuff or stems from transparent jealousy, but some of which seems to stem from genuine antipathy to his subject matter and approach. Even some people who generally seem to enjoy Ware's work have reacted badly to Ware's recent covers for The New Yorker, all of which feature what would seem to be characteristic seasonal New Yorker cover scenes, only with a lot more smartphone usage. What interests me about the negative reactions is not so much their content—critics have called these covers "trite" and "obvious"—so much as their vehemence, and the apparent assumptions that underpin them. I get why people would react to these with indifference; I'm having a harder time understanding the outright hostility and anger.

An increasingly common critical error in recent years has been the confusion of artistic depiction with the artist's approval. In this case, however, the detractors seem certain that Ware's depictions are always meant as disapproval. Ware's essay, which is at least ambivalent about Minecraft, and even fairly positive about the game ("If architecture somehow mirrors the spaces we carve in our memories and make in our minds, then something pretty interesting is going on here"), shows that assumption to be wrong, at least in this particular case.

We have all had it beaten into our heads not to put too much stock into artists' intentions, so set that aside for now. The point is that the cover image shows a scene that everyone agrees does happen all the time. "Trite," "boring," "Luddite," "technophobic," etc.: these are the common attacks on Ware's New Yorker covers. One thing I haven't heard said about them is that they are inaccurate or unrealistic. Kids do play Minecraft on sunny days. Parents do watch their children's talent shows through their smartphone cameras. Families (not mine) do spend Thanksgiving in front of the television. If Ware's cover showed the two girls playing outside with a ball instead of playing video games on a computer, it would have been just as common and well-rehearsed an image as the one he actually drew -- actually, it would have been a scene depicted far more often over the centuries. People might not have liked that more traditional and Rockwell-esque cover very much, but my guess is the responses would have been more in the line of bored shrugs than angry Facebook rants. For some reason, this particular topic is one that some people really don't want to see explored. This is a scene that it seems some believe should simply not be depicted, no matter how objectively. I wonder why.

Leela Jacinto reviews Riad Sattouf's Arab of the Future.

—Interviews & Profiles. Jules Feiffer talks to The Wall Street Journal.

Alex Dueben speaks to Peggy Burns about her new role at D&Q, among other things.

I don't know why this Greek blues site keeps talking to prominent cartoonists, but I'm glad they are -- here's Gary Panter.

Alexander Lu talks to Brandon Graham.

Joe Matt is more Joe Matt than ever in his 10-question interview with the Comics Tavern.

Vice talks to Nina Bunjevac.

Michael Hill of the Kirby Museum has gathered many quotes from Jack Kirby interviews in an attempt to show that the stances Kirby took in his famous TCJ interview were consistently held.

12 Responses to Lud

  1. the sketch at the end of chris ware’s new yorker article would have made a far better cover image

  2. I guess I didn’t see most of the reactions to that cover. It worries me that so much of it would be either love or hate and focussed on the intent of the piece (or perceived that way, or that it “inspired a lot of very negative reactions”… or was perceived that way. We are a nation of Very Angry People). I managed to spark an overly long talk about the thing on facebook that got more into what Ware’s work process is and is it all a carefully worked out structure or is he doing whatever he thinks looks right? The key here being that I and other people had false assumptions about how Ware constructs his spaces. There was also the question of how much symbolic value was intentional. Most people also thought that the message was a bit trite.

  3. If the charge is being boring, realism is not exculpatory.

  4. Tim Hodler says:

    @Jay T. Doggzone—Okay. Why?

    @Marc—Well, one person’s “rant” is another person’s reasoned argument. It’s easy to misread people on the internet. I’m sure there were many smart things said about this cover from many points of view.

    @STC—That’s true. That’s why I said I could understand responses of indifference. It’s the hostility to these kinds of images that interests me. As I said, I don’t think you’d find the same kind of anger directed at an equally “boring” cover which just showed kids playing outside.

  5. AJ McGuire says:

    The subtly and complexity of Chris Ware’s point was more apparent in his essay than in the illustration itself. I think its an ungenerous reading to treat the illustration as a simple political cartoon, but I can understand why a computer and an empty swingset on a perfect day would be reduced to symbols in opposition to each other and why people would consider that a trite message.

  6. Kim O'Connor says:

    Tim, can you point to some specific examples of vitriol towards the covers (not Ware’s work in general)? I’m really curious because the negative reactions I’ve seen have looked a lot like my own (that it’s bad/worth making fun). I haven’t seen anything close to hostility or the suggestion that the scene itself is somehow verboten.

    The image conveys a lot more disapproval than the essay, IMO. I find his covers didactic, but I infer that from visual cues (not assumptions about Ware).

  7. Tim S says:

    Yeah it would be interesting to actually see the negative reactions to the cover too. I think if you decide to mention a debate it totally makes sense to link to it? just to hear both sides? Pretty sure i’m pro-Ware here, just curious what exactly the argument is.

  8. Tim Hodler says:

    Hey Kim and Tim S. — Sorry I didn’t respond to this sooner. I thought I had, and just realized I wandered away before hitting post. Friday was a pretty distracting day for me; first I lost my keys, and then I literally walked into a wall, breaking my glasses and giving myself a black eye. So I found myself with a lot of unexpected errands and kind of lost track of this. Anyway, no offense intended by not replying sooner.

    As to specific examples: I’d prefer not to link to tweets or Facebook posts. They’re pretty easy to find, and I imagine the ones I saw were pretty close to ones you saw. (I hadn’t read yours, Kim.) No one that I know of literally suggested the scene itself was verboten, and I didn’t mean to leave that impression. Your comment does make me realize that I should not have said that these critics are responding out of “anger,” however. I can’t read anyone’s minds. I do continue to think describing the response as “hostile” is fair.

    Another reason I don’t want to link to anyone specifically is that I’m not trying to call anyone out. I maybe should have slanted the blog post slightly differently, in order to implicate myself as well as others. Until I read Ware’s arguably pro-Minecraft essay, I assumed disapproval too. Only going back to it and the other covers later did I realize how much I was reading into them. If you wanted to expand on your comment, Kim, I’d be happy to listen. I’m certainly persuadable.

    @Tim S. — I am not making a “pro-Ware” argument, just saying that I think the hostile responses to Ware (“boring,” “fuddy-duddy”) are suspect and inadequate on their own and undeveloped — and I think they possibly betray some unspoken and/or unconscious anxiety on the critics’ part. As I meant to imply just now, I definitely don’t exclude myself. But there is no larger debate than that — the attacks I saw were exactly that one-note.

  9. Tim S says:

    Hey Tim, thanks for your response and sorry to hear about your misadventures – hope you’re better. I didn’t really find the negative comments you refer to, but I also didn’t look that hard. Since you mentioned they weren’t very developed i guess i didn’t miss out …

    So, what i learnt here is i think i enjoy Ware’s cover illustrations more than his comics these days, and i guess the debate has shown this cover isn’t as simple and unambiguous as it may seem at first glance.

  10. Kim O'Connor says:

    Hey Tim, thanks for your comment. Just to clarify, I don’t care about naming names. I’m just legit curious if you saw the same comments I saw and read them as hostile when I didn’t. To use a concrete example, the language you mention in your comment (“boring” and “fuddy duddy”) doesn’t strike me as hostile at all. You’re technically correct in calling comments like those undeveloped or one note…but I imagine they came from more of a place of ‘this seems totally obvious’ than one of unconscious anxiety. To me, there are compositional cues that make it read as more or less a message cover. If I had tweeted about Ware being a luddite or something (I didn’t, just projecting here), I probably wouldn’t have mentioned why because it seems blatant. Also a tweet isn’t a formal piece of criticism…people aren’t necessarily going to be expansive. Unless someone asked them to explain and they refused? Is that the sort of thing you mean? That seems like more of a demonstrated reluctance to explore the topic, in which case I get it.

    IDK, maybe I get too caught up in semantics. But the language you use…in your comment you rethink “anger,” but there’s still stuff about “hostility” and “attacks”…it may be my own tone-reading problem, but that you’d interpret ‘Chris Ware is a fuddy duddy’ as an attack strikes me as fascinating and strange. I feel like this is a thing I’ve been noticing elsewhere–comics critiques being perceived as acts of aggression–so I’m really interested in understanding your perspective. But anyway, I’m skeptical of the idea that Ware’s critics think the Minecraft scene was something that should not be depicted. I think they’re saying that he didn’t depict it well.

  11. Tim Hodler says:

    Thanks, Kim. You’re misunderstanding me (it’s probably my own fault) if you think I have a problem with critical “attacks” — that language wasn’t meant to be pejorative. If you’d prefer that they be referred to as dismissive jokes instead of attacks, that’s fine. This is not an important point to my mind, because I see nothing wrong with negative criticism. I don’t mind hostility; I simply think that the critiques of Ware’s cover that I have seen are weak and vague, and I believe that a lot of unexamined assumptions may lie beneath them. I also think that the hostility (or whatever word you want to use for negative reaction) seems strange when I see no clear motivation for it. I may be wrong but we will never know unless someone somewhere expands on their problems with these covers. As I said last comment, I’m more than persuadable. What are the “compositional cues?”

    In any case, please don’t think I have a problem with critical aggression towards Ware or anyone else — I want fuller, sharper, and more specific criticism, not more blunted criticism.

    Also, again, I know of no one saying that the Minecraft cover scene should not be depicted. I am not claiming that. What I am saying is that it seems to me that people are reading disapproval into the cover where it does not necessarily exist. If I am right (that’s an important if!), and it is just a neutral depiction of an everyday scene, then the criticisms as stated seem to have no basis other than the decision to depict this scene at all. Disprove that if, and obviously the rest of my argument makes no sense.

    I may well be wrong, and would be happy to listen to people try to convince me I am. (As I said before, I shared the negative opinion of Ware’s tech covers before reading his Minecraft essay and rethinking my first impressions.) But saying that the problems with the covers are “totally obvious” just doesn’t cut it for me, because I don’t find them obvious at all.

  12. Ken Parille says:

    My only general point, as I make in my post, is that, for me, the cover depicts many, many things and can be interpreted through many ‘conceptual lenses.’ In the negative criticism I saw, the cover was read through one lens, and if that’s how it speaks to people, that makes sense and seems reasonable. But I think the cover explores a lot of things: gender and technology and play, the relationship between cartooning and video game world-building, a little thing theory maybe, competing forms of play, maturation, inside-outside, virtual and real worlds, design and aesthetics, form and sequence, etc.

    I liked the image when I first saw it, but didn’t then think it was that complex. We’ve been having a great conversation about it on Facebook, and it shows to me that Ware’s is the kind of image that initially seems transparent but really gives critics a lot of room to move.

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